"We must be the great arsenal of democracy."

-Franklin D. Roosevelt Message to Congress, January 6, 1941

To the American public of 1914, the outbreak of the war came as a rude shock. At first the conflict itself seemed remote, but before it had been raging very long American Jeaders and the public at large felt its effects increasingly in both economic and political life. By 1915 American industry, which had been mildly depressed, was prospering again with munitions orders from the Western Allies. Public passions were aroused by the propaganda of both sides, and both British and German acts against American shipping on the high seas brought sharp protests from the Wilson administration. But as the months passed, disputes between American and German leaders moved more and more into the foreground.

In February 1915, German military leaders announced that they would destroy all merchantmen in the waters around the British Isles. President Wilson warned that the United States would not forsake its traditional right of trade on the high seas and declared that the nation would hold Germany to "strict accountability" for the loss of American vessels or lives. The German government answered that the Allied blockade of Germany was an even more ruthless way of waging war than the unrestricted use of the submarine, since it threatened to bring starvation to vast numbers of civilians, while submarine warfare affected only those who chose to risk their lives on the Atlantic. However, submarine warfare was spectacular, while the blockade was slow and silent. American opinion was aroused to a high pitch of indignation in the spring of 1915 when the British liner Lusitania was sunk with nearly 1,200 people, including 128 Americans, aboard.

Under the stress of wartime emotion, President Wilson was unable to follow a consistent policy. From the time of Jefferson, no American President had been more sincerely devoted to the cause of peace. But he was also convinced that a German success would mean the victory of militarism in Europe, endangering not only American security but also his own dream of world peace. These fears seem to be confirmed by the ruthlessness of submarine warfare. But on May 4, 1916, when the German government pledged that submarine warfare would henceforth be limited in accordance with American demands, the submarine problem seemed to be solved. Wilson was able to win his campaign for reelection that year, in good part on the strength of his party's slogan, "He kept us out of war." In January 1917, in a speech before the Senate, he called for a "Peace without victory" which, he declared, was the only kind of peace that would last.