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tional propriety, and will live in history as such. His speeches were enlightening, because so far as was possible he took the people into his confidence as the grave international situation developed from time to time. Hence these papers and addresses furnish a wonderful political history of the Great War in its relation to the interests of the United States.
Underlying all of Mr. Wilson's addresses there is evidence of his sincere conviction that his country has a nobler mission to perform for civilization than that of merely safeguarding its own material interests, important as that consideration is to every American citizen. “The world must be made safe for democracy.” And the civilized world looks to America to help make it safe. That is the idea which Mr. Wilson realizes and has made plain to his fellow-countrymen in his addresses. To read and study them is a patriotic duty.
Sincerity is another keynote of all the War President's utterances. Every American knows that Mr. Wilson was convinced almost against his will of the necessity for war. But the very sincerity that marked his efforts to keep the country out of war compelled his final action and prompted his determination to win the war.
Seldom if ever has a series of speeches and documents like those in the following pages been so replete with significance or so clearly expressed. Even in the diplomatic exchanges which have been selected for reproduction there is a remarkable absence of the ambiguity usual in such documents. Hence their contents will appeal to the average patriotic reader as well as to the student of current history and of the causes of the war.
Long as the world shall last, these addresses will live. Our children and our children's children will be reading them when the present generation shall have passed away, leaving the world the better off for our work for humanity in this war. And if any there be, calling themselves American citizens, who harbor the shadow of a doubt as to the wisdom, nay the national necessity, of President Wilson's policy toward the world war, leading to our final participation in the great struggle, let them read these addresses and the diplomatic, history-making documents which supplement and support them in these pages,—and be forever convinced.
Little need be said as to the literary quality of these state papers.
Our great President is a master of the English language, unquestionably the greatest master of English that ever occupied the presidential chair. Language is a weapon which he wields with unerring skill. He wastes no words, but like Shakespeare gives to each its proper weight and worth. His speeches are studded with literary gems and while they command and hold the interest of the average reader, they furnish mines of wealth for continuous study by those who seek models of good diction.
Scholarly, sincere, wise, patriotic—these are the outstanding characteristics of Mr. Wilson's speeches and state papers, and the greatest of these is their patriotic quality, reflecting as an exemplar for every American citizen the devoted patriotism of our providential President.
WHY WE WENT TO WAR
President Wilson's Famous Address at the Opening of
the War Congress, April 2, 1917
GENTLEMEN OF THE CONGRESS :
I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because 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.
On the third of February last I officially laid before you the extraordinary announcement of the Imperial German Government that on and after the first day of February 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. That had seemed to be the object of the German submarine warfare earlier in the war, but since April of last year the Imperial Government had somewhat restrained the commanders of its undersea craft in conformity with its promise then given to us that passenger boats should not be sunk and that due warning would be given to all other vessels which its submarines might seek to destroy, when no resistance was offered or escape attempted, and care taken that their crews were given at least a fair chance to save their lives in their open boats. The precautions taken were meagre and haphazard enough, as was proved in distressing instance after instance in the progress of the cruel and unmanly business, but a certain degree of restraint was observed. The new policy has swept every restriction aside. Vessels of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy for those on board, the vessels of friendly neutrals along with those of belligerents. Even hospital ships and ships carrying relief to the sorely bereaved and stricken people of Belgium, though the latter were provided with safe conduct through the proscribed areas by the German Government itself and were distinguished by unmistakable marks of identity, have been sunk with the same reckless lack of compassion or of principle.
I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations. International law had its origin in the attempt to set up some law which would be respected and observed upon the seas, where no nation had right of dominion and where lay the free highways of the world. By painful stage after stage has that law been built up, with meagre enough results, indeed, after all was accomplished that could be accomplished, but always with a clear view, at least, of what the heart and conscience of mankind demanded. This minimum of right the German Government has swept aside under the plea of retaliation and necessity and because it had no weapons which it could use at sea except these which it is impossible to employ as it is employing them without throwing to the winds all scruples of humanity or of respect for the understandings that were supposed to underlie the intercourse of the world. I am not now thinking of the loss of property involved, immense and serious as that is, but only of the wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of non-combatants, men, women, and children, engaged in pursuits which have always, even in the darkest periods of modern history, been deemed innocent and legitimate. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people cannot be. The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind.
It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it. The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation. We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion.
When I addressed the Congress on the twenty-sixth of February last I thought that it would suffice to assert our neutral rights with arms, our right to use the seas against unlawful interference, our right to keep our people safe against unlawful violence. But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations