The Minnesota Historical Society preserves and makes available a wide range of materials chronicling Minnesota's history and culture. The goals of the Collections Department are to collect and preserve; provide access and interpretation; and engage in education and outreach. This blog is a tool to share these stories and let people know what is happening in the department.
"Submarine Action Against U.S. Belief" and "Another German Plot Against U.S. Made Public; Kaiser Would Seize Mexico" - The Bemidji Daily Pioneer. August 31, 1917
Despite his well-established support of the war, Senator Knute Nelson received numerous letters from constituents urging him to change his position. In one of these letters, A. Fick of Gaylord, Minnesota included a variety of arguments against American participation in the First World War. He referenced the war’s lack of popularity, England’s breaches of the laws and customs of war, the innocence of most German soldiers, and the immorality of forcing a nation to adopt a democratic system. Yet Fick’s most developed argument concerned the war’s disproportionate benefit for wealthy Americans. He argued that the United States’ decision to enter the war had been motivated primarily by American millionaires’ financial losses due to German submarine warfare. According to Fick, the war represented a campaign for the rich to grow ever richer. In his letter, Fick expresses admiration for Robert La Follette, U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, who had proposed an anti-war resolution earlier in August 1917. Fick encouraged Senator Nelson to support this resolution, as “everybody everywhere [was] clamoring for peace.”
Gaylord, Minn., August 30, 1917.
Mr. Knute Nelson,
U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.
I am taking the liberty to write you concerning the question nearest every American heart, the question of peace and war. In every hamlet, in every village, in every city, the people are overwhelmingly opposed to the war we are waging. They all agree that it is the most unjust of wars. They say we can not be fighting for our rights when we do no slso [sic] declare war on England who first violated our rights. England was the first who violated international law. She spread explosive mines all over the North Sea up to Iceland as early as November, 1914, and sand [sic] three American ships with loss of life, the Greenbriar, the Evylin, and the Carib. [...] And is it fighting for democracy when we by the point of the bayonet impose a government upon aforeign people they do not want. Let us look out for our own democracy first. President Wilson's statement that we are fighting the government and not the people is absurd. Who does our cannon fire rake down? The Kaiser or the people? Everybody knows and agrees that this war was caused by greed. The German submarines knocked the bottom out of the American millionaires' immoral profits. Now the country is torn assunder, now the people are at war so that the 2% who own 60% of our wealth may still further swell their pockets to bursting. [...] You as a Senator can do your utmost to bring abour [sic] Peace. Think of your responsibility not alone to your constituents, your country, but also to your God. [...] Accept La Follette's peace resolution. I am a civil engineer and my business takes me over much territory and in every state everybody welcomes La Follette as the hero of the day. [...] In Minnesota as well as in other states the anti-war feeling is very strong especially in Minneapolis and in St. Paul. Governor Burnquist acted unwisely when he listened to a few unAmerican citizens, unpartiotic [sic] citizens when he forbid the peoples council to hold their convention in Minnesota. [...] Of course I realize you do not get in touch with your constituents, you get your news from the papers, which are owned by the Morgan interests. They tell nothing but lies, and try their best to produce a wrong sentiment. The people do not believe the papers anymore. Take a vote or write to your constituents and you will find that 95% of them are opposed to this war, the conscription, etc. You were elected by these people, you are their servant and you are bound by oath to respect their wishes. Peace! Peace! Everywhere everybody is clamoring for Peace.
In humanity's sake,
Very truly yours,
(signed) A Fick.
Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26
"No Peace Till German Rulers are Curbed by People at Home" and "Artillery Fighting of Violent Nature Again Begun on Verdun Front" - The Duluth Herald
"German Losses are Fifty Thousand in Flanders Report from July First" and "Do Your Bit; Give the Drafted Men a Rousing Sendoff When They Leave" - The Bemidji Daily Pioneer. August 28, 1917
On 27 August, 1917, Gold Star sergeant Clyde Fouts arrived at New Mexico’s Camp Cody to begin his military training. The nineteen-year-old was originally from Greenwood, Wisconsin, but he had lived for many years in Red Wing, Minnesota. Though he was not required to register for the draft, Fouts nonetheless volunteered for military service and began preparing to serve as a sergeant in the 125th Machine Gun Battalion of the American Expeditionary Forces. In a letter to his mother, Fouts explained that military service would allow him to support himself financially, and by extension, to be a “useful,” “good,” and “honest” man. Unfortunately, Fouts became one of the United States’ many victims of influenza-related pneumonia. He died at Camp Cody on 11 April 1918, before he could serve abroad. Fouts (left) is pictured below with one of his fellow recruits at Camp Cody.
Citation: "Fouts, Clyde E." Minnesota Public Safety Commission. Gold Star Roll. Minnesota Historical Society, St Paul, Minnesota. 114.D.4.3B
While the Home Front of the First World War featured a great many posters for motivation and recruitment, perhaps none is so famous as the following. This poster features Uncle Sam, an older, bearded white man made to represent the United States, who is shown wearing a star-studded top hat and pointing his index finger toward the viewer. The lower part of the poster reads, “I WANT YOU FOR U.S. ARMY,” in capital letters with the word “YOU” emphasized with a larger and brighter red typeface. In smaller print at the very bottom of the poster, it reads, “NEAREST RECRUITING STATION,” and space is left to write the address of a local U.S. Army Office. This poster was published by the Leslie-Judge Company in 1917, and it was used for Army recruitment all over the United States.
"Single Men for the Army Recommended by President Wilson for First Draft" and "French Round Out New Lines" - The Duluth Herald. August 25, 1917
Back in Paris after the most recent French offensive, David Backus took advantage of the opportunity to run a few errands. In addition to visiting a bank and a fine clothes shop, Backus bid farewell to the distinguished 25-year-old captain of the 51st Highlanders, who would travel to “the big show” at Ypres. What Backus called the “big show” was in fact the Third Battle of Ypres, or the Battle of Passchendaele, one of the deadliest military engagements of the First World War. Additionally, David Backus’s August 24th diary entry lends the impression that his days as an ambulance driver were numbered. He reported travelling to the U.S. Aviation Headquarters, where he qualified for the U.S. Army’s physical exam and filled out an application to become a pilot. And when he visited the American Red Cross Headquarters at Place de la Concorde, Backus received a letter of recommendation from Mr. Harjes, which would, ideally, secure him a place as a pilot in the First World War.
Saturday, Aug. 25, 17
[...] Went to U.S. Aviation Headquarters. Qualified for physical exam put in my application. Meet Mark & Stan Metcalfe, we went to the tipperary for lunch thence to Cafe. [...] Saw Mr. Harjes, nothing as yet so got a letter of recomdation [sic] from him for Aviatation [sic]. [...] Took Capt. Steward to Continental, got his hat from Brad. Went down to Gau du Nord & saw him off for Ypres for the big show. He is the senior officer in his battalion & only 25 years old [...] He is captain of 51st Highlanders, the chaps that took Vimy Ridge. [...]
Citation: David Backus Collection. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 123.D.10.6F
"New Offensive is Begun Near Ypres by British Forces" and "Next Army Draft Date Tentatively Set For New Year" - The Daily People's Press. August 23, 1917
Before leaving to fight in France, an American conscript from Winsted, Minnesota, sent this strongly worded letter to Senator Knute Nelson, in which he criticized the U.S. government’s excessive valuation of freedom of speech. According to this soldier, the principle of freedom of speech was “rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition” at a time when their consequences were extremely dire. The author argued that any American opposition to the war encouraged the German Army abroad, thus lengthening the conflict and resulting in more U.S. casualties. By this logic, those that criticized the United States in a time of war were “murderers by every law of Heaven and Earth.” In order to protect pro-American sentiment on the Home Front, the author would resort to extreme measures: shutting down all newspapers that were deemed anti-American and adopting the practice of internment or deportation for all disloyal citizens. In conclusion, the author promised Senator Nelson that he and his fellow soldiers could hold the Front, but it was Nelson’s duty to “keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing [them] in the rear.”
Winsted, Minn., Aug 22nd, 1917
The United States of America is at war with the German Government for the express purpose of thrashing hell out of the Kaiser and the Krupp gun works, to help make the world a fit place for human beings to live in. Unrestricted freedom of speech is rapidly promoting disloyalty and sedition. Liberty has degenerated into license. The work of German propagandists is running rampant thru the land. Under the guise of socialism, or of anti draft meetings, or of peace councils, certain men are openly spreading anti American traitorous doctrines. Such agitation from the platform or thru the press is well calculated to breed discontent, and hinder our gorenment [sic] in every insidious and treacherous way in its supreme effort of carrying the war to a successful and speedy end. It seems that the honor of our country and our flag needs protection with the bayonet and the Lewis machine gun quite as much at home as it does abroad. Is there a single reason why disloyal citizens should not at least be interned or deported, -or why all seditious sheets should not be destroyed? Every man and woman who talks or writes at this time of non-support and obstruction of the duly elected and sworn officials of this government is aiding comforting, and encouraging the enemy. The more talk of this kind, the longer will Germany certainly hold out, and hence the more of our boys who will be killed and wounded in battle. Therefore, anyone expressing anti-American views are murderers by every law of Heaven or Earth. The chiefest of these are traitors like Bentall, Van Lear and Pfaender, - who when justice is done will be introduced to a stone wall and a firing squad. I am speaking as a loyal American conscript awaiting Uncle Sam's call to duty on the battle fields of France, and for all the boys there now, and soon to be there. [...] Before we go across the Atlantic, we would like to know whether or not all American citizens are going to give us a fair change. Are you going to think about us when we are gone and pray for us? Are you going to stand back of us ? We can take care of the front, but for God's sake, we plead, keep the copperheads and hyenas from knifing us in the rear.
Citation: Knute Nelson Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. 114.I.13.2F Box 26