While supporters of President Wilson policy of preparedness loudly trumpeted “We are with you Mr. President,” other Kansans just as vehemently disagreed. Peace meetings sprang up across the state. The 6,000 members of the Kansas State Teachers’ Association publicly protested “the present tide of militarism of the European fashion.” Organizations including the Kansas State Grange and the Kansans Federation of Labor as well as more than 100 churches, 150 fraternal orders, and 40 women’s clubs went on record as standing in opposition to Wilson’s push to prepare the country for a war they believed was none of America’s concern.
No Kansan spoke out against Wilson’s policy of armed neutrality with a louder voice than the State’s Republican Governor and publisher of The Daily Capital, Arthur Capper. Capper railed against Wilson’s policy, denouncing it as going beyond mere folly being a “monstrous” ruse perpetuated by east coast manufacturers “with their heads turned by the prospect of easy profits” and “the wretched pork barrel and log rolling system of congress.”
Determined to end preparedness as an issue, Wilson embarked on a tour of the western states in 1916 with his only scheduled speech in Kansas being in Topeka on February 2. Following a whistle-stop in Lawrence where a crowd estimated to be half of the city’s population crowded the train depot to hear the President speak less than four minutes, he continued on to the capital city. 6,000 awaited Wilson in the Municipal Auditorium while another 10,000 filled nearby streets hoping to at least catch a glimpse of the President.
Capper took the stage first. Although striking a respectful tone, his remarks regarding the President’s “program of armament with all its hazardous consequences,” were so chilly that one newspaperman commented Wilson “flushed and winced.” Rising to speak, Wilson surprised those accompanying him by delivering his message with more feeling than any had yet to hear. The President spoke “straight from the shoulder” using words described as masterful in simplicity and powerful in plainness to “reach the hearts” of his audience. The crowd cheered when they heard Wilson’s challenge to prove that Kansans “did not display the true American spirit” or had ever shrunk from a fight. His plea for bolstering the military, however, was met with only scattered applause. The President, all agreed, addressed his least responsive audience in Topeka.
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