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A History of the United States by Cecil Chesterton

According to the creed of Thomas Jefferson


at home at once by the German

propagandists, who wanted him, in defiance of International Law, to forbid the sale of arms and munitions to the Allies, and by Colonel Roosevelt, who wished America to declare herself definitely on the Allied side. Moreover, Prussia could understand no argument but force, and took every sign of the pacific disposition of the Government at Washington as an indication of cowardice or incapacity to fight. But he was excellently served in Berlin by Mr. Gerard, and he held to his course. The _Lusitania_ was sunk and many American citizens were drowned as a part of the Prussian campaign of indiscriminate murder on the high seas; and the volume of feeling in favour of intervention increased. But the President still resisted the pressure put upon him, as Lincoln had so long resisted the pressure of those who wished him to use his power to declare the slaves free. He succeeded in obtaining from Germany some mitigation of her piratical policy, and with that he was for a time content. He probably knew then, as Mr. Gerard certainly did, that war must come. But he also knew that if he struck too early he would divide the nation. He waited till the current of opinion had time to develop, carefully though unobtrusively directing it in such a fashion as to prepare it for eventualities. So well did he succeed that when in the spring of 1917 Prussia proclaimed a revival of her policy of unmitigated murder directed not only against belligerents but avowedly against neutrals also, he felt the full
tide of the general will below him. And when at last he declared war it was with a united America at his back.

Such is, in brief, the diplomatic history of the intervention of the United States in the Great War. Yet there is another angle from which it can be viewed, whereby it seems not only inevitable but strangely symbolic. The same century that saw across the Atlantic the birth of the young Republic, saw in the very centre of Europe the rise of another new Power. Remote as the two were, and unlikely as it must have seemed at the time that they could ever cross each other's paths, they were in a strange fashion at once parallel and antipodean. Neither has grown in the ordinary complex yet unconscious fashion of nations. Both were, in a sense, artificial products. Both were founded on a creed. And the creeds were exactly and mathematically opposed. According to the creed of Thomas Jefferson, all men were endowed by their Creator with equal rights. According to the creed of Frederick Hohenzollern there was no Creator, and no one possessed any rights save the right of the strongest. Through more than a century the history of the two nations is the development of the two ideas. It would have seemed unnatural if the great Atheist State, in its final bid for the imposition of its creed on all nations, had not found Jefferson's Republic among its enemies. That anomaly was not to be. That flag which, decked only with thirteen stars representing the original revolted colonies, had first waved over Washington's raw levies, which, as the cluster grew, had disputed on equal terms with the Cross of St. George its ancient lordship of the sea, which Jackson had kept flying over New Orleans, which Scott and Taylor had carried triumphantly to Monterey, which on a memorable afternoon had been lowered over Sumter, and on a yet more memorable morning raised once again over Richmond, which now bore its full complement of forty-eight stars, symbolizing great and free States stretching from ocean to ocean, appeared for the first time on a European battlefield, and received there as its new baptism of fire a salute from all the arsenals of Hell.


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