Article Songs of the Peace Movement of World War I

Sheet Music: Stonewall Wilson
"Stonewall Wilson," a campaign song composed by Robert Mortimer praising Wilson for keeping the United States out of World War I during his first term (1916). Select the link to veiw the sheet music.

The in the years leading up to United States involvement in the first World War, a strong peace movement began, supported by President Woodrow Wilson. Among the most famous of these pacifist songs is "I Didn't Raise my Boy to be a Soldier," by Alfred Bryan and Albert Piantadosi published in 1915 (sheet music). "Let Us Have Peace," by George Graff and Ernest Ball and recorded by Reinald Werrenrath in 1917, takes a religions stance in protest of war (sound recording).

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson campaigned for his second term on the basis of having maintaining a position of non-involvement in the war. The song "Stonewall Wilson," by Robert Mortimer, portrays the President as a strong, picturing him in uniform and leading soldiers on the sheet music cover, while the point of the song is that he kept the country at peace. This mixed political message shows a president that can lead in war, but only if absolutely necessary.

There were voices of those who opposed the peace movement and saw frightening consequences if the United States did not enter the war. For example, a recording made in 1916 by Frederick Wheeler, "Wake Up America," demonstrated that many realized that the United States would have to send troops to Europe.

When the United States declared war with Germany in 1917, partly in response to German attacks on United States shipping, it was realized that the popular attitudes about the war needed to be turned around. Songs were one means of changing people's minds. There were some familiar types of patriotic songs, of course. Perhaps the most famous is "Over There!" recorded by Nora Bayes shortly after war was declared in 1917. But, in this unusual situation, other methods of pursuasion were also tried. "Lafayette," recorded by Reinald Werrenrath, asserts that the spirit of the Marquis de Lafayette, who came to the aid of the United States during the American Revolution, is calling Americans to pay their debt to France. While the song "Americans Come!" performed by Reinald Werrenrath, tells of war-weary Europeans heartened by the arrival of the Americans, "The Worst is Yet to Come," sung by Billy Murray, takes a comic approach as it explains that the worst is yet to come for Germany, once the United States forces arrive. The charismatic Scottish composer and performer Harry Lauder appeared in shows in the United States and sang songs such as his "The Laddies Who Fought and Won," recorded in 1917, in order to help sway public sentiment in support of the war effort.

When the United States entered the war, many who voted for Wilson on the basis of his non-interventionist stance were profoundly disillusioned, in spite of the campaign to inspire support for the war. Some songs of the period do celebrate victory, but others reflect the emotional consequences of this unpopular swing from peace to war and a sense of the ways that this war was different. As the war was ending and the terrible consequences were being realized, there were songs that expressed the sense of loss. "The Boys Who Won't Come Home," sung by Henry Burr is about the soldiers who gave their lives in the war and were buried overseas. "After the War is Over, Will There be a Home Sweet Home?" published in 1918, expresses concern about a future without the "brave heroes" who were lost and a Europe forever changed. The next presidential campaign was also affected by the disillusionment with Wilson. A song of the newly formed Labor Party of the United States (also known as the Farmer-Labor Party) for the next presidential election in 1920, "I'll Never Vote Like Daddy Anymore," by Arch McDowell, expresses a sense of betrayal in the lyrics through the character of a war veteran who voted for the peace candidate but then had to go to war.


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