Memorandum by the Counselor for the Department of State (Lansing) on the Preservation of Neutrality by the People of the United States1

In view of the present inflamed state of the public mind of this country over the European conflict, and the danger of utterances by the American people and press which would cause hostile feeling by one or more of the belligerents toward the United States and from [form] a pretext for involving this Government in the present wars, would it not be appropriate and expedient for the President at the present time to publish a public address to the American people urging them to preserve in every way a strict neutrality and to be discreet in public expressions either in the press or otherwise showing bias or sympathy with any one of the countries at war. Such an address should further point out that we have thousands of American citizens, who because of nativity or blood sympathize with particular nations engaged in the conflict; that, however natural such sympathy is, it is their duty as American citizens to preserve a strict neutrality and avoid offense to their fellow citizens of other nationalities.

The same is true of the press. In whatever language a newspaper may be printed, its first duty is to the United States. It is not performing its duty to this country if it opens its columns to unneutral and partisan expressions of opinion, which may encourage antagonism among Americans of foreign birth and lineage and may give the impression to the government or people of a belligerent nation that the American people are hostile to them and desire their defeat.

The creation of such an impression in any country at war would arouse a spirit of hostility to this nation, which might menace our peace and would undoubtedly expose to mob violence the hundreds of Americans who are now in that country and unable to return to their homes, endangering their welfare and even their lives.

While a public utterance of this nature might appear to be an attempt to restrict the freedom of speech and of the press, I believe [Page 152] that it would appeal to the sober common sense of the people of the United States and prevent opinions and criticisms of an inflammatory nature.

Robert Lansing

August 10, 1914, the Secy informed me that he had sent the foregoing to the Pres’t with certain verbal changes which he (the Secy) had suggested.

R. L.
  1. This paper bears the notation: “Handed to Secy Aug. 9, 1914 RL.”