The British Prime Minister on America’s Entry into the War Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Addressing a group of London-based Americans less than a week after the American declaration of war on Germany on April 7, British prime minister David Lloyd George welcomed the United States into the Allied coalition and set forth a common program for the Allied struggle with Germany. In his address, he gives a view of the war as a struggle of democracies against aggressive and militaristic autocracies led by Germany. He discusses the urgency of shipping to bring American force to bear in Europe and hopes that the United States will bring its democratic values to the conference table following Allied victory.

Summary Overview

Addressing a group of London-based Americans less than a week after the American declaration of war on Germany on April 7, British prime minister David Lloyd George welcomed the United States into the Allied coalition and set forth a common program for the Allied struggle with Germany. In his address, he gives a view of the war as a struggle of democracies against aggressive and militaristic autocracies led by Germany. He discusses the urgency of shipping to bring American force to bear in Europe and hopes that the United States will bring its democratic values to the conference table following Allied victory.

Defining Moment

David Lloyd George’s address followed shortly after the American declaration of war on the German Empire on April 7, 1917. The principal reason for American entry into the war had been German submarine attacks on American ships heading to the British Isles. Designation as allies was unusual for Great Britain and the United States, as the two countries had fought against each other in two previous wars, the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Moreover, relations in the nineteenth century had frequently been hostile between them, and sympathy for the Catholic Irish, who were attempting to win their freedom from Britain, was widespread in America, with its large Irish American population. Many in the US were also suspicious of British capitalists’ stake in the war effort. (However, Lloyd George was not technically correct in stating the two countries had never been allied before. Both were members of the Eight-Nation Alliance that had suppressed the Boxer uprising in China at the dawn of the twentieth century. Since Germany and Austria-Hungary were also members of the coalition, it is easy to see why Lloyd George does not refer to it.)

Lloyd George was also speaking in the immediate aftermath of the Russia’s February Revolution. Russia was a member of the Allied coalition, and as the authoritarian government of the czar had been overthrown, the idea of the Allies as a coalition of democracies fighting an autocratic coalition led by Germany became easier to express. The Provisional Government of Russia, dominated by middle-class and aristocratic liberals, planned to stay in the war and democratize Russia once the current crisis was over, although its control of the country proved weaker than many believed and it was overthrown by the socialist Bolsheviks in the October Revolution.

The trench warfare on the Western Front continued to be fierce, and although the brunt of the battle was being borne by France, an increasing burden was falling on Britain. The Germans were consolidating their lines by withdrawing to a new and fearsomely fortified Hindenburg line, named after Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, the nominal leader of the German Army. The first stages of the Nivelle Offensive, named after French commander-in-chief Robert Nivelle and championed by Lloyd George despite the reluctance of the British high command, were under way. The Battle of Arras, which had begun on April 9, just a few days before Lloyd George’s speech, was a British contribution to the Nivelle Offensive, drawing on troops from Canada, Australia, and elsewhere in the British Empire, as well as Britons.

Author Biography

David Lloyd George (1863–1945) was a British Liberal politician who had made a national reputation as an opponent of the South African War, or Boer War. Something of an outsider in British politics owing to his Welsh descent and middle-class upbringing, he surprised many when he became an enthusiastically pro-war leader during World War I. As minister of munitions, or weapons production, he was a great success, and he became prime minister in 1916. As prime minister, Lloyd George led a coalition government composed of representatives of the Liberal, Conservative, and Labour Parties. He himself was the last member of the Liberal Party to serve as prime minister.

Lloyd George was a long-time admirer of America who had included Abraham Lincoln among his heroes. He was sometimes suspected by his British contemporaries of admiration for American and French republicanism that would lead to a desire to overthrow the British monarchy, although he never made any serious moves in that direction.

Document Analysis

David Lloyd George emphasizes the unity of Britain, France, the United States, and to a lesser extent, the newly democratic Russia in the Allied cause and rhetorically condemns Germany for its militarism, aggression, and authoritarianism.

Throughout the address, Lloyd George is concerned to position the new alliance not merely as one of national interest, but as motivated by a shared devotion to democracy. He had to overcome the American prejudice against European monarchy as inherently corrupt and European wars as motivated by dynastic aggrandizement. He does this by emphasizing the militaristic nature of “Prussia,” a term he, like many Allied speakers and writers, uses in preference to “Germany” when attacking German culture and institutions. He alludes to the three wars of German unification–the Danish (1864), Austro-Prussian (1866), and Franco-Prussian (1870–71)–as wars of aggression and suggests that aggression is a permanent characteristic of the German system as presently constituted. Lloyd George also portrays republican France, and not Britain or autocratic Russia, as the chief victim of Prussia, playing on American sympathy for France and the long-standing friendship between the two countries. He is careful not to boast about the fact that Britain entered the war before America and is indeed self-deprecating on a national level in portraying Britain’s experience as one of “blunders.” Lloyd George actually subtly aggrandizes himself by locating these blunders earlier in the war, before he became prime minister. His ascent to the office in 1916 had followed the overthrow of the previous prime minister, Herbert Henry Asquith, and Lloyd George had portrayed himself as the man with the determination and energy to win the war, in contrast to the somewhat lackadaisical Asquith.

The February Revolution in Russia was essential to Lloyd George’s portrayal of the war as a struggle for democracy. Lloyd George does the best he can with prerevolutionary Russia by claiming that it was fighting for the liberty of small, oppressed Eastern European Slavic countries. He further argues that czarist Russia, by engaging in the war, became inspired to fight for its own independent democracy, referring to the February Revolution. The Allies were also fighting for democracy in Germany itself, as Lloyd George alludes to Germany’s postwar destiny as a democratic one.

Lloyd George refers to the Battle of Arras, still in progress at that time, which was a major confrontation between British imperial forces and the Germans on the Western Front as an example of the courage and skill of British imperial soldiers. Lloyd George’s approach was not completely idealistic, however; he was also pragmatic. American force was useless while it remained across the Atlantic, so the immediate priority was the ships that would bring American soldiers and supplies. He drew on his experience as minister of munitions to praise the contribution that American supplies had already made to the Allied cause.

Essential Themes

Lloyd George’s optimism about the war in the short run would prove unjustified, as the Nivelle Offensive failed strategically despite initial British and French tactical successes, such as Arras. The impact of the Russian Revolution was also damaging to the Allied cause, as it led Russia to withdraw from the war. However, the prime minister’s optimism was justified by further events, as American soldiers and supplies made a key contribution to Allied victory in 1918.

Lloyd George’s portrayal of the war as a struggle for democracy rather than a conventional great-power conflict was a theme shared by many others, perhaps most importantly President Woodrow Wilson. It played a great role in Allied propaganda in the closing years of the struggle. However, a common military effort did not overcome the long history of Anglo-American antagonism, which reemerged after the war in the American belief that Britain had somehow maneuvered the United States into the war against the historic American policy of staying out of European conflicts. Despite Lloyd George’s rosy picture of the American role in establishing a new peace, he and President Wilson frequently found themselves at odds in the Versailles conference that established the peace settlement after World War I. Demands that Britain pay back the money it had borrowed from the United States during the war further soured Anglo-American relations in the immediate postwar period.

In the long run, however, the vision of Anglo-American alliance put forth by Lloyd George would greatly influence the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Britain and the United States would be allies in several future wars, including World War II, the Persian Gulf War, and the early twenty-first century wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these conflicts would be accompanied by similar rhetoric of the shared fight for democracy and freedom. However, the principal British orator and diplomat most now associated with such rhetoric is Winston Churchill, Lloyd George’s political ally and fellow Americanophile in World War I who became prime minister in World War II, rather than Lloyd George himself.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Doenecke, Justus. Nothing Less than War: A New History of America’s Entry into World War I. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 2011. Print.
  • “Primary Documents: David Lloyd George on America’s Entry into the War, 12 April 1917.” FirstWorldWar.com. Ed. Michael Duffy, 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.
  • Hattersley, Roy. David Lloyd George: The Great Outsider. London: Little, Brown, 2010. Print.
  • Sharp, Everett. “The Battle of Arras: An Overview.” World War I Centenary: Continuations and Beginnings. Learning Technologies Group, U of Oxford, 8 June 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.
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