Wilson asks U.S. Congress for declaration of war
April 2, 1917
On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war against Germany, saying, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of a war declaration.
Under Wilson, the former Princeton University president and governor of New Jersey who was voted into the White House in 1912, the United States had proclaimed its neutrality from the beginning of World War I in the summer of 1914. Even after the German sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania in May 1915, which killed 1,201 people, including 128 Americans, caused a public outrage in the U.S. and prompted Wilson to send a strongly worded warning to Germany, the president was re-elected in 1916 on a platform of strict neutrality. Late that same year, Wilson even attempted to broker a peace between the Allies and the Central Powers, which was looked at favorably by Germany but eventually rejected by both France and Great Britain.
Since the start of World War I in 1914, the United States sought to stay out of the conflict. In an August 1914 speech, Wilson issued a declaration of neutrality, saying, “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.
The United States had avoided preparing for war. As a result, its military was small and ill-equipped for war. Wilson called the “immediate addition” of 500,000 men through a draft and the “organization and mobilization of all the material resources of the country to supply the materials of war.”
The first U.S. troops arrived in France in June 1917 and, by the spring of 1918, provided a significant fighting force for the Allies. The arrival of fresh U.S. troops was a key factor in breaking the stalemate that had developed between the beleaguered European troops, contributing to the end of the war on Nov. 11, 1918. In all, more than 4 million U.S. troops were mobilized during the war and more than 2 million served in Europe.