Historical Highlights

The House Declaration of War Against Germany in 1917

April 06, 1917
The House Declaration of War Against Germany in 1917 Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Representative Claude Kitchin of North Carolina served 12 terms in the House of Representatives. During this time, he served as chairman of Ways and Means as well as Majority and Minority Leader.
On this date, the House adopted a war resolution against Imperial Germany—formally committing the United States to intervention in the First World War. It marked just the fourth occasion that Congress had enacted a declaration of war—the three previous instances being the War of 1812, the War with Mexico in 1846, and the Spanish-American War of 1898. After a debate that extended several days, the 373 to 50 vote for war came at 3:12 a.m. Majority Leader Claude Kitchin of North Carolina implored colleagues to preserve America’s place as “the last hope of peace on earth, good will toward men” by opposing the war measure. Jeannette Rankin of Montana, sworn in as the first woman in Congress four days earlier, remained silent during the first reading of the roll call. Former Speaker Joe Cannon of Illinois sought her out on the floor and advised: “Little woman, you cannot afford not to vote. You represent the womanhood of the country in the American Congress.” On the second reading of the roll she voted ‘No,’ inadvertently violating House rules by rising from her seat to give a short speech: “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.”

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