May 13, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

The Saturday edition of the Oregon Statesman reviewed editorial opinion regarding Wilson’s note to Germany (sent under the signature of his Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan). In the first of three notes, Wilson affirmed the right of United States nationals to travel on merchant ships of their choosing and urged Germany to abandon unrestricted submarine warfare against commercial ships of any nation. In this note Wilson did not warn to the American people against traveling on belligerent ships for their own safety.

The San Francisco Democrat referred to the note as “political impudence” containing language “Americans of German birth or descent . . . deplore sincerely.” By the note’s demand that Germany cease its submarine warfare, the US “virtually takes the part of the allies.” The paper warns that Germany is not Mexico “and she will unquestionably draw the necessary conclusion.”

A Congressional delegation visiting the Territory of Hawaii (a junket, perhaps?) reacted favorably to the note. Senator Ollie James (D, Kentucky) stated that “The president speaks for all civilization and voice the sentiment of all neutral peoples n warning Germany toques violating established rights and imperiling lives. We will back up the president’s note. It is statesmanlike and patriotic. Senator Albert Cummins (R, Iowa) stated that “I like the tone of the president’s note. We should make an emphatic protest against such indescribably violation of international rules.”

The Sacramento Union saw the note as an appeal to the country: “While the calm and pacific tone of the president’s not will not please the anti-German element of the nation, his vigorous assertion of American rights must appeal to the people of the entire country . . . . Every right thinking american will hold up the hands of the President no matter what may be the outcome of a situation which without question is critical.”

The Seattle German Press concluded that “Certainly, the tone of the note is calm. It points with all diplomatic courtesy to the desirability of friendship between the United States and Germany, acknowledging in many words the humane and enlightened attitude of the German Government, and it contains no threats of any kind in case Germany should not comply with all demands. This is very wise. For virtually this note is nothing less than an attempt to hold the arm of Germany which is about to strike the hardest blow on England.”

The Abenpost of Milwaukee had a different take on the note. “We do not remember ever having written an article with heavier heart. While we compose it we are under pressure of the most cruel situation of which an American citizen of German extraction may have to face – that which always appeared to us not only as the direst calamity that could befall us, but also as the most heinous crime that could be committed against civilization has apparently at least become a possibility, a war between the two countries dearest and nearest to our hearts.” The editorial lamented that “On one side there is no sentiment more natural and more beautiful than the loving attachment to the country where our cradle stood . . . On the other side we are American citizens who under all conditions have to conserve their loyalty to the great country of their adoption. We can only express most ardent hope that the German government while fully conserving its legitimate rights may yet fin in its answer the tone that will spare us the worst.”

The Spokane Spokesman-Review wrote that “The wrist of steel in the glove of velvet – that is the American note to the German government . . . The note takes impregnable ground upon accepted principles of international law and irreparable principles of humanity and convention. Its position cannot be overcome or turned. The premises laid down have already received German sanction. German diplomacy cannot repudiate them nor refute the conclusions. It must either disavow the acts of German naval commanders or take the consequences skillfully intimated in the conclusion of the note.”

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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