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President Woodrow Wilson Asks Congress for a Declaration of War
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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.

In this address to Congress, President Woodrow Wilson reluctantly requests a declaration of war on Imperial Germany because of its announcement that “it was its purpose to put aside all restraints of law or of humanity and use its submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach either the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts of Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany within the Mediterranean.” Germany had cast aside its earlier restraint and begun to pursue unrestricted submarine warfare on vessels from every nation with a “reckless lack of compassion or of principle.

WOODROW WILSON. Printed Document Signed, “A Message Calling for War With the Imperial German Government in Defense of American Rights,” [April 2, 1917]. New York: Literary Digest, 1917. In three columns with elaborate initials in red and gold. 1 p., 16¼ x 22½ in.

Inventory #27120.99       Price: $26,000

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 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.

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.

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 near 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. 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.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was born in Staunton, Virginia, and graduated from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1879, attended the University of Virginia Law School, and received a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University in 1886. He taught at Bryn Mawr College (1885-1888), Wesleyan University (1888-1890), and Princeton University (1890-1902) before serving as president of Princeton University (1902-1910) and governor of New Jersey (1910-1913). Wilson won the presidential election of 1912, when William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote, and Wilson became the 28th President of the United States in March 1913. As the first southerner elected president since Zachary Taylor, Wilson brought to the office a progressive zeal for reform, both economic and social, and stressed individualism and states’ rights. He is perhaps best known for leading the United States into World War I, despite an election vow to do otherwise, and for helping to negotiate the resulting Treaty of Versailles, for which he was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. Although he helped create and championed the League of Nations, Wilson could not obtain Senate approval for U.S. membership.

Condition: Scattered, minor nicks to frame.

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