Constitution Day
ATT: Dinah Zeiger
JAMM - University of Idaho
P.O. Box 443178
Moscow, ID 83844-3178

FAX: (208) 885-6450

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Phone: 208-885-6111
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Moscow, ID 83844-4264


Phone: 208-334-2999
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322 E. Front Street
Boise, ID 83702

Coeur d'Alene

Phone: 208-667-2588
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Idaho Falls

Phone: 208-282-7900
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1776 Science Center Drive, Suite 306
Idaho Falls, ID 83402

I. U.S. Enters the Great War

What triggered America’s entry into the war, which it had resisted for more than two years? What was the role of the Zimmerman telegram in provoking the final decision to declare war on April 6, 1917?

An excellent overview of the war up to the point the U.S. entered the conflict is available in Chapter 1 “Prologue 1917” of David M. Kennedy’s Over Here: The First World War and American Society. It can be read online at Amazon.

a. College students should be encouraged to read the entire Kennedy book, an excellent guide to understanding how Americans understood the war.

B. Another overview of American involvement is available on the U.S. History website, a somewhat less authoritative resource but readable: America in the First World War and Farewell to Isolation.

C. The Zimmerman telegram appeared to be the final straw in the long-running effort by President Wilson to avoid entering the war.

a. An overview of the crisis is available from the National Archives site, which contains images of the document and the decoded telegram: The Zimmermann Telegram

Barbara Tuchman’s The Zimmerman Telegram offers a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the message and U.S. reaction.

Activity: “Hear It Now.”

The following recordings are available from the Library of Congress collection of speeches. The site also suggests several discussion questions for students’ essays or debates.

  • Excerpts from a speech by U.S. Ambassador James. A. Gerrard at the outset of U.S. entry into WWI: “Loyalty".
  • Recording of a speech by W.G. McAdoo, US Secretary of the Treasury: “American Rights”.

Discussion Questions

  1. Would the U.S. have remained neutral if the Zimmerman telegram had not been intercepted and decoded?
  2. What other events in 1915-1916 contributed to the growing American anxiety about the conflict in Europe?