In my December 20th post I featured the one and only observance of “Britain’s Day”. However, December 7th, 1917 was noteworthy as well.

“[The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution

Up until 1913 all of the Presidents after John Adams had usually delivered these messages in writing. Woodrow Wilson began the annual tradition of addressing both houses of Congress in joint session. He chose early December, but since the administration of Franklin Roosevelt the address has been delivered in January or February instead. Only Herbert Hoover failed to do so.

Although war had been declared against Germany on April 6th, 1917, the U.S. had not declared war on any of the other Central Powers. In Wilson’s opinion the unrestricted submarine warfare being waged by Germany was an ‘attack’ on the U. S. and justified a declaration of war, while the other nations had not committed any act of war against the U.S.

However, the German-led rout of Italian forces in the fall of 1917 had required the British and the French to send thousands of soldiers that they could ill-afford to spare to ‘stiffen’ the Italian army’s defenses, and Wilson was being pressured to send American troops as well. In his State of the Union address on December 4th, 1917 Wilson stated that Austria was “the vassal of the German government”. Later he expanded this pretext “We must meet force with our own and regard the Central Powers as but one”. Three days later Joint Resolution 169 was adopted by Congress with only one dissenting vote (by the pacifist Jeanette Rankin) in the House:

“A State of War is hereby declared to exist between the United States of America and the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Government. The President is hereby authorized and directed to employ the entire naval and military forces of the United States and the resources of the Government to carry on war.”

Notwithstanding, the U.S. never declared war on the Ottoman Empire or the Kingdom of Bulgaria.

Due to the failure of the Senate to ratify the Treaty of Saint Germain-en-Laye, the U.S. remained at war with Austria and Hungary until August 24th, 1921.

American troops were eventually sent to Italy to face the Austro-Hungarian army. The 332nd Infantry Regiment (Cleveland’s Own) arrived in July 1918 and served in the Battle of Vittorio Veneto.  

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official living in Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.