This is a transcription of an address given by President Woodrow Wilson, to a joint session of the United States Congress on 2 April 1917. In this significant address, Wilson called for the US to declare war against Germany.
Neutrality and intervention
At the outbreak of World War One in August 1914, Wilson stated that America’s intention was to remain neutral. He hoped that the US could act as impartial mediator between the nations at war. Over two and half years later, however, he argued that ‘neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved’ (p. 6).
In his address, Wilson reassures Congress that his motivation to join the war is to make the world ‘safe for democracy’ (p. 7). He refers to hostile acts which have led him and his Administration to readdress their self-defined position as neutral mediator. This included Germany’s early 1917 announcement to renew unrestricted submarine warfare, as well as espionage in the US and the revelation of the Zimmerman Telegram which proposed a German-Mexican military alliance against the US. Wilson explains that armed neutrality had failed, and further inaction would cause a serious threat to the safety and security of American civilians and property. Furthermore, Wilson frames Germany as a ‘hostile’ autocracy and argues that its defeat would usher in an era of peace led by the US, as the ‘champions of the rights of mankind’ (pp. 6–7).
Wilson’s call to action was a success. On 6 April 1917 America formally entered World War One, with an average of 86 per cent of Members voting in favour of a declaration of war against Germany.
 A Cipriano Venzon, (ed.), The United Stated in the First World War, (1995), p. 794.
- Article by:
- Jennifer D Keene
- Race, empire and colonial troops, Civilians, Life as a soldier
Jennifer Keene explores the events that led up to the United States of America joining the First World War and describes the effect that participation in the war had on American social and political life.