Shortly after the 1899 Hague Peace Conference had ended, William T. Stead, a highly energetic and respected British journalist and pacifist who had followed the peace conference as an observer, and Andrew D. White, the American head of delegation and ambassador in Germany, convinced the Scottish-born American steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to finance the ‘Temple for Peace’ that was to become the Peace Palace in The Hague. Carnegie had previously told Stead of his plans to donate a large portion of his enormous fortune to projects that were in the interest of mankind and Stead passed this information on to a number of his colleagues, including White and the Russian Counsellor of State and jurist, Frederic de Martens. It is most likely that de Martens came up with the idea of establishing a fund to finance a new and appealing building for the newly created Permanent Court of Arbitration. White, a life-long personal friend of Carnegie, then communicated the idea to Carnegie. He would later act as mediator when matters concerning the location and design of the Palace were dealt with in The Hague.
In the summer of 1899 William T. Stead paid a visit to Skibo Castle, the summer residence of Andrew Carnegie in the Scottish Highlands. Carnegie’s prime concern at that time was what to do with his accumulated wealth. He had finally taken the step which he announced so many years before: virtual retirement from business affairs. This marked, in his eyes, the transition to the second phase of his life. Carnegie decided to ‘stop accumulating and begin the infinitely more serious and difficult task of wise distribution’. Whether or not this decision was accelerated by increasing conflicts within the management of his Carnegie Steel Company or by increasing competition, particularly on the part of Pierpoint Morgan’s Federal Steel Company, he eventually sold his company for $480 million to the latter. This left Carnegie the richest man on earth. Having concluded the sale he left for Europe to think over the new task set, known in literature as ‘Mr. Carnegie’s Conundrum’, how to best discharge the stewardship of wealth in order to avoid final disgrace, true to his own motto: the man who dies rich, dies in disgrace.
It was during William T. Stead’s visit to Skibo Castle that Andrew Carnegie unfolded his general idea of spending his fortune ‘in the interests of humanity’. It was not that Carnegie lacked counsellors on the issue of spending the money, as he told Stead, but their suggestions didn’t result in much. On his return, Stead set out to solve Carnegie’s problem by bringing matters up for public discussion. In the 1900 Annual of the Review of Reviews, of which Stead himself was the editor, he published on the subject. In the course of preparing this publication he had interviewed many men of prominence. Among these, the Russian Counsellor of State Frederic de Martens. It was this prominent diplomat, who first made the suggestion of having Carnegie create a fund for the building of a home for the recently established Permanent Court of Arbitration. But nothing came of the idea. It is uncertain whether the suggestion made to Stead ever reached Carnegie at all. Still, the idea was born and had stuck with de Martens himself.
Andrew D. White
In June of the following year Frederic de Martens arranged a meeting in Berlin with an old acquaintance from The Hague, Andrew D. White, the former head of the American delegation at the Peace Conference, who was then the US Ambassador in Germany. On this occasion de Martens renewed his proposal and knowing White to be on friendly terms with Carnegie, asked him to plead the idea with the multi-millionaire philantropist. White enthusiastically wrote a letter to Carnegie to this intent and received a formal reply within a week. In the following years it would entail much laborious negotiation, running into deadlock several times and almost ending in complete failure before this new ‘Temple for Peace’, the Peace Palace in The Hague, was to be opened in 1913. Carnegie certainly did not give his money away unconditionally. But still, in short, this is how the wealthiest man of the time first became acquainted with the concept of a Peace Palace.