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THHE farmers, it seems to me, have occupied hitherto a singular position of disadvantage. They have not had the same freedom to get credit on their real assets that others have had who were in manufacturing and commercial enterprises, and while they sustained our life, they did not in the same degree with some others share in the benefits of that life.—From President Wilson's remarks on signing the Rural Credits Bill, July 17, 1916.

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© Paul Thompson

1918: The President acknowledging greetings at a military review

seven-eighths of the Senate; but a dozen pacifists, pro-Germans and professional obstructionists, whom the President denounced as "a little group of willful men," filibustered it to death in the Senate in the last hours of the session. Almost the first act of the President after his inauguration, however, was the preparation to ^ arm the ships by Executive authority.

Meanwhile secret agents had discovered an attempt by the German Foreign Office to enlist Mexican and Japanese support in the prospective war against America by promising annexations in the Southwest and on the Pacific Coast. Publication of this on March I converted a good many Americans of the interior who had hitherto been slow to recognize the seriousness of the German danger; and as the submarine campaign continued and no European neutrals followed the American example, the sentiment in favor of declaration of war grew every day.

But for the President this involved considerable logical difficulty. From the first he had striven to maintain "impartiality of thought," or at least of speech. He had said that the war was no concern of America's; it would be the task of long historical research to assign the responsibility for its outbreak; that "with its causes and objects we are not concerned. The obscure foundations from which its tremendous flood has burst forth we are not interested to search for and explore." It was a war which should be ended by a peace without a victory. Whatever meaning the President attached to these statements when he made them, the meaning attached to them by the public was a serious obstacle* to the man who was going to have to lead the nation into war. But £> he solved the dilemma by a change of base which affected the whole political complexion of the war thereafter, which introduced a new and overriding issue—an issue which, addressing Congress on April i, he introduced to the world in his most famous phrase and the most effective of his speeches. America, he said, had no quarrel with the German people; that.people had not made the war. But the Germans were ruled by an autocratic Government which had made neutrality impossible, which had shown itself "the natural foe of liberty." That Government had forced America to take up the sword for the freedom of peoples—of all peoples, even of the German people. America must fight "to make the world safe for democracy." On April 6, 1917, Congress declared war.

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ONCE committed to war, the President found behind him a nation more thoroughly united than could ever have been hoped in the dark days of 1915... Again, as in the week after the sinking of the Lusitania, he was the universally trusted leader" of the people; and to a considerable extent the unity of the nation at the entrance into war could be traced back to the very policies

of delay which had been so sharply criticised. /The people who had been on the side of the Allies from the first and who had seen through German pretenses long before were now solidly behind the President, for he had at last come over to their views. But other and important elements which might have been hostile two years before were now convinced of the necessity for fighting the Germans.

And the President's call to a crusade for democracy won the support, permanent or temporary, of many of those liberals who otherwise, in America and the allied countries, were inclined during the whole war to see in the Kaiser and Ludendorff the natural allies of liberalism. There was a feeling of great ideas stirring the world in the Spring of 1917. The Russian revolution had just overthrown the most reactionary and apparently the * most firmly established of autocratic Governments, and no one in Western Europe or America doubted that Russia would jump in six months as far as England, France and America had painfully toiled in two centuries, and become and remain a free democracy. If Russia had had a revolution, might not Germany have a revolution, too? Would not the German people, whose injuries at the hands of their own rulers the President had so well pointed out, rise up and overthrow those rulers and bring about a just and lasting peace? Many people in the Spring of 1917 expected exactly that; the millennium was just around the corner.

Moreover, it seemed that perhaps the Allies would win the war in the field before America could get into it. A British offensive in Artois had important initial successes, and Nivelle's bloody failure on the Aisne was for a long time represented to the world as a brilliant victory. War, for America, might involve a little expenditure of money, but hardly any serious effort, acccording to the view widely current among the population in the Spring of 1917; it was more than anything else an opportunity for the display of commendable moral sentiments, and for enthusiastic acclamations to the famous allied leaders who presently began to come to the United States on special missions. /It is hardly too muchv* to say that most of the American people went into this war in the triumphant mood usually reserved for the celebration of victory.

It may some day be regarded as one of the chief merits of the Wilson Administration that it was not affected by this popular delusion. While a large part of the people seemed to expect a cheap and speedy victory by some sort of white magic, the Administration was getting ready to work for victory. And thanks largely to the unity which had been bought by the President's caution in the two previous years, Congress and the people assented i to measures of exertion and self-denial such as no man could have expected America to undertake until compelled by bitter experience.

The, first step was the dispatch of American naval forces to aid

the Allies in the fight against the submarines, which for a few months were to come dangerously near justifying the confidence that had been placed in them. The process of naval reinforcement was slow, and not till 1918 did the American Navy become a really important factor in the anti-submarine campaign; but every destroyer added to the allied forces was of immediate value. The American Treasury was opened for vast credits to the Allies,." who by their enormous purchases of war materials in the United States had created the abounding prosperity of 1916, and had pretty nearly exhausted their own finances in doing so. More than that, the Administration began at once to prepare for the" organization of a vast army; and faced with this most important duty of the conduct of the war, the President took the advice of the men who knew. The army officers knew that if America were to take a serious part in the war the regular army and the National Guard would not be enough, nor even Garrison's Continental Army which had been rejected in 1916. A big army would be needed, and the right way to raise it was by conscription.

So the Selective Service act was introduced in Congress and passed in May, without very serious opposition. At the very start the American people had accepted a principle which had been adopted in the crisis of the Civil War only after two years of disaster and humiliation. It was the estimate of experts that this army would need a year of training before it would be fit for the front line, and a huge system of cantonments was hastily constructed to house the troops, while the nucleus of men trained in the Plattsburg camps was increased by the extension of the Plattsburg system all over the country.

For the leadership of this army General Pershing was selected, not without considerable criticism from those who thought General Wood deserved the position. The reasons which led to the selection of Pershing are not yet officially known to the public, but Pershing's record was to be a sufficient justification of the appointment.

But military and naval measures were only a part of the work needed to win this war. Allied shipping was being sunk by the submarines at an alarming rate, and new ships had to be provided. An enormous American program was laid out, and General Goethals, in whom there was universal confidence, was made head of the Emergency Fleet Corporation charged with its execution. But Goethals could not get along with William Denman, head of the Shipping Board, and changes of personnel were constant through the year until in 1918 Charles M. Schwab was finally put in chief control of the shipbuilding program. ./For this and the development of the industrial program necessary for military efficiency the support of labor was essential. Mr. Wilson now reaped once more the benefit of a policy which had previously brought him much criticism. His retreat before

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