This Day in History – August 18th, 1914

One hundred years ago today the First World War continued to spread over Europe, and it grew a step further on August 18th, 1914 when Germany declared war on Russia. Ahead of Europe was four years of fighting and a death toll higher than had ever been seen before, but also on this day a century ago President Woodrow Wilson issued his Proclamation of Neutrality.

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Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and leader of the Progressive Movement. He served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910 and was Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913. He led his Democratic Party to win control of both the White House and Congress in 1912.

Wilson induced a conservative Democratic Congress to pass a progressive legislative agenda, unparalleled until the New Deal in 1933. This included the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and an income tax. Child labor was temporarily curtailed by the Keating–Owen Act of 1916. Wilson also averted a railroad strike and an ensuing economic crisis through passage of the Adamson Act, imposing an 8-hour workday for railroads. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Wilson maintained a policy of neutrality.

Narrowly re-elected in 1916 around the slogan “He kept us out of war”, Wilson’s second term was dominated by American entry into World War I. That year he proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day in a patriotic speech that bore out the nation’s anti-German sentiment. In April 1917, when Germany persisted with submarine warfare, Wilson asked Congress to declare war in order to make “the world safe for democracy.” The United States conducted military operations with the Allies, without a formal alliance. During the war, Wilson focused on diplomacy and financial considerations, leaving military particulars in the hands of the Army. He loaned billions of dollars to Britain, France and other Allies, allowing them to finance their own war effort. On the home front in 1917, he began the first large-scale draft and borrowed billions of dollars in war funding through the newly establishedFederal Reserve Bank and Liberty Bonds. He set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union cooperation, supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act and assumed control of the railroads.

He also suppressed anti-war movements with the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, a crackdown which broadened and intensified to include real and suspected anarchists andcommunists during the First Red Scare of 1919–1920. In 1918 after years of opposition, Wilson was pressured to change his position on women’s suffrage, which he then advocated as a war measure. Though he sought and received support from many in the black community, he permitted racial segregation of the Post Office, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the Navy.

Wilson took personal control of negotiations when an armistice was requested by Germany, and in 1918 he issued his principles for peace, the Fourteen Points. In 1919 he went to Paris to promote the formation of a League of Nations and concluded the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson then suffered a severe stroke, and was unable to secure Senate ratification of the Treaty. By 1920 his disability had diminished his power and influence, and the Democratic party ignored his tentative plan to run for re-election.

A devoted Presbyterian, Wilson infused a profound sense of moralism into his internationalism, now referred to as “Wilsonian”—a contentious position in American foreign policy which obligates the United States to promote global democracy. For his sponsorship of the League of Nations, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. Wilson has consistently been ranked by scholars and the public as one of the top ten presidents.”

 

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