The Shot Heard Round The World
On April 19, 1775, was fired "the shot heard round the world." It was
the shot fired for freedom and democracy by the Americans at Lexington
and Concord. In 1836, upon the completion of the battle monument at
Concord, the gallant deeds of those early patriots were commemorated by
Emerson in verse.
By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
This is not the only shot for freedom fired by America and Americans.
As President Wilson has said, "The might of America is the might of a
sincere love for the freedom of mankind." The shots of the Civil War
were fired for united democracy and universal freedom.
The soldiers and sailors of the United States fired upon the Spaniards
in the Spanish-American War, that an oppressed people might be
released and given an opportunity to live and work and grow in liberty.
That the Filipinos, like the Cubans, might learn to understand freedom,
to safeguard it, and to use it wisely, has been the whole purpose of
the United States in aiding them.
On April 6, 1917, the shot was heard again. The whole world had been
listening anxiously for it, and was not disappointed.
Those against whom the first American shot for freedom was fired in
1775 have now become the strongest defenders of liberty and democracy.
Their country is one of the three greatest democracies of the world.
Shoulder to shoulder, the Americans and British fight for the freedom
of mankind everywhere. They fight to defend the truth and to make this
truth serve down-trodden peoples as well as the mighty.
Indeed, President Wilson has wisely said, "The only thing that ever set
any man free, the only thing that ever set any nation free, is the
truth. A man that is afraid of the truth is afraid of life. A man who
does not love the truth is in the way of failure."
Germany has no love for the truth. The history of the empire is strewn
with broken promises and acts of deceitfulness. America stands for
something different. It stands for those ideals which President Wilson
saw when he looked at the flag.
"And as I look at that flag," he said, "I seem to see many characters
upon it which are not visible to the physical eye. There seem to move
ghostly visions of devoted men who, looking at that flag, thought only
of liberty, of the rights of mankind, of the mission of America to show
the way to the world for the realization of the rights of mankind; and
every grave of every brave man of the country would seem to have upon
it the colors of the flag; if he was a true American, would seem to
have on it that stain of red which means the true pulse of blood, and
that beauty of pure white which means the peace of the soul. And then
there seems to rise over the graves of those men and to hallow their
memory, that blue space of the sky in which stars swim, these stars
which exemplify for us that glorious galaxy of the States of the Union,
bodies of free men banded together to vindicate the rights of mankind."
At Mount Vernon, he said, in speaking of the work of George Washington,
"A great promise that was meant for all mankind was here given plan and
reality." So for the sake of many peoples of Europe who were wronged,
America has carried out that promise. When honorable Americans promise,
they would rather give up life than fail to keep their word. But when
the Germans promise it means only "a slip of the tongue," for this is
also the meaning of the German word which is translated "promise."
That the United States has to fulfill this special mission of
defending the truth is very clear. The great American leader said again
in behalf of his people:
"I suppose that from the first America has had one particular mission
in the world. Other nations have grown rich, other nations have been as
powerful as we are in material resources; other nations have built up
empires and exercised dominion. We are not alone in any of these
things, but we are peculiar in this, that from the first we have
dedicated our force to the service of justice and righteousness and
"The princes among us are those who forget themselves and serve
mankind. America was born into the world to do mankind's service, and
no man is an American in whom the desire to do mankind's service is not
greater than the desire to serve himself.
"Our life is but a little plan. One generation follows another very
quickly. If a man with red blood in him had his choice, knowing that he
must die, he would rather die to vindicate some right, unselfish to
himself, than die in his bed. We are all touched with the love of the
glory which is real glory, and the only glory comes from utter
self-forgetfulness and self-sacrifice. We never erect a statue to a man
who has merely succeeded. We erect statues to men who have forgotten
themselves and been glorified by the memory of others. This is the
standard that America holds up to mankind in all sincerity and in all
"We have gone down to Mexico to serve mankind, if we can find out the
way. We do not want to fight the Mexicans; we want to serve the
Mexicans if we can, because we know how we would like to be free and
how we would like to be served, if there were friends standing by ready
to serve us. A war of aggression is not a war in which it is a proud
thing to die, but a war of service is a thing in which it is a proud
thing to die."
The liberty-loving nations now fighting in the World War desire that
truth and freedom shall be secured even to the Germans along with all
other peoples. If the Germans had possessed these priceless virtues,
probably no World War would have been necessary. But the spirit of
militarism has bound down and deceived the German people.
President Wilson, at West Point, said: "Militarism does not consist in
the existence of any army, not even in the existence of a very great
army. Militarism is a spirit. It is a point of view. It is a system. It
is a purpose. The purpose of militarism is to use armies for
aggression. The spirit of militarism is the opposite of the civilian
spirit, the citizen spirit. In a country where militarism prevails, the
military man looks down upon the civilian, regards him as inferior,
thinks of him as intended for his, the military man's support and use,
and just as long as America is America that spirit and point of view is
impossible with us. There is as yet in this country, so far as I can
discover, no taint of the spirit of militarism."
The people of Germany have given up their sons, paid enormous taxes
which kept them poor but made landowners rich, all for the sake of the
military whims of their superiors.
Any American would say, like President Wilson, "I would rather belong
to a poor nation that was free than to a rich nation that had ceased to
be in love with liberty. But we shall not be poor if we love liberty,
because the nation that loves liberty truly sets every man free to do
his best and be his best, and that means the release of all the
splendid energies of a great people who think for themselves."
Thus, it is clear that America fights to serve. The Germans fight to
get, even as their word "kriegen," used by them to mean "make war,"
really means "to get." For them, making war is never with the idea of
service, but with the idea of getting. They desire many things for
Germany, and to get them, they have used the most brutal force. Not for
a moment would they stop to listen to the opinions of mankind
throughout the world.
President Wilson spoke with authority, when he said: "I have not read
history without observing that the greatest forces in the world and the
only permanent forces are the moral forces. We have the evidence of a
very competent witness, namely, the first Napoleon, who said that as he
looked back in the last days of his life upon so much as he knew of
human history, he had to record the judgment that force had never
accomplished anything that was permanent. Force will not accomplish
anything that is permanent, I venture to say, in the great struggle
which is now going on on the other side of the sea. The permanent
things will be accomplished afterward, when the opinion of mankind is
brought to bear upon the issues, and the only thing that will hold the
world steady is this same silent, insistent, all-powerful opinion of
mankind. Force can sometimes hold things steady until opinion has time
to form, but no force that was ever exerted except in response to that
opinion was ever a conquering and predominant force."
By the opinions of mankind, he meant ideals, of which he had already
said: "The pushing things in this world are ideals, not ideas. One
ideal is worth twenty ideas."
Thus, in behalf of the great American nation, he calls upon the young
Americans of to-day to follow the true spirit of their country. To them
all he says, "You are just as big as the things you do, just as small
as the things you leave undone. The size of your life is the scale of
When this great American president who believed that moral force was
always greater than physical force and who taught that America's
mission in the world was to serve all mankind and finally to make them
free; when he perceived after every other means had failed, that only
physical force could affect Germany and that "the sore spot" in the
world must be healed, as a cancer is, with the surgeon's knife; then he
appeared in person, on April 2, 1917, before the Congress of the United
States and read his great war message. Following his advice, Congress
declared on April 6 that a state of war existed with Germany.
The message was in substance as follows:
Gentlemen of the Congress:
I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because
there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made,
and made immediately.
On the third of February last I laid before you the
extraordinary announcement of the Imperial German Government
that on and after the first day of February it was its purpose
to put aside all restraints of law or of humanity and use its
submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach either
the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts of
Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany
within the Mediterranean.
The new policy has swept every restriction aside. Vessels of
every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo,
their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to
the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy
for those on board, the vessels of friendly neutrals along with
those of belligerents.
Even hospital ships and ships carrying relief to the stricken
people of Belgium, though the latter were provided with
safe-conduct by the German Government itself and were
distinguished by unmistakable marks of identity, have been sunk
with the same reckless lack of compassion or of principle....
I am not now thinking of the loss of property, immense and
serious as that is, but only of the wanton and wholesale
destruction of the lives of non-combatants, men, women, and
children, engaged in pursuits which have always, even in the
darkest periods of modern history, been deemed innocent and
lawful. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and
innocent people cannot be.
The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a
warfare against mankind. It is a war against all nations.
American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways
which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships
and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk
in the waters in the same way. The challenge is to all mankind.
Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it.
The choice we make for ourselves must be made after very careful
thought. We must put excited feeling away. Our motives will not
be revenge or the victorious show of the physical might of the
nation, but only the vindication of right, of human rights, of
which we are only a single champion....
The German Government denies the right of neutrals to use arms
at all within the areas of the sea which it has proscribed, even
in the defense of their rights. The armed guards which we have
placed on our merchant ships will be treated as beyond the pale
of law and subject to be dealt with as pirates would be.
There is one choice we cannot make, we are incapable of making;
we will not choose the path of submission and suffer the most
sacred rights of our nation and our people to be ignored or
violated. The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are
not common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life.
With a profound sense of the solemn step I am taking and of the
grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating
obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that
the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German
Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the
Government and people of the United States; that it formally
accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon
it and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country
in a more thorough state of defense, but also to exert all its
power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of
the German Empire to terms and end the war.
While we do these things--these deeply momentous things--let us
be very clear, and make very clear to all the world what our
motives and our objects are. Our object is to vindicate the
principles of peace and justice in the life of the world against
selfish and autocratic power and to set up among the really free
and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose
and action as will henceforth insure the observance of those
Neutrality is no longer desirable where the peace of the world
is involved and the freedom of its peoples; and the menace to
that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic
governments backed by organized force which is controlled wholly
by their will, not by the will of their people.
We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling
toward them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon
their impulse that their Government acted in entering this war.
It was not with their knowledge or approval.
A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by
a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic Government
could be trusted to keep faith within it, or to observe its
agreements. It must be a league of honor, a partnership of
opinion. Intrigue would eat its vitals away; the plotting of
inner circles, who could plan what they would and render an
account to no one, would be a corruption seated at its very
heart. Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honor
steady to a common end, and prefer the interests of mankind to
any narrow interests of their own.
Indeed, it is now evident that German spies were here even
before the war began. They have played their part in serving to
convince us at last that that Government entertains no real
friendship for us, and means to act against our peace and
security at its convenience. That it means to stir up enemies
against us at our very doors, the note to the German Minister at
Mexico City is eloquent evidence.
We are accepting this challenge because we know that in such a
Government, following such methods, we can never have a friend;
and that in the presence of its organized power, always lying in
wait to accomplish we know not what purpose, there can be no
assured security of the democratic governments of the world.
We are now about to accept gage of battle with this natural foe
of liberty, and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of
the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power.
We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false
pretense about them, to fight thus for the peace of the world
and for the liberation of its peoples, the German people
included; for the rights of nations great and small and the
privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of
obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace
must be planted upon the tested foundations of political
We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no
dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material
compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but
one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be
satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the
faith and the freedom of the nations can make them.
Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish object,
seeking nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share
with all free people, we shall, I feel confident, conduct our
operations as belligerents without passion and ourselves observe
the principles of right and of fair play we profess to be
It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as
belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we
act without animus, not in enmity toward a people or with the
desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only
in armed opposition to an irresponsible Government which has
thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right, and is
We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German
people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early
reÃ«stablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage
between us, however hard it may be for them, for the time being,
to believe that this is spoken from our hearts.
We have borne with their present Government through all these
bitter months because of that friendship, exercising a patience
and forbearance which would otherwise have been impossible. We
shall, happily, still have an opportunity to prove that
friendship in our daily attitude and actions toward the millions
of men and women of German birth and native sympathy who live
among us and share our life, and we shall be proud to prove it
toward all who are in fact loyal to their neighbors and to the
Government in the hour of test.
They are, most of them, as true and loyal Americans as if they
had never known any other fealty or allegiance. They will be
prompt to stand with us in rebuking and restraining the few who
may be of a different mind and purpose.
If there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with with a firm
hand of stern repression; but if it lifts its head at all, it
will lift it only here and there and without countenance except
from a lawless and malignant few.
It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the
Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you. There
are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead
of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great, peaceful people
into war--into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars,
civilization itself seeming to be in the balance.
But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight
for the things which we have always carried nearest our
hearts--for democracy, for the right of those who submit to
authority to have a voice in their own government, for the
rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion
of right by such a concert of free people as shall bring peace
and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last
To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes,
everything that we are and everything that we have, with the
pride of those who know that the day has come when America is
privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles
that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has
treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.
On July 4, 1918, the United States had been at war for more than a
year, and it seemed to the millions of people who were anxiously
waiting for the peaceful giant to awake that very little had been
accomplished. They were fearful that the Germans in their next great
offensive, for which they had been preparing for over two months, might
capture Paris, or at least get near enough to it to destroy the city
with their long range artillery. The offensives, already launched by
the Germans, had been frightfully effective, and the Allies felt that
American soldiers in large numbers were necessary to save them from
possible disaster. They were looking for a great "push" by the enemy
and one that German leaders had promised the people at home would bring
victory and settle the war in their favor. This offensive, as we know,
was launched on July 15 and instead of succeeding was changed by
Marshal Foch's counter-stroke into a serious defeat for the Germans.
But this outcome could not of course be predicted in America on July 4,
and hearts were heavy with fear that the United States might after all
be too slow and too late. It was not then generally known that during
the months of May and June, over a half million American soldiers had
been landed in France.
On July 4, 1776, the American colonies by a Declaration of Independence
determined to fight for liberty and democracy; on April 6, 1917, the
American Congress declared that the United States would help defeat the
selfish aims of Germany. In the early fight of the American colonies
for independence, the first battles were fought in April and the
Declaration of Independence was signed in July of the next year; in
the fight for the liberty of all peoples, the German included, the
Americans entered the war in April, and the President on July 4 of the
following year, standing at the tomb of Washington at Mount Vernon,
read a Declaration of Independence, not for America alone, but for the
In 1776, the declaration was supported by a small army of a few small
colonies, in 1918 the declaration was supported by the full strength of
the greatest and wealthiest nation on the globe.
It was a beautiful day with a cloudless sky and a cooling breeze.
President Wilson and his party, including members of the cabinet; the
British ambassador, the Earl of Reading; the French ambassador, Jules
J. Jusserand; and other members of the diplomatic corps, had come down
the Potomac from Washington on the President's steam yacht, the
When they had gathered around the tomb of Washington near his old home,
Mount Vernon, on the banks of the beautiful Potomac River,
representatives of thirty-three nations placed wreaths of palms on the
tomb to show their fealty to the principles for which the "Father of
His Country" fought; then all stood with bared heads while John
McCormack sang "The Star-Spangled Banner." As the beautiful notes rose
and swelled and echoed over the hallowed ground, into the hearts of all
present came the conviction that the starry flag would soon bring to
all the peoples of the world the peace and security that surrounded
that historic group at Mount Vernon.
Then the President with the marines about him, and beyond them
thousands of American citizens, began to read the Declaration of the
Independence of the World. It is so simple in language that even
children of twelve years of age may understand nearly all of it, and it
is so deep and noble in thought that even the greatest scholars and
statesmen will find it worthy of close study. It will stand forever
with Washington's Farewell Address and Lincoln's Gettysburg Speech as a
great American document. It is as follows, except that the four ends
for which the world is fighting are restated in briefer form:
Gentlemen of the Diplomatic Corps and my Fellow-Citizens:
I am happy to draw apart with you to this quiet place of old
counsel in order to speak a little of the meaning of this day of
our nation's independence. The place seems very still and
remote. It is as serene and untouched by hurry of the world as
it was in those great days long ago, when General Washington was
here and held leisurely conference with the men who were to be
associated with him in the creation of a nation.
From these gentle slopes, they looked out upon the world and saw
it whole, saw it with the light of the future upon it, saw it
with modern eyes that turned away from a past which men of
liberated spirits could no longer endure. It is for that reason
that we cannot feel, even here, in the immediate presence of
this sacred tomb, that this is a place of death. It was a place
A great promise that was meant for all mankind was here given
plan and reality. The associations by which we are here
surrounded are the inspiriting associations of that noble death
which is only a glorious consummation. From this green hillside
we also ought to be able to see with comprehending eyes the
world that lies around us and conceive anew the purpose that
must set men free.
It is significant--significant of their own character and
purpose and of the influences they were setting afoot--that
Washington and his associates, like the barons at Runnymede,
spoke and acted, not for a class but for a people. It has been
left for us to see to it that it shall be understood that they
spoke and acted, not for a single people only, but for all
mankind. They were thinking not of themselves and of the
material interests which centered in the little groups of
landholders and merchants and men of affairs with whom they were
accustomed to act, in Virginia and the colonies to the north and
south of here, but of a people which wished to be done with
classes and special interests and the authority of men whom they
had not themselves chosen to rule over them.
They entertained no private purpose, desired no peculiar
privilege. They were consciously planning that men of every
class should be free and America a place to which men out of
every nation might resort who wished to share with them the
rights and privileges of freemen. And we take our cue from
them--do we not? We intend what they intended.
We here in America believe our participation in this present war
to be only the fruitage of what they planted. Our case differs
from theirs only in this, that it is our inestimable privilege
to concert with men out of every nation what shall make not only
the liberties of America secure, but the liberties of every
other people as well. We are happy in the thought that we are
permitted to do what they would have done had they been in our
place. There must now be settled once for all what was settled
for America in the great age upon whose inspiration we draw
This is surely a fitting place from which calmly to look out
upon our task that we may fortify our spirits for its
accomplishment. And this is the appropriate place from which to
avow, alike to the friends who look on and to the friends with
whom we have the happiness to be associated in action, the faith
and purpose with which we act.
This, then, is our conception of the great struggle in which we
are engaged. The plot is written plain upon every scene and
every act of the supreme tragedy. On the one hand stand the
peoples of the world--not only the peoples actually engaged, but
many others also who suffer under mastery but cannot act;
peoples of many races and every part of the world--the peoples
of stricken Russia still, among the rest, though they are for
the moment unorganized and helpless. Opposed to them, masters of
many armies, stand an isolated, friendless group of governments
who speak no common purpose, but only selfish ambitions of their
own by which none can profit but themselves, and whose peoples
are fuel in their hands; governments which fear their people and
yet are for the time their sovereign lords, making every choice
for them and disposing of their lives and fortunes as they will,
as well as of the lives and fortunes of every people who fall
under their power--governments clothed with the strange
trappings and the primitive authority of an age that is
altogether alien and hostile to our own. The past and the
present are in deadly grapple and the peoples of the world are
being done to death between them.
There can be but one issue. The settlement must be final. There
can be no compromise. No half-way decision would be tolerable.
No half-way decision is conceivable. These are the ends for
which the associated peoples of the world are fighting and which
must be conceded them before there can be peace:
1. Every power anywhere that can secretly and of its own single
choice bring war upon the world must be bound or destroyed.
2. All questions must be settled in accordance with the wishes
of the people concerned.
3. The same respect for honor and for law that leads honorable
men to hold their promises as sacred and to keep them at any
cost must direct the nations in dealing with one another.
4. A league of nations must be formed strong enough to insure
the peace of the world.
These great objects can be put into a single sentence. What we
seek is the reign of law, based upon the consent of the governed
and sustained by the organized opinion of mankind.
These great ends cannot be achieved by debating and seeking to
reconcile and accommodate what statesmen may wish, with their
projects for balances of power and national opportunity. They
can be realized only by the determination of what the thinking
peoples of the world desire, with their longing hope for justice
and for social freedom and opportunity.
I cannot but fancy that the air of this place carries the
accents of such principles with a peculiar kindness. Here were
started forces which the great nation against which they were
primarily directed at first regarded as a revolt against its
rightful authority, but which it has long since seen to have
been a step in the liberation of its own peoples as well as of
the people of the United States; and I stand here now to
speak--speak proudly and with confident hope--of the spread of
this revolt, this liberation, to the great stage of the world
itself! The blinded rulers of Prussia have aroused forces they
know little of--forces which, once aroused, can never be crushed
to earth again; for they have at their heart an inspiration and
a purpose which are deathless and of the very stuff of triumph!