President Woodrow Wilson’s campaign slogan throughout his 1916 reelection campaign was “he kept us out of war,” but on April 2, 1917, Wilson reversed course and called on Congress to provide a declaration of war for American intervention in World War I. Although this shift in policy contradicted Wilson’s isolationist principles and firm commitment to American neutrality, the Central Powers had begun to pose a clear and formidable threat to the United States by 1917.
Americans felt the brutal impact of the war even during Wilson’s first term. On May 7, 1915, while engaged in submarine warfare, a German U-boat sank the RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner carrying American citizens. The death toll included 114 Americans. Following the sinking, the United States increased its various modes of aid and assistance to the Allies. But Wilson still publicly discouraged anti-German rhetoric in the U.S. and held out hope that he could mediate a resolution to the conflict between the Allies and the Central Powers.
Wilson’s vision of the war began to change by the winter of 1917, when the British government intercepted a telegram sent by German Foreign Minister Author Zimmerman to Germany’s ambassador in Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt. The telegram was a proposal to Mexico asking the nation to ally with Germany and to attack the United States in return for territory lost in … [ Read all ]