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The American Promise – Lecture Notes
Chapter 22 – World War I: The Progressive Crusade at Home and
Abroad – 1914-1920
I. Woodrow Wilson and the World (Slide 2) Page 653
A. Taming the Americas
1. A New Foreign Policy—Wilson sought to distinguish his foreign policy from
that of his Republican predecessors; thought their policies were crude flexing of
military and economic muscle; appointed William Jennings Bryan, a pacifist, as
secretary of state.
2. Maintaining the Monroe Doctrine—Wilson and Bryan, like Roosevelt and Taft,
believed that the Monroe Doctrine gave the United States special rights and
responsibilities in the Western Hemisphere; used it to justify U.S. action in
Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.
3. Involvement in Mexico—Wilson’s most serious and controversial involvement
in Latin America occurred in Mexico; revolution broke out in 1910; General
Victoriano Huerta seized power by violent means three years later; Wilson called
them a “government of butchers”; sent 800 Marines to Veracruz and forced
Huerta into exile.
4. Pancho Villa—The United States welcomed the government of Venustiano
Carranza; prompted a rebellion among desperately poor farmers who believed
that the new Mexican government, aided by American business interests, had
betrayed the revolution’s promise to help the common people; a rebel army, led
by Francisco “Pancho” Villa, attacked Americans and American interests; caused
Wilson to send 12,000 troops to Mexico, only to withdraw them soon after to
prepare for the possibility of fighting in World War I.
B. The European Crisis Page 655
1. A Complex Web of Alliances—Before 1914, Europe enjoyed decades of
peace, but beneath the surface lay the potentially destructive forces of
nationalism and imperialism; European nations sought to avoid an explosion by
establishing a complex web of military and diplomatic alliances: the Triple
Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) opposed the Triple Entente, or
the Allies (Great Britain, France, and Russia); efforts to prevent war through a
balance of power only magnified the possibility of conflict.
2. Road to War—A Bosnian Serb terrorist assassinated Archduke Franz
Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on June 28, 1914; within
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weeks, the elaborate alliance system turned a local conflict into an international
one; war broke out in Europe.
3. A World War—The conflict escalated to a world war when Japan joined the
cause against Germany; believed it could rid itself of European competition in
C. The Ordeal of American Neutrality (Slide 6) Page 657
1. Declaring Neutrality—Wilson announced that the war was a European matter;
engaged no vital American interest and involved no significant principle;
announced that the United States would remain neutral; would continue normal
relations with the warring nations.
2. American Sympathies—Although Wilson proclaimed neutrality, his
sympathies, like those of many Americans, lay with Great Britain and France;
shared a language and culture with Britain; France had helped in the American
Revolution; Germany was a monarchy with militaristic traditions.
3. Testing Neutrality—Great Britain was the first to test America’s neutrality; used
its navy to set up an economic blockade of Germany; America protested;
Germany retaliated with a submarine blockade of British ports.
4. The Sinking of the Lusitania—On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed
the British passenger liner Lusitania, killing over 1,000 passengers, 128 of them
U.S. citizens; attack provoked a mixed reaction from Americans; some
demanded war, while others pointed out that the Lusitania was carrying
munitions as well as passengers and was therefore a legitimate target.
5. Wilson’s Middle Course—Wilson’s response was to stay neutral, retaining his
commitment to peace without condoning German attacks on passenger ships;
Bryan resigned, predicting the president had placed the nation on a collision
course with Germany; Germany apologized for the civilian deaths on the
Lusitania and tensions subsided; Wilson’s middle-of-the-road strategy between
aggressiveness and pacifism proved helpful in his bid for reelection in 1916;
campaigned under the slogan “He kept us out of the war”; won by only 600,000
popular and 23 electoral votes.
D. The United States Enters the War (Slide 9) Page 658
1. Siding with the Allies—Gradually, the United States backed away from
“absolute neutrality” and became more forthrightly pro-Allies; by accepting the
British blockade of Germany, the United States supplied Britain with 40 percent
of their war materiel; also floated loans to Britain and France.
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2. Submarine Warfare—In January 1917, the German government—resentful of
neutral ships’ access to Great Britain while Britain’s blockade starved Germany—
resumed unrestricted submarine warfare; hoped to win a military victory in
France before the United States entered the war.
3. The Zimmerman Telegram—Wilson continued to hope for a negotiated peace
but when the details of the Zimmerman telegram were released, revealing
Germany’s attempt to ally itself with Mexico, it became increasingly more difficult
for Wilson to pursue a policy of neutrality.
4. Entering the War—In March, German submarines sank five American vessels
off Britain, killing 66 Americans and prompting Wilson to ask Congress for a
declaration of war; an overwhelming majority voted in favor on April 5, 1917;
among those voting no was Representative Jeanette Rankin of Montana, the first
woman elected to Congress.
II. “Over There” (Slide 10) Page 660
A. The Call to Arms
1. Struggle in Europe—When America entered the war, Britain and France were
nearly exhausted after almost three years of conflict; another Allied power,
Russia, was in turmoil, and the Bolshevik revolutionary government would
eventually withdraw Russia from the war.
2. Raising an Army—On May 18, 1917, to meet the demand for fighting men,
Wilson signed a Selective Service Act; authorized the draft of all young men into
the armed forces; transformed a tiny volunteer armed force into a vast army and
3. Black Soldiers—Of the 4.8 million men under arms, 370,000 were African
Americans who had put aside their skepticism about the war to serve; during
training, black recruits suffered the same prejudices they encountered in civilian
life, facing abuse, segregation, and assignment to labor battalions.
4. A Progressive War—Progressives in the government were determined that
training camps would turn out soldiers with the highest moral and civic values;
asked soldiers to stop thinking about sex; Military Draft Act of 1917 prohibited
prostitution and alcohol near training camps; Wilson chose John “Black Jack”
Pershing to command the American Expeditionary Force; he was confident and
had a morally upstanding reputation.
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B. The War in France (Slide 11) Page 662
1. Trench Warfare—At the front, the AEF discovered that the three-year-old war
had degenerated into a stalemate; both the British and French armies had dug
hundreds of miles of trenches across France, where both sides suffered
tremendous casualties.
2. Black Troops’ Success in Battle—Except for the 92nd Division of black troops,
which was integrated into the French army and fought for 191 days, American
troops saw almost no combat in 1917; instead, they continued to train and
explore places most of them otherwise could never have hoped to see.
3. Americans Enter Combat—The sightseeing and training ended in March 1918,
when the signing of the Brest-Litovsk treaty took Russia out of the war; the
Germans launched a massive offensive aimed at French ports on the Atlantic,
causing 250,000 casualties on each side; the French agreed to General
Pershing’s terms of a separate American command and in May 1918 assigned
the Americans to the central sector; once committed, the Americans remained
true to their way of waging war, checking the German advance with a series of
dashing assaults.
4. Ending the War—In the summer of 1918, the Allies launched a massive
counteroffensive that would end the war, routing German forces along the Marne
River; German defenses held for six weeks; on November 11, 1918, an armistice
was signed and the adventure of the AEF was over.
5. The Death Toll—Only the Civil War had been more costly in American lives, as
112,000 AEF soldiers perished from wounds and disease, while another 230,000
suffered casualties but survived; much worse for European nations: 2.2 million
Germans, 1.9 million Russians, 1.4 million French, and 900,000 Britons.
III. The Crusade for Democracy at Home (Slide 16) Page 663
A. The Progressive Stake in the War
1. War as Agent for Reform—The idea of war as an agent of social improvement
reawakened the old zeal of the progressive movement; Washington soon bristled
with hastily created agencies charged with managing the war effort; Bernard
Baruch headed the War Industries Board and Herbert Hoover led the Food
2. The War and the Economy—Industrial leaders were encouraged by the tripling
of corporate profits achieved by feats of production and efficiency; some working
people also had cause to celebrate: Wartime agencies enacted the eight-hour
workday, a living minimum wage, and collective bargaining rights in some
industries; wages increased, but prices did as well.
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3. Prohibition—The war also provided a huge boost to the stalled moral crusade
to ban alcohol; prohibitionists eventually succeeded in securing the passage of a
constitutional ban on alcohol, the Eighteenth Amendment, which went into effect
on January 1, 1920.
B. Women, War, and the Battle for Suffrage Page 665
1. Wartime Opportunities—The war presented women with new opportunities;
more than 25,000 women served in France as nurses, ambulance drivers,
canteen managers, and war correspondents; at home, long-standing barriers
against hiring women fell when millions of working men became soldiers and few
immigrant workers made it across the Atlantic; tens of thousands of women
found work in defense plants and with the railroads.
2. Picketing the White House—The most dramatic advance for women came in
the political arena; the radical wing of the suffragists, led by Alice Paul, picketed
the White House; the more mainstream NAWSA, under the leadership of Carrie
Chapman Catt, saw membership soar to some 2 million members.
3. The Nineteenth Amendment—Seeing the handwriting on the wall, the
Republican and Progressive parties endorsed woman suffrage in 1916; in 1918,
Wilson gave his support to suffrage, calling the amendment “vital to the winning
of the war”; by August 1920, the states had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment,
granting woman suffrage.
C. Rally around the Flag—or Else (Slide 19) Page 666
1. Calling for Peace through Victory—When Congress finally committed the
nation to war, most peace advocates rallied around the flag; only a handful of
reformers, including settlement house leader Jane Addams, resisted bellicose
patriotism in support of the war.
2. Encouraging Patriotism—Wilson stirred up patriotic fervor; in 1917, he created
the Committee on Public Information (CPI) under the direction of muckraking
journalist George Creel, who cheered on America’s war effort; sent the “FourMinute Men” around the country to give brief pep talks.
3. Demonizing the Germans—America rallied around Creel’s campaign, and a
firestorm of anti-German passion swept the nation; the film industry cranked out
melodramas and taught audiences to boo the German Kaiser; but as hysteria
increased, the campaign reached absurd levels; in Montana, a school board
barred a history text that had good things to say about medieval Germany;
sauerkraut became liberty cabbage.
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4. Suppressing Dissent—The Wilson administration’s zeal to suppress dissent
took form in the Espionage Act, the Trading with the Enemy Act, and the Sedition
Act, which gave the government sweeping powers to punish opinions or activities
it considered “disloyal, profane, scurrilous or abusive”; contrasted sharply with
the war’s aim of defending democracy.
5. Wartime Politics—Wilson hoped that national commitment to the war would
subdue partisan politics, but Republican rivals used the war as a weapon against
the Democrats; in the elections of 1918, Republicans won a narrow victory in
both houses of Congress, ending Democratic control, suspending any possibility
for further domestic reform, and dividing the leadership as U.S. forces advanced
toward military victory.
IV. A Compromised Peace (Slide 21) Page 668
A. Wilson’s Fourteen Points
1. A Blueprint for a New World Order—On January 8, 1918, President Wilson
delivered a speech to Congress that revealed his vision of a generous peace; his
Fourteen Points provided a blueprint for a new democratic world order; the first
five points affirmed basic liberal ideas, and the next eight supported the right to
self-determination of peoples who had been dominated by Germany.
2. A League of Nations—The fourteenth point called for a League of Nations to
provide “mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to
great and small states alike”; roused popular enthusiasm in the United States
and every Allied country.
B. The Paris Peace Conference
1. Wilson in Paris—Wilson decided to attend the Paris peace conference in
person; as head of the American delegation; a risky decision, as his political
opponents challenged his leadership at home; he further jeopardized his plans by
stubbornly refusing to include prominent Republicans in the delegation.
2. Compromised Ideals—To the Allied leaders, Wilson appeared a naïve and
impractical moralist; he did not understand hard European realities; Wilson was
forced to make drastic compromises: in return for French moderation of territorial
claims, Wilson agreed to support an article that assigned war guilt to Germany;
many Germans felt as if their nation had been betrayed.
3. Self-Determination—Wilson had better success in establishing the principle of
self-determination; the conference redrew the map of Europe and parts of the
rest of the world; Wilson hoped that self-determination would also be the fate of
Germany’s colonies in Asia and Africa, but the Allies who had taken over the
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colonies during the war only allowed the League of Nations a mandate to
administer them.
4. Racial Equality Rejected—The cause of democratic equality suffered another
setback when the peace conference refused to endorse Japan’s proposal for a
clause in the treaty proclaiming the principle of racial equality; Wilson’s belief in
the superiority of whites and his apprehension about how Americans would react
to such a clause led him to reject the clause.
5. League of Nations—The issue that was closest to Wilson’s heart was finding a
new way of managing international relations, an idea sketched out in his
Fourteen Points; he was unwilling to see the world return to the old strategy of
balance of power; Wilson proposed a League of Nations that would provide
collective security and order; he was overjoyed when the Allies agreed to the
League; to many Europeans and Americans whose hopes had been stirred by
Wilson’s lofty aims, the Versailles treaty came as a bitter disappointment; the
president dealt in compromise like any other politician; still, without Wilson’s
presence, the treaty surely would have been more vindictive.
C. The Fight for the Treaty (Slide 23) Page 672
1. Critics of the Versailles Treaty—The tumultuous reception Wilson received
when he arrived home persuaded him, probably correctly, that the American
people supported the treaty; by 1919, however, criticism was mounting,
especially from Americans convinced that their countries of ethnic origin had not
been given fair treatment.
2. Congressional Opposition—Wilson faced stiff opposition in the Senate from
“irreconcilables,” who condemned the treaty for entangling the United States in
world affairs, and from Republicans, who feared that membership in the League
of Nations would jeopardize the nation’s independence.
3. Lodge’s Reservations—At the center of Republican opposition was Wilson’s
archenemy, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts; used his position as
chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to air his complaints; out of
committee hearings came several amendments, or “reservations,” that sought to
limit the consequences of American involvement in the League; it became clear
that ratification of the treaty depended on the acceptance of Lodge’s
reservations, which the senator had appended to the treaty; but Wilson refused
to accept the amendments.
4. Appeal to the People—Wilson decided to take his case directly to the people;
embarked on an ambitious speaking tour; but he after three weeks he collapsed
and had to return to Washington, where he suffered a massive stroke.
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5. A Defeated Treaty—When the treaty without reservations came before the full
Senate in March 1920, it came up six votes short of the two-thirds majority
needed for passage; the nations of Europe went about organizing the League of
Nations at Geneva, Switzerland, but the United States never became a member.
V. Democracy at Risk (Slide 24) Page 673
A. Economic Hardship and Labor Upheaval
1. The Peacetime Economy—With the armistice came an urgent desire to return
the United States to a peacetime economy, prompting the government to
abandon its wartime controls on the economy and cancel defense contracts
worth millions of dollars.
2. Rising Unemployment and Inflation—More than 3 million soldiers were
released from the military, causing the unemployment rate to soar; at the same
time, consumers went on a spending spree, causing inflation to soar; in 1919,
prices rose 75 percent over prewar levels.
3. Worker Militancy—Most of the gains workers had made during the war
evaporated; in 1919, there were 3,600 strikes involving 4 million workers;
included a general strike in Seattle, the largest work stoppage in American
history; a strike by Boston policemen brought out postwar hostility toward labor
militancy in the public sector; labor strife reached its peak in the grim steel strike
of 1919, where 18 strikers were killed; the strike collapsed, initiating a sharp
decline in the fortunes of the labor movement, a trend that would continue for
almost twenty years.
B. The Red Scare (Slide 27) Page 675
1. Homegrown Causes—The “Red Scare” began in 1919; “Red” referred to the
color of the Bolshevik flag; far outstripped the assault on civil liberties during the
war; had homegrown causes: postwar recession, labor unrest, and the difficulties
in reintegrating millions of returning veterans.
2. Influenza Epidemic—Two epidemics in 1918; Spanish influenza spread around
the globe, and by the end of the outbreak, 40 million people died worldwide,
including 700,000 Americans.
3. Rise of Communism—Russian bolshevism seemed to most Americans equally
contagious and deadly; edgy Americans feared a Communist revolution in the
United States.
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4. Palmer Raids—Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer led an assault on alleged
subversives; targeted those men and women who harbored what Palmer
considered ideas that could lead to violence, even though they may have done
nothing illegal; in January 1920, Palmer ordered a series of raids that netted
6,000 alleged subversives; effort to rid the country of alien radicals was matched
by efforts to crush troublesome citizens; though he found no revolutionary
conspiracies, he nonetheless ordered 500 noncitizen suspects, including Emma
Goldman, deported.
5. A Public Attack on Civil Liberties—Law enforcement officials and vigilante
groups joined hands in several cities and towns to rid themselves of so-called
Reds; public institutions, including schools, libraries, and state legislatures, joined
the attack on civil liberties; the Supreme Court acted to restrict free speech with
its decision on Schenck v. United States.
6. Backlash—In 1920, the assault on civil liberties provoked the creation of the
American Civil Liberties Union, which championed the targets of Palmer’s
campaign; but in the end, the Red scare lost credibility and collapsed in its
excesses once warnings of revolution never materialized.
C. The Great Migrations of African Americans and Mexicans (Slide 28) Page
1. Escaping the South—In 1900, nine out ten blacks still lived in the South, where
disfranchisement, segregation, and violence dominated their lives; World War I
provided African Americans with the opportunity to escape the South’s cotton
fields and kitchens; as the number of European immigrants fell, between 1915
and 1920, half a million blacks boarded trains for the industrial cities in the North.
2. Life in the North—Opportunities varied from city to city, but the North was not
the promised land; many African Americans, including those who had fought in
the war, suffered from job discrimination and racially motivated violence; 96
lynchings of blacks in 1918; still, most migrants who traveled to the North stayed
and encouraged family and friends to follow; black enclaves developed in cities
like Harlem in New York and the South Side of Chicago.
3. Mexican Immigration—Between 1910 and 1920, the Mexican-born population
in the United States more than doubled; American racial stereotypes made
Mexican immigrants prospects for manual labor but not for citizenship; by 1920,
ethnic Mexicans made up about three-fourths of California’s farm laborers and
were crucial to the Texas economy; Mexican immigrants in the Southwest
dreamed of a better life in America; they found both opportunity and
disappointment; despite friction, large-scale immigration into the Southwest
meant a resurgence of the Mexican cultural presence, which in time became the
basis for greater solidarity and political action for the ethnic Mexican population.
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D. Postwar Politics and the Election of 1920 Page 679
1. Continuing Wilsonian Policy—Wilson, suffering from the after-effects of a
major stroke, insisted that the 1920 election would be a “solemn referendum” on
the League of Nations; Democratic nominee James M. Cox of Ohio campaigned
on Wilson’s international ideals.
2. A “Return to Normalcy”—Republican candidate, Ohio senator Warren G.
Harding, showed little political aptitude but a great facility for connecting with the
common people; won the election with the campaign promise to return the
country to “normalcy”; achieved the largest presidential victory ever: 60.5 percent
of the popular vote and 404 out of 531 electoral votes.
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