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The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, Eleventh Edition
Thomas A. Bailey
David M. Kennedy, Stanford University
Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University
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Introduction | Questions to Consider | Source

American Neutrality Policy
Woodrow Wilson

As World War I erupted in Europe, President Woodrow Wilson called on the American people to remain neutral. Think about what neutrality really means as you read this speech.

Questions to Consider
  1. Define belligerents.

  2. Define neutrality.

  3. Were Wilson's expectations realistic? Why or why not?

  4. Despite this 1914 presidential statement, why was the United States an active participant in WWI only three years later?

  5. Could the United States have remained neutral in WWI? Justify your answer.

Proclamation of August 4, 1914

Whereas a state of war unhappily exists between Austria-Hungary and Serbia and between Germany and Russia and between Germany and France:

And Whereas the United States is on terms of friendship and amity with the contending powers, and with the persons inhabiting their several dominions;

And Whereas there are citizens of the United States residing within the territories or dominions of each of the said belligerents and carrying on commerce, trade, or other business or pursuits therein;

And Whereas there are subjects of each of the said belligerents residing within the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, and carrying on commerce, trade, or other business or pursuits therein;

And Whereas the laws and treaties of the United States, without interfering with the free expression of opinion and sympathy, or with the commercial manufacture or sale of arms or munitions of war, nevertheless impose upon all persons who may be within their territory and jurisdiction the duty of an impartial neutrality during the existence of the contest; And Whereas it is the duty of a neutral government not to permit or suffer the making of its waters subservient to the purposes of war;

Now, Therefore, I, Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States of America, in order to preserve the neutrality of the United States . . . do hereby declare and proclaim. . . .

That the statutes and the treaties of the United States and the law of nations alike require that no person, within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States, shall take part, directly or indirectly, in the said wars, but shall remain at peace with all of the said belligerents, and shall maintain a strict and impartial neutrality. . . .