Sovereignty at Sea:
U.S. Merchant Ships and American Entry into World War I

Rodney Carlisle

Foreword by James C. Bradford and Gene Allen Smith, Series Editors

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"A compelling account based on exhaustive primary research that re-creates the mindset of politicians, the press, and other policymakers as they make the momentous decision to go to war in 1917. Many know the maritime military dimensions of warfare--here is a story that shows the maritime dimensions of diplomacy and how the rights of American merchant marines mattered in the minds of those in charge."--Timothy G. Lynch, California Maritime Academy

"Scholarly yet accessible, a nice piece of research, especially in primary documents. This is a highly original book on a relatively neglected historical period."--Joshua M. Smith, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

While numerous studies have examined Woodrow Wilson's policy of neutrality prior to U.S. entry into World War I, none has focused on the actual merchant ship losses that created the final casus belli. This work focuses on what the president knew and when he knew it concerning the loss of ten ships between February 3 and April 4, 1917. By looking at the specifics, Rodney Carlisle offers new explanations for the reasons that led the president, the cabinet, the public, and Congress to decide for war.
Sovereignty at Sea not only adds much to our understanding of maritime and diplomatic history during the First World War period but also speaks to contemporary concerns with issues surrounding the U.S. justification for wars.

Rodney Carlisle, professor emeritus of history at Rutgers University, is the author or editor of over thirty books, including Sovereignty for Sale and Powder and Propellants.

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"The unbiased narrative is well-researched and accessible to most adult readers." Reference and Research Book News

"Carlisle... has a gift for writing as if he were a member of Wilson's inner circle by mixing skillful prose with meticulous research of Wilson's papers and archives from the Library of Congress. Carlisle deserves praise for over-turning the conventional wisdom that has predominated for nearly a century that the sinking of the passenger ship Luisitania and the interception of the Zimmerman Telegram were the dual causes of the entry of the United States into the war." Proceedings

"Carlisle demonstrates that the image of unrestrained German aggression is misunderstood. He convincingly shows that German attacks on US shipping during the period of American neutrality were often the result of mistakes and/or US failures to identify vessels. Highly recommended." CHOICE, Vol. 48 No. 03

"Blends together military, diplomatic, social, and maritime history into a concise narrative that is well documented with primary sources and supported with numerous charts and illustrations." "Fills a crucial void in the First World War historiography in understanding how the United States came to enter the conflict and subsequently emerge a superpower." Sea History, vol. 134

His narrative takes the reader to Pless Castle in Silesia for the deliberations of the Kaiser and his war cabinet concerning the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, on board the SS Vigilanica, the first American ship deliberately sunk by the Germans without warning, and to the halls of Congress and the White House for the final debates. Blends together military, diplomatic, social, and maritime history into a concise narrative that is well documented with primary sources and supported with numerous charts and illustrations. Sea History 134

"The author of this study examines American maritime activities in the months preceding President Woodrow Wilson's April 1917 declaration of war against Germany that brought the United States into the First World War. His examination of the press, public opinion, and congressional debate, or lack thereof, surrounding the loss of ships is noteworthy. Carlisle has compiled a significant history for this brief period in time that had been relegated to the back pages of America's road to war and the controversy surrounding Wilson's actions leading to that war."--The Historian The Historian

"This slim volume by Rodney Carlisle, Emeritus Professor of History at Rutgers University, retells a story that every competent American historian thinks he or she knows all about, only to find in the pages of this book that there is much more to be learned, even at this late date.Carlisle's book takes us back to a bygone era when diplomacy was carried on with rigorous attention to detail by men who observed all the traditional protocols and paid careful attention to the provisions of the Constitution and the letter of the law, both international and domestic." International Journal of Maritime History

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