How 1916 set the stage for America to enter WW1
On Nov. 7, 1916, 100 years and one day before Republican Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, his Democratic predecessor Woodrow Wilson was re-elected to the job. Wilson’s campaign unfolded in a manner familiar—then and now, win or lose—to Democrats. He racked up the numbers in big population centres, taking 52 per cent of the overall popular vote, but barely squeaked through the Electoral College. If his opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, had picked up 3,800 more votes of the one million cast in California, the Republican would have won. Plus ça change.
But the victory went to Wilson, meaning that, in the midst of the First World War, the presidency remained in the hands of someone who combined high-minded idealism, absolute insistence on the right of Americans to trade freely with all belligerents (even if it was overwhelmingly with Britain and France), and a barely suppressed inclination to the Allied side. That made his re-election one of the year’s signal moments, according to 1916: A Global History, Irish historian Keith Jeffery’s month-by-month account of the Great War’s hinge year, the year that changed everything.
The U.S. greeted the outbreak of war in 1914 with disbelief and a note of sanctimony, and its press frequently trumpeted the superiority of the New World in its aversion to war. (The newspapers could only do this, of course, by adherence to two American traditions: refusing to equate American punitive attacks on Latin American and Caribbean nations with “war,” and by ignoring the entity to the north, a steadily more significant participant in the war.)
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