The Secretary of State to President Wilson

My Dear Mr. President: After considering carefully our conversation this morning I wish to say that I am in entire agreement with you that the recent attacks by submarines on American vessels do not materially affect the international situation so far as constituting a reason for declaring that a state of war exists between this country and Germany. I think that these incidents, however, show very plainly that the German Government intends to carry out its announced policy without regard to consequences and to make no exception in the case of American vessels. It will, therefore, be only a question of time before we are forced to recognize these outrages as hostile acts which will amount to an announcement that a state of war exists.

I firmly believe that war will come within a short time whatever we may do, because the German Government seems to be relentless in pursuing its methods of warfare against neutral ships. It will not be [Page 627] many days, if past experience indicates the future, before an engagement will take place between one of our guarded steamships and a submarine. Whether that event will cause Germany to declare war or will cause us to recognize a state of war I do not know, but I do not think that we can successfully maintain the fiction that peace exists.

With the conviction that war is bound to come—and I have come to this conviction with the greatest reluctance and with an earnest desire to avoid it—the question seems to me to be whether or not the greatest good will be accomplished by waiting until some other events have taken place before we enter the conflict, or by entering now.

The advantage of delay would seem to be that in some future submarine attack on an American vessel the armed guard would with gun fire sink or drive off the submarine and by so doing induce the German Government to declare war upon us. If there is any other advantage I have been unable to imagine it. I am also convinced in my own mind that the German Government will not declare war in any circumstances. Why should it? It will prefer to continue to wage war on us, as it is today, and at the same time keep our hands tied by our admitted neutrality. It can do everything practical to injure us and prevent us from doing many things to injure Germany. It would seem most unreasonable to expect the German Government to increase its difficulties by declaring the United States an enemy.

The advantages of our immediate participation in the war appear to me to [be] based largely upon the premise that war is inevitable. Of course if that premise is wrong what I say is open to question. I should add two other premises, the truth of which seem to me well established. They are that the Entente Allies represent the principle of Democracy, and the Central Powers, the principle of Autocracy, and that it is for the welfare of mankind and for the establishment of peace in the world that Democracy should succeed.

In the first place it would encourage and strengthen the new democratic government of Russia, which we ought to encourage and with which we ought to sympathize. If we delay, conditions may change and the opportune moment when our friendship would be useful may be lost. I believe that the Russian Government founded on its hatred of absolutism and therefore of the German Government would be materially benefited by feeling that this republic was arrayed against the same enemy of liberalism.

In the second place it would put heart into the democratic element in Germany, who are already beginning to speak boldly and show their teeth at their rulers. Possibly delay would not affect to a very great degree the movement, but I believe it would hasten the time when the German people assert themselves and repudiate the military oligarchy in control of the Empire.

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In the third place it would give moral support to the Entente Powers already encouraged by recent military successes and add to the discouragement of the Teutonic Allies, which would result in the advancement of Democracy and in shortening the war. The present seems to be an especially propitious time to exert this influence on the conflict.

In the fourth place the American people, feeling, I am sure, that war is bound to come, are becoming restive and bitterly critical of what they believe to be an attempt to avoid the unavoidable. If there is a possibility of keeping out of the war, this attitude of the public mind would affect me not at all, but convinced as I am that we will in spite of all we may do become participants, I can see no object in adopting a course which will deprive us of a certain measure of enthusiastic support which speedy action will bring.

In the fifth place I believe that our future influence in world affairs, in which we can no longer refuse to play our part, will be materially increased by prompt, vigorous and definite action in favor of Democracy and against Absolutism. This would be first shown in the peace negotiations and in the general readjustment of international relations. It is my belief that the longer we delay in declaring against the military absolutism which menaces the rule of liberty and justice in the world, so much the less will be our influence in the days when Germany will need a merciful and unselfish foe.

I have written my views with great frankness, as I am sure you would wish me to do, and I trust that you will understand my views are in no way influenced by any bitterness of feeling toward Germany or by any conscious emotion awakened by recent events. I have tried to view the situation coldly, dispassionately and justly.

Faithfully yours,

Robert Lansing