Unanimous Declaration of Men of Many Races in the United States of America, July 4, 1918
By the turn of the 20th century, the population of the United States was rapidly diversifying. Millions of immigrants from around the world, the majority from southern and eastern Europe, flocked to economic opportunities in American cities. At the same time, war had erupted across Europe in 1914 when the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo. While at first hesitant to intervene, the United States eventually joined its French and British allies in 1917. President Woodrow Wilson, who had been reelected in 1916 on an antiwar platform, now declared that America was fighting to "make the world safe for democracy" by opposing the authoritarian German Empire, which seemed bent on world domination.
Supporting the war had been explicitly linked to supporting American liberty. Heavy pressure was applied to the American populace to prove their patriotism by purchasing "Liberty Bonds" to help fund the war, and these propaganda campaigns explicitly targeted immigrants and the children of immigrants. A Committee on Public Information (CPI), headed by George Creel, was founded to "sell" the war to the American people and to encourage "hyphenated Americans" to prove their "100 percent Americanism." A lack of enthusiasm for the war was viewed not only as unpatriotic but dangerous. German- and Irish-Americans, as well as socialists, anarchists, and advocates for the rights of laborers—many of whom, in addition to opposing US involvement in the war, were immigrants or children of immigrants—were viewed with suspicion and were subject to harassment under the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, the first US government statutes since the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to restrict freedom of speech.
As this "Declaration" demonstrates, many first- and second-generation Americans were understandably eager to prove their patriotism not just by purchasing Liberty Bonds (which they did in great numbers) but through public performances. On July 4, 1918, 40 thousand Americans of varying nationalities celebrated Independence Day by marching along Philadelphia's Broad Street to Independence Hall, where "delegates" from 24 different ethnic groups signed a "New Declaration of Independence" affirming their support of a war for American democracy and against tyranny. The organizer of the delegates was William M. Bricker, a community organizer in Philadelphia who worked in tandem with the CPI. The witnesses to the document included men and women from prominent families of Philadelphia, some of whom could trace their lineage in America back to the founding era. The assembly then moved to Independence Square Ernestine Schurmann-Heink, a German-American and a witness to the "Declaration," led the group in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Public celebrations of American identity were vital to Wilson's plan of promoting wartime patriotism. The “Declaration of Men of Many Races” is significant for reflecting the rising need of the United States government to both boost wartime morale and encourage assimilation. The declaration is ultimately a testament to the complicated power of nationalism in the lives of American immigrants.
George Creel, How We Advertised America (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1920).
"Declaration of Independence Adopted by Foreigners Here," Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, July 5, 1918.
Philadelphia War History Committee, Philadelphia in the World War, 1914-1919 (New York: Wynkoop Hallenbeck Crawford, 1922).
"World Freedom is Pledged Here," Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger, July 5, 1918.