Culture at Twilight: The National German-American Alliance, 1901-1918

By Charles Thomas Johnson | Go to book overview
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Chapter 6

The Twilight and the End, 1917—1918

The fate of the German-American Alliance would be bound up with a series of events set in motion in early 1917. On January 31 Germany announced that it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare—a move that canceled all previous concessions to the United States and openly threatened American ships. On February 3 Wilson responded by severing diplomatic relations and giving Ambassador Bernstor ff his passport. The initial reaction within the German-American community was panic, as many people thought that the United States and Germany were on the verge of war. In cities across the nation resident aliens rushed to get their citizenship papers; in Chicago, ninety percent were of German and Austrian birth! This panic also generated a run on the banks by German-Americans, who feared that they would lose their money in such a conflict. The German-American press attempted to calm this fear. The New Yorker Staats-Zeitung asked that German-Americans “Be calm. Whatever may happen your money is safe, and no American government, least of all the present one would think of touching it.” 1

Many local and state chapters of the Alliance were quick to praise Wilson's decision and pledge their loyalty. 2 Their actions, seemingly contradictory to previous agitation that had sought to keep America neutral, were based upon the harsh reality that condemnation of the president's decision would further label the group as anti-American.

The national organization acted differently. Instead of quickly pledging its loyalty it continued to lobby for continued neutrality at a time when war between the United States and Germany looked more and more likely. On February 5 Hexamer wired presidents of the state chapters calling upon them to organize peace meetings and adopt resolutions requesting that Congress submit the question of declaring

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