Credit: Courtesy of American Memory(Library of Congress)
In this lesson of the curriculum unit, students reconsider the events leading to U.S. entry into World War I through the lens of archival documents.
After completing the lessons in this unit, students will be able to
Review the dates in the following chronology, based on the World War I Chronology on The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website History Matters. Unless otherwise indicated, all documents are available on the EDSITEment resource Great War Primary Documents Archive or on links from this resource. Some noteworthy excerpts are included below as a preview to certain documents.
Assign students to groups. Using the resources below, as well as any other appropriate sources available, student groups will create a documentary slideshow of the U.S. entry into World War I. Part of the challenge is to limit the show to the essentials. To be interesting, a slideshow needs engaging, concise text for a voiceover; informative graphics and captions; noteworthy images; and a cohesive “storyline” that builds on previous information. The links on the chronology below provide good source material for such a slideshow, though students are encouraged, when practical, to uncover any other relevant material through their own research and/or to create their own charts and talking points.
Using the “Storyboard for World War I Slideshow” on page 3 of the PDF (see Preparation Instructions, in the curriculum unit overview, for download instructions), each group should plan a show of 10 to 15 slides. (NOTE: The teacher should feel free to change the number of slides allowed. In addition, feel free to change the mode of assignment by assigning groups specific years or topics, such as neutrality.) Given the potential amount of material, groups will have to be scrupulous in their choices. Audiences are engaged by story, so remind students to build a coherent beginning, middle, and end. Keep the hypotheses—or one particular hypothesis—about U.S. entry into the war in mind. Avoid duplication between the graphic, caption, and script.
If practical, allow groups to complete the slideshow using available software. Otherwise, students could download and print the necessary documents to create a “hardcopy” slideshow.
Morgan Company of New York have asked whether there would be any objection to their making a loan to the French Government and also the Rothschilds -- I suppose that is intended for the French Government.
—Secretary of State Bryan to President Wilson, August 10, 1914
There is no reason why loans should not be made to the governments of neutral nations, but in the judgment of this Government, loans by American bankers to any foreign nation which is at war are inconsistent with the true spirit of neutrality.
—Secretary of State Bryan to J. P. Morgan and Company, August 15, 1914
The United States must be neutral in fact, as well as in name, during these days that are to try men's souls. We must be impartial in thought, as well as action, must put a curb upon our sentiments, as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another.
—President Wilson's Declaration of Neutrality
Since the beginning of the war this bank alone has received cabled instructions for the payment of in excess of $50,000,000 for American goods and the volume of this business is increasing. Owing to war conditions, this buying is necessarily for cash and it is of such magnitude that the cash credits of the European governments are being fast depleted. Lately we have been urged by manufacturers who are customers of the bank and, in some cases, by representatives of the foreign governments, to provide temporary credits for these purchases.
—Vice President of the National City Bank to the Acting Secretary of State, October 23, 1914
The present condition of American foreign trade resulting from the frequent seizures and detentions of American cargoes destined to neutral European ports has become so serious as to require a candid statement of the views of this Government in order that the British Government may be fully informed as to the attitude of the United States toward the policy which has been pursued by the British authorities during the present war.
—Secretary of State Bryan to Walter Hines Page, U.S. Ambassador in Great Britain
1914 - $ 824.8 million to Allies
1914 - $ 169.3 million to Central Powers
—University of Albany History 101 Syllabus (Spring 1997), a link from the EDSITEment resource History Matters
If such a deplorable situation should arise, the Imperial German Government can readily appreciate that the Government of the United States would be constrained to hold the Imperial Government of Germany to a strict accountability for such acts of their naval authorities, and to take any steps it might be necessary to take to safeguard American lives and property and to secure to American citizens the full enjoyment of their acknowledged rights on the high seas.
… It is stated for the information of the Imperial Government that representations have been made to his Britannic Majesty's Government in respect to the unwarranted use of the American flag for the protection of British ships.
—President Wilson's First Warning to the Germans
My opinion in this matter, compendiously stated, is that we should say that "Parties would take no action either for or against such a transaction," but that this should be orally conveyed, so far as we are concerned, and not put in writing.
—President Woodrow Wilson to the Secretary of State, Mr. Robert Lansing
Public outrage over the loss of civilian life hastened the United States entry into World War I. Although the cargo list of the Lusitania stated that she carried approximately 170 tons of munitions and war material, this fact was not revealed to the U.S. public at the time.
—American Memory: Today in History, May 7
The Bryce Report was used for propaganda purposes. Sir Gilbert Parker, who was the member of Wellington House (the British propaganda bureau at that time) charged with information and propaganda aimed at the United States, rushed the Bryce Report into print, so it was available five days after the news of the sinking of the Lusitania. It is obvious that part of the aim was to contribute to the effort to bring the United States into the war.
—Commentary on The Bryce Report
… we unsparingly denounce the retaliatory methods employed by her (Germany), without condemning the announced purpose of the Allies to starve the non-combatants of Germany and without complaining of the conduct of Great Britain in relying on passengers including men, women and children of the United States to give immunity to vessels carrying munitions of war without even suggesting that she should convoy passenger ships as carefully as she does ships carrying horses and gasoline.
—Bryan Resignation Letter
Now, on the other hand, we are face to face with what appears to be a critical economic situation, which can only be relieved apparently by the investment of American capital in foreign loans to be used in liquidating the enormous balance of trade in favor of the United States.
Can we afford to let a declaration as to our conception of "the true spirit of neutrality" made in the first days of the war stand in the way of our national interests which seem to be seriously threatened?
If we cannot afford to do this, how are we to explain away the declaration and maintain a semblance of consistency?
—Secretary of State Lansing to President Wilson, September 6, 1915
That which has driven the masses of Europe into the trenches and to the battlefields is not their inner longing for war; it must be traced to the cutthroat competition for military equipment, for more efficient armies, for larger warships, for more powerful cannon. You cannot build up a standing army and then throw it back into a box like tin soldiers.
—Emma Goldman on From "Preparedness: The Road to Universal Slaughter"
Near the end of a nationwide speaking tour in February I916, he (Wilson) not only called for creation of "the greatest navy in the world" but also urged widespread military training for civilians, lest some day the nation be faced with "putting raw levies of inexperienced men onto the modern field of battle."
—World War I: The First Three Years.
It … contained a severe restriction inserted by opponents of a strong General Staff, sharply limiting the number of officers who could be detailed to serve on the staff at the same time in or near Washington. The bill represented nevertheless the most comprehensive military legislation yet enacted by the U.S. Congress.
("Union scales of wages and hours of specified occupations, Chicago, 1913-25")
Give student groups the opportunity to share their slideshows with the class. Discuss the point of view each represents. As a class, revisit the handout “Why Did the United States Enter World War I?” on pages 1-2 of the Master PDF. Ask each student to write a paragraph taking a stand on a hypothesis explaining why the U.S. entered World War I.
2-3 class periods