Announcing the Armistice in America - 1918
Woodrow Wilson, a Progressive Movement leader, Was the 28th President of the United States (1913-1921). After a Policy of Neutrality at the Outbreak of World War I, Wilson Led America into War to "Make the World Safe for Democracy." Pictorial History of the World's Greatest War, 1919. GGA Image ID # 192922ff41
Despite his broken sleep, President Wilson was up early in the morning of November 11, 1918. By his direction, arrangements had soon been made for the joint session of the Senate and the House.
Each legislative body met separately at noon in accordance with custom, and in a few minutes each had adopted the concurrent resolution essential to holding the joint meeting requested by the President. The time fixed was 1 o'clock P. M., Nov. 11, and at that hour the stage was all set in the hall of the House of Representatives for the historical event that was soon to pass.
The galleries were crowded with men and women. By far the greater proportion of the spectators were wives, daughters, and other female relatives or friends of Senators, Representatives, and high Government officials.
In the President's pew, the front row of the gallery to the left of the presiding officer's rostrum, sat Mrs. Wilson and the President’s daughter, Mrs. William G. McAdoo, wife of the Secretary of the Treasury.
Occupying chairs on the floor, were members of the Cabinet, General March, the army’s Chief of Staff, men engaged prominently in Government war activities, and many former Senators and Representatives. One member of the present House, La Guardia of New York, was there in the uniform of an army aviator.
Supreme Court Justices
The very centre of the stage, as it were, was occupied by the nine Justices of the Federal Supreme Court. They sat in chairs placed in the area directly in front of the rostrum.
If, in all the enthusiasm that punctuated the President’s address, any one may be credited with having led the applause, the palm should go to the distinguished Chief Justice of the United States, Edward Douglass White.
On a par with his enthusiasm was that of a former member of the highest judicial tribunal, Charles E. Hughes, the man who had lost the Presidency to Woodrow Wilson, whose triumph he now applauded.
Owing to the fact that many Senators and Representatives had not returned to Washington from their homes, where they had been participating in the political campaigns, hardly half the membership of Congress was present and there were scores of vacant benches on the floor.
The Representatives present seemed hardly a handful when they appeared at the opening of the House session. The Senators, led by Vice President Marshall, arrived in the hall of the House shortly before 1 o’clock, and after being duly announced took seats in the forward rows of benches.
As it was a joint session, the Vice President sat beside Speaker Clark on the rostrum. Then the Speaker and the Vice President, each in turn, announced the appointment of a committee of Senators and Representatives to escort the President to the chamber, and everything was ready for the historic moment.
As usual, President Wilson reached the Capitol well before the time set for his appearance at the joint session. Outside the main entrance to the House wing a great crowd had gathered.
Before going to the Capitol the President had written in lead pencil on a half sheet of note paper a proclamation to the people announcing the conclusion of hostilities and had then given orders that the employees of all Government departments should have a holiday.
The word had gone forth that he was to address the Congress and hundreds of Government workers made their way to Capitol Hill to get a peep at as much of the great show as it was their privilege to see.
President Cheered in Streets
As the President, attended by his Secret Service guards, alighted from his motor car at the entrance to the House wing, a cheer went up from the people gathered there and he lifted his top hat and smiled in a way to show his happiness. It was two minutes past 1 o’clock when he appeared in the House Chamber escorted by a committee of Senators and Representatives.
“The President of the United States !” shouted Joseph Sinnott, Sergeant at Arms of the House, as the President stepped through a doorway to the left and rear of the rostrum.
In an instant the whole company was on its feet.
There was handclapping, but this dignified, deferential mode of greeting did not satisfy those who were foil of the enthusiasm that came from the knowledge that America and her European associates had won the great war. The cheering was mild at first, but it grew in volume, and the presiding officers made no attempt to enforce the rule that spectators in the galleries must not indulge in demonstrations.
During the minute—it seemed longer— that the cheering lasted, the President smiled the same happy smile that he had given those who had greeted him outside of the building. His face showed no effect of his broken rest.
He seemed the personification of physical rigor and did not look his sixty-one years. He wore a trim-fitting black tailcoat of the sort known to fashion as a morning garment, and to the man on the street as a cutaway, light gray trousers, with a light cravat.
He shook hands with Speaker Clark and Vice President Marshall, and as the applause ended took from his pocket some narrow typewritten sheets and began to read to an audience that held its breath in sheer intensive interest.
At the very outset of his address the President read the conditions that Germany was obliged to accept to obtain an ending of the war that her ambition had brought about He read the written words without any effort at dramatic effect.
At first his voice was low and a bit husky. But it soon cleared, and he could be heard in the furthermost corners of floor and galleries.
The President’s announcement that the German authorities had accepted and signed the terms of armistice brought a faint round of handclapping.
But a moment later, when he made known that the second condition imposed upon Germany was the immediate evacuation of invaded countries, his auditors could not restrain their delight.
He read the names of the countries to be evacuated— Belgium, France, Alsace-Lorraine, Luxemburg.
It was the mention of Alsace-Lorraine that brought the spectators cheering to their feet. And how they cheered !—not very long—but heartily.
The President's audience listened intently, but with hardly any display of feeling, to the concluding portion of his address, in which he indicated that the Allies must be helpful to the conquered people of Germany.
When he told that the representatives of the victorious Governments in the Supreme War Council at Versailles had unanimously agreed to assure the peoples of the Central Empires "that everything that is possible in the circumstances will be done to supply them with food and relieve the distressing want that is in so many places threatening their very lives,” some faint applause came.
The suggestions of a charitable and helpful attitude toward Germany, however, brought no demonstration from those who listened to the President.
It was 1:30 o’clock when the President completed the reading of his address, He had taken twenty-seven minutes to read it. As he turned to leave the House, after bowing to his auditors and again shaking hands with Speaker Clark and Vice President Marshall, another demonstration began that lasted until the President was well out of hearing.
Then the Senate went back to its own chamber and the House adjourned, while the President, returning to the White House in his motor car, passed great throngs of joy makers, who cheered him without stint.
On Nov. 11 President Wilson issued the following proclamation prior to his address to Congress:
" My Fellow-Countrymen: The armistice was signed this morning. Everything for which America fought has been accomplished. It will now be our fortunate duty to assist by example, by sober, friendly counsel, and by material aid in the establishment of just democracy throughout the world.
Signed: “WOODROW WILSON.”
The New York Times Co., "Announcing the Armistice in America," in The New York Times Current History: The European War, New York: The New York Times Co., Dec 1918 and Jan 1919, pp. 361-362.