Zimmerman Telegram, 1917

Sorry that posts have been sparse lately. School got pretty crazy, and I acquired a stomach virus on top of that (gross!). But I’m feeling better and will post more regularly.

World War I broke out between European nations in 1914, but the isolationist United States wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson was reelected after running with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” However a series of events led the US to eventually declare war on Germany. In addition to Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare against US ships, Wilson referred to the Zimmerman Telegram in his request to Congress to declare war.

The Zimmerman Telegram, via

The Zimmerman Telegram was a memo written by German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt. First, the note stated that Germany would continue unrestricted submarine warfare despite America’s protestations. This is because although the US was neutral and would trade with all belligerent countries, they could not trade with Germany due to a British naval blockade. Germany knew their actions could provoke the neutral US into war, so then Zimmerman proposed an alliance with Mexico (and  Japan); Mexico, in turn, was promised its former territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The alliance between Germany, Mexico, and Japan would open up two new fronts and help reduce the strain on the German military.

However, British cryptographers intercepted the message and gave it to Wilson on February 24, 1917. Finally, the note was released to the press on March 1, and the US public was horrified by the telegram. Zimmerman conceded on March 3, that the leaked telegram was authentic. In addition, Germany responded by complaining that the Allies shouldn’t have been tapping their secure peace network in the first place. Germany playing the victim was not effective, and on April 6, 1917, the United States Congress approved Wilson’s decision to declare war on Germany.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 1918

On this day in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech to the United States Congress, outlining “Fourteen Points” that he believed would lead to lasting peace between nations. Like FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech concerns  global security and reflects the ideology of an American president during a World War.

President Woodrow Wilson (in office March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921)

At the time of Wilson’s speech, America was currently involved in World War I, fighting on the side of the Entente Powers, or Allies (namely Britain and France), against the Central Powers (namely Germany).

I won’t go through all of his fourteen points, but here are the highlights:

  • No more secret agreements- If you study the causes of the First World War, you will see how many secret agreements and alliances there were. It is one of the (many) reasons why so many countries became involved in the war.
  • Freedom of the seas– America declared war on Germany (even though Wilson really really did not want to get involved in the war) mainly because of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare.
  • Equal trade between countries– Wilson is saying that a country could impose tariffs on other countries, but this tariff would have to apply to all countries; it could not discriminate among countries.
  • Reduction of armaments– Wilson’s allies were not too happy about this one. It was easy for the United States- a rising world power isolated from Europe- to ask countries to reduce armaments. But what about France, who shared a border with Germany and kept getting invaded by them?
  • Objective adjustment of colonial claims– Again, this was easy for the United States to say. They had less of a stake in colonies than their Allied counterparts.
  • Various specific suggestions for certain disputed states and territories– Including the self-determination of Belgium, Austria-Hungary, and the Balkan states, among others. Also, he said France should be liberated and given Alsace-Lorraine back. Wilson asked for the creation of an independent Polish state.

And here is Wilson’s crowning glory:

  • A League of Nations should be established for the purpose of maintaining peace between all states, big and small– You can think of the League of Nations-which was eventually created- as an early, ineffective United Nations.

Later in November 1918, the war ended with the Armistice with Germany. The Fourteen Points could have even influenced the Germans to surrender, expecting just treatment. However, the  Treaty of Versailles, against Wilson’s wishes, was very vindictive, forcing Germany to take responsibility for starting the war and to pay gross reparations.

Some parts of Wilson’s Fourteen Points were included in the Versailles Treaty, including the creation of a League of Nations. However, the Treaty of Versailles was not ratified by the US Senate, and the United States never joined Wilson’s own League of Nations.

Regardless, President Wilson received the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts.

The Nineteenth Amendment, 1920

Although I’m one year away from America’s voting age, I am so excited to cast my first presidential vote in 2016! The freedom to vote has always been a reality for me, but this has not always been the case for women.

Since the early 19th century, women (and men) in favor of suffrage have campaigned for an amendment to the United States Constitution allowing women to vote. What is now the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was first introduced to Congress in 1878. The amendment was ratified in 1920, meaning it took 42 long years to be realized! President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to support the amendment in 1917 was a game-changer for the women’s suffrage movement.

Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919. However, it wasn’t until August 18, 1920 that three-fourths of the states agreed to the amendment (a requirement for ratification). On this day in 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, thus sending the amendment into effect.

Early women voters at Pitt. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

And to think this was all less than a century ago!

Further reading:

https://historyherstoryblog.wordpress.com/2013/01/03/lucretia-mott-was-born-1793/ Here is some info about suffragist Lucretia Mott

http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=63

http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/nineteentham.htm

When I read about how hard the suffragettes fought for the freedom to vote, it makes me want to never take for granted  my right to vote. What about you?