On this day in 1917, at 8:35 p.m., President Woodrow Wilson called Congress into special session and asked them to declare war on Germany. Appearing before a joint session of the Senate and House, he said, "The world must be made safe for democracy."
America had been able to maintain an uneasy neutrality for about three years while the war raged on in Europe. But the "Zimmermann Note" was made public in March. This message from German foreign secretary Arthur Zimmermann proposed that the Mexican government ally itself with Germany, in exchange for Germany's help in regaining Mexico's "lost territory in New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona." The message also suggested that Mexico press Japan to ally itself with Germany. That note — and Germany's sinking of five American ships — changed public opinion about intervention in the war. When the war ended, a year and a half later (November 11, 1918), 9 1/2 million soldiers had died, in addition to 13 million civilians, who perished from massacres, starvation, and disease.