The debate leading up to U.S. entry into World War I was characterized by indecision and uncertainty. Several groups supported entry into the war, others desired strict neutrality, and some found a middle ground. Divisions tended to form along lines of family lineage. Those whose ancestors had lived in Germany, Bulgaria, the Ottoman Empire, or Austria-Hungary tended to favor the Central Powers while people of French and British descent tended to support the Allies.
With the United States’ entry into the war came growing anxiety about loyalties. Suspicion was cast everywhere as people’s fear of sedition escalated nationwide. Some journalists became accusers, printing libelous newspaper articles in a manner reminiscent of the period after the passage of the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts. Some concerned citizens went so far as to warn the government about seemingly suspicious individuals. One citizen, Emma Lake, had to undergo an investigation before being able to enroll at Columbia University. As you will see in the following document collection, fear affected many aspects of New York society.