President Wilson addresses Congress – April 19, 1916

On April 18, 1916 President Wilson sent an ultimatum to Germany saying:

“Unless the Imperial Government should now immediately declare and effect an abandonment of its present methods of submarine warfare against passenger and freight-carrying vessels, the Government of the United States can have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations with the German Empire altogether.” Read the full text here.

The next day President Wilson addressed congress and Marion Mitchell was in the gallery. You can read a transcript of his speech here.

3c13662v

 

The following is from a letter she sent home to her parents on April 20th, 1916, exactly one hundred years ago today.

“No sooner had Cousin Peak got downtown than she telephoned for me to come down post-haste for Wilson was going to address Congress on the submarine issue at one o’clock. I put on my things and flew, and there at that hour, 10:30, a line was forming outside the Capitol. Of course everyone had to have special tickets to get in with, and they were selling at $5.00 apiece, people were so anxious to get in. Congressman Patten of New York was out of town so I luckily got in on his ticket, through his private secretary, a chum of Cousin Peak’s.

I sat from 10:30 until one in the gallery, which was packed. Alice Roosevelt Longworth sat quite near me next to Champ Clark’s wife, she acted in a most undignified manner, waving to friends and calling down over the railing to Nicholas, who was on the floor of the House.

Well, at quarter to one the Senate filed in and took seats. At five minutes to one Speaker Clark appointed an equal number of Congressmen and Senators headed by Mann, leader of the minority, to wait on the President. Then at one sharp he whacked on the desk with his gavel and everybody rose. At the same moment, the doorkeeper bellowed out “The President of the United States;” and Wilson came in amid cheers and handclapping. It was terribly ex citing. He shook hands with Champ Clark and Vice President Mar shall, both of whom sat side by side in the chairs, and at once began to read his message.

You could have heard a pin drop, it was so still. You know it is most unusual for the President to address Congress in per son and I think he has only done it three or four times before, and they say no other President has ever done it since Thomas Jefferson. At any rate it was very impressive.

Wilson’s whole manner was exceedingly dignified and impressive and refined, and his message was beautifully worded. He out lined our relations with Germany from the Lusitania affair down through the Sussex and ended with the ultimatum that if Germany did not immediately abandon her submarine warfare against passenger and freight boats we should sever diplomatic relations. Everybody clapped furiously when he had finished. He only spoke about fifteen minutes and I suppose, of course, you have read it in the papers. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. They say it is one of the biggest things that has happened in the administration.

Today the Washington papers are full of it, some criticisms, a rather bitter one from Mann, but mostly upholding the President. My impression of him was certainly one of strength and dignity and forcefulness. He didn’t indulge in any wild gestures or shoutings, but every word was distinct and emphatic. And he looked so infinitely a gentleman and a real aristocrat, whereas any number of the Senators and Congressmen look as if they had just stepped off the farm, hair waving on their coat collars and regular “store clothes.” I wouldn’t touch some of them with a ten-foot pole.

Cousin Peak says Huddleson of Alabama, what time he isn’t cleaning his finger-nails with his penknife, while dictating to her, is picking his teeth with a “carpet-tack,” and lots of them sit in their shirtsleeves with their feet on the table, smoking. Well, lets hope their brains are in the right pew if their manners are not.”

It would be another full year before America entered the war but by that time Alexine and Marion would have already decided it was their duty to their French friends to go and help.

Marion’s letter is from the Mitchell Sisters archive in my possession.

Image is from the Library of Congress.