Woodrow Wilson was determined to keep the US out of war – in fact, he ran for a second term on that promise, but events conspired against him. The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, attacks on American shipping by German subs and finally the ‘Zimmerman Telegram’ brought a great shift not only in public opinion, but in Wilson’s attitude as well.
The Zimmerman Telegram had been decoded by the British and passed on to the US government in February. On March 1, 1917, the government released it to the press. The telegram – from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman – to the German ambassador in Mexico instructed him to try and get an agreement from the Mexican government to join the Axis powers in a war against the U.S.
In return, Germany would see to it that Mexico would acquire more than half the land it had lost to the US over the years – basically the states of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona.
Mexico refused the offer, but the release of the telegram was a tipping point – the Congress declared war on Germany on April 6.
Wilson, btw, went from pacifist to war president quickly. He instituted the first draft since the Civil War, got the Alien and Sedition Acts passed, took over control of the railroads, enacted the first federal drug laws, raised billions with Liberty bonds, established the War Industries Board and, for a change, supported unions as they became crucial in the production of war materiel.
He got Herbert Hoover to help with the evacuation of more than a hundred thousand Americans stuck in Europe when war was declared, then put Hoover in charge of managing agriculture and food production. (Hoover was a very good manager, just not much of a politician.)
Wilson went from being isolationist to internationalist, in short, and left us with the dubious heritage of ‘Wilsonian democracy’ – i.e., that we should be out there exporting the stuff.
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Three birthdays of note: Frederic Chopin
and Glenn Miller. Take your pick.