Early in World War I, Theodore Roosevelt Tells An Antiwar Congressman: Don’t Give the Enemy “Aid and Comfort”

When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, many Americans strongly supported the Allies, and Americans strongly supported the Allies, and the foremost and outspoken among them was ex-President Theodore Roosevelt. TR blamed Germany for the war and its atrocities, and openly advocated taking a harsh line against that nation. there was no universal American championship of the Allies cause, and in fact many people leaned towards the German side. On April 6, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, and the vote in Congress was 455 in favor to 56 against. One of the Republican to vote no, and a leader of the dissenters, was the populist and future U.S. Senator Ernest Lundeen of Minnesota, who followed this vote with a no vote on the conscription bill. In the months after the U.S. declaration of war, Lundeen engaged in a heated exchange, almost a debate via correspondence, with Roosevelt, one that dealt with the pros and cons of American policy, but far more importantly, delved into the meanings, characteristics and limits of patriotism, free speech, and dissent in a democracy.

Typed Letter Signed on his Metropolitan letterhead, New York, October 4, 1917, to Lundeen, in response to his letter to TR stating that he (TR) was not the Supreme Court of Patriotism. “It is to me peculiarly a matter for regret when a man with your record in the National Guard takes any position calculated to give the enemy aid and comfort.  Have you been incorrectly quoted in the papers as demanding a referendum on the war, and, not merely by vote, but by voice, opposing the war and opposing sending our drafted men abroad? I am particularly interested in what you say as to your having offered your services in the volunteer division.  This is something I did not know.  Will you give me the facts in the matter? You, of course, know the position I have taken in this war; if not, I wish you would get from the library my books ‘Fear God and Take Your Own Part’ and ‘The Foes of Our Own Household’.” He added in holograph, “I would be glad to see you and go over the matter in person.”