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The presidential campaign of 1916, taken in conjunction with the increasing tension of European relations, forced Wilson to a further development of his international ideals and a more definite formulation of the means by which to attain them. As we have observed, the spring of that year saw him reject the doctrine of isolation. “We are participants,” he said on the 27th of May, “whether we would or not, in the life of the world. The interests of all nations are our own also. We are partners with the rest. What effects mankind is inevitably our affair as well as the affair of the nations of Europe and of Asia.” This recognition of our interest in world affairs immediately took him considerably beyond the position he had assumed during the earlier stages of the submarine controversy. Until the spring of 1916 he had restricted his aims to the championship of neutral and human
rights in time of war. But now he began to demand something more far-reaching, namely a system that would prevent unjust war altogether and would protect the rights of all peoples in time of peace. He insisted, in this same speech of the 27th of May, before the League to-Enforce Peace at Washington, “First that every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live. ... Second, that the small states of the world have a right to enjoy the same respect for their sovereignty and for their territorial integrity that great and powerful nations expect and insist upon. And, third, that the world has a right to be free from every disturbance of its peace that has its origin in aggression and disregard of the rights of peoples and nations." These words sum up the gist of his international aims during the three following years. His later speeches are merely refinement of details.
In order that these ends might be secured it was necessary that some international system be inaugurated other than that which had permitted the selfishness of the great powers to produce war in the past. In his search for a concrete mechanism to realize his ideals and secure them from violation, Wilson seized upon the essential principles of the
League to Enforce Peace, of which William Howard Taft was president. The basis of permanent peace, Wilson insisted, could be found only by substituting international cooperation in place of conAlict, through a mobilization of the public opinion of the world against international lawbreakers: "an universal association of the nations to maintain the inviolate security of the highway of the seas for the common and unhindered use of all the nations of the world, and to prevent any war begun either contrary to treaty covenants or without warning and full submission of the causes to the opinion of the world - a virtual guarantee of territorial integrity and political independence." These were the principles and methods which formed the keynote of his foreign policy until the end of the Peace Conference. The first part of the programme, that which concerned the security of the seas and which originated in the particular circumstances of 1915, faded from his sight to a large extent; the second portion, more general in its nature, became of increasing importance until, as Article X of the League Covenant, it seemed to him the heart of the entire settlement.
The unselfish nature of his idealism, as well as his continued detachment from both camps of the belligerents, was obvious. “We have nothing material of any kind to ask for ourselves,” he said, "and are quite aware that we are in no sense or degree parties to the present quarrel. Our interest is only in peace and in its future guarantees.” But noblesse oblige, and we must serve those who have not had our good fortune. “The commands of democracy are as imperative as its privileges are wide and generous. Its compulsion is upon us. ... We are not worthy to stand here unless we ourselves be in deed and truth real democrats and servants of mankind.”
That the United States might be drawn into the conflict evidently seemed possible to the President, despite pacific whispers that came from Germany in the spring and summer of 1916. There was a note of apprehension in his speeches. No one could tell when the extremist faction in Berlin might gain control and withdraw the Sussex pledge. The temper of Americans was being tried by continued sinkings, although the exact circumstances of each case were difficult to determine. The attacks made by the German U-53 immediately off the American coast and the deportation of Belgian civilians into Germany made more difficult the preservation of amicable relations. In view of the possibility of war Wilson wanted to define the issue exactly. “We have never yet,” he said at Omaha, a peace center, on the 5th of October, “sufficiently formulated our programme for America with regard to the part she is going to play in the world, and it is imperative that she should formulate it at once. ... It is very important that the statesmen of other parts of the world should understand America. ... We are holding off, not because we do not feel concerned, but because when we exert the force of this nation we want to know what we are exerting it for.” Ten days later at Shadowlawn he said: “Define the elements, let us know that we are not fighting for the prevalence of this nation over that, for the ambitions of this group of nations as compared with the ambitions of that group of nations; let us once be convinced that we are called in to a great combination to fight for the rights of mankind and America will unite her force and spill her blood for the great things which she has always believed in and followed.” He thus gave warning that the United States might have to fight. He wanted to be certain, however, that it did not fight as so many other nations have fought, greedily or vindictively, but rather as in a crusade and for elearly defined ideals.