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Page:Collier's New Encyclopedia v. 10.djvu/132

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question, and by a firm determination to help our people out of the distress and disgrace which our enemies contemplate for them.”

The sensation produced by this determination was prodigious. It deepened the conviction that when the Secretary of State had let slip the statement, previously referred to, about this country's being “near the verge of war,” he must have had some intimation, either from Ambassador Gerard in Berlin or from the chancelleries of the Allied nations, that ruthless warfare was contemplated. For some days following the delivery of the submarine note, the country was in a fever of excitement. No intimation was given as to what the President would do, although it was known, on Feb. 2, that he had reached a decision of some kind. On that date, he conferred with the Cabinet, and late in the afternoon consulted with a number of senators at the Capitol. Early on Feb. 3, he announced that he would on that day address both houses of Congress. Before he made the address, however, he informed Secretary of State Lansing that he had determined to break off diplomatic relations with Germany. At two o'clock that afternoon, he appeared before the joint gathering of Congress. Floors and galleries were packed with members and spectators, in a tense attitude of repressed excitement and expectation. The address lasted half an hour, and was listened to with the most profound attention.

The President reviewed the details of the “Sussex” case that had ended with the assurance of the German Government that it would not henceforth sink merchant ships without warning and without taking precautions for the safety of their passengers and crews. He recalled that this Government had threatened to break off diplomatic relations unless such promise should be given. That promise had now been broken, and the only course left that was consistent with the honor and dignity of the United States was to make good its threat. The President had therefore directed the Secretary of State to announce to the German Ambassador that all diplomatic relations between the two Governments were severed, to hand him his passports, and at the same time to recall the American Ambassador from Berlin.

In concluding, the President expressed the hope that, despite Germany's declaration, she would not actually embark upon ruthless submarine warfare, and stated that only actual overt acts on her part would make him believe it. If, however, this hope should prove unfounded, and if American ships and American lives should be destroyed by such acts on the part of her submarine commanders, in contravention of international law and the dictates of humanity, the President stated that he would again take the liberty of coming before Congress to ask of it authority to take whatever measures might be necessary to protect our seamen and our people in the prosecution of their legitimate errands on the high seas.

The speech received the immediate and hearty indorsement of the American people, regardless of party. It was felt that no other course could possibly be followed without the loss of national self-respect. There was no delusion as to what was implied in the breaking off of diplomatic relations. Almost invariably in modern times, such an act had been the prelude to war, and in the state of popular feeling there was little reason to think that this would prove an exception. But as between war and national degradation the nation had decided on its course.

Now that the decision had been actually reached there was no delaying or hesitation. In fact, at the precise moment that the President began his address, the German Ambassador received his passports from Secretary Lansing. Steps were instantly taken to receive a guarantee of safe conduct out of the country, and this was granted by Great Britain and France within forty-eight hours. The Scandinavian-American liner, “Frederick VIII.,” was placed at his disposal; and on this vessel, accompanied by his suite and many German consuls and propagandists, he left the port of New York, Feb. 14, 1917.

It was a regrettable fact that similar courtesy was not extended to Ambassador Gerard at Berlin. In defiance of all the amenities that usually attend such departures, he was kept in the German capital for an indefensible length of time by something closely resembling force.

The official instructions from the United States Government did not reach Ambassador Gerard until Feb. 5, and immediately upon their receipt he asked the German Foreign Office for his passports. At the same time, he committed American interests to the legations of Spain and Holland. But although he was promised his passports they were not forthcoming, and he was subjected to a host of annoyances. His mail was withheld, his telephone service cut off and his telegrams were not sent. He was unable to communicate with United States consuls in Germany, and in fact, if not in name, was a prisoner, kept