4169 HOW THE WAR CAME TO AMERICA
This was the direct challenge. There was no possible answer except
to hand their ambassador his passports and so have done with a diplomatic
correspondence which had been vitiated from the start by the often
proved bad faith of the Imperial Government.
On the same day, February 3, 1917, the President addressed both Houses
of our Congress and announced the complete severance of our relations
with Germany. The reluctance with which he took this step was evident
in every word. But diplomacy had failed, and it would have been the
hollowest pretense to maintain relations. At the same time, however, he
made it plain that he did not regard this act as tantamount to a declaration
of war. Here for the first time the President made his sharp distinction between government and people in undemocratic lands:
"We are the sincere friends of the German people," he said, "and earnestly
desire to remain at peace with the Government which speaks for them.
God grant we may not be challenged by acts of wiltful injustice on the part
of the Government of Germany."
In this address of the President, and in its endorsement by the Senate,
there was a solemn warning; for we still had hope that the German Government might hesitate to drive us to war. But it was soon evident that our
warning had fallen on deaf ears. The tortuous ways and means of German
official diplomacy were clearly shown in the negotiations opened by them
through the Swiss legation on the 10th of February. In no word of their
proposals did the German Government meet the real issue between us.
And our State Department replied that no minor negotiations could be
entertained until the main issue had been met by the withdrawal of the
By the 1st of March it had become plain that the Imperial Government,
unrestrained by the warning in the President's address to Congress on February 3, was determined to make good its threat. The President then
again appeared before Congress to report the development of the crisis
and to ask the approval of the Representatives of the Nation for the course
of armed neutrality upon which, under his constitutional authority, he
had now determined. More than 500 of the 531 members of the two Houses
of Congress showed themselves ready and anxious to act; and the Armed
Neutrality Declaration would have been accepted if it had not been for the
legal death of the Sixty-fourth Congress on March 4.
No "overt" act, however, was ordered by our Government until Count
Bernstorff had reached Berlin and Mr.Gerard was in Washington. For
the German ambassador on his departure had begged that no irrevocable