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But "if American ships and American lives should in fact be sacrificed by their naval commanders in heedless contravention of the just and reasonable understandings of international law and the ob vious dictates of humanity, I shall take the liberty of coming again before the Congress to ask that authority be given me to use any means that may be necessary for the protection of our seamen and our people in the prosecution of their peaceful and legitimate errands on the high seas. I can do nothing less. I take it for granted that all neutral governments will take the same course.” He was care ful, moreover, to underline the fact that his ac tion was dictated always by a consistent desire for peace: “We wish to serve no selfish ends. We seek merely to stand true alike in thought and in action to the immemorial principles of our people. These are the bases of peace, not war. God grant we may not be challenged to defend them by acts of willful injustice on the part of the Government of Germany!”
But Germany proceeded heedlessly. Warned that American intervention would result only from overt acts, the German Admiralty hastened to commit such acts. From the 3d of February to the 1st of April, eight American vessels were sunk by sub
marines and forty-eight American lives thus lost. Because of the practical blockade of American ports which followed the hesitation of American shipping interests to send boats unarmed into the dangers of the “war zone,” President Wilson came again to Congress on the 26th of February to ask authority to arm merchant vessels for purposes of defense. Again he stressed his unwillingness to enter upon formal warfare and emphasized the idealistic aspect of the issue: “It is not of material interests merely that we are thinking. It is, rather, of fundamental human rights, chief of all the right of life itself. I am thinking not only of the rights of Americans to go and come about their proper business by way of the sea, but also of something much deeper, much more fundamental than that. I am thinking of those rights of humanity without which there is no civilization.
I cannot imagine any man with American principles at his heart hesitating to defend these things.
Blinded by prejudice and tradition, a handful of Senators, twelve "willful men," as Wilson described them, blocked,
through a filibuster, the resolution granting the power requested by the President. But the storm of popular obloquy which covered them proved that the nation as a whole was determined to support him in the defense of American rights. The country was stirred to the depths. ☆ The publication of the plans of Germany for involving the United States in war with Mexico and Japan came merely as added stimulus. So also of the story of the cruelties heaped by the Germans on the American prisoners of the Yarrowdale. There was so much of justice in the cause that passion was notable by its absence. When finally on the 17th of March news came of the torpedoing of the Vigilancia without warning, America was prepared and calmly eager for the President's demand that Congress recognize the existence of a state of war.
The demand was made by Wilson in an extraordinary joint session of Congress, held on the 2d of April. In this, possibly his greatest speech, he was careful not to blur the idealistic principles which, since the spring of 1916, he had been formulating. War existed because Germany by its actions had thrust upon the United States the status of belligerent. But the American people must meet the challenge with their purpose clearly before them. “We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right,
of which we are only a single champion. The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are no common wrongs; they cut to the
roots of human life.” He went on to define the objects of the war more specifically, referring to his earlier addresses: “Our object now, as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and selfgoverned peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles.” Democracy must be the soul of the new international order: “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... 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.” Because the existing German Government was clearly at odds with all such ideals, “We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretense about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German people 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 tested foundations of political liberty.”
Wilson thus imagined the war as a crusade, the sort of crusade for American ideals which Clay and Webster once imagined. He was in truth originating nothing, but rather resuscitating the generous dreams which had once inspired those statesmen. In conclusion, he reiterated his love of peace. “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.” At the moment of the declaration of war Wilson was still the man of peace, molt and the war upon which the nation was embarking was, in his mind, a war to ensure peace. To such a task of peace and liberation, he concluded in a peroration reminiscent of Lincoln and Luther, “we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that