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IT MUST BE A LEAGUE OF HONOR 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 plottings of inner circles who 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.
HERE IS A FIT PARTNER 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 for their natural instinct, their habitual attitude toward life.
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, in character or purpose, and now it has been shaken, and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their native 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.
SPIES WERE HERE BEFORE THE WAR BEGAN One of the things that have 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 council, 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 toward 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.
FOR THE ULTIMATE PEACE OF THE WORLD
That it means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors the intercepted note to che German Minister at Mexico City is eloquent evidence.
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 trusted 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 as secure as the faith and the freedom of the nation can make them.
Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish objects, 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.
WILL DEAL WITH AUSTRIA LATER 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 AustroHungarian Government has, indeed, avowed its unqualified endorsement and acceptance of the reckless and lawless submarine warfare adopted now without disguise by the imperial 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.
BECAUSE WE ACT WITHOUT ANIMUS 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 toward 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 re-establishment 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.
THE MILLIONS OF GERMAN BIRTH WHO LIVE AMONG US We shall, happily, still have an opportunity to prove that friendship in our daily attitude and actions toward 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 toward 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
If there should be disloyalty it will be dealt with 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.
PRIVILEGED TO SPEND HER BLOOD
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.
This address was received with extraordinary expressions of approval by the members of Congress present and by the occupants of the galleries. The press and public of America, with almost unprecedented unanimity hailed it with grateful satisfaction. It was similarly received in Great Britain, France, and the other allied nations of Europe, and also in South America, where Brazil and other powers immediately began considering the question of following the example of the United States in declaring war against the arch-foe of democracy and of humanity.
In Germany the full text of the address was withheld by the censorship from general circulation. Among the government officials it caused a mingling of rage and fear, the latter passion being but ill-concealed. There was at first an attempt made to pretend that it did not matter, that the United States would be a negligible quantity in the war; but such words rang hollow, and the real thought of official Germany was that fearful odds were being cast against the Central Powers by the entrance of America into the fray.
PROMPT ACTION OF CONGRESS Immediately upon the conclusion of the President's address a resolution declaring war against Germany, or rather accepting the war which Germany had already begun against the United States, was introduced into both Houses of Congress. Brief debates followed, in which very few members ventured to oppose what was known to be the overwhelming will of the people. In the Senate one day's delay was caused by the opposition of Senator La Follette, of Wisconsin, but late on the evening of April 4th the resolution was adopted by a vote of 82 to 6.