“I believe that the course you have followed as outlined in these two letters is thoroughly inimical to the honor the present needs and the permanent interests of the United States.”
On April 6, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. Roosevelt had long advocated American entry into the war, and he was as fierce an advocate as the war had. The vote in Congress was 455 in favor to 56 against; one of the Republican to vote...
On April 6, 1917, President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany. Roosevelt had long advocated American entry into the war, and he was as fierce an advocate as the war had. 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. Wilson had asked Congress to declare war on Germany in April, but he held off asking for such a declaration against Germany’s allies. In December 1917 Congress declared war against Austria-Hungary; this time one socialist voted no and Lundeen paired himself no, thus becoming one of just two war opponents in Congress.
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, and Roosevelt’s fierce advocacy of the war and Lundeen’s continued reluctance to support it, and as importantly, delved into the meanings, characteristics and limits of patriotism, free speech, and dissent in a democracy. Lundeen’s last “no” vote infuriated Roosevelt, who denounced him as Unamerican. In response, Lundeed claimed that he had the Constitutional right to take the positions he did and act as he did. Roosevelt next drew an important line on free speech, replying that his actions may have been Constitutional, but they made him unfit for office.
Typed Letter Signed, Roosevelt Hospital, New York, February 28, 1918, to Lundeen, saying Lundeen’s views are contrary to America’s national interest. “Your letter of February 15th was received but I never received your letter of February 7th. Your letter of February 7th of course shows such a complete divergence between your views and mine as to what good and loyal Americans, sensitive to the honor and interest of their country, should do in this crisis that it is hopeless to expect any agreement between us. I believe that the course you have followed as outlined in these two letters is thoroughly inimical to the honor the present needs and the permanent interests of the United States.”
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