Wilson’s Failure? The Treaty of Versailles

“The 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month…” Is there a U.S. Historical past trainer who hasn’t recited this phrase whereas discussing World Battle I and the Armistice that promised its finish? There may be, nevertheless, one other date worthy of point out on this dialogue. It’s November 19, 1919, on which date the USA Senate did one thing it had by no means achieved earlier than; it rejected a peace treaty, particularly the Treaty of Versailles. Why? Definitely, each American needed peace. WWI had been a horror present that includes horrible new weapons just like the machine gun, the tank, and lethal gases that despatched younger Individuals residence horribly disfigured or in coffins. Why then would the Senate reject the treaty ending all of it?

Woodrow Wilson, Harris & Ewing: 1900-1920) Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/photos/merchandise/2016800586/.

The reply is available in two main components. One is a real response towards Article 10 of the Treaty of Versailles (establishing a League of Nations) that conservative senators believed violated the sovereignty of the USA. On the similar time, consideration have to be paid to the single-minded (bordering on hubristic) strategy taken to the treaty by then-President Woodrow Wilson. It’s exhausting to comply with the chain of occasions resulting in the vote with out noting a number of severe missteps by Wilson that doomed his peace plans just about from the start.

Wilson’s “Fourteen Level” Plan

America formally entered WWI in April of 1917, and by January of the following yr, President Wilson had codified his plans for “peace with out victory” and introduced his “Fourteen Factors” to Congress and the world. The preliminary response was combined. The Allied Powers accredited of a lot of the plan, however raised severe questions on a number of points, particularly freedom of the seas and reparations. Wilson, nevertheless, was nothing if not persistent. Following the Armistice, he determined to go to Paris to current his case in particular person (the primary time a sitting president would make such a visit), demonstrating how deeply Wilson felt that he alone might current America’s place in these negotiations. 

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. Pirie MacDonald (New York: c.1916) https://www.loc.gov/merchandise/00652551/.

Wilson’s strategy influenced the make-up of the U.S. delegation chosen to take part within the Paris negotiations. (The Treaty was solely signed on the Palace of Versailles; the negotiations came about in Paris.) Within the mid-term elections of 1918, the Republican Get together had taken management of each homes of Congress, with Henry Cabot Lodge, lengthy Wilson’s adversary, taking the chair of the International Relations Committee. Provided that Article II, Part 2 of the U.S. Structure requires treaties to be handed “with the recommendation and consent” of the Senate, together with Lodge within the peace convention would have been a sensible transfer by the President. It didn’t occur. In truth, no Republican was included within the negotiating staff in any respect, nor had any been concerned in crafting overseas coverage within the Wilson administration.

Wilson at Versailles

Wilson’s sense of his private worth to the peace course of solely elevated as he was acquired with nice celebration and honors on his arrival in Europe. In Nice Britain, he was feted at a royal dinner, the primary held because the battle had begun, and in Italy, American troops (and plenty of Italian residents) gave the President a hero’s welcome. His counterparts on the desk at Versailles didn’t fairly share such enthusiasm. For one, Wilson’s private model grated on their nerves. French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau was overheard to say, “Mr. Wilson bores me along with his Fourteen Factors; why, God Almighty has solely 10!”  It’s additionally price remembering that after the Franco-Prussian Battle, France had been required to pay heavy indemnities to Prussia in each land and gold, so it was optimistic, to say the least, to count on them to desert comparable claims after this battle. Lastly, there was additionally the sensation that whereas the U.S. undoubtedly made a distinction within the battle, it had not suffered the losses in troopers and property borne by the opposite Allies and will subsequently not lecture them on the propriety of their claims towards Germany. 

By June 28, 1919 (5 years to the day after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated) the treaty was signed. Like most worldwide negotiations, there have been compromises. Wilson gave his help to German reparations in alternate for the opposite main powers’ help for the League of Nations. Figuring out the resistance the League would face again residence, Wilson was sure he might promote the plan to the American public. Sadly, it didn’t work out that manner. Wilson returned residence to face a Republican-dominated Senate stuffed with males he had snubbed, carelessly if not intentionally, and they didn’t obtain the Treaty kindly. 

Treaty of VersaillesAt Final!. Clifford Berryman (1919) Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/merchandise/2016678760/.

The Treaty of Versailles’ Reception within the Senate

Opposition got here from two major teams, the Reservationists, and the Irreconcilables. Led by Senator Lodge, the Reservationists supplied fourteen (coincidence?) modifications, or “Reservations” to the treaty. Their issues targeted on Article 10 and the chance that membership within the League of Nations, as described within the Treaty, might drive the USA into financial sanctions towards different nations, or presumably even drag the USA again right into a battle as unhealthy as, if not worse than, the “Battle to Finish All Wars.” These reservations by themselves wouldn’t have prevented ratification of the treaty, however Lodge knew full nicely that Wilson was unalterably against them, so it appears pretty clear that Lodge had no intention of seeing the treaty accredited. 

WILLIAM E. BORAH, SENATOR FROM IDAHO. Harris & Ewing (1914-1918) Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/merchandise/2016853674/.

Led by Senator Borah of Idaho, a religious isolationist also referred to as “the Nice Opposer” for his impartial stands on many points, the Irreconcilables have been a lot blunter of their strategy. They needed nothing to do with the Treaty or the League, interval. In an almost two-hour speech, Borah expressed the group’s staunch help for the “the nice coverage of ‘no entangling alliances’ upon which the power of this Republic has been based for 100 and fifty years…” In response to the Reservationists efforts to change the treaty he requested, “the place is the reservation which protects us towards entangling alliances?”

Taking the Treaty of Versailles to the American Public

Recognizing the power of his opposition, Wilson took his case to the individuals, touring the USA to achieve help for the Treaty. Talking in Pueblo, Colorado on September 25th, 1919, he argued that “We now have heard that we could be at a drawback within the League of Nations. Effectively, whoever advised you that both was intentionally falsifying or he had not learn the Covenant of the League of Nations.” Repeatedly, he harassed that membership within the League wouldn’t bind the USA to the sorts of commitments feared by each Reservationists and Irreconcilables. Sadly for Wilson, a stroke he suffered shortly after the Pueblo speech left him so impaired he was unable to proceed his tour.

So, on November 19th, Senator Lodge introduced his model of the Treaty, with reservations, to the Senate the place it was soundly rejected, in no small half as a result of President Wilson urged Democratic Senators to vote towards any model of the Treaty that included amendments or reservations. It was his treaty or no treaty. No treaty resulted, when the Senate subsequent voted on the unique model, rejecting it as nicely. 

Classes of Versailles

America concluded a separate treaty with Germany on August 25th, 1921, however by no means turned a member of the League of Nations. It’s exhausting to inform simply who was most answerable for the failure to ratify the treaty, President Wilson or the Senate, however definitely the headstrong strategy of a President who seemingly intentionally insulted the physique answerable for approving the treaty, should weigh closely in that analysis.

Rusty Eder

Rusty Eder at present teaches Historical past (Freshman Humanities Historical past, Conventional United States Historical past, Superior Historical past, and a semester-long Constitutional Seminar) at West Nottingham Academy, the place he additionally serves as Dean of School and Academy Historian. He earned his BA in Historical past at UMBC and his Grasp of American Historical past and Authorities at Ashland College. Moreover, he’s a fellow of the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Basis and has served as an Ashbrook Ambassador at a number of seminars in his space.

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