Sinking The Lusitania
( Originally Published 1918 )
THE United States was brought face to face with the Great War and with what it meant in ruthless destruction of life when, on May 7, 1915, the crack Cunard Liner Lusitania, bound from New York to Liverpool, with 1,959 persons aboard, was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off Old Head of Kinsale, Southwestern Ireland. Two torpedoes reached their mark. The total number of lives lost when the ship sunk was 1,198. Of these 755 were passengers and the remainder were members of the crew. Of the drowned passengers, 124 were Americans and 35 were infants.
"Remember the Lusitania!" later became a battle cry just as "Remember the Maine!" acted as a spur to Americans during the war with Spain. It was first used by the famous "Black Watch" and later American troops shouted it as they went into battle.
The sinking of the Lusitania, with its attend-ant destruction of life, sent a thrill of horror through the neutral peoples of the world. General opposition to the use of submarines in attacking peaceful shipping, especially passenger vessels, crystallized as the result of the tragedy, and a critical diplomatic controversy between the United States and Germany developed. The American Government signified its determination to break off friendly relations with the German Empire unless the ruthless practices of the submarine commanders were terminated. Germany temporarily agreed to discontinue these practices.
Among the victims of the Cunarder's destruction were some of the best known personages of the Western Hemisphere. Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, multimillionaire; Charles Frohman, noted theatrical manager; Charles Klein, dramatist, who wrote "The Lion and the Mouse"; Justus Miles Forman, author, and Elbert Hubbard, known as Fra Elbertus, widely read iconoclastic writer, were drowned.
The ocean off the pleasant southern coast of Ireland was dotted with bodies for days after the sinking of the liner. The remains of many, of the victims, however, never were recovered.
When the Lusitania prepared to sail from New York on her last trip, fifty anonymous telegrams addressed to prominent persons aboard the vessel warned the recipients not to sail with the liner. In addition to these warnings was an advertisement inserted in the leading metropolitan newspapers by the German embassy, advising neutral persons that British steamships were in danger of destruction in the war zone about the British Isles. This notice appeared the day the Lusitania sailed, May 1st, and was placed next the advertisement of the Cunard Line :
Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain or of any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk.
Imperial German Embassy,
Washington, D. C., April 22, 1915.
Little or no attention was paid to the warnings, only the usual number of persons canceling their reservations. The general agent of the Cunard Line at New York assured the passengers that the Lusitania's voyage would be attended by no risk whatever, referring to the liner's speed and water-tight compartments.
As the great Cunarder drew near the scene of her disaster, traveling at moderate speed along her accustomed route, there was news of freight steamers falling victims to Germany's undersea campaign. It was not definitely established, however, whether the liner was warned of danger.
At two o'clock on the fine afternoon of May 7th, some ten miles off the Old Head of Kin-sale, the Lusitania was sighted by a submarine 1,000 yards away. A second later the track of a torpedo, soon followed by another, was seen and each missile crashed into the Lusitania's hull with rending detonations.
Many were killed or injured immediately by the explosions. Before the liner's headway was lost, some boats were lowered, and cap-sized as a result. The immediate listing of the steamship added to the difficulties of rescue and increased the tragical toll of dead.
Much heroism and calmness were displayed by many in the few minutes the liner remained afloat. The bearing of Frohman, Vanderbilt, Hubbard and other Americans was declared to have been particularly inspiring.
Rescue ships and naval vessels rushed to the aid of the survivors from all nearby ports of Ireland.
It has been said that the sinking of the Lusitania was carefully planned by the chiefs of the German admiralty. They expected, it was believed, to demoralize British shipping and strike terror into the minds of the British people by showing that the largest and swiftest of liners could easily be destroyed by submarines.
According to the Paris paper, La Guerre Sociale, published by Gustave Hervé, the sub-marine responsible was the U-21, commanded by Lieutenant Hersing. Hersing was said to have been decorated for his deed. The U-21 afterwards was destroyed and the story of its participation in the sinking of the great Cunarder never was confirmed.
Immediately upon the news of the Lusitania disaster, President Wilson took steps to hold Germany to that "strict accountability" of which he had notified Berlin when the war-zone operations were begun earlier in the year. His first communication, protesting against the sinking of the liner in the name of humanity and demanding disavowal, indemnity and assurance that the crime would not be repeated, was despatched on May 13th. On May 30th the German reply argued that the liner carried munitions of war and probably was armed.
The following official German version of the incident by the German Admiralty Staff over the signature of Admiral Behncke was given:
"The submarine sighted the steamer, which showed no flag, May 7th, at 2.20 o'clock, Central European time, afternoon, on the south-east coast of Ireland, in fine, clear weather.
"At 3.10 o'clock one torpedo was fired at the Lusitania, which hit her starboard side be-low the captain's bridge. The detonation of the torpedo was followed immediately by a further explosion of extremely strong effect. The ship quickly listed to starboard and began to sink.
"The second explosion must be traced back to the ignition of quantities of ammunition in-side the ship."
These extenuations were all rejected by the United States, and the next note prepared by President Wilson was of such character that Secretary of State Bryan resigned. This second communication was sent on June 11th, and on June 22d another was cabled. September 1st Germany accepted the contentions of the United States in regard to submarine warfare upon peaceful shipping. There were continued negotiations concerning the specific settlement to be made in the case of the Lusitania.
On February 4th, 1916, arrived a German proposition which, coupled with personal parleys carried on between German Ambassador von Bernstorff and United States Secretary of State Lansing, seemed in a fair way to conclude the whole controversy. It was announced on February 8th that the two nations were in substantial accord and Germany was declared to have admitted the sinking of the liner was wrong and unjustified and promised that reparation would be made.
However, a week later, when Germany took advantage of tentative American proposals concerning the disarming of merchant ships, by announcing that all armed hostile merchant-men would be treated as warships and attacked without warning, the almost completed agreement was overthrown. The renewed negotiations were continuing when the torpedoing of the cross-channel passenger ship Sussex, with-out warning, on March 24th, impelled the United States to issue a virtual ultimatum, demanding that the Germans immediately cease their present methods of naval warfare on pain of the rupture of diplomatic relations with the most powerful existing neutral nation.
The Lusitania, previous to her sinking, had figured in the war news, first at the conflict, when it was feared she had been captured by a German cruiser while she was dashing across the Atlantic toward Liverpool, and again in February of 1915, when she flew the American flag as a ruse to deceive submarines while crossing the Irish Sea. This latter incident called forth a protest from the United States.
On her fatal trip the cargo of the Lusitania was worth $735,000.
As a great transatlantic liner, the Lusitania was a product of the race for speed, which was carried on for years among larger steamship companies, particularly of England and Germany. When the Lusitania was launched, it was the wonder of the maritime world. Its mastery of the sea, from the standpoint of speed, was undisputed.
Progress of the Lusitania on its first voyage to New York, September 7, 1907, was watched by the world. The vessel made the voyage in five days and fifty-four minutes, at that time a record. Its fastest trip, made on the western voyage, was four days eleven hours forty-two minutes. This record, however, was wrested from it subsequently by the Mauretania, a sister ship, which set the mark of four days ten hours forty-one minutes, that still stands.
Although the Lusitania was surpassed in size by several other liners built subsequently, it never lost the reputation acquired at the outset of its career. Its speed and luxurious accommodations made it a favorite, and its passenger lists bore the names of many of the most prominent Atlantic wayfarers. The vessel was pronounced by its builders to be as nearly unsinkable as any ship could be.
Everything about the Lusitania was of colossal dimensions. Her rudder weighed sixty-five tons. She carried three anchors of ten tons each. The main frames and beams, placed end to end, would extend thirty miles. The Lusitania was 785 feet long, 88 feet beam, and 60 feet deep. Her gross tonnage was 32,500 and her net tonnage, 9,145.
Charges were made that one or more guardian submarines deliberately drove off ships nearby which might have saved hundreds of lives lost when the Lusitania went down. Captain W. F. Wood, of the Leyland Line Steamer Etonian, said his ship was prevented from going to the rescue of the passengers of the sinking Lusitania by a warning that an at-tack might be made upon his own vessel.
The Etonian left Liverpool, May 6th. When Captain Wood was forty-two miles from Kinsale he received a wireless call from the Lusitania for immediate assistance.
The call was also picked up by the steamers City of Exeter and Narragansett. The Narragansett, Captain Wood said, was made a target for submarine attack, a torpedo missing her by a few feet, and her commander then warned Captain Wood not to attempt to reach the Lusitania.
"It was two o'clock in the afternoon, May 7th, that we received the wireless S O S," said Captain Wood. "I was then forty-two miles distant from the position he gave me. The Narragansett and the City of Exeter were nearer the Lusitania and she answered the SOS.
"At five o'clock I observed the City of Exeter cross our bows and she signaled, `Have you heard anything of the disaster?'
"At that moment I saw a periscope of a sub-marine between the Tonina and the City of Exeter, about a quarter of a mile directly ahead of us. She dived as soon as she saw us.
"I signaled to the engine room for every available inch of speed. Then we saw the sub-marine come up astern of us. i now ordered full speed ahead and we left the submarine be-hind. The periscope remained in sight about twenty minutes.
"No sooner had we lost sight of the submarine astern, than another appeared on the star-board bow. This one was directly ahead and on the surface, not submerged.
"I starboarded hard away from him, he swinging as we did. About eight minutes later he submerged. I continued at top speed for four hours and saw no more of the submarines. It was the ship's speed that saved her, that's all.
" The Narragansett, as soon as she heard the S O S call, went to the assistance of the Lusitania. One of the submarines discharged a torpedo at her and missed her by not more than eight feet. The Narragansett then warned us not to attempt to go to the rescue, and I got her wireless call while I was dodging the two submarines. You can see that three ships would have gone to the assistance of the Lusitania had they not been attacked by the two submarines."
The German Government defended the brutal destruction of non-combatants by the false assertions that the Lusitania was an armed vessel and that it was carrying a great store of munitions. Both of these accusations were proved to be mere fabrications. The Lusitania was absolutely unarmed and the nearest approach to munitions was a consignment of 1,250 empty shell cases and 4,200 cases of cartridges for small arms.
Intense indignation swept over the neutral world, the tide rising highest in America. It well may be said that the destruction of the Lusitania was one of the greatest factors in driving the United States into the war against Germany.
Concerning the charge that the Lusitania, carried munitions, Dudley Field Malone, Col-lector of the Port of New York, testified that he made personal and close inspection of the ship's cargo and saw that it carried no guns and that no munitions were included in its cargo.
His statement follows:
"This report is not correct. The Lusitania was inspected before sailing, as is customary. No guns were found, mounted or unmounted, and the vessel sailed without any armament. No merchant ship would be allowed to arm in this port and leave the harbor."
Captain W. T. Turner, of the Lusitania, testifying before the coroner's inquest at Kin-sale, Ireland, was interrogated as follows:
"You were aware threats had been made that the ship would be torpedoed?"
"We were," the Captain replied.
"Was she armed?"
"What precautions did you take?"
"We had all the boats swung when we came within the danger zone, between the passing of Fastnet and the time of the accident."
The coroner asked him whether he had received a message concerning the sinking of a ship off Kinsale by a submarine. Captain Turner replied that he had not received any, such message.
"Did you receive any special instructions as to the voyage?"
"Are you at liberty to tell us what they, were?"
"Did you carry them out?"
"Yes, to the best of my ability."
"Tell us in your own words what happened after passing Fastnet."
"The weather was clear," Captain Turner answered. "We were going at a speed of eighteen knots. I was on the port side and heard Second Officer Hefford call out:
" `Here's a torpedo!'
"I ran to the other side and saw clearly the wake of a torpedo. Smoke and steam came up between the last two funnels. There was a slight shock. Immediately after the first ex-plosion there was another report, but that may possibly have been internal.
"I at once gave the order to lower the boats down to the rails, and I directed that women and children should get into them. I also had all the bulkheads closed.
"Between the time of passing Fastnet, about 11 o'clock, and of the torpedoing I saw no sign whatever of any submarines. There was some haze along the Irish coast, and when we were near Fastnet I slowed down to fifteen knots. I was in wireless communication with shore all the way across."
Captain Turner was asked whether he had received any message in regard to the presence of submarines off the Irish coast. He replied in the affirmative. Questioned regarding the nature of the message, he replied :
"I respectfully refer you to the Admiralty for an answer."
"I also gave orders to stop the ship," Captain Turner continued, "but we could not stop. We found that the engines were out of commission. It was not safe to lower boats until the speed was off the vessel. As a matter of fact, there was a perceptible headway on her up to the time she went down.
"When she was struck she listed to star-board. I stood on the bridge when she sank, and the Lusitania went down under me. She floated about eighteen minutes after the torpedo struck her. My watch stopped at 2.36. I was picked up from among the wreckage and afterward was brought aboard a trawler.
"No warship was convoying us. I saw no warship, and none was reported to me as having been seen. At the time I was picked up I noticed bodies floating on the surface, but saw no living persons."
"Eighteen knots was not the normal speed of the Lusitania, was it?"
"At ordinary times," answered Captain Turner, "she could make twenty-five knots, but in war times her speed was reduced to twenty-one knots. My reason for going eighteen knots was that I wanted to arrive at Liver-pool bar without stopping, and within two or three hours of high water."
"Was there a lookout kept for submarines, having regard to previous warnings?"
"Yes, we had double lookouts."
"Were you going a zigzag course at the moment the torpedoing took place?"
"No. It was bright weather, and land was clearly visible."
"Was it possible for a submarine to approach without being seen?"
"Oh, yes; quite possible."
"Something has been said regarding the impossibility of launching the boats on the port side?"
"Yes," said Captain Turner, "owing to the listing of the ship."
"How many boats were launched safely?" "I cannot say."
"Were any launched safely?"
"Yes, and one or two on the port side." "Were your orders promptly carried out?" "Yes."
"Was there any panic on board?"
"No, there was no panic at all. It was a most calm."
"How many persons were on board?" "There were 1,500 passengers and about 600 crew."
By the foreman of the jury—"In the face of the warnings at New York that the Lusitania would be torpedoed, did you make any application to the Admiralty asking for an escort?"
"No, I left that to them. It is their business, not mine. I simply had to carry out my orders to go, and I would do it again." Captain Turner uttered the last words of this reply with great emphasis.
By the coroner—"I am glad to hear you say so, Captain."
By the juryman—"Did you get a wireless to steer your vessel in a northern direction?"
"No," replied Captain Turner.
"Was the course of the vessel altered after the torpedoes struck her?"
"I headed straight for land, but it was useless. Previous to this the watertight bulk-heads were closed. I suppose the explosion forced them open. I don't know the exact extent to which the Lusitania was damaged."
"There must have been serious damage done to the watertight bulkheads?"
"There certainly was, without doubt." "Were the passengers supplied with life-belts?"
"Were any special orders given that morning that lifebelts be put on?"
"Was any warning given before you were torpedoed?"
"None whatever. It was suddenly done and finished."
"If there had been a patrol boat about, might it have been of assistance?"
"It might, but it is one of those things one never knows."
With regard to the threats against his ship, Captain Turner said he saw nothing except what appeared in the New York papers the day before the Lusitania sailed. He had never heard the passengers talking about the threats, he said.
"Was a warning given to the lower decks after the ship had been struck?" Captain Turner was asked.
"All the passengers must have heard the explosion," Captain Turner replied.
Captain Turner, in answer to another question, said he received no report from the look-out before the torpedo struck the Lusitania.
Ship's Bugler Livermore testified that the watertight compartments were closed, but that the explosion and the force of the water must have burst them open. He said that all the officers were at their posts and that earlier arrivals of the rescue craft would not have saved the situation.
After physicians had testified that the victims had met death through prolonged immersion and exhaustion the coroner summed up the case.
He said that the first torpedo fired by the German submarine did serious damage to the Lusitania, but that, not satisfied with this, the Germans had discharged another torpedo. The second torpedo, he said, must have been more deadly, because it went right through the ship, hastening the work of destruction.
The characteristic courage of the Irish and British people was manifested at the time of this terrible disaster, the coroner continued, and there was no panic. Ile charged that the responsibility "lay on the German Government and the whole people of Germany, who collaborated in the terrible crime."
"I propose to ask the jury," he continued, "to return the only verdict possible for a self-respecting jury, that the men in charge of the German submarine were guilty of wilful murder."
The jury then retired and after due deliberation prepared this verdict :
We find that the deceased met death from prolonged immersion and exhaustion in the sea eight miles south-southeast of Old Head of Kinsale, Friday, May 7, 1915, owing to the sinking of the Lusitania by torpedoes fired by a German submarine.
We find that the appalling crime was committed contrary to international law and the conventions of all civilized nations.
We also charge the officers of said submarine and the Emperor and the Government of Germany, under whose orders they acted, wth the crime of wholesale murder before the tribunal of the civilized world.
We desire to express sincere condolences and sympathy with the relatives of the deceased, the Cunard Company, and the United States, many of whose citizens perished in this murderous attack on an unarmed liner.
President Wilson's note to Germany, writ-ten consequent on the torpedoing of the Lusitania, was dated six days later, showing that time for careful deliberation was duly taken. The President's Secretary, Joseph P. Tumulty, on May 8th made this statement.
Of course the President feels the distress and the gravity of the situation to the utmost, and is considering very earnestly but very calmly, the right course of action to pursue. He knows that the people of the country wish and expect him to act with deliberation as well as with firmness.
Although signed by Mr. Bryan, as Secretary of State, the note was written by the President in shorthand—a favorite method of Mr. Wilson in making memoranda—and transcribed by him on his own typewriter. The document was presented to the members of the President's Cabinet, a draft of it was sent to Counselor Lansing of the State Department, and after a few minor changes, it was transmitted by cable to Ambassador Gerard.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE WASHINGTON, MAY 18, 1915.
The Secretary of State to the American Ambassador at Berlin:
Please call on the Minister of Foreign Affairs and after reading to him this communication leave with him a copy.
In view of the recent acts of the German authorities in violation of American rights on the high seas, which culminated in the torpedoing and sinking of the British steamship Lusitania on May 7, 1915, by which over 100 American citizens lost their lives, it is clearly wise and desirable that the Government of the United States and the Imperial German Government should come to a clear and full understanding as to the grave situation which has resulted.
The sinking of the British passenger steamer Falaba by a German submarine on March 28th, through which Leon C. Thrasher, an American citizen, was drowned; the attack on April 28th, on the American vessel Cushing by a German aeroplane; the torpedoing on May 1st of the American vessel Gulflight by a German submarine, as a result of which two or more American citizens met their death; and, finally, the torpedoing and sinking of the steamship Lusitania, constitute a series of events which the Government of the United States has observed with growing concern, distress, and amazement.
Recalling the humane and enlightened attitude hitherto assumed by the Imperial German Government in matters of international right, and particularly with regard to the freedom of the seas; having learned to recognize the German views and the German influence in the field of international obligation as always engaged upon the side of justice and humanity; and having under-stood the instructions of the Imperial German Government to its naval commanders to be upon the same plane of human action prescribed by the naval codes of the other nations, the Government of the United States was loath to believe—it cannot now bring itself to believe—that these acts, so absolutely contrary to the rules, the practices, and the spirit of modern warfare, could have the countenance, or sanction of that great government. It feels it to be its duty, therefore, to address the lmperial German Government concerning them with the utmost frankness and in the earnest hope that it is not mistaken in expecting action on the part of the Imperial German Government, which will correct the unfortunate impressions which have been created, and vindicate once more the position of that government with regard to the sacred freedom of the seas.
The Government of the United States has been apprised that the Imperial German Government considered themselves to be obliged by the extraordinary circumstances of the present war and the measure adopted by their adversaries in seeking to cut Germany off from all commerce, to adopt methods of retaliation which go much beyond the ordinary methods of warfare at sea, in the proclamation of a war zone from which they have warned neutral ships to keep away. This government has already taken occasion to inform the Imperial German Government that it cannot admit the adoption of such measures or such a warning of danger to operate as in any degree an abbreviation of the rights of American shipmasters or of American citizens bound on lawful errands as passengers on merchant ships of belligerent nationality, and that it must hold the Imperial German Government to a strict accountability for any infringement of those rights, intentional or incidental. It does not understand the Imperial German Government to question these rights. It assumes, on the contrary, that the Imperial Government accept, as of course, the rule that the lives of noncombatants, whether they be of neutral citizenship or citizens of one of the nations at war, cannot lawfully or rightfully be put in jeopardy by the capture or destruction of an unarmed merchantman, and recognize also, as all other nations do, the obligation to take the usual precaution of visit and search to ascertain whether a suspected merchant-man is in fact of belligerent nationality or is in fact carrying contraband of war under a neutral flag.
The Government of the United States, therefore, de-sires to call the attention of the Imperial German Government with the utmost earnestness to the fact that the objection to their present method of attack against the trade of their enemies lies in the practical impossibility of employing submarines in the destruction of commerce without disregarding those rules of fairness, reason, justice, and humanity which all modern opinion regards as imperative, It is practically impossible for the officers of a submarine to visit a merchantman at sea and examine her papers and cargo. It is practically impossible for them to make a prize of her; and, if they cannot put a prize crew on board of her, they cannot sink her without leaving her crew and all on board of her to the mercy of the sea in her small boats. These facts, it is understood, the Imperial German Government frankly admit. We are informed that in the in-stances of which we have spoken time enough for even that poor measure of safety was not given, and in at least two of the cases cited not so much as a warning was received. Manifestly, submarines cannot be used against merchantmen, as the last few weeks have shown, without an inevitable violation of many sacred principles of justice and humanity.
American citizens act within their indisputable rights in taking their ships and in traveling wherever their legitimate business calls them upon the high seas, and exercise those rights in what should be the well-justified confidence that their lives will not be endangered by acts done in clear violation of universally acknowledged international obligations, and certainly in the confidence that their own government will sustain them in the exercise of their rights.
There was recently published in the newspapers of the United States, I regret to inform the Imperial German Government, a formal warning, purporting to come from the Imperial German Embassy at Washington, addressed to the people of the United States, and stating, in effect, that any citizen of the United States who exercised his right of free travel upon the seas would do so at his peril if his journey should take him within the zone of waters within which the Imperial German Navy was using submarines against the commerce of Great Britain and France, notwithstanding the respectful but very earnest protest of the Government of the United States. I do not refer to this for the purpose of calling the attention of the Imperial German Government at this time to the surprising irregularity of a communication from the Imperial German Embassy at Washington addressed to the people of the United States through the newspapers, but only for the purpose of pointing out that no warning that an unlawful and inhumane act will be committed can possibly be accepted as an excuse or palliation for that act or as an abatement of the responsibility for its commission.
Long acquainted as this government has been with the character of the Imperial Government, and with the high principles of equity by which they have in the past been actuated and guided, the Government of the United States cannot believe that the commanders of the vessels which committed these acts of lawlessness did so except under a misapprehension of the orders issued by the Imperial German naval authorities. It takes for granted that, at least within the practical possibilities of every such case, the commanders even of submarines were expected to do nothing that would involve the lives of noncombatants or the safety of neutral ships, even at the cost of failing of their object of capture or destruction.
It confidently expects, therefore, that the Imperial German Government will disavow the acts of which the Government of the United States complains; that they will make reparation so far as reparation is possible for injuries which are without measure, and that they will take immediate steps to prevent the recurrence of any-thing so obviously subversive of the principles of war-fare for which the Imperial German Government have in the past so wisely and so firmly contended.
The government and people of the United States look to the Imperial German Government for just, prompt, and enlightened action in this vital matter with the greater confidence, because the United States and Germany are bound together not only by ties of friendship, but also by the explicit stipulations of the Treaty of 1828, between the United States and the Kingdom of Prussia.
Expressions of regret and offers of reparation in case of the destruction of neutral ships sunk by mistake, while they may satisfy international obligations, if no loss of life results, cannot justify or excuse a practice the natural and necessary effect of which is to subject neutral nations and neutral persons to new and immeasurable risks.
The Imperial German Government will not expect the Government of the United States to omit any word or any act necessary to the performance of its sacred duty of maintaining the rights of the United States and its citizens and of safeguarding their free exercise and enjoyment.
Ex-President Roosevelt, after learning details of the sinking of the Lusitania, made these statements :
"This represents not merely piracy, but piracy on a vaster scale of murder than old-time pirate ever practiced. This is the warfare which destroyed Louvain and Dinant and hundreds of men, women, and children in Belgium. It is a warfare against innocent men, women, and children traveling on the ocean, and our own fellow countrymen and country-women, who were among the sufferers.
"It seems inconceivable that we can refrain from taking action in this matter, for we owe it not only to humanity, but to our own national self-respect."
Former President Taft made this statement:
"I do not wish to embarrass the President of the Administration by a discussion of the subject at this stage of the information, except to express confidence that the President will follow a wise and patriotic course. We must bear in mind that if we have a war it is the people, the men and women, fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, who must pay with lives and money the cost of it, and therefore they should not be hurried into the sacrifices until it is made clear that they wish it and know what they are doing when they wish it.
"I agree that the inhumanity of the circumstances in the case now presses us on, but in the heat of even just indignation is this the best time to act, when action involves such momentous consequences and means untold loss of life and treasure? There are things worse than war, but delay, due to calm deliberation, cannot change the situation or minimize the effect of what we finally conclude to do.
"With the present condition of the war in Europe, our action, if it is to be extreme, will not lose efficiency by giving time to the people, whose war it will be, to know what they are facing.
"A demand for war that cannot survive the passion of the first days of public indignation and will not endure the test of delay and deliberation by all the people is not one that should be yielded to."
President Wilson was criticized later by many persons for not insisting upon a declaration of war immediately after the sinking of the Lusitania. Undoubtedly the advice of former President Taft and of others high in statesmanship, prevailed with the President. This in substance was that America should prepare resolutely and thoroughly, giving Germany in the meantime no excuse for charges that America's entrance into the conflict was for aggression or for selfish purposes.
It was seen even as early as the sinking of the Lusitania that Germany's only hope for final success Iay in the submarine. It was reasoned that unrestricted submarine warfare against the shipping of the world, so far as tended toward the provisioning and munitioning of the Allies, would be the inevitable out-come. It was further seen that when that declaration would be made by Germany, America's decision for war must be made. The President and his Cabinet thereupon made all their plans looking toward that eventuality.
The resignation of Mr. Bryan from the Cabinet was followed by the appointment of Robert Lansing as Secretary of State. It was recognized on both sides of the Atlantic that President Wilson in all essential matters affecting the war was active in the preparation of all state papers and in the direction of that department. Another Cabinet vacancy was created when Lindley M. Garrison, of New Jersey, resigned the portfolio of Secretary of War because of a clash upon his militant views for preparedness. Newton D. Baker, of Cleveland, Ohio, a close friend and supporter of President Wilson, was appointed in his stead.