When the guns of August 1914 shattered the peace of Europe, pitting Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers) against Britain, France, and Russia, President Woodrow Wilson on August 4 issued a proclamation of neutrality. Two weeks later he urged Americans to be "impartial in thought as well as in action." But in the realms of both official policy and public opinion, neutrality proved difficult to sustain. Wilson insisted, for reasons of both principle and economic advantage, on full neutral trading rights with all the belligerent powers. Britain and Germany had different ideas. Each tried to throttle American trade with the other. Britain, whose battle fleet controlled the surface of the Atlantic, succeeded spectacularly. American commerce with Germany had fallen by 1916 to less than 1 percent of its 1914 value. In the same period, American trade with Britain and its French and (after 1915) Italian allies tripled.
British restrictions on American trade elicited repeated American complaints, but the harm done by British commercial regulations and surface ships paled next to the damage inflicted by German submarines. The U-boat (Unterseeboot) ignored existing rules of naval warfare. Contrary to the traditional practice, submerged U-boats torpedoed merchant ships without warning. When sinkings resulted in the loss of American lives - as in the assault on the British passenger liner Lusitania on May 7, 1915, killing 128 Americans - Wilson's government protested vehemently. Germany restrained its submarine attacks thereafter, but on January 31, 1917, in a desperate move to end the two-and-a-half-year-old military stalemate in Europe, the German high command declared unrestricted submarine warfare against al...
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...duction, inspired the Hoover administration's chief antidepression tool, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. The New Deal's National Recovery Administration was patterned on the War Industries Board. The National War Labor Board, charged with mediating wartime labor disputes, provided an important precedent for the Wagner National Labor Relations Act of 1935. And there were the more immediate and concrete achievements, at least partly facilitated by the war, of Prohibition, which was enacted by the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, and women's suffrage, guaranteed by the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. The war also introduced sufficient stresses into American society that Woodrow Wilson's Democratic party, despite its military victory, lost control of the Congress in 1918 and of the presidency in 1920, ushering in a decade of Republican dominance in national politics.
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