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“War Message to Congress” by Wilson, how does Wilson justify his request to go to...

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swang1 | (Level 1) Salutatorian

Posted April 8, 2014 at 6:01 AM via web

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“War Message to Congress” by Wilson, how does Wilson justify his request to go to war? What reasons does he give? Are all his reasons compatible? How does Wilson define democracy? What is Wilson’s view of German-Americans? How does it compare to Roosevelt’s?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted April 8, 2014 at 9:09 AM (Answer #1)

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Having been elected in 1916 on a platform of "strict neutrality," it was a difficult decision for President Woodrow Wilson to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. But, the German navy's unrestricted submarine warfare and the sinking of the Housatonic, an American cargo ship on February 3, 1917 caused President Wilson to break diplomatic relations with Germany; then, when the U.S. steamer Aztc was torpedoed by German submarines near Brest and twenty-eight of its crew members drowned on April 1, 1917, Wilson felt compelled to address Congress because of the continued acts of aggression by Germany.

Before President Wilson, the watchword was "independence" for America, but Wilson justified the U.S. entry into war

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.

This concept of making the world "safe for democracy" became the ideology of America as it henceforth involved itself in overseas conflicts with his idea of the League of Nations that never materialized but did foster the concept of the United Nations. Here are Wilson's major points in his address to Congress:

  1. The U.S. must defend itself against German attack on the seas. "The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.... The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are no common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life."
  2. It will be necessary to develop an army of men through conscription and supported by taxes.
  3. Aid should be given to the countries now fighting Germany
  4. The United States needs to "vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power." It should join in partnership with democratic nations against the German attacks.
  5. The U.S. quarrel is not with the German people, but with the government of Germany.
  6. The Imperial government of Germany has had spies in the U.S. and is acting against our security within America and in its attempt to ally itself with Mexico [the Zimmerman Note].
  7. "We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind" and must liberate the German people from oppression and maintain the rights of all to be free. 


Wilson adds that he feels that German-Americans posed no threat:

They are, most of them, as true and loyal Americans as if they had never known any other fealty or allegiance. They will be prompt to stand with us in rebuking and restraining the few who may be of a different mind and purpose.

He notes that if any pose a real threat, it will be from only "a lawless and malignant few."

Wilson's concept of democracy is not that of the Founding Fathers whose credo was "all men are created equal"; instead, he held with an utopian concept of democracy's being safe and conducive to progress for all peoples.


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