Robert Lansing and American Neutrality, 1914-1917

By Daniel M. Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
LANSING AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF AMERICAN NEUTRALITY

AMERICA's neutral policies were defined, in their basic elements, within the first few months of the war, and in a manner to render almost inevitable her eventual active participation.1 On the formulation of American policy, Lansing had a decisive influence.

As a neutral, America faced a series of problems in the fall of 1914, principally centered around such matters as the Declaration of London, armed merchantmen, contraband trade, and loans to the belligerents. International law, as it related to these problems, was largely a matter of interpretation, and as counselor of the State Department, it became Lansing's responsibility to supply the requisite definitions. Lansing brought to bear on his policy decisions and recommendations his developing concept of the significance of the war to America's national interests. The resulting policy decisions, for which he bore considerable responsibility, made the American neutrality structure highly benevolent toward the Allies and strictly technical toward the Central Powers. America was closely connected with the Allies through political, economic, and emotional bonds. Hence American neutrality eventually lost most of its value for the German government; the lack of mutual interests meant that little existed either to restrain American condemnation of German war policies or to moderate the German determination of those policies.2 In the determination of American policies, two underlying factors were significant--the American people's predisposition toward the Allies and the past relations of the United States with Great Britain and Germany.

Large numbers of German-Americans and Irish-Americans favored the Central Powers, but the preponderant mass of the American people, influenced by language and cultural bonds with England, sympathized with the Allied cause.3 Even among pro-Allied Americans, however, there was no immediate eagerness to enter the war. Nevertheless, the general disposition toward the Allies did make possible the later intervention in the conflict. This pro-Allied sentiment increased as the war continued. Most of the war news entering the United States came over wireless and cable systems controlled by the Allies, and most American newspapers depended upon the British news services for their foreign coverage.4 Allied propaganda, through skillful techniques of unob-

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