2. Early Statement of Neutrality. The U.S. was determined to adopt a stance of rigid neutrality at the start of the war, and President Wilson announced the American stance to this effect shortly after war broke out, on 19 August 1914, reflecting U.S. popular opinion. During his address, he warned U.S. citizens against taking sides in the war for fear of endangering the wider U.S. policy. "The effect of the war upon the United States will depend upon what American citizens say and do.
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1. 1 American Neutrality and Entry into World War I
3. 3 America as a Mediator of Peace Many American leaders felt that the proper role for the United States was a mediator of peace, though this avenue was exhausted shortly after the war began.
The excerpt references a discussion between Colonel Edward House, who was one of President Wilson’s closest confidants, and a British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey.
The tone is obviously one of optimism on the side of the Americans, and reluctance from the Allied camp.
"My suggestion is to ask the Allies unofficially, to let me know whether or not it would be agreeable to them to have us demand that hostilities cease. We would put it upon the high ground that the neutral world was suffering along with the belligerents and that we had rights as well as they"
4. 4 Increasing American Involvement with the Belligerents Despite official neutrality, a huge leap in loans and exports to the Allies led to a vested interest in an Allied victory.
Exports to Germany and its allies rapidly diminished in parallel to a significant rise in shipping to Britain and France.
Such disparities in trade between the belligerents led to increasing conflict both domestically and internationally as many leaders at home and abroad bristled at the U.S. seemingly favoring the Allies.
5. 5 The excerpt is of a letter from then Secretary of State Bryan to the president revealing Bryan's reluctance to project even a semblance of taking sides in the mainly European conflict by allowing belligerents to borrow American money and a response to Bryan's position by his successor, Robert Lansing.
"Popular sympathy has become crystallized in favor of one or another of the belligerents to such an extent that the purchase of bonds would in no way increase the bitterness of partisanship or cause a possibly serious situation."
6. 6 Conflict with Britain on Disruption of American Trade Although German submarine warfare exacted a heavy toll on American trade, the British were also responsible for negatively impacting the ability of American goods to enter neutral ports.
The excerpt below is from a letter from a British diplomat explaining the practice of prohibiting the U.S. from trading certain items with fellow neutrals.
"We think that much misconception exists as to the extent to which we have, in practice, interfered with trade..... the products of the great industries of the United States have been denied long-established markets in European countries which, though neutral, are contiguous to the seat of war. Such a result is far from being the intention of His Majesty's Government, and they would exceedingly regret that it should be due to their action."
8. 8 American Conflict with Germany
9. 9 American Response to Unrestricted Submarine Warfare On 4 February, the German Admiralty issued a formal declaration, which warned neutral shipping to stay away from the waters surrounding Britain and Ireland from 18 February 1915 onwards.
Six days later U.S. President Woodrow Wilson - at that time maintaining a neutral stance - issued a thinly veiled warning to the German government.
This excerpt is his 'Strict Accountability' message, which made it clear that the U.S. government would not tolerate any strategy by the German navy to sink neutral U.S. shipping at any time.
"If such a deplorable situation should arise, the Imperial German Government can readily appreciate that the Government of the United States would....take any steps it might be necessary to take to safeguard American lives and property and to secure to American citizens the full enjoyment of their acknowledged rights on the high seas"
10. 10 American Response to the Sinking of the Lusitania The German sinking of the Lusitania on 7 May 1915, with its consequent loss of American life provoked great public and diplomatic anger within the U.S.
Already concerned at Germany's policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, many in the U.S. believed the sinking of the Lusitania to be a calculated provocation of the U.S. on Germany's part.
Below is the official American response to the tragedy issued by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.
"The government of the United States, therefore, desires to call the attention of the Imperial German government, with the utmost earnestness, to the fact that the objection to their present method of attack against the trade of their enemies lies in the practical impossibility of employing submarines in the destruction of commerce without disregarding those rules of fairness, reason, justice, and humanity which all modern opinion regards as imperative."
11. 11 Zimmerman Telegram The Zimmerman Telegram helped to solidly move public opinion away from any possible reconciliation with Germany.
"On the first of February we intend to begin submarine warfare unrestricted. In spite of this, it is our intention to endeavor to keep neutral the United States of America.
If this attempt is not successful, we propose an alliance on the following basis with Mexico: That we shall make war together and together make peace. We shall give general financial support, and it is understood that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona. The details are left to you for settlement...."
12. 12 Declaration of War A resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 convinced American leaders that war with Germany was the only option.
Other factors, such as suspicions of German involvement with Mexico (via the Zimmermann Telegram), solidified popular opinion against Germany.
This excerpt is from Wilson's war message to Congress.
"I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made, and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making. . . .
The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind."