Background on Wilson:
How did WWI begin?
Source: “How and why did the First World War start?” The Week (31 May 2016).
As you read the following passage, consider:
Wilson: For and Against Entry
As you read each passage, consider:
Document A: President Woodrow Wilson, in a speech before Congress, August 19, 1914.
The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war. It is natural and inevitable that some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle.
Such divisions among us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one nation ready to play a part of mediator and counselor of peace.
The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men's souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action.
Document B: President Woodrow Wilson, in a speech before Congress, April 2, 1917.
Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people cannot be. The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.
The German policy has swept every restriction aside. Ships of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to the bottom of the ocean without warning. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken.
I advise that the Congress declare the recent actions of the Imperial German Government to be, in fact, nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States.
Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved.
The world must be made safe for democracy. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek not material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of
the champions of the rights of mankind.
It is a fearful, but right thing to lead this great peaceful people to war. We shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts – for democracy, for the right of [people] to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of small nations.
A Historian's View
Source: Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).
President Woodrow Wilson had promised that the United States would stay neutral in the war. . . . But in April of 1917, the Germans had announced they would have their submarines sink any ship bringing supplies to their enemies; and they had sunk a number of merchant vessels. Wilson now said he must stand by the right of Americans to travel on merchant ships in the war zone. . . .
As Richard Hofstadter points out (The American Political Tradition): “This was rationalization of the flimsiest sort. . . . The British had also been intruding on the rights of American citizens on the high seas, but Wilson was not suggesting we go to war with them. . . .
The United States claimed the Lusitania carried an innocent cargo, and therefore the torpedoing was a monstrous German atrocity. Actually, the Lusitania was heavily armed: it carried 1,248 cases of 3-inch shells, 4,927 boxes of cartridges (1,000 rounds in each box), and 2,000 more cases of small-arms ammunition. . . . The British and American governments lied about the cargo. . . .
Prosperity depended much on foreign markets, it was believed by the leaders of the country. In 1897, private foreign investments of the United States amounted to $700 million dollars. By 1914, they were $3.5 billion. . . .
With World War I, England became more and more a market for American goods and for loans at interest. J.P. Morgan and Company acted as agents for the Allies and when, in 1915, Wilson lifted the ban on private bank loans to the Allies, Morgan could now begin lending money in such great amounts as to both make great profit and tie American finance closely to the interest of a British victory in the war against Germany.