April 7: Thousands Rally to Show Support for WWI


Today in 1917, citizens of Hartford thronged the streets in a “mass patriotic meeting” to show support for America’s formal entry into World War I. The Great War had been raging in Europe for three years, but the United States had been extremely reluctant to join the fight against the Germans. American resistance to entering the fray was so strong, Woodrow Wilson had won re-election the year before with the campaign slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.” Recent German actions, however, including a naval blockade against Great Britain that led to the sinking of several American ships, had begun to shift public opinion dramatically. In late February, news reached Washington of the “Zimmerman Telegram.” This was a secret message from German officials to Mexico offering that country return of lands lost to the United States in the 1846 Mexican War provided they would remain neutral if the Germans attacked the United States. Overnight, anti-war sentiment among Americans was transformed into patriotic pro-war fervor.

A photo from the Hartford Courant’s coverage of the city’s patriotic rally on April 7, 1917.

On April 6, 1917, Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson’s resolution to enter the war. The next day, Hartford mayor Frank Hagarty, Governor Marcus Holcomb, and other dignitaries addressed a crowd of thousands that had gathered in the streets amid the pealing bells of the Old State House, reading aloud declarations of American loyalty and proclaiming support for the decision to join the Allied war efforts in Europe. According to the Hartford Courant, the crowd erupted into patriotic song, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America,” as the men in attendance respectfully removed their hats, and broke out into enthusiastic cheers for President Wilson.

Banners urging men to enlist during WWI, hanging in downtown Hartford, CT. (Connecticut State Library)

Two days after Hartford’s impressive demonstration of patriotism, Mayor Hagarty sent a message to President Wilson that declared:

“Acting under the authority of the people of Hartford, assembled in mass meeting in this city on Saturday afternoon, April 7, I have the honor to transmit to you herewith a resolution adopted by the unanimous vote of said meeting, pledging to the President and Congress their loyalty, devotion, and support to bring the war to a successful conclusion.”

This show of support from Connecticut’s capital city was more than just an expression of feeling. Hartford’s rally inspired numerous recruitment drives over the next several months that were answered by over 60,000 state residents who served overseas during the war. Love of country was on full display, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Connecticut In World War I,” Connecticut State Library