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

your thinking."

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

fighting for.

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

running amuck.

We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German

people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early

reëstablishment 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

entire world.

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

of achievement.

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!