History of US – Chapter 9

The Spirit of ’76 was envisioned as another patriotic movie. Set during the American Revolution, the idea behind the movie was that the colonists were unprepared to battle let alone win in a war against the largest, best military in the world.

4 Great War (Part II)

The Spirit of ’76 was envisioned as another patriotic movie. Set during the American Revolution, the idea behind the movie was that the colonists were unprepared to battle let alone win in a war against the largest, best military in the world. In the end, Americans were victorious and thus the message of the movie was that we were unprepared before yet we did what was necessary to win and we are unprepared now yet we will again do what is necessary to beat down the proud. The director of the movie, Robert Goldstein (a Jewish American of German descent) portrayed the British as not only the enemy (which they were) but unfortunately for him also decided to portray British acts of brutality (which there were many). It was an ill-fated decision for Goldstein because when the movie came out (1917) the British were our allies and thus portraying our allies in unfavorable light brought not only ridicule upon Goldstein, but also his arrest and imprisonment. He was arrested for and found guilt of breaking the 1918 Sedition Act by showing the two war-time allies (Great Britain and the US) fighting against one another. Wilson will cut short his ten-year sentence with a presidential pardon after serving 18 months in prison.

One of the first victims of nearly every US war is the First Amendment. Luckily, it is a resilient piece of work and thus will bounce back. The Alien Act (1917) and the Sedition Act temporarily trumped American’s rights to religious freedom, speak freely, publish freely, or to freely petition the government. The Espionage Act made it a crime to pass information with the intent of harming the success of American armed forces. Eugene Debs (labor leader, Socialist, perennial presidential candidate) was arrested for making an anti-American speech. He was tried and found guilty under the Espionage Act, even thought the Act did not specifically prohibit speaking against the government. Thus, to shore up the Espionage Act, Congress passed the Sedition Act which expressly prohibited speaking, writing, publishing or allowing to speak, write or publish anything against the federal government, the US war effort, or its allies or “incite insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty, in the military or naval forces of the United States” to include interfering with recruitment operations.

The Attorney General, Thomas Gregory, instructed the Postmaster General, Albert Burleson, to censure and if necessary discontinue delivering any anti-American or pro-German mail (letters, magazines, and newspapers). Gregory supported the work of the American Protective League’s (APL). The APL curbed dissent at home by compelling German-Americans to sign a pledge of allegiance. The APL also conducted extra-governmental surveillance on pro-German activities and organizations (such as unions).

Gregory and Burleson targeted thousands of suspected enemies of the state to include such prominent Socialists as Eugene Debs, Mary Harris Jones (aka “Mother Jones), Emma Goldstein and Max Eastman because of their use of the US mail to distribute what Gregory and Burleson considered to be un-American literature. Besides Socialist newspapers such as The Call, Burleson prohibited the delivery of what he considered to be anti-British publications such as The Irish World and The Gaelic American.

Anti-German fervor during the Great War resulted in the renaming of German (or German-sounding) food. Sauerkraut became liberty cabbage. Frankfurters became hot dogs, and Salisbury Steak turned into meat loaf. The American Defense Society (an organization established to protect the US in the wake of the Lusitania sinking), with President Teddy Roosevelt as its honorary president, petitioned Congress to prohibit the study of German in all public schools. They also called for compulsory military training for all men between 18 and 21, and for “greater activity in the internment of enemy aliens and sympathizers.”

Extralegal organizations, such as the Wisconsin Loyalty League sought to control their relatively large German population as well as their own elected officials who questioned the war. For example, Wisconsin Senator Bob LaFollette, a Progressive Democrat, decried American entry into the war on the basis that the US had indeed been breaking international law by shipping explosives on civilian ships (such as the Lusitania) and thus going to war to protect neutral rights was absurd. Ex-president Teddy Roosevelt called LaFollette a “shadow Hun” and “the most sinister enemy of democracy in the United States.”


Wisconsin voters from the industrial southeast part of the state seemed to side with LaFollette because the voters of Milwaukee, the state’s largest city, elected a string of Socialist mayors to include Emil Seidel (1910-1916) and the longest sitting Socialist politician on US history, Daniel Hoan (1916-1940). They also sent this nation’s first Socialist congressman to the US House of Representatives: Victor Berger (1910-1912, 1918-1920, 1922-1928). Wisconsin voters seemed to be out of step with the majority of American leader such as Gregory. “May God have mercy on [dissenters],” said the US Attorney General, “for they need expect none from an outraged people and an avenging government.”

In early September, Congress passed a bill that required all German-language newspapers published in the United States to print an English translation “of any comment respecting the Government of the United States, or of any nation with which Germany is at war, its policies, international relations, the state or conduct of the war, or any matter relating thereto,” according to Senator William King (D-Utah) in his attempt to rid this country of newspapers that spread, as he called it, “the blackest treason.”

In 1919, the US Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. Charles Schenck was one of the leaders of the Socialist Party of America and as such oversaw the distribution of pamphlets, to include tens of thousands sent to men of draft age, urging them to not serve if drafted arguing that the draft violated the Thirteenth Amendment. In a unanimous decision, the thrice-wounded Civil War veteran Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, stated “[w]hen a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight, and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.” In other words, the needs of the state supersede the needs of the individual and thus dissent was codified.


Armistice did not end anti-German hysteria. While most Americans were celebrating the end of the war, 38 “dangerous enemy aliens” were rounded up in New York and were sent to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia for undetermined lengths of time, to include three officers of the Bayer Company (a German pharmaceutical firm known for its aspirin that opened a branch office in the United States in the early twentieth century).

The Home Front

In 1914, Congress passed the Smith-Lever Act, which created the Cooperative Extension Service in order to develop more effective agricultural and animal husbandry classes, programs, and use in and of land grant institutions such as Washington State University, Texas Agriculture & Mining, and the University of Wisconsin. Yet the Act also mandated land grant universities to share their knowledge with non-students (hence the “Extension” part of the title).


Once the US openly joined the war, Congress worked to ensure that Americans at home and abroad had sufficient resources and thus Congress adopted the Fuel and Food Control Act in 1917. The Fuel Administration controlled the production, distribution, and price of fuels (oil, gas, and coal, for example) and was led by Dr. Harry A. Garfield –son of and witness to the assassination of President James B. Garfield in 1881. Like many of the men whom Wilson surrounded himself, Garfield was an academic serving as a professor at Princeton (when Wilson presided as the college’s president) and as the president of Williams College in Massachusetts.

Although Garfield was a Republican, Wilson and Garfield were connected as academics as well as Progressive thinkers who believed in the transformative nature of the human spirit. According to Garfield, academia was the place were “cultivated men, earnest and seeking by all ways to advance the cause of civilization.” And thus, as Wilson’s Secretary of War Newton Baker said, “The President had unlimited confidence in Garfield.” Unlike Garfield’s colleagues on Wilson’s Cabinet and heading various war time organizations, Garfield did not seek absolute power within the organization he led nor throughout American society.


At a meeting of the Academy of Political Science, Garfield offered a justification for the Fuel Administration’s existence as well as assurances that under his watch the Fuel Administration will not nationalize the fuel industry. In his speech entitled “Task of the Fuel Administration,” the gap between the fuel needs of a country at war compared to the needs of the US in 1916 would be largely met through conservation, he argued. In an example of the government-academic cooperation that will be a characteristic of American society ever since World War II, Garfield turned to scientists and mathematicians in academia to resolve some of the issues pertaining to fuel conservation.

Using the authority of the 1917 Act, President Wilson issued Executive Order 2679A, creating the US Food Administration. Headed by future president Herbert Hoover, the Food Administration was tasked with assuring the supply, distribution, and conservation of food during the war, facilitating transportation of food, preventing monopolies and hoarding, and maintaining governmental power over foods by using voluntary agreements and a licensing system. In trying to get Americans to conserve what they have and to use less of what can be grown or made, Hoover promoted “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays.”


The Food Administration asked Americans to grow their own vegetables (called “Victory Gardens”) and to pledge to follow the call to preserve, consume less, and grow more in order to ensure that sufficient meat, wheat, fats, and sugars make it to the US troops and American allies. The Milwaukee Journal, the largest daily in Wisconsin, proclaimed that 100% of their citizens took the pledge to eat less and preserve more. Wisconsin had more German immigrants than any other state. Wisconsin also had an active Socialist movement and thus it was psychologically important for the owners of that newspaper to advertise a claim that was more than merely improbable. The publishers of Good Housekeeping urged its readers to support the government efforts believing that:

its large circle of earnest, patriotic women readers will respond gladly to a call to service at home. It is a tremendous task—this one of conservation and elimination of waste. Every woman is urged to do her part. It can best be done through close cooperation with the government. Enlist now and pledge yourself to do your share.”

Finally, the War Industries Board (WIB), created in the mid-summer of 1917, was another federal agency tasked with ensuring that Americans at home and abroad had access to acceptably priced merchandise and equipment. The WIB was led by Bernard Baruch, a friend of Wilson’s in academia and business. A graduate of City College of New York, Baruch made his first million by his thirtieth birthday (1900) as a Wall Street trader and financier. Baruch was a major financial donor as well as unpaid adviser to the Democratic Party for most of his adult life. As part of Wilson’s “War Cabinet,” Baruch worked closely with Hoover. While Hoover’s emphasis was on agriculture, Baruch focused on American industry. The WIB was ordered into a series of divisions that oversaw all aspects of war needs from distribution of raw resources to control of prices on the finished goods to include chemical, steel, textile, rubber, and leather goods.


Secretary of Labor, William B. Wilson, created the National War Labor Board (NWLB) in 1918. While the WIB consisted of military personnel and public servants, the NWLB was composed of civilians, mainly from labor unions, industrial management, and the general public. This group was tasked with settling labor issues, disputes, and other issues that otherwise might negatively affect this country’s wartime production.

Wartime Diplomacy

Woodrow Wilson envisioned a quick war. A combination of coordination among the US and its allies in food production, equipment needs, and communications was facilitated by the various government programs and agencies that fell under the rubric of Wilson’s War Cabinet such as the War Industries Board, the Fuel Administration, and the Food Administration. International “cooperation” among the Allies was evident through the creation of the Supreme War Council. The US representative to this group was Wilson’s Army Chief of Staff, Tasker H. Bliss. Initially, the Council was tasked with coordinating allied military action. Ultimately, the Council will prove to be more effective as a space where the allies discussed diplomatic endeavors to include how to bring an end to the war, and what should be included in the peace treaty. Wilson’s outlined his goals for how the war will end as well as for how Europe (and the world) will be rebuilt in a speech he gave on January 8th, 1918.


Those ideas came from the work of academics: a group of men that Wilson called “The Inquiry.” Meeting in secret at the offices of the American Geographic Society in New York City, these scholars researched and discussed various post-war options for Europe. The Inquiry is very much the forerunner to today’s Think Tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and the Pew Research Center. “We are skimming the cream of the younger and more imaginative scholars,” declared Walter Lippmann, the 28-year-old Harvard graduate who recruited the scholars and managed the Inquiry in its formative phase. “What we are on the lookout for is genius—sheer, startling genius, and nothing else will do.”

The suggestions, ideas, and conclusions of the Inquiry culminated in fourteen particular ideas that Wilson publicly unveiled in early January of 1918 in what is called the “Fourteen Points Address.” Reminding the joint session of Congress that the US got involved in the war not only to protect American liberties at home but also to spread American liberties throughout the world, Wilson envisioned a world “made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.”

Wilson called for international trade unrestricted by law or tariffs, an end to secret treaties and military alliances, and an end to colonialism. The world would be made safe through vigilant international cooperation. As he described it in the final of his fourteen points, “A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

England and France (the two allies who fought the longest and sacrificed more in both material and human lives) did not great Wilson’s ideas for a new world order with open arms. For example, Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary and one-time Prime Minister, seemed to be uninterested in any sort of negotiated settlement, instead calling for Germany to provide England and France with “unconditional restoration and reparation” of all taken, plundered, and destroyed lands. Neither did the Belgian Prime Minister accept Wilson’s extensive plan. Baron Charles de Broqueville merely demanded “reparation for damages and guarantees against repetition of the aggression.” Earlier, Wilson had called for “peace without victory” which meant that the Allies did not need to crush Germany. The Inquiry and Wilson might have underestimated the Allies’ desire to punish Germany and so Wilson was out of step with his European counterparts regarding diplomatic goals.


The Peace to End All Peace

Russia had quit the war prematurely and had thus signed its own peace treaty with Germany. Known as Brest-Litovsk, Russia essentially ceded lands (such as the Ukraine, the Baltic states, Finland, the Caucasus Mountains and Poland) to Germany in exchange for the removal of German troops from Russian soil. However, six days before the Armistice, German officials repudiated the March 3rd, 1918 treaty.

With communists in charge of Russia, only England, France, Italy, and the US met to decide the fate of the Central Powers. Even though the Cold War would not begin for decades, the seeds of that twentieth-century conflict were planted at Versailles. Although the western powers wished to crush Germany, they could not leave Germany in such a state as to allow the Russian Revolution to spread west. For example, Germany was forced to give back some of Russia’s losses as a result of Brest-Litovsk and the League of Nations in turn created the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia (important speed bumps in the mind of Soviet leaders to slow down the next German invasion) however American, British, and other Allies kept troops in Germany through the mid 1920s thus ensuring that the Communist army and its agents would not be able to move into the beaten, battered, and considerably smaller Germany.


Versailles will also acknowledge the German repudiation of Brest-Litovsk, but also does nothing to directly help Russia adjudicate, mediate, or guarantee any economic reimbursement from Germany, except to state that “[t]he Allied and Associated Powers formally reserve the rights of Russia to obtain from Germany restitution and reparation based on the principles of the present Treaty” (Part III, Section XIV, Article 116). In other words, Russia is on its own to negotiate with Germany.

Wilson took nearly all of the members of the Inquiry, plus his closest friend and unofficial adviser, Col. Edmund House to France. Wilson also ignored leading Democratic and Republic senators and thus no one should be shocked to find out that the US Senate will never pass the treaty Wilson helped create in Versailles. The Republicans controlled the Senate, yet Wilson refused to consider adding the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Henry Cabot Lodge, to the American group that went to France.


Wilson’s second problem in Versailles was the Allies. France and England had no interest in discussing, analyzing or negotiating anything: they sought to carve up Germany and its colonies like a group of hunters carving up a bear after a successful hunt. With the massive destruction to property and lives in England and France, the allies were not willing to embrace Wilson’s “peace without victory” philosophy. The Allies blamed Germany for starting the war and for all damage and deaths during the war. Parts of Germany will be carved away and given to France, such as the coal-rich eastern parts of Germany (the Saar Valley). Germany will lose all of their colonies and Germany itself (or what’s left of Germany) will be an occupied nation until 1926 –the year that Germany is allowed membership into the League of Nations.

Wilson’s final problem in Versailles was his health. He had become physically exhausted in large measure because he decided to lead the US delegation. Some speculate that Wilson even suffered up to three strokes before he was elected president in 1912. Nonetheless, Wilson was determined to see his vision for a world “safe for democracy” come true and thus Wilson told a reporter who inquired into the president’s health, “I do not want to do anything foolhardy, but the League of Nations is now in its crisis, and if it fails, I hate to think what will happen to the world … I cannot put my personal safety, my health, in the balance against my duty — I must go.” Wilson embarked on a cross-country speaking tour as he attempted to whip up support for the Treaty in general and the League of Nations in particular. Wilson suffered a massive stroke in the early fall of 1919. He would not be seen in public for six months.


The Treaty of Versailles was a disaster and set the stage for World War II. Some historians look at the 1920s not as a period between world wars but rather as a lull in one great war that began in August of 1914 with a series of war declarations and ended in August of 1945 with the dropping of Fat Man and Little Boy on Japan.

Treaty Fight at Home

President Wilson’s decision to personally lead the US delegation to Versailles while also refusing to even keep senatorial leaders of his own party aware of the negotiations resulted in a contest back at home regarding foreign policy. While a fight between the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government regarding foreign policy was not new, such a fight was also very rare. Nonetheless, ever since the Spanish-American War, culminating with the passage of the War Powers Act of 1973, US presidents and senators have been arguing over which branch of the federal government ultimately controls US foreign policy.

The treaty to end the war and to bring to a conclusion all of the issues and problems (as the victors of the war saw those issues and problems) was signed by all parties on June 28th, 1919. Known as the Treaty of Versailles, the treaty is divided into sixteen sections, containing a total of 440 articles. France gained control of some of Germany’s more productive coal fields, England seized German colonies in Africa and in Asia; France and England claimed the frontier of the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East to include Palestine and Syria, and Germany was forced to disarm. The Treaty also demanded Germany to pay for all costs of the war, and approximately two thousand German politicians and military officers will be tried on a variety of crimes, mainly due to submarine warfare as the Allies viewed that as less military and more criminal in nature.


The US Senate had a difficult time getting past the first section of the Treaty, entitled “The Covenant of the League of Nations.” The tenth article of this section describes the collective nature of the League in so much that an attack against any one member will be considered an attack against all members and thus “[t]he Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League.” The common understanding of this clause was that if any member nation is attacked from a foreign power, then all member nations will mobilize their armed forces to aid in the defense of the attacked member state. Of course the underlying belief is that no country would dare attack any member of the League because such an attack would result in the full force of all member armed forces against the aggressor.

The Senate found Article 10 of the Covenant of the League of Nations to be exceptionally troubling because as they understood it, the US –as a member of the League – would be obligated to enter into every war that involves a foreign attack against any member nation. In other words, the US Senate’s authority under Article I, Section VIII of the US Constitution to declare war would be trumped by any tyrant, king, or madman who invaded a member state. Furthermore, in accordance with Article 16, if any member of the League attacked any other member, then all members were required to immediately end all trade and financial relations. The US went to war, in part, over the idea of neutral rights however if the US joined the League, the trade policy of the US could be determined not by the leaders of this country, but by the treaty requirements of the League of Nations.

Thirty-nine Senators openly rejected this attack on their Constitutional authority in a letter to include the Senator from Massachusetts, a leading Republican politician, and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Henry Cabot Lodge. Lodge did not reject the whole treaty, he just held reservations on Article 10 and thus Lodge was known as a “Reservationist.” Democrats such as William Jennings Bryan supported this position.


The Republican William Borah served the people of Idaho in the US Senate from 1907 until his death in 1940. Known as the “Irreconcilables” senators such as Borah rejected the League, in any form, because of the old Washingtonian-Jeffersonian concern over entangling alliances. Borah spoke for two hours against the Treaty of Versailles in what one colleague called “one of the Senate’s oratorical masterpieces.” He began his attacks against supporting colonialism by reminding the audience of President-elect Abraham Lincoln’s advice to a friend of his in Washington, DC regarding discussions with Confederates on the issues of war: “Entertain no compromise; have none of it.”

Before the Allies completed their work in Versailles, the US had entered its second year of fighting in Russia. Russia prematurely quit the allied cause in large measure because the czar lost control of his country as a result of a revolution. By 1918 it was clear that communists had taken control of Russia and thus in 1918, the United States (along with Great Britain and other western nations) invaded Russia. By Labor Day, 1918, American troops took control of the Russian port town Vladivostok. Under the command of General William Graves, nearly 8,000 American troops protected the local railroad and supported Czech troops also fighting against the Russian communists. About 4,000 US troops fought under British command directly against communist forces in what was known as the Polar Bear Expedition. The United States actively participated in the Russian civil war until 1920.

One year and one week after the Guns of August fell silent, the US Senate voted to reject the Treaty of Versailles, US troops occupied and fought in various parts of Russia, President Wilson was recovering from his latest stroke, Americans were dying from a new illness (see below), and elements of the US Army were stationed throughout the country, such as on street corners in Omaha, Nebraska. The Treaty fight just might have been the least important thing on the minds of Americans.
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Textbook content produced by Dr. James Ross-Nazzal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0 license.http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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