Review the following list of questions before undertaking your study of the attached historical
documents. The First World War acted as a catalyst for economic, social, and political change
that helped shaped the twentieth century. Examine each question carefully.
Declaration of Neutrality (Wilson):
1. On what grounds did Wilson argue for the neutrality of the United States?
2. What might account for any evidence of political hypocrisy that the U.S. had no intentio n
to remain neutral; that from the start of the war they had, to some degree, already chosen
sides. What might argue to the contrary?
First Lusitania Note:
1. What was the purpose of this letter? What did the U.S. Department of State seek to
address to the German government and why?
2. How might the letter’s second half seem like a provocation to war with Germany? In
what ways does the sinking of the Luisitania represent the likelihood of war between
America and Germany?
Zimmerman Note (1917):
1. What is Germany’s intention with this telegram to Mexico and what did the German
government stand to gain with its intended acceptance by the Mexican government?
2. Predict how this telegram affected U.S. isolationists opinion of staying out of war in
Europe. Might this telegram have altered the course of history in regards to America’s
desire to stay neutral?
War Message (1917):
1. For what reasons does President Wilson give for America’s declaration of war on
Germany? Does his explanation appear to be one encouraged by imperialistic
expansionism as in the case of the Spanish-American War with former President
McKinley or from other outside pressures?
2. Is this a declaration of total war, as one against both the government and people of
Germany? What does this message to congress suggest of Wilson’s post-war goals
following a predicted victory against Imperial Germany?
Espionage Act (1917):
1. How does the Espionage Act both limit political dissent against the war and encourage
2. Is Wilson within his authority to organize such a decree? (Think back to the Alien and
Sedition Acts under John Adams). Is this act a violation of civil liberties?
Wilson’s Fourteen Points:
1. What is the intention of these fourteen points? Given the political circumstances of
France and England, are they attainable?
2. How do these benchmarks identified by Wilson connect to his goal of a unilateral
organization of nations working towards international cooperation? How does this goal
play out in the years immediately following the war?
Versailles Treaty (1919):
1. What did the treaty set out to accomplish? How was Germany treated and what can you
predict will be the end result of the policies set forth in this treaty?
2. How do the agreed upon clauses of the treaty contradict Wilson’s Fourteen Points?
Declaration of Neutrality
Digital History ID 3889
Author: Woodrow Wilson
Annotation: President Woodrow Wilson delivered a message to Congress on
August 19, 1914, declaring the neutrality of the United States in World War
President Wilson was reluctant to enter World War I. When the War began,
Wilson declared U.S. neutrality and demanded that the belligerents respect
American rights as a neutral party. He hesitated to embroil the United States
in the conflict, with good reason. Americans were deeply divided about the
European war, and involvement in the conflict would certainly disrupt
Progressive reforms. In 1914, he had warned that entry into the conflict
would bring an end to Progressive reform. “Every reform we have won will
be lost if we go into this war,” he said. A popular song in 1915 was “I Didn’t
Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.”
Document: President Wilson’s Declaration of Neutrality
The effect of the war upon the United States will depend upon what
American citizens say and do. Every man who really loves America will act
and speak in the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality
and fairness and friendliness to all concerned. The spirit of the nation in this
critical matter will be determined largely by what individuals and society and
those gathered in public meetings do and say, upon what newspapers and
magazines contain, upon what ministers utter in their pulpits, and men
proclaim as their opinions upon the street.
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 there should be
the utmost variety of sympathy and desire among them with regard to the
issues and circumstances of the conflict. Some will wish one nation, others
another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite
passion and difficult to allay it. Those responsible for exciting it will assume a
heavy responsibility, responsibility for no less a thing than that the people of
the United States, whose love of their country and whose loyalty to its
government should unite them as Americans all, bound in honor and
affection to think first of her and her interests, may be divided in camps of
hostile opinion, hot against each other, involved in the war itself in impulse
and opinion if not in action.
Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might
seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one
great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of
impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation,
not as a partisan, but as a friend.
I venture, therefore, my fellow countrymen, to speak a solemn word of
warning to you against that deepest, most subtle, most essential breach of
neutrality which may spring out of partisanship, out of passionately taking
sides. 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, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every
transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the
struggle before another.
Copyright 2012 Digital History
The First Lusitania Note
Digital History ID 3897
Author: Woodrow Wilson
Annotation: The British ocean liner, Lusitania, was sunk by a German
submarine off the coast of Ireland on May 7, 1915. The British Admiralty had
warned the Lusitania to avoid the area after threats were made by Germany
that they were prepared to sink ships. But the crew refused to heed these
warnings. The ship was carrying munitions for the Allies, although it was
unarmed. The attack resulted in the loss of more than 1,100 passengers and
crew, including 124 Americans.
The following note was sent by President Wilson under the signature of
Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan.
Document: Department of State, Washington, May 13, 1915
To Ambassador Gerard:
Please call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs and after reading to him this
communication leave with him a copy.
In view of recent acts of the German authorities in violation of American
rights on the high seas which culminated in the torpedoing and sinking of
the British steamship Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by which over 100 American
citizens lost their lives, it is clearly wise and desirable that the Government
of the United States and the Imperial German Government should come to a
clear and full understanding as to the grave situation which has resulted.
The sinking of the British passenger steamer Falaba by a German submarine
on March 28, through which Leon C. Thrasher, an American citizen, was
drowned; the attack on April 28 on the American vessel Cushing by a
German aeroplane; the torpedoing on May 1 of the American vessel Gulflight
by a German submarine, as a result of which two or more American citizens
met their death and, finally, the torpedoing and sinking of the steamship
Lusitania, constitute a series of events which the Government of the United
States has observed with growing concern, distress, and amazement.
Recalling the humane and enlightened attitude hitherto assumed by the
Imperial German Government in matters of international right, and
particularly with regard to the freedom of the seas; having learned to
recognize the German views and the German influence in the field of
international obligation as always engaged upon the side of justice and
humanity; and having understood the instructions of the Imperial German
Government to its naval commanders to be upon the same plane of human
action prescribed by the naval codes of other nations, the Government of the
United States was loath to believe — it cannot now bring itself to believe —
that these acts, so absolutely contrary to the rules, the practices, and the
spirit of modern warfare, could have the countenance or sanction of that
great Government. It feels it to be its duty, therefore, to address the
Imperial German Government concerning them with the utmost frankness
and in the earnest hope that it is not mistaken in expecting action on the
part of the Imperial German Government which will correct the unfortunate
impressions which have been created and vindicate once more the position
of that Government with regard to the sacred freedom of the seas.
The Government of the United States has been apprised that the Imperial
German Government considered themselves to be obliged by the
extraordinary circumstances of the present war and the measures adopted
by their adversaries in seeking to cut Germany off from all commerce, to
adopt methods of retaliation which go much beyond the ordinary methods of
warfare at sea, in the proclamation of a war zone from which they have
warned neutral ships to keep away. This Government has already taken
occasion to inform the Imperial German Government that it cannot admit
the adoption of such measures or such a warning of danger to operate as in
any degree an abbreviation of the rights of American shipmasters or of
American citizens bound on lawful errands as passengers on merchant ships
of belligerent nationality; and that it must hold the Imperial German
Government to a strict accountability for any infringement of those rights,
intentional or incidental….
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…. The Government and the people of the United States look to
the Imperial German Government for just, prompt, and enlightened action in
this vital matter with the greater confidence because the United States and
Germany are bound together not only for special ties of friendship but also
by the explicit stipulations of the treaty of 1828 between the United States
and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Expressions of regret and offers of reparation in case of the destruction of
neutral ships sunk by mistake, while they may satisfy international
obligations, if no loss of life results, cannot justify or excuse a practice, the
natural and necessary effect of which is to subject neutral nations and
neutral persons to new and immeasurable risks.
The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government of the
United States to omit any word or any act necessary to the performance of
its sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the United States and its citizens
and of safeguarding their free exercise and enjoyment.
Copyright 2012 Digital History
Digital History ID 3900
Annotation: In January 1917, Germany announced that it would resume
unrestricted submarine warfare. This announcement helped precipitate
American entry into the conflict. Germany hoped to win the war within five
months, and they were willing to risk antagonizing Wilson on the assumption
that even if the United States declared war, it could not mobilize quickly
enough to change the course of the conflict.
Then a fresh insult led Wilson to demand a declaration of war. In March
1917, newspapers published the Zimmerman Note, an intercepted telegram
from the German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the German
ambassador to Mexico. The telegram said that if Germany went to war with
the United States, Germany promised to help Mexico recover the territory it
had lost during the 1840s, including Texas, New Mexico, California, and
Arizona. The Zimmerman Note and German attacks on three U.S. ships in
mid-March led Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war.
Wilson decided to enter the war so that he could help design the peace
settlement. Wilson viewed the war as an opportunity to destroy German
militarism. “The world must be made safe for democracy,” he told a joint
session of Congress. Only 6 Senators and 50 Representatives voted against
the war declaration.
Document: The Zimmerman Note to the German Minister to Mexico
Berlin, January 19, 1917
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….
You are instructed to inform the President of Mexico of the above in the
greatest confidence as soon as it is certain that there will be an outbreak of
war with the United States and suggest that the President of Mexico, on his
own initiative, should communicate with Japan suggesting adherence at once
to this plan; at the same time, offer to mediate between Germany and
Please call to the attention of the President of Mexico that the employment
of ruthless submarine warfare now promises to compel England to make
peace in a few months.
Zimmerman (Secretary of State)
Copyright 2012 Digital History
Digital History ID 3899
Author: Woodrow Wilson
Annotation: On February 3, 1917, President Wilson addressed Congress to
announce that diplomatic relations with Germany had been severed. On April
2, 1917, President Wilson delivered this ‘War Message’ to Congress. Four
days later, Congress overwhelmingly passed the War Resolution which
brought the United States into the Great War.
Document: Gentlemen of the 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.
On the 3d of February last I officially laid before you the extraordinary
announcement of the Imperial German Government that on and after the 1st
day of February it was its purpose to put aside all restraints of law or of
humanity and use its submarines to sink every vessel that sought to
approach either the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts
of Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany within
the Mediterranean. That had seemed to be the object of the German
submarine warfare earlier in the war, but since April of last year the Imperial
Government had somewhat restrained the commanders of its undersea craft
in conformity with its promise then given to us that passenger boats should
not be sunk and that due warning would be given to all other vessels which
its submarines might seek to destroy, when no resistance was offered or
escape attempted, and care taken that their crews were given at least a fair
chance to save their lives in their open boats. The precautions taken were
meager and haphazard enough, as was proved in distressing instance after
instance in the progress of the cruel and unmanly business, but a certain
degree of restraint was observed. 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. Even
hospital ships and ships carrying relief to the sorely bereaved and stricken
people of Belgium, though the latter were provided with safe-conduct
through the proscribed areas by the German Government itself and were
distinguished by unmistakable marks of identity, have been sunk with the
same reckless lack of compassion or of principle.
I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be
done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane
practices of civilized nations. International law had its origin in the attempt
to set up some law which would be respected and observed upon the seas,
where no nation had right of dominion and where lay the free highways of
the world. By painful stage after stage has that law been built up, with
meager enough results, indeed, after all was accomplished that could be
accomplished, but always with a clear view, at least, of what the heart and
conscience of mankind demanded. This minimum of right the German
Government has swept aside under the plea of retaliation and necessity and
because it had no weapons which it could use at sea except these which it is
impossible to employ as it is employing them without throwing to the winds
all scruples of humanity or of respect for the understandings that were
supposed to underlie the intercourse of the world. 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, even in the
darkest periods of modern history, 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
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 and
overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no
discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for
itself how it will meet it. The choice we make for ourselves must be made
with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our
character and our motives as a nation. We must put excited feeling away.
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.
When I addressed the Congress on the 26th of February last, I thought that
it would suffice to assert our neutral rights with arms, our right to use the
seas against unlawful interference, our right to keep our people safe against
unlawful violence. But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable.
Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German
submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to
defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations has assumed that
merchantmen would defend themselves against privateers or cruisers,
visible craft giving chase upon the open sea. It is common prudence in such
circumstances, grim necessity indeed, to endeavor to destroy them before
they have shown their own intention. They must be dealt with upon sight, if
dealt with at all. The German Government denies the right of neutrals to use
arms at all within the areas of the sea which it has proscribed, even in the
defense of rights which no modern publicist has ever before questioned their
right to defend. The intimation is conveyed that the armed guards which we
have placed on our merchant ships will be treated as beyond the pale of law
and subject to be dealt with as pirates would be. Armed neutrality is
ineffectual enough at best; in such circumstances and in the face of such
pretensions it is worse than ineffectual; it is likely only to produce what it
was meant to prevent; it is practically certain to draw us into the war
without either the rights or the effectiveness of belligerents. There is one
choice we can not make, we are incapable of making: we will not choose the
path of submission and suffer the most sacred rights of our nation and our
people to be ignored or violated. The wrongs against which we now array
ourselves are no common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life.
With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step
I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in
unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that
the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government
to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the
United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus
been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the
country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power
and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire
to terms and end the war.
What this will involve is clear. It will involve the utmost practicable
cooperation in counsel and action with the governments now at war with
Germany, and, as incident to that, the extension to those governments of
the most liberal financial credits, in order that our resources may so far as
possible be added to theirs. It will involve the organization and mobilization
of all the material resources of the country to supply the materials of war
and serve the incidental needs of the nation in the most abundant and yet
the most economical and efficient way possible. It will involve the immediate
full equipment of the Navy in all respects but particularly in supplying it with
the best means of dealing with the enemy’s submarines. It will involve the
immediate addition to the armed forces of the United States already
provided for by law in case of war at least 500,000 men, who should, in my
opinion, be chosen upon the principle of universal liability to service, and
also the authorization of subsequent additional increments of equal force so
soon as they may be needed and can be handled in training. It will involve
also, of course, the granting of adequate credits to the Government,
sustained, I hope, so far as they can equitably be sustained by the present
generation, by well conceived taxation….
While we do these things, these deeply momentous things, let us be very
clear, and make very clear to all the world what our motives and our objects
are. My own thought has not been driven from its habitual and normal
course by the unhappy events of the last two months, and I do not believe
that the thought of the nation has been altered or clouded by them I have
exactly the same things in mind now that I had in mind when I addressed
the Senate on the 22d of January last; the same that I had in mind when I
addressed the Congress on the 3d of February and on the 26th of February.
Our object now, as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in
the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up
amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a
concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of
those principles. Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace
of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to
that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments
backed by organized force which is controlled wholly by their will, not by the
will of their people. We have seen the last of neutrality in such
circumstances. We are at the beginning of an age in which it will be insisted
that the same standards of conduct and of responsibility for wrong done
shall be observed among nations and their governments that are observed
among the individual citizens of civilized states.
We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards
them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that
their Government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous
knowledge or approval. It was a war determined upon as wars used to be
determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere
consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest
of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to
use their fellow men as pawns and tools. Self-governed nations do not fill
their neighbor states with spies or set the course of intrigue to bring about
some critical posture of affairs which will give them an opportunity to strike
and make conquest. Such designs can be successfully worked out only under
cover and where no one has the right to ask questions. Cunningly contrived
plans of deception or aggression, carried, it may be, from generation to
generation, can be worked out and kept from the light only within the
privacy of courts or behind the carefully guarded confidences of a narrow
and privileged class. They are happily impossible where public opinion
commands and insists upon full information concerning all the nation’s
A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a
partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be
trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants. It must be a league
of honor, a partnership of opinion. Intrigue would eat its vitals away; the
plotting of inner circles that could plan what they would and render account
to no one would be a corruption seated at its very heart. Only free peoples
can hold their purpose and their honor steady to a common end and prefer
the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own.
Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for
the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that
have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia? Russia was known
by those who knew it best to have been always in fact democratic at heart,
in all the vital habits of her thought, in all the intimate relationships of her
people that spoke their natural instinct, their habitual attitude towards life.
The autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it
had stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian
in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the
great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty
and might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for
justice, and for peace. Here is a fit partner for a league of honor.
One of the things that has served to convince us that the Prussian autocracy
was not and could never be our friend 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 of counsel, our peace within and without our industries
and our commerce. Indeed it is now evident that its spies were here even
before the war began; and it is unhappily not a matter of conjecture but a
fact proved in our courts of justice that the intrigues which have more than
once come perilously near to disturbing the peace and dislocating the
industries of the country have been carried on at the instigation, with the
support, and even under the personal direction of official agents of the
Imperial Government accredited to the Government of the United States.
Even in checking these things and trying to extirpate them we have sought
to put the most generous interpretation possible upon them because we
knew that their source lay, not in any hostile feeling or purpose of the
German people towards us (who were, no doubt, as ignorant of them as we
ourselves were), but only in the selfish designs of a Government that did
what it pleased and told its people nothing. But they have played their part
in serving to convince us at last that that Government entertains no real
friendship for us and means to act against our peace and security at its
convenience. That it means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors
the intercepted [Zimmermann] note to the German Minister at Mexico City is
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, always lying in wait to
accomplish we know not what purpose, there can be no assured security for
the democratic governments of the world. We are now about to accept gage
of battle with this 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, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretence about
them, 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. Its peace
must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no
selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no
indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we
shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind.
We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the
faith and the freedom of nations can make them.
Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish object, seeking
nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share with all free peoples,
we shall, I feel confident, conduct our operations as belligerents without
passion and ourselves observe with proud punctilio the principles of right
and of fair play we profess to be fighting for.
I have said nothing of the governments allied with the Imperial Government
of Germany because they have not made war upon us or challenged us to
defend our right and our honor. The Austro-Hungarian Government has,
indeed, avowed its unqualified endorsement and acceptance of the reckless
and lawless submarine warfare adopted now without disguise by the
Imperial German Government, and it has therefore not been possible for this
Government to receive Count Tarnowski, the Ambassador recently
accredited to this Government by the Imperial and Royal Government of
Austria-Hungary; but that Government has not actually engaged in warfare
against citizens of the United States on the seas, and I take the liberty, for
the present at least, of postponing a discussion of our relations with the
authorities at Vienna. We enter this war only where we are clearly forced
into it because there are no other means of defending our rights.
It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high
spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity
towards a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon
them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which
has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running
amuck. We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people,
and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate
relations of mutual advantage between us — however hard it may be for
them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts. We
have borne with their present government through all these bitter months
because of that friendship — exercising a patience and forbearance which
would otherwise have been impossible. We shall, happily, still have an
opportunity to prove that friendship in our daily attitude and actions towards
the millions of men and women of German birth and native sympathy, who
live amongst us and share our life, and we shall be proud to prove it towards
all who are in fact loyal to their neighbors and to the Government in the
hour of test. 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. If there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with a firm hand of
stern repression; but, if it lifts its head at all, it will lift it only here and there
and without countenance except from a lawless and malignant few.
It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the Congress, which I
have performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months
of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. 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 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.
Copyright 2012 Digital History
The Espionage Act of 1917
Digital History ID 3904
Annotation: America declarated war with Germany in April 1917. Two
months later, the U.S. Congress passed the Espionage Act, which defined
espionage during wartime.
The Act was amended in May 1918.
In his war message to Congress, President Wilson had warned that the war
would require a redefinition of national loyalty. There were “millions of men
and women of German birth and native sympathy who live amongst us,” he
said. “If there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with a firm hand of
In June 1917, Congress passed the Espionage Act. The piece of legislation
gave postal officials the authority to ban newspapers and magazines from
the mails and threatened individuals convicted of obstructing the draft with
$10,000 fines and 20 years in jail.
Congress passed the Sedition Act of 1918, which made it a federal offense to
use “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the
Constitution, the government, the American uniform, or the flag. The
government prosecuted over 2,100 people under these acts.
The Espionage Act of June 15, 1917
That: (a) whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the
national defence with intent or reason to believe that the information to be
obtained is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage
of any foreign nation, goes upon, enters, flies over, or otherwise obtains
information, concerning any vessel, aircraft, work of defence, navy yard,
naval station, submarine base, coaling station, fort, battery, torpedo station,
dockyard, canal, railroad, arsenal, camp, factory, mine, telegraph,
telephone, wireless, or signal station, building, office, or other place
connected with the national defence, owned or constructed, or in progress of
construction by the United States or under the control or the United States,
or of any of its officers or agents, or within the exclusive jurisdiction of the
United States, or any place in which any vessel, aircraft, arms, munitions, or
other materials or instruments for use in time of war are being made,
prepared, repaired. or stored, under any contract or agreement with the
United States, or with any person on behalf of the United States, or
otherwise on behalf of the United States, or any prohibited place within the
meaning of section six of this title; or
(b) whoever for the purpose aforesaid, and with like intent or reason to
believe, copies, takes, makes, or obtains, or attempts, or induces or aids
another to copy, take, make, or obtain, any sketch, photograph,
photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, instrument, appliance,
document, writing or note of anything connected with the national defence;
(c) whoever, for the purpose aforesaid, receives or obtains or agrees or
attempts or induces or aids another to receive or obtain from any other
person, or from any source whatever, any document, writing, code book,
signal book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan,
map, model, instrument, appliance, or note, of anything connected with the
national defence, knowing or having reason to believe, at the time he
receives or obtains, or agrees or attempts or induces or aids another to
receive or obtain it, that it has been or will be obtained, taken, made or
disposed of by any person contrary to the provisions of this title; or
(d) whoever, lawfully or unlawfully having possession of, access to, control
over, or being entrusted with any document, writing, code book, signal
book, sketch, photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map,
model, instrument, appliance, or note relating to the national defence,
wilfully communicates or transmits or attempts to communicate or transmit
the same and fails to deliver it on demand to the officer or employee of the
United States entitled to receive it; or
(e) whoever, being entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of
any document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch, photograph,
photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, note, or information,
relating to the national defence, through gross negligence permits the same
to be removed from its proper place of custody or delivered to anyone in
violation of his trust, or to be list, stolen, abstracted, or destroyed, shall be
punished by a fine of not more than $10,000, or by imprisonment for not
more than two years, or both.
Whoever, with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury
or the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation, communicated,
delivers, or transmits, or attempts to, or aids, or induces another to,
communicate, deliver or transmit, to any foreign government, or to any
faction or party or military or naval force within a foreign country, whether
recognized or unrecognized by the United States, or to any representative,
officer, agent, employee, subject, or citizen thereof, either directly or
indirectly and document, writing, code book, signal book, sketch,
photograph, photographic negative, blue print, plan, map, model, note,
instrument, appliance, or information relating to the national defence, shall
be punished by imprisonment for not more than twenty years: Provided,
That whoever shall violate the provisions of subsection:
(a) of this section in time of war shall be punished by death or by
imprisonment for not more than thirty years; and
(b) whoever, in time of war, with intent that the same shall be
communicated to the enemy, shall collect, record, publish or communicate,
or attempt to elicit any information with respect to the movement, numbers,
description, condition, or disposition of any of the armed forces, ships,
aircraft, or war materials of the United States, or with respect to the plans or
conduct, or supposed plans or conduct of any naval of military operations, or
with respect to any works or measures undertaken for or connected with, or
intended for the fortification of any place, or any other information relating
to the public defence, which might be useful to the enemy, shall be punished
by death or by imprisonment for not more than thirty years.
Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall wilfully make or convey
false reports or false statements with intent to interfere with the operation
or success of the military or naval forces of the United States or to promote
the success of its enemies and whoever when the United States is at war,
shall wilfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny,
refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall
wilfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, to
the injury of the service or of the United States, shall be punished by a fine
of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years,
If two or more persons conspire to violate the provisions of section two or
three of this title, and one or more of such persons does any act to effect the
object of the conspiracy, each of the parties to such conspiracy shall be
punished as in said sections provided in the case of the doing of the act the
accomplishment of which is the object of such conspiracy. Except as above
provided conspiracies to commit offences under this title shall be punished
as provided by section thirty-seven of the Act to codify, revise, and amend
the penal laws of the United States approved March fourth, nineteen
hundred and nine.
Whoever harbours or conceals any person who he knows, or has reasonable
grounds to believe or suspect, has committed, or is about to commit, an
offence under this title shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000
or by imprisonment for not more than two years, or both.
The President in time of war or in case of national emergency may by
proclamation designate any place other than those set forth in subsection:
(a) of section one hereof in which anything for the use of the Army or Navy
is being prepared or constructed or stored as a prohibited place for the
purpose of this title: Provided, That he shall determine that information with
respect thereto would be prejudicial to the national defence.
Nothing contained in this title shall be deemed to limit the jurisdiction of the
general courts-martial, military commissions, or naval courts-martial under
sections thirteen hundred and forty-two, thirteen hundred and forty-three,
and sixteen hundred and twenty-four of the Revised Statutes as amended.
The provisions of this title shall extend to all Territories, possessions, and
places subject to the jurisdiction of the United States whether or not
contiguous thereto, and offences under this title, when committed upon the
high seas or elsewhere within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the
United States and outside the territorial limits thereof shall be punishable
The Act entitles “An Act to prevent the disclosure of national defence
secrets,” approved March third, nineteen hundred and eleven, is hereby
Copyright 2012 Digital History
Digital History ID 3901
Annotation: On January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson delivered his
Fourteen Points speech to a joint session of Congress that detailed his plan
for lasting peace after World War I. The speech was given 10 months before
The speech, however, became the foundation on which Germany based the
terms of their surrender at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The terms of
the surrender were outlined in the Treaty of Versailles.
At the conference, Wilson promoted his Fourteen Points, with hopes that
they would be included in the treaty. The Fourteen Points outlined his plan
for lasting post-war peace. It also called for the creation of a League of
Nations, which the final agreement of the treaty did include. The United
States, however, never joined the League of Nations and they refused to
endorse the Treaty of Versailles.
Document: President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points (Delivered in Joint
Session, January 8, 1918)
Gentlemen of the Congress:
Once more, as repeatedly before, the spokesmen of the Central Empires
have indicated their desire to discuss the objects of the war and the possible
basis of a general peace. Parleys have been in progress at Brest-Litovsk
between Russian representatives and representatives of the Central Powers
to which the attention of all the belligerents have been invited for the
purpose of ascertaining whether it may be possible to extend these parleys
into a general conference with regard to terms of peace and settlement.
The Russian representatives presented not only a perfectly definite
statement of the principles upon which they would be willing to conclude
peace but also an equally definite program of the concrete application of
those principles. The representatives of the Central Powers, on their part ,
presented an outline of settlement which, if much less definite, seemed
susceptible of liberal interpretation until their specific program of practical
terms was added. That program proposed no concessions at all either to the
sovereignty of Russia or to the preferences of the populations with whose
fortunes it dealt, but meant, in a word, that the Central Empires were to
keep every foot of territory their armed forces had occupied — every
province, every city, every point of vantage — as a permanent addition to
their territories and their power.
It is a reasonable conjecture that the general principles of settlement which
they at first suggested originated with the more liberal statesmen of
Germany and Austria, the men who have begun to feel the force of their own
people’s thought and purpose, while the concrete terms of actual settlement
came from the military leaders who have no thought but to keep what they
have got. The negotiations have been broken off. The Russian
representatives were sincere and in earnest. They cannot entertain such
proposals of conquest and domination.
The whole incident is full of significances. It is also full of perplexity. With
whom are the Russian representatives dealing? For whom are the
representatives of the Central Empires speaking? Are they speaking for the
majorities of their respective parliaments or for the minority parties, that
military and imperialistic minority which has so far dominated their whole
policy and controlled the affairs of Turkey and of the Balkan states which
have felt obliged to become their associates in this war?
The Russian representatives have insisted, very justly, very wisely, and in
the true spirit of modern democracy, that the conferences they have been
holding with the Teutonic and Turkish statesmen should be held within open,
not closed, doors, and all the world has been audience, as was desired. To
whom have we been listening, then? To those who speak the spirit and
intention of the resolutions of the German Reichstag of the 9th of July last,
the spirit and intention of the Liberal leaders and parties of Germany, or to
those who resist and defy that spirit and intention and insist upon conquest
and subjugation? Or are we listening, in fact, to both, unreconciled and in
open and hopeless contradiction? These are very serious and pregnant
questions. Upon the answer to them depends the peace of the world.
But, whatever the results of the parleys at Brest-Litovsk, whatever the
confusions of counsel and of purpose in the utterances of the spokesmen of
the Central Empires, they have again attempted to acquaint the world with
their objects in the war and have again challenged their adversaries to say
what their objects are and what sort of settlement they would deem just and
satisfactory. There is no good reason why that challenge should not be
responded to, and responded to with the utmost candor. We did not wait for
it. Not once, but again and again, we have laid our whole thought and
purpose before the world, not in general terms only, but each time with
sufficient definition to make it clear what sort of definite terms of settlement
must necessarily spring out of them. Within the last week Mr. Lloyd George
has spoken with admirable candor and in admirable spirit for the people and
Government of Great Britain.
There is no confusion of counsel among the adversaries of the Central
Powers, no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail. The only secrecy
of counsel, the only lack of fearless frankness, the only failure to make
definite statement of the objects of the war, lies with Germany and her
allies. The issues of life and death hang upon these definitions. No
statesman who has the least conception of his responsibility ought for a
moment to permit himself to continue this tragically and appalling
outpouring of blood and treasure unless he is sure beyond a peradventure
that the objects of the vital sacrifice are part and parcel of the very life of
Society and that the people for whom he speaks think them right and
imperative as he does.
There is, moreover, a voice calling for these definitions of principle and of
purpose which is, it seems to me, more thrilling and more compelling than
any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world is
filled. It is the voice of the Russian people. They are prostrate and all but
hopeless, it would seem, before the grim power of Germany, which has
hitherto known no relenting and no pity. Their power, apparently, is
shattered. And yet their soul is not subservient. They will not yield either in
principle or in action. Their conception of what is right, of what is humane
and honorable for them to accept, has been stated with a frankness, a
largeness of view, a generosity of spirit, and a universal human sympathy
which must challenge the admiration of every friend of mankind; and they
have refused to compound their ideals or desert others that they themselves
may be safe.
They call to us to say what it is that we desire, in what, if in anything, our
purpose and our spirit differ from theirs; and I believe that the people of the
United States would wish me to respond, with utter simplicity and frankness.
Whether their present leaders believe it or not, it is our heartfelt desire and
hope that some way may be opened whereby we may be privileged to assist
the people of Russia to attain their utmost hope of liberty and ordered
It will be our wish and purpose that the processes of peace, when they are
begun, shall be absolutely open and that they shall involve and permit
henceforth no secret understandings of any kind. The day of conquest and
aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered
into in the interest of particular governments and likely at some unlooked-
for moment to upset the peace of the world. It is this happy fact, now clear
to the view of every public man whose thoughts do not still linger in an age
that is dead and gone, which makes it possible for every nation whose
purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow nor
or at any other time the objects it has in view.
We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which touched
us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they
were corrected and the world secure once for all against their recurrence.
What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. It is
that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be
made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live
its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair
dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish
aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest,
and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to
others it will not be done to us. The program of the world’s peace, therefore,
is our program; and that program, the only possible program, as we see it,
I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no
private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed
always frankly and in the public view.
II. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters,
alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in
part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the
establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations
consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be
reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial
claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining
all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned
must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose
title is to be determined.
VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all
questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of
the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and
unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own
political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere
welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own
choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she
may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her
sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will,
of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own
interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.
VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored,
without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common
with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to
restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have
themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with
one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of
international law is forever impaired.
VIII. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored,
and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-
Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years,
should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the
interest of all.
IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly
recognizable lines of nationality.
X. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish
to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity
to autonomous development.
XI. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied
territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and
the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by
friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and
nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic
independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be
XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a
secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish
rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely
unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles
should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce
of all nations under international guarantees.
XIII. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the
territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be
assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and
economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by
XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific
covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political
independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
In regard to these essential rectifications of wrong and assertions of right we
feel ourselves to be intimate partners of all the governments and peoples
associated together against the Imperialists. We cannot be separated in
interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the end. For such
arrangements and covenants we are willing to fight and to continue to fight
until they are achieved; but only because we wish the right to prevail and
desire a just and stable peace such as can be secured only by removing the
chief provocations to war, which this program does remove. We have no
jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in this program that
impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction of learning or of
pacific enterprise such as have made her record very bright and very
enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any way her legitimate
influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either with arms or with
hostile arrangements of trade if she is willing to associate herself with us and
the other peace- loving nations of the world in covenants of justice and law
and fair dealing. We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the
peoples of the world, — the new world in which we now live, — instead of a
place of mastery.
Neither do we presume to suggest to her any alteration or modification of
her institutions. But it is necessary, we must frankly say, and necessary as a
preliminary to any intelligent dealings with her on our part, that we should
know whom her spokesmen speak for when they speak to us, whether for
the Reichstag majority or for the military party and the men whose creed is
We have spoken now, surely, in terms too concrete to admit of any further
doubt or question. An evident principle runs through the whole program I
have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples and nationalities,
and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another,
whether they be strong or weak.
Unless this principle be made its foundation no part of the structure of
international justice can stand. The people of the United States could act
upon no other principle; and to the vindication of this principle they are
ready to devote their lives, their honor, and everything they possess. The
moral climax of this the culminating and final war for human liberty has
come, and they are ready to put their own strength, their own highest
purpose, their own integrity and devotion to the test.
Copyright 2012 Digital History
The Versailles Treaty
Digital History ID 1159
Annotation: H.G. Wells called it “the war to end all wars.” But just two
decades after World War I concluded, a second world war erupted in Europe.
Ironically, the treaty that ended World War I helped plant the seeds for the
President Woodrow Wilson had called for a peace without victory, and in his
Fourteen Points, set out an idealistic framework for post-war peace. His call
for “self-determination” raised the hopes of many ethnic minorities. But at
the Paris Peace Conference, idealism collided with ignorance and national
self-interest and the resulting treaty was the product of a curious
combination of high ideals and cynical compromises. Wilson’s vision of a
strong international organization—a League of Nations—failed to win the
backing of the U.S. Senate and lacked the power to preserve the peace.
One of the major tasks facing the negotiators was determining what to do
about the Austro-Hungarian, German, and Ottoman Empires, as well as
China. The Versailles Conference redrew the map in ways that carried vast
consequences for the future. It placed large numbers of German speakers
outside of Germany. It created new countries containing a variety of
conflicting ethnic groups, including Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, as well as
Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Yugoslavia. And
it gave a portion of China to a Japan.
At the peace conference, the British Prime Minister Lloyd George warned his
fellow leaders: “You may strip Germany of her colonies, reduce her
armaments to a mere police force and her navy to that of a fifth-rate power;
all the same in the end if she feels that she has been unjustly treated in the
peace of 1919 she will find ways of exacting retribution from her
conquerors.” He was right. As a consequence of the treaty, Germany lost 13
percent of its territory and 10 percent of its population. A punitive peace
helped to bring about World War II. The onerous reparations imposed on
Germany, combined with the seizure of German territory and the
requirement that Germany accept guilt for causing the war, helped to create
the sense of grievance that would bring Adolf Hitler and the Nazis to power.
It is a haunting irony that in 1940, in the very rail car where the armistice
ending World War I was signed, Hitler abrogated the Versailles Peace Treaty.
Document: Article 22. Certain communities formerly belonging to the
Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence
as independent nations can be provisionally recognised subject to the
rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory [i.e., a
Western power] until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes
of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of
Article 42. Germany is forbidden to maintain or construct any fortifications
either on the left bank of the Rhine or on the right bank to the west of a line
drawn 50 kilometres to the East of the Rhine.
Article 45. As compensation for the destruction of the coal mines in the north
of France and as part payment towards the total reparation due from
Germany for the damage resulting from the war, Germany cedes to France
in full and absolute possession, with exclusive right of exploitation,
unencumbered and free from all debts and charges of any kind, the coal
mines situated in the Saar Basin….
Article 49. Germany renounces in favor of the League of Nations, in the
capacity of trustee, the government of the territory defined above.
At the end of fifteen years from the coming into force of the present Treaty
the inhabitants of the said territory shall be called upon to indicate the
sovereignty under which they desire to be placed.
Alsace-Lorraine. The High Contracting Parties, recognizing the moral
obligation to redress the wrong done by Germany in 1871 both to the rights
of France and to the wishes of the population of Alsace and Lorraine, which
were separated from their country in spite of the solemn protest of their
representatives at the Assembly of Bordeaux, agree upon the following….
Article 51. The territories which were ceded to Germany in accordance with
the Preliminaries of Peace signed at Versailles on February 26, 1871, and the
Treaty of Frankfort of May 10, 1871, are restored to French sovereignty as
from the date of the Armistice of November 11, 1918.
The provisions of the Treaties establishing the delimitation of the frontiers
before 1871 shall be restored.
Article 119. Germany renounces in favor of the Principal Allied and
Associated Powers all her rights and titles over her overseas possessions.
Article 156. Germany renounces, in favour of Japan, all her rights, title and
privileges . . . which she acquired in virtue of` the Treaty concluded by her
with China on March 6, 1898, and of all other arrangements relative to the
Province of Shantung.
Article 159. The German military forces shall be demobilised and reduced as
Article 160. By a date which must not be later than March 31, 1920, the
German Army must not comprise more than seven divisions of infantry and
three divisions of cavalry.
After that date the total number of effectives in the Army of the States
constituting Germany must not exceed 100,000 men, including officers and
establishments of depots. The Army shall be devoted exclusively to the
maintenance of order within the territory and to the control of the frontiers.
The total effective strength of officers, including the personnel of staffs,
whatever their composition, must not exceed four thousand….
Article 231. The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany
accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss
and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their
nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon
them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.
Article 232. The Allied and Associated Governments recognize that the
resources of Germany are not adequate, after taking into account permanent
diminutions of such resources which will result from other provisions of the
present Treaty, to make complete reparation for all such loss and damage.
The Allied and Associated Governments, however, require, and Germany
undertakes, that she will make compensation for all damage done to the
civilian population of the Allied and Associated Powers and to their property
during the period of the belligerency of each as an Allied or Associated Power
Copyright 2012 Digital History