When World War I began in 1914, the U.S. adopted a policy of neutrality
seeing the war as essentially a European conflict. As a neutral
nation, U.S. traded with all of the belligerent European powers, though
each side tried to prevent the U.S. from trading with the other.
In response to German violations of American trading rights (and a host
of other, less immediate factors), on April 2, 1917 President Wilson asked
Congress to declare war on Germany. Four days later Congress complied.
The following is Wilsonís speech asking Congress to declare war.
As you read, examine the reasons Wilson gives for asking for a declaration
of war against Germany. Notice how Wilson depicts the American decision
to enter the war. And, think about how one might view U.S. entrance into
World War I as an extension of progressivism.
On the third of February... I officially laid before you the extraordinary announcement of the Imperial German Government that on and after the first day of February it was its purpose to put aside all restraints of law and humanity and use its submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach [any Allied port].... [This reversed its earlier promise] that passenger boats should not be sunk and that due warning would be given to all other vessels... The new policy has swept every restriction aside. Vessels of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy for those on board, the vessels of friendly neutrals along with those of belligerents....
I am not now thinking of the loss of property involved, immense and serious as that is, but only of the wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of noncombatants, men, women, and children, engaged in pursuits which have always... been deemed innocent and legitimate. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people can not be. The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.
It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk... in the same way.... The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it.... Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion....
With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking... I advise that [the U.S.] formally accept the status of belligerent that has thus been trust upon it....
One of the things that has served to convince us that the Prussian autocracy was not and could never be our friends is that from the very outset of the present war it has filled our unsuspecting communities and even our offices of government with spies and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity.... That it means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors the intercepted note to the German Minister in Mexico City is eloquent evidence.
We are accepting this challenge of hostile purpose because we know that in such a government, following such methods, we can never have a friend; and that in the presence of its organized power... there can be no assured security for the democratic governments of the world. We are now about to accept gauge of battle with its natural foe to liberty and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power. We are glad... to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy....
It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into
the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming
to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace,
and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest
to our hearts for democracy, for the right of those who submit to
authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and
liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a
concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations
and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate
our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that
we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America
is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that
gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured.
God helping her, she can do no other.
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