Public opinion in the United States of America has been incensed by Germany’s sinking of the Lusitania. The ocean liner was sunk without warning by a U-boat, leading to the loss of 1,198 lives, including 128 US citizens. President Wilson has sent a stern note to the German government, protesting at the loss of US lives in the sinking of the Lusitania and other civilian ships.
Germany has replied to Wilson’s note, expressing regret at the lost of civilian lives but asserting that the attack on the Lusitania was legitimate because the ship was carrying munitions and sailing in a war zone. The Germans also complain that the British naval blockade of their country is contrary to the established rules of war, thereby entitling them to respond in kind with attacks on their enemy’s civilian shipping.
Now Wilson sends a second note to the German authorities. He rejects the German arguments and calls on them to take all due measures to safeguard the lives of American citizens.
Wilson’s note causes controversy within the US government. William Jennings Bryan, the Secretary of State, favours a more conciliatory and even-handed approach, one that would condemn both U-boat attacks and the British naval blockade of Germany. He fears that Wilson’s line will ultimately embroil the United States in the war engulfing Europe. He resigns in protest and is replaced by the more uncompromising Robert Lansing.
image source (Wolfsonian-FIU Library; features many more fascinating Lusitania related images and cartoons of William Jennings Bryan resigning)
See the text of Wilson’s note here.