Front page, April 2, 1917: President Wilson declares war on Germany - The Buffalo News

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Front page, April 2, 1917: President Wilson declares war on Germany

On April 2, 1917, the Buffalo Evening News printed a special edition with the blaring headline: "STATE OF WAR DECLARES PRESIDENT."

After months and years of escalating attacks on American ships and soil, the U.S. was finally ready to declare war on Germany and enter World War I, which had been going on since 1914.

President Woodrow Wilson had been planning his April 2 address to Congress for days when the American liner Aztec – the first armed ship to sail from a U.S. port – was sunk by a German submarine on April 1. The sinking of the Aztec only served to strengthen Wilson's call to war.

Congress would approve the declaration of war on April 6 and the U.S. would then officially enter World War I.

The front page of the Buffalo Evening News on April 2 carried the text of President Wilson's speech to a joint session of Congress in full and a rare photograph from the day.

You can read the full text of Wilson's speech by scrolling down and clicking on the image of the front page to enlarge it. Here is the brief introduction to the speech, followed by excerpts of the address.

President Wilson tonight asked Congress to declare a state of war existing between the United States and Germany. While the news of the submarining of the steamer Aztec – the first American armed ship to sail into the war zone – was being told from mouth to mouth in the capitol, the President, appearing before the House and Senate in joint session, asked Congress to recognize and deal with Germany's warfare on American commerce.

The President said war with Germany would involve practical co-operation with the governments now at war with Germany, including liberal financial credits. He urged the raising of 500,000 men by universal military service.

President made it clear that no action was being taken against the Austrian government and the other nations allied with Germany.

President Wilson spoke as follows:

I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making.

...

The present German warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind. It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it ... 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 ... Armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable.

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There is one choice we cannot make, we are incapable of making; we will not choose the path of submission and suffer the most sacred rights of our nation and our people to be ignored or violated. The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are not common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life.

With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the imperial German government to be in fact nothing less than war against the government and the people of the United States: that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense, but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the government of the German empire to terms and end the war.

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Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force which is controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of their people. We have seen the last of neutrality in such circumstances.

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We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous knowledge or approval.

It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools.

 

Read the President Wilson's speech by clicking on the front page below to enlarge it.

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