“It would be an irony of fate, if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs.”
Wilson’s primary goal at the outset of the European war in 1914 was to maintain American neutrality and to help broker peace between the warring parties. When Germany torpedoed the British passenger liner Lusitania in May 1915, much of the U.S. called for war, but Wilson remained steadfast and forced Germany to promise to restrict their submarine warfare. Re-elected in 1916 under the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” Wilson found by April 1917 that neutrality was no longer possible.
After several attempts to negotiate peace had failed, American ships in neutral waters were fired upon and sunk. When Germany tried to induce Mexico to attack the United States, Wilson called upon Congress to declare war in April 1917. He and the nation mobilized to support the war effort, building an effective military and employing the newest technological innovations.
As a war president, Woodrow Wilson led the nation from preparedness to victory in a mere eighteen months. The first American troops saw action in October 1917 and soon after in January 1918, Wilson issued his Fourteen Points for Peace. By November of that same year the terms of an Armistice had been drawn up and hostilities ceased. While achieving victory and securing his place in history as well as in the hearts of a generation, Wilson met his chief war goal: peace.
Wilson commanded a presence on the world stage that no other American president had ever achieved. He was showered with flowers and cheers in the streets of Paris, London and Rome. He became the first American president to be received at Buckingham Palace, to have Christmas dinner with American troops on foreign soil, and to have an audience with the Pope. The United States moved to the front rank of world powers, and Wilson, who had earned the respect of the world, was ready to bear the responsibility of our nation’s new status, perhaps even more than most Americans.