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"Old-stock" Americans and Irish Americans
opposed U.S. entry into World War I, but Woodrow Wilson made appeals to gain their
Explain why Irish Americans were adamantly against aiding the British in the war and how Woodrow Wilson harnessed the moralism of the "old stock" to support it
"Old-stock" Americans were typically white, Protestant, and at
first, staunch opponents of America entering World War I.
Woodrow Wilson persuaded many old-stock Americans to join the war effort
by arguing that the German "Huns" were
threatening American civilization and by calling for a religious-like crusade on
behalf of world peace.
Irish-American Catholics were the most vocal opponents of the
war because they vehemently opposed providing any form of aid to Britain, which had executed
the Republican leaders of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. In Ireland,
Republicans were those who wanted the country to be a sovereign republic
free of British rule.
In response to Irish-American Catholics, Wilson crafted war aims that
were distinct from Britain's and that primarily focused on reconstructing the postwar
world in a Liberal Democratic fashion.
An insurrection in Ireland during Easter Week in April 1916. The rising was
mounted by Irish Republicans with the aims of ending British rule and
establishing the Irish Republic at a time when the British Empire was heavily
engaged in World War I. It was the most significant uprising in Ireland since
the rebellion of 1798.
A group consisting of Protestant
denominations (Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ,
Congregational, and some Lutheran groups) that loudly denounced the war at first; it
was God's punishment for sin, they said.
Support for America’s entry into
World War I was not unanimous. A number of groups on the home front opposed joining
the conflict in Europe for different reasons, most of which could be traced to their
political or religious beliefs. Among these dissenters, some of the loudest protests
came from so-called "old-stock" Americans, as well as from Americans of Irish descent.
The dominant voice in American politics
at the time of World War I was that of old-stock Americans, who were white and
primarily Protestant Christians. Old-stock moralism was aggressively focused on
banishing from the face of the Earth things perceived to be sources of evil (for example, saloons were targeted through acts such as Prohibition, a legal ban on selling and
consuming alcohol). The largest Protestant denominations—including Methodist,
Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Congregational, and some Lutheran groups—loudly denounced the war at first, arguing that it was God's punishment for
The intensely religious son of a prominent
theologian, Woodrow Wilson had established himself as a believer in the role of
Christian morality in public affairs. “America was born a Christian nation,” he
stated in a 1911 speech. “America was born to exemplify that devotion to the
elements of righteousness which derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”
Wilson, therefore, knew religion could be utilized in American foreign policy and recognized that a depiction of German militarism as morally evil would prompt old-stock Americans to throw
enormous weight behind the war effort. He harnessed this moralism with verbal attacks
on the "Huns"—a derogatory term for Germans—threatening civilization, and through his calls for an almost religious crusade for peace. In
his April 2, 1917, address to Congress requesting a declaration of war against
Germany, Wilson ended by saying, “America is privileged to spend her blood and
her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace
which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.”
The most effective domestic opponents of the war were
Irish-American Catholics, who had little interest in mainland Europe, but were
adamantly opposed to aiding the British Empire because of its long-standing
refusal to grant independence to Ireland. The April 1916 Easter Rising in
Dublin was crushed within a week by the occupying British military government, and
the Irish Republican leaders were subsequently executed by firing squad. This series
of events resonated deeply with Irish Americans, who dominated the Democratic Party in many large cities.
Irish Americans did not prevent
the president from being hostile to Germany, but forced the U.S. government to
maintain a polite diplomatic distance from Britain and define its own war objectives,
primarily restructuring the postwar world in Liberal Democratic fashion. This
stance of not completely siding with British interests gave the Irish-American
community reason to believe it had an implicit promise from Wilson to promote
Irish independence in exchange for their support of his war policies.
The Irish Americans, therefore, were bitterly disappointed by Wilson’s refusal after his reelection
to support them or the movement for Irish independence. Despite Wilson’s habit of
telling big city audiences of his Irish ancestry through two paternal
grandparents from County Tyrone, and making references to “the great Irish
people” during his first presidential campaign, Irish Americans realized, too late, that the
president had only curried their favor for fear of losing the votes of such an
important constituency within his own party.
In fact, Wilson never held America’s
Irish community in any high regard. Presidential adviser Colonel Edward M.
House wrote in his personal diary in 1918, “In speaking of the Irish he
surprised me by saying that he did not intend to appoint another Irishman to
anything; that they were untrustworthy and uncertain. He thought Tumulty [Wilson’s
private secretary, Joseph Patrick Tumulty] was the only one he had come into
contact with who was.”
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