involvement in World War I was a difficult and divisive issue for our Nation.
President Wilson had struggled for three years since the outbreak of hostilities in
August, 1914 to maintain a position of American neutrality towards the European conflict.
This effort to distance our Nation from European affairs was disturbed on May 7,
1915 when a German U-boat sank the unarmed British liner Lusitania killing more than 1,000
people including 128 Americans.
By 1917 it was becoming
increasingly apparent that American neutrality could no longer be maintained.
President Wilson went before Congress to request a Declaration of War with these words:
Click on the image
above to access a larger copy of this picture containing the text of the American's Creed
for printing as a poster. (Set your printer margins to the minimum default to print
it as a single, letter-sized page.)
President Wilson's view
of the United States as the stalwart of world democracy wasn't shared by everyone,
however. Six of the 96 U.S. Senators voted against the declaration of war. The
House of Representatives passed the resolution April 6, 1917, but only after 13 hours of
emotional and heated debate. Forty-nine Congressmen and the only Congresswoman
(Helen Rankin of Montana), voted against the declaration.
By mid-summer General John J. Pershing's American
Expeditionary Force was landing in Europe. But even as Colonel Charles E. Stanton
stood before the tomb of Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette's tomb in France to
proclaim, "Lafayette, we are here"; trouble was brewing at home. Congress'
new program of conscription under the Selective Service Act was mandating registration for
military service by every American man between the ages of 21 and 30. Not since the
Civil War had an issue arisen to so divide our Country.
While George M. Cohan wrote patriotic songs like
"Over There" (actually penned on April 6, the same day Congress finally
passed the Declaration of War), other citizens began to protest American involvement in
"Europe's troubles" and the forced recruitment of soldiers under the Selective
Service Act. By the summer of 1918 the war in Europe had forced the Government to
take control of industry, railroads, and food and fuel production. Taxes were raised
to fund the war, postal rates went up, and censorship of some mail was being officially
conducted. In May Congress passed the Sedition Act which allowed war and draft
protesters to be jailed. More than 2,000 Americans were already behind bars for
interfering with the draft, including one former United States Congressman (Victor Berger
In the midst of all this domestic turmoil and
dissension, a Nation-wide essay contest was held to develop an American's Creed. The
winning entry was submitted by William Tyler Page of Friendship Heights, Maryland.
Mr. Page was a descendent of President John Tyler and former Congressman John Page who
served in the House of Representatives from 1789-1797. William Tyler Page himself
had also served in Congress - - as a Congressional Page in 1881. His winning essay
established the American's Creed with the following words:
believe in the United States of America as a Government of the People, by the People, for
the People; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; A democracy in
a republic, a sovereign Nation of many Sovereign States; a perfect Union, one and
inseparable; established upon those principles of Freedom, Equality, Justice, and Humanity
for which American Patriots sacrificed their Lives and Fortunes.
I therefore believe
it is my duty to my country to Love it; to Support its Constitution; to obey its laws; to
Respect its Flag; and to defend it against all enemies.