A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
April 1997 - December 1998
Detail from Red Cross poster, circa 1917 (Private Collection)
State Historic Site
For three years, President Woodrow Wilson had kept the United States out of the European war. He and other leaders saw the conflict as a regional quarrel in which America had no direct concern. The public grudgingly accepted Wilson's position: he was narrowly reelected in 1916 under the banner of "Peace With Honor."
Not everyone was in agreement, however. In early 1917, opinions about the United States' intervention in the war in Europe were sharply divided. At that time, immigrants constituted nearly one-third of the population of America. Over eight million of these were German immigrants, many of whom still professed strong loyalties to their homeland. Some of them thought the U.S. should either stay neutral or side with Germany and Austria.
Meanwhile, most upper-class American businessmen were fiercely anti-German, particularly those with social, family or business connections to Britain and France. These captains of industry advocated immediate entry into the war on the side of the Allies. The majority of Americans, however, were not connected to the European conflict by either blood or money and were not at all interested in waging war overseas. So, despite increased attacks on American ships by German submarines, the U.S. maintained official neutrality. This position made America no friends in the world, as noted by John Kendrick in 1918:
Throughout nearly three years of the conflict we strove earnestly to maintain amicable relations with all. The unquestioned proof of our success in maintaining an attitude of neutrality is found in the fact that we pleased none but displeased all.
In early 1917, Americans learned that Germany had tried to coax Mexico into invading the United States and reconquering her "lost territory" in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona. Although Germany's scheme was not successful, the threat to her borders finally prompted America to take action. On April 6, 1917, before a special joint session of Congress, President Wilson signed a resolution declaring war against the Imperial German Government. Of the 432 members of the 65th Congress of the United States, only fifty voted against the resolution. Among those signing the document was the newly-elected junior senator from Wyoming, John B. Kendrick. This was one of Kendrick's first official acts, one that would have an effect on all his constituents, including those in his own family.
President Woodrow Wilson (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)