Wilson Notes

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, backed by State Department second-in-command Robert Lansing, made his position on the Lusitania sinking clear to the Government of Germany in three notes issued on 13 May, 9 June, and 21 May 1915.

In the first Wilson note, signed by Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, Wilson affirmed the right of United States nationals to travel on merchant ships of their choosing, urging Germany to abandon unrestricted submarine warfare against commercial ships of any nation.  Notably, Wilson did not warn to the American people against traveling on belligerent ships for their own safety.

In the second Wilson note, Wilson rejected the German arguments that the British blockade was illegal and an attack on innocent civilians.  Wilson also denied the German accusation that the Lusitania had been carrying munitions. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan resigned in protest over this letter, stating that Wilson was being too provocative and that the President’s position was not befitting a leader of a neutral country.  Wilson appointed Robert Lansing as Bryan’s replacement.

The third Wilson note was an ultimatum, where the United States would consider any subsequent sinkings of merchant vessels with Americans aboard as “deliberately unfriendly”.

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