“GREEN BAY 200 PERCENT LOYAL; GREAT PATRIOTIC MEETING,” screamed a headline on the front page of the Green Bay Press-Gazette on April 2, 1917.
As the United States made the slow political walk into the Great War in April 1917, armchair patriots spewed their fiery passion about the impending conflict and about American values. They cited the protection of democracy, honor, and the horrors of German autocracy. Across the country, speakers pounded their fists and called for blood.
“War fever rose to new heights,” writes author G.J. Meyer in his new book The World Remade: America in World War I. “Large segments of the American public – the so-called opinion leaders especially – plunged into a frenzy of patriotism that at times resembled a kind of collective madness.”
Nowhere is this madness more prevalent than on the front pages of daily newspapers published across the war-crazed nation. In that April 2 edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the editors published a front page story regarding a massive war rally that occurred in the industrial city on Lake Michigan.
More than 3,000 people packed into the city’s armory for the occasion. Among the speakers was a Methodist minister named Morris L. Eversz. He landed a quote on the front page. “When I entered the ministry I sold my sword and put away all thought of bloodshed, but I am ready to go now if needed.”
Tucked away in his remarks were justifications for why he believed the United States should enter the war in Europe. He used his father, a veteran of the American Civil War, as a chief element in his argument.
My father fled from Germany to get away from the things that are oppressing the people there today, and my father fought in the Civil War.
He was with Sherman when he marched to the sea, and with that brave lieutenant who wig-wagged to Sherman, ‘My cheek is shot away and I am wounded, but if the enemy wants to come we’ll give him Hell.’ And if anybody wants trouble with us, they’ve got that coming.
I’m an American citizen, and I take off my hat to Dr. Balla, a California dentist, who, when he was given choice of $10,000,000 and a title in Austria or $3,000 a year and his American citizenship, chose the American citizenship. This is America.
When the Maine blew up we went up with her, but we did not come down in the narrow three mile limit. We came down all over the world, a world power. That’s why we stand by Wilson. We must stand by the government.
Democracy vs. Absolutism.
This is a question of the democracy of America against the absolutism of Prussia and I am for the democracy. Russia has seen the light. Russia needs sympathy, and we should offer a helping hand.
King George should abdicate, he is only a figurehead anyway. There is a little Welsh Baptist who writes his speeches for him. Freedom is coming to Italy and to Austria and to Germany.
If there are citizens who do not like this country they should get out, bag and baggage.
The blood of the Civil War veterans has not been shed in vain. There is a wonderful succession of patriotism in this country, and this to the young men, get busy for the cavalry company and the other militia companies…
The use of the American Civil War and the Spanish-American War as a rhetorical tool to encourage involvement in the bloody conflict in Europe is one seen fairly often in the newspapers and speeches in April 1917.
In using his father as an example, Eversz argued that despite his German ancestry, he was “all in” for the American war effort against Germany and Austria. A roiling battle of opinions took place in the German-American community over the issues of loyalty and patriotism. It’s quite clear that in bringing up his father’s service in 1861-1865, Eversz seeks to firmly establish his claim to American citizenship. His speech falls distinctively in line with extremely nationalistic, aggressive rhetoric used by those advocating American entrance into the Great War.
With war fever sweeping the nation in the spring of 1917, American orators and writers were freely utilizing the patriotic and honorable example of the Civil War as an incitement toward war. Rarely did they acknowledge the bloody toll that conflict exacted on the country fifty years earlier.
With the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the First World War, a series of posts will examine the conflict through the eyes of those who fought in America’s bloodiest war between 1861 and 1865.