Woodrow Wilson (1913 – 1921)
An Idealist. Wilson approached foreign policy as a matter of morals and legality. Of Scotch-English descent.
United States History, 400 – 469p
SAT World History
I. Wilson’s Moral Diplomacy (Denying Self-interested Imperialism)
Wilson wanted to correct what he considered past wrongs. He wanted to show that U.S. respected other nations’ rights and would support the spread of democracy.
- The Philippines : Jones Act of 1916 (1) granted full territorial status, (2) guaranteed a bill of rights and universal male suffrage to citizens, and (3) promised independence as soon as a stable government was established
- Puerto Rico : An act of Congress in 1917 granted U.S. Citizenship and limited self-government
- The Panama Canal : persuaded Congress in 1914 to repeal an act that had granted U.S. ships an exemption from paying the standard canal tolls charged other nations
II. Blind-Spots of Wilson’s Moral Diplomacy (Latin America)
Wilson argued that the following interventions were necessary to maintain the stability and straighten out financial and political troubles in the region.
- Kept Marines in Nicaragua
- Ordered U.S. troops into Haiti (1915)
- Ordered U.S. troops into Dominican Republic (1916)
U.S. – Mexico Conflict
- General Victoriano Huerta seized power in 1913 by arranging to assassinate the democratically elected president. Wilson refused to recognize Huerta.
- In 1914, several American seamen went ashore at Tampico where they were arrested by Mexican authorities and soon released. Huerta refused to apologize.
- Ordered U.S. Navy to occupy the port of Vera Cruz
- ABC powers (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) offered Joint Mediation
- Huerta fell from power in late 1914 and was replaced by Venustiano Carranza
- Carranza was challenged by revolutionaries loyal to Pancho Villa who lead raids across the border, murdering a number of people in Texas and New Mexico
- In March 1916, Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to pursue Villa into Mexico, but to no avail.
III. The Progressive Era and Wilson’s Progressive Program, 1913 – 1918
“A once relatively homogeneous, rural society of independent farmers was becoming an industrialized nation of mixed ethnicity centered in the growing cities” (Newman and Schmalbach, 425)
- rising power of big business
- increasing gap between rich and poor
- violent conflict between labor and capital
- dominance of corrupt political machines in the cities
- racist Jim Crow Laws in the South
- women’s suffrage
IV. World War I (1914 – 1918) and an Neutral U.S.
- Sarajevo (capital of Bosnia), June 28, 1914 : A Serbian terrorist assassinates Austrian heir apparent to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and his wife
- Vienna, July 23, 1914 : Austrian government threatens war against Serbia and invades the country four days later (July 28, 1914). Germany had given Austria a “blank check” or free hand. Russia responded by mobilizing her troops.
- Berlin, August 1, 1914 : German government, as an ally of the Austrian government, declares war against Russia, an ally of Serbia
- Berlin, August 3, 1914 : German government, as an ally of the Austrian government, declares war against France, an ally of Russia + German government invades Belgium (neutral) because it offers the fastest route to Paris (Schlieffin Plan). Germany sent 75% of her army against France with the goal of taking Paris in six weeks.
- London, August 4, 1914 : Great Britain, an ally of France, declares war against Germany
- Austria declares war against Russia
Tradition of U.S. since the era of Washington and Jefferson was to not ally the nation with any European power or become involved in warfare taking place across the Atlantic. Wilson declared neutrality. U.S. was a content neutral country.
- Great Britain declared a Naval Blockade against Germany by mining the North Sea and seizing ships attempting to run the blockade
- February 1915 : Germany announced a blockade of its own and warned that ships attempting to enter the “war zone” (waters near the British Isles) risked being sunk on sight by German submarines or U-boat (Newman and Schmalbach, 449p)
- May 7, 1915 : Germany torpedoed and sunk a British passenger line, the Lusitania including 128 Americans. [ Lusitania Crisis ] Wilson sent Germany “a strongly worded diplomatic message warning Germany would be held to strict accountability…”
- August 1915 : Germany torpedoed and sunk another passenger ship, the Arabic killing two more Americans. Germany pledged that “no other unarmed passenger ships would be sunk without warning.”
- March 1916 : Germany broke its pledge by torpedoing an unarmed merchant ship, the Sussex and injuring several American passengers. Wilson threatened to cut off U.S. diplomatic relations with Germany (a step preparatory to war) and Germany, in the Sussex Pledge, “promised not to sink merchant or passenger ships without giving due warning.” (Newman and Schmalbach, 449p)
V. U.S.’ Economic Ties with Britain and France becomes a Factor
In early 1914, U.S. had been in a business recession. The economy rebounded after the outbreak of war “in part because of orders for war supplies from the British and the French.” (Newman and Schmalbach, 449p) The British Naval Blockade effectively prevented U.S. trade with Germany. This was in part because Wilson more or less tolerated the British blockade while restricting Germany’s submarine blockade. Between 1914 and 1917, U.S. trade with the Allies quadrupled while its trade with Germany dwindled to the vanishing point.
The U.S. government also permitted J.P. Morgan and other bankers to extend as much as $3 billion USD in secured credit to Great Britain and France which maintained U.S. prosperity and the Allies’ war effort.
The French and British had democratic governments. Germany had a autocratic government under Kaiser Wilhelm.
VI. War Propaganda and Manipulation of Public Opinion
British government made sure the American Press was well supplied with stories of German soldiers committing atrocities in Belgium and the German occupied part of Eastern France.
Germany’s illegal invasion of neutral Belgium which killed many civilians was happily propagandized by the Allies (Great Britain) to convince the public that the Germans were aggressors, “barbarians,” and “Huns.”
Later, after the U.S. Declaration of War, the Committee on Public Information (a propaganda agency) enlisted the voluntary services of artists, writers, vaudeville performers, and movie stars to depict the heroism of the “boys” (U.S. soldiers) and the villainy of Kaiser. Progressive journalist George Creel, leading this Committee, created films, posters, pamphlets, and volunteer speakers – all urging Americans to watch out for German spies and to “do your bit” for the war.
VII. The War Debate and The Election of 1916
The Democrat’s and Wilson’s slogan for re-election as President was “He Kept Us Out of the War.” Wilson won in an extremely close election. Democratic strength in the South and West had overcome Republican dominance in the East. Wilson’s attempt to negotiate a peace settlement between Great Britain, France, and Germany had been unsuccessful.
In 1915, following suit of several Eastern Republicans such as Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson changed his policy and urged Congress to approve an ambitious expansion of the U.S. armed forces in order to be prepared for war.
- June 1916 : Wilson convinced the Congress to pass the National Defence Act which increased the regular army to a force of nearly 175,000.
- July 1916 : Congress approved the construction of more than 50 warships including battleships, cruisers, destroyers, and submarines in just one year.
Anti-war activists included Populists, Progressive, and Socialists. Many Americans in the Midwest and West adamantly opposed to preparedness, fearing that it would soon lead to U.S. involvement in the war.
- Jennings Bryan
- Jane Addams
- Jeannette Rankin
Factors that had affected Wilson’s Change of Heart
- Early January 1917 : German high command decides to resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Germany miscalculated the risks of U.S. entering the war by erroneously believing that, by cutting off supplies to the Allies, she could win the war before Americans can react. Her decision was communicated to U.S. in January 31. [ Unrestricted Submarine Warfare ]
- February 1917 : Wilson broke off U.S. diplomatic relations with Germany (a step preparatory to war)
- March 1 1917 : British Intelligence intercepted and U.S. newspapers reported a secret offer made by the German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann to Mexico, proposing Mexico ally itself with Germany in return for Germany’s pledge to help her recover lost territories such as Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Wilson was convinced that Germany fully expected war with the U.S.
- March 15, 1917 : The Russian government run by an autocratic czar was removed from power by revolutionaries and proclaimed herself a republic. Despite these revolutionaries were ultimately subdued by the Communists (Vladimir Lennin and the Bolsheviks), they remain in power until November. Russia is completely out of the war in November 1917. (1918 Peace of Brest-Litovsk)
- March, 1917 : German submarines sank five unarmed U.S. merchant ships.
VIII. U.S. Declaration of War in 1917
In January 1917, Wilson made a speech to the Senate declaring U.S. commitment to the idea of “peace without victory.”
- April 2, 1917 : Wilson, only one month after being sworn into office for the second time, asked Congress to recognize a state of war existed between Germany and the U.S.
- April 6, 1917 : An overwhelming majority in Congress voted for a Declaration of War (Robert La Follette and Jeanette Rankin defiantly voted no)
IX. Temporary Abandonment of Democracy to Fight the War
(i) Setting of Production Priorities and Centralized Control over Raw Materials and Prices under the War Industries Board
(ii) Conservation Drive by the Food Administration encouraged American households to eat less meat and bread so that more rations could be shipped abroad for the French and British troops.
(iii) Fuel Administration directed efforts to save coal by closing non-essential factories and the daylight saving time went into effect for the first time.
(iv) Former President William Howard Taft as head of the National War Labor Board helped arbitrate disputes between workers and employers. Labor won concessions during the war that had earlier been denied.
(v) By a combination of loans and taxes, Wilson’s war government managed to raise $33 billion in two years. For example, for massive drives to convince Americans to put their savings into federal government Liberty Bonds was conducted. Congress increased both personal income and corporate taxes and placed an excise tax on luxury goods.
(vi) U.S. government used techniques of both patriotic persuasion and legal intimidation to ensure public support for the war effort.
(vii) Congress passed the Espionage Act in 1917 and the Sedition Act in 1918 which penalized criticism of the U.S. government’s war policy often with a stiff prison sentence. Approximately 2000 people were prosecuted and half were convicted and jailed. [ Socialist Leader Eugene Debs ] Prosecution for these crimes failed to ensure due process.
- Espionage Act in 1917 : imprisonment of up to 20 yrs for persons who either tried to incite rebellion in the armed forces or obstruct the operation of the draft
- Sendition Act in 1918 : prohibit anyone from making “disloyal” or “abusive” remarks about the U.S. government
[ Schenck v. United States ]
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1919
- … the right to free speech could be limited when it represented a “clear and present danger” to the public safety.
(viii) Mandatory Conscription required all men between 21 and 30 (and later between 18 and 45) to register with the government for possible induction. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker devised the system of “selective service” – a “democratic” method – that ensured all groups in the population would be called into service. Men who attempted to gain conscientious objector status were often denied.
Approximately 2.8 million men were eventually called by lottery. Draftees provided over half of the total of 4.7 million Americans who were issued a uniform during the war.
- Selective Service Act in June 1917
(ix) Segregation of African Americans persisted during the Draft and War. Approximately 400,000 African Americans served in WWI in segregated units. Only a few were permitted to be officers and all were barred from the Marine Corps.
(x) Censorship was placed on the press, the mass media, and even the mails. Socialist parties and trade unions were supervised and their activities curtailed.
X. Blind Spots of Wilson’s Moral Diplomacy (Europe)
(i) Peace in European Continent in 1914 was not to the benefit of all States. The “democratic” governments of France and Great Britain were built an brutalities and the suffering of colonized territory abroad and the relatively reduced wealth of neighboring European states.
(ii) The sole fact that a government is run “democratically” does not guarantee moral superiority. Great Britain and France were imperialist governments as well.
(iii) U.S.’ economic ties to Great Britain and France as well as Wilson’s own Scotch-English decent were critical factors in determining her participation in the war.
(iv) The manipulation of public opinion through the demon-ization of German acts in the media was permitted, if not encouraged, under Wilson’s government.
XI. Conclusion of WWI for U.S.
Meuse-Argonne Offensive : In August, September, and October, an Allied offensive along the Meuse River and through the Argonne Forest succeeded in driving an exhausted German army backward toward the German border.
In September, Bulgaria and Turkey surrendered, and in October Austria gave in.
Emperor William abdicated on November 9 and the Weimar Republic, which replaced him, authorized a cease-fire.
On November 11, 1918, the Germans signed an armistice in which they agreed to surrender their arms, give up much of their navy, and evacuate occupied territory. There were 30 million casualties and 8 million dead.
U.S. combat deaths totaled nearly 49,000. Disease brought the total U.S. fatalities in WWI to 112,432.
∴ Essentially, it needs to be understood that “World War” is a misnomer at best. It was a war between European imperial forces largely within the Western European continent (intra-European) in which United States was involved. This is hardly the “world.”
“Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere” – King, Jr.
Joining in 2010, Seungmin is a Founding Member of and Senior Partner at Yonsei ULS. Please be advised: the comment, writing, or column does not represent the official position of YULS.