History Today subscription

The Journey to War: Woodrow Wilson and American Pacifism

Paul Brewer looks at the politics behind US involvement in the First World War and how President Woodrow Wilson dealt with those Americans who campaigned against it.

On June 15th, 1917, the US Congress passed the Espionage Act. American entry into the First World War, by a declaration passed by Congress on April 6th, 1917, also brought legislation that would enable the prosecution of those working with the enemy to hamper the war effort. (Parts of this law remain in effect in the US Code, and were most prominently used during the prosecution of the Vice President's advisor Scooter Libby for disclosing CIA secrets, that ended in March 2007.) However, the act's third section stated:

... whoever when the United States is at war, shall wilfully cause or attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States, or shall wilfully obstruct the recruiting or enlistment service of the United States, to the injury of the service or of the United States, shall be punished by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than twenty years, or both.

Even before the bill became law, this provision was recognized by congressmen as providing a means for attacking an anti-war movement that had been resisting any kind of American involvement in the war, except as a mediator to bring about peace.

America's road to war had been carefully negotiated by President Woodrow Wilson. From the outset, Wilson had wanted to make a decisive contribution. At first he intended to be the honest broker mediating the final peace settlement. However, once he had chosen to fight, he then wanted America's military contribution to provide the strength needed to break German resistance once and for all.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.



Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week