Primary Source: Letter from Ho Chi Minh to Robert Lansing in 1919

Instructor: David Wilson

David has taught college history and holds an MA in history.

While the Vietnam War did not begin until after World War II, Vietnamese struggles for independence date far earlier. Ho Chi Minh favored independence decades before he became a political leader.

Colonial Vietnam

In the late 1800s, the French brought the region known as Indochina into its empire, ruling nations that today are Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The French seized this region to be a counterweight to the British Empire of Southern Asia, separated by independent Thailand. Immediately after colonization, the Vietnamese, like so many other people under the yoke of imperialism, began independence movements. The French harshly punished the Vietnamese independence movement, as well as other nations' movements.

This did not deter many prominent Vietnamese thinkers from doing their best to win international recognition and support for independence. By far the most important figure in the Vietnamese independence movement, and arguably in the history of all Vietnam, was Ho Chi Minh. Born in 1890, Ho received an education in France and followed both French Revolutionary principles and the anti-imperialist edicts of socialist ideologies.

In 1919, Ho was not a member of a socialist organization, let alone a leader of Vietnamese revolutionaries. He was, however, surrounded by many other independence-minded Vietnamese who lived in France. Ho took the opportunity in the aftermath of World War I to write to the Robert Lansing, American Secretary of State, to ask his support for legal recognition and autonomy for Vietnam, hoping that the end of the great conflict would lead to opportunities for decolonization. Ho included the Demands of the Ammanese People, a title referring to the Vietnamese, which called for greater (but not full) independence, legal rights, education, and civil structure from the French. The historical evidence, however, suggests that he was ignored by the U.S. and the other great powers of Europe, including France.

Let's take a look at his letter, and the Declaration of the Ammanese People included within the letter.

Text of Letter from Ho Chi Minh to Robert Lansing in 1919

To his Excellency, the Secretary of State of the Republic of the United States, Delegate to the Peace Conference.


We take the liberty of submitting to you the accompanying memorandum setting forth the claims of the Vietnamese people on the occasion of the Allied victory.

We count on your great kindness to honor our appeal by your support whenever the opportunity arises.

We beg your Excellency graciously to accept the expression of our profound respect.

For the group of Vietnamese Patriots

(signed) Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot)

56, Rue Monsieur le Prince, 56


(translation of 'Demands of the Annamese People':)

Since the victory of the Allies, all subject peoples are filled with hope at the prospect that an era of right and justice is opening to them by virtue of the formal and solemn engagements, made before the whole world by the various powers of the agreement in the struggle of civilization against barbarism.

While waiting for the principle of national self-determination to pass from ideal to reality through the effective recognition of the sacred right of all peoples to decide their own destiny, the inhabitants of the ancient Empire of Annam, at the present time French Indochina, present to the noble Governments of the entente in general and in particular to the honorable French Government the following humble claims:

(1) General amnesty for all the native people who have been condemned for political activity;

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