In the fight over the United State’s ratification of the Treaty of Versailles and the associated League of Nations

Covenant it seems that Henry Cabot Lodge won the battle but Woodrow Wilson the war. The history war that is. David Fromkin observed that Wilson is today viewed as the internationalist and Lodge the isolationist who killed America’s participation in the League of Nations.1 Such an interpretation is simplistic and inaccurate. Henry Cabot Lodge’s campaign to ensure that the Senate did not ratify the League of Nations covenant had many different actors each driven by differing concerns. What motivated Lodge is difficult to pin down though there was obviously a number factors that directed his actions. They include his personal hatred of Woodrow Wilson, political concerns centred on the Republican Party and the next Presidential election, issues relating to nationalism and sovereignty and a conflict between the powers of the executive and the legislature. To argue that Lodge was a committed isolationist is wrong even though his campaign encouraged certain attitudes prevalent in American society at the conclusion of the war. The failure to ratify the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations covenant had a negative impact on America’s prestige in Europe lasting until WWII. Henry Cabot Lodge observed at the conclusion of the war that the man in the street was saying, “Now the war is over let us have peace as quickly as possible.”2 The mood of the American public was decidedly hostile toward Germany, and even Europe, as the perception was that the ‘Old World’ had dragged America into its dirty war. Lodge perceived that the “great mass of the American people are with me and mean to have an unconditional surrender.”3 Secretary of State Lansing commented that the “psychological effect [of Allied successes] upon the American people has been peculiar. The natural enthusiasm…has been accompanied by an increasing bitterness toward the German people.”4 The public attitude being as it was, Wilson and his Fourteen Points would seem to have been out of step. In 1917 he stated his goal of “peace without victory”5 but he returned from Versailles with a treaty that did not represent this goal. The consolation was the League of Nations covenant which
1

David Fromkin, “Rival Internationalism: Lodge, Wilson and the two Roosevelts.” In World Policy Journal, Summer 1996, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 78. 2 Henry C. Lodge, The Senate and the League of Nations, New York, 1925, p. 147. 3 John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 341. 4 Ibid, p. 341. 5 Ibid, p. 345.

Wilson was determined to put through the Senate together with the peace treaty, without any amendment. Despite the public’s hostility toward Germany they were overwhelmingly in favour of a multilateral body that would put an end to war. A poll in April 1919 found that, 88% were in favour of American participation in the League of Nations,6 the problem was that not all could agree on what format that participation would take, especially the Senate. Lodge was not an isolationist and took a view similar to that of Teddy Roosevelt. They saw the United States as becoming a great international power. In 1915 he had advocated an international body along the lines of the League of Nations but had since retracted that view.7 He said of the League when it was presented to the Senate, “I could not accept the League as it stood under any circumstances” and resolved to “proceed in the discussion of the treaty by way of amendment and reservation” 8 Lodge was a committed nationalist and had campaigned for immigration restriction in the past, but did not reject the League covenant out of hand, though he did have strong reservations to specific elements. Undoubtedly Lodge intensely disliked Wilson, saying at the time of his inauguration, “I think he would sacrifice any opinion, at any moment, for his own benefit and go back to it the next moment, if he thought returning to it would be profitable.” 9 And by all accounts his personal dislike was at least a small factor in fighting Wilson and his League. A more important factor though was Lodge’s long-standing approach to foreign policy. In the past Lodge had refused to put his name to a “treaty that promises to do things which we know we would not do.”10 Lodge claimed that “there was no desire on the part of Senators of either Party at that stage to bind the United States irrevocably with agreements to go to war again.”11 much of Lodge’s concern centred on a perceived loss of sovereignty that would have resulted from America’s entry into the League of Nations.

6 7

W.F. Kuehl, Seeking World Order, Nashville, 1969, p. 316. John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 342. 8 Henry C. Lodge, The Senate and the League of Nations, New York, 1925, p. 147. 9 John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 296. 10 Ibid, p. 345. 11 Henry C. Lodge, The Senate and the League of Nations, New York, 1925, p. 147.

The Monroe Doctrine was enunciated in 1823 and stated, “American questions shall be settled by Americans alone.”12 The doctrine put in clear terms that the United States would no longer tolerate any European interference in the Americas. One of the principle concerns of Lodge and those who either wanted to defeat the treaty or attach reservations to it, was that it would result in interference in the United States ‘sphere of influence.’ Lodge went on to say that “American sovereignty must not be diminished by membership in the League superstate; the sacred Monroe Doctrine should not be weakened; and the United States should preserve full freedom to pursue its own interests and regulate it’s own affairs.”13 The concern over the Monroe Doctrine was one of a number of concerns that would lead to Lodge’s campaign against the League. Lodge’s position encompassed a broad church within his party, including the ‘Irreconcilables’ and the ‘Reservationists’. Following the 1918 elections, forty-nine Republicans held the majority in the Senate. Lodge was elected the Senate majority leader by his party and took on the post of the head of the Senate Foreign Relations committee. From this position he would have powerful platform to run his campaign against the League of Nations covenant. Lodge was prepared to pass the treaty and attached covenant through the Senate but only with significant reservations to crucial points. He argued that “if we were successful in putting on reservations we should create a situation where if the acceptance of the treaty was defeated, the democratic party and especially Mr Wilson’s friends, should be responsible.”14 As mentioned previously, public opinion was broadly in favour of entering the League of Nations so to attack it directly would have alienated the public from the Republican Party who had been out of power since Wilson’s election. Thus by proceeding “by way of amendment and reservation” 15, the result would be that if Wilson accepted the reservations then the republicans could claim credit and if Wilson refused, then the blame for the treaty’s failure would fall upon him. That Lodge managed to maintain party discipline throughout the long period that the conflict over the League lasted was a remarkable achievement and probably played a crucial role in Harding’s election to president in 1921. Of the forty-nine Republican
12 13

John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 352. Daniel Smith, The great departure; the United States and World War I, 1914-1920, New York, 1965, p. 179. 14 Henry C. Lodge, The Senate and the League of Nations, New York, 1925, p. 164. 15 Ibid, p. 147.

senators fifteen were irreconcilables and thirty-four would vote for the treaty only with reservations attached.16 The great tragedy was that of those prepared to vote for the treaty, there was no agreement forthcoming on what form the reservations would take that would allow the two-thirds majority required for the treaty and covenant to be ratified. After Wilson’s return from Paris, Lodge sponsored the famous Round Robin where 37 Senators indicated that they would not vote in favour of the League of Nations covenant and called on President Wilson to separate the League covenant from the treaty document.17 The impact of this was that Wilson knew clearly that the treaty as it stood was unlikely to pass the Senate. Senators Taft, Root, Hitchcock, Hughes and Lodge outlined their main concerns as being protection of the Monroe doctrine, the exemption of domestic questions from League interference and the power to decide what was and what was not a domestic matter, a provision for unilateral withdrawal from the League and clarifications regarding voting procedures.18 The most significant sticking point was regarding Article X of the covenant. Article X of the covenant stated that:
The members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all members of the League. In any case of any such aggression the council shall advise upon the means by which the obligation shall be fulfilled.19

Lodge described Article X as “loose, involved and full of dangers”20 and that it would require the United States to “guarantee the territorial integrity and political independence of every nation on earth.”21 Senator Philander Knox believed the covenant would perpetuate inequities and be dominated by the major nations.22 As mentioned one of the main concerns centred on voting procedures, one of the
16 17

Henry C. Lodge, The Senate and the League of Nations, New York, 1925, p. 163. John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 352. 18 W.F. Kuehl, Seeking World Order, Nashville, 1969, p. 310. 19 Herbert F. Margulies, “The Moderates in the League of Nations battle: an overlooked faction.” in The Historian, Winter 1998, vol. 60, no. 2, p. 281. 20 W.F. Kuehl, Seeking World Order, Nashville, 1969, p. 298. 21 John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 350. 22 W.F. Kuehl, Seeking World Order, Nashville, 1969, p. 308.

reservations stated that the United States would not be bound by any resolution in which dominions of other nations had voted, thus providing a country such as Britain with more than one vote. Initially up to fourteen amendments to the treaty were proposed but after these were defeated, Lodge and the Republicans resolved to continue with proposing reservations to the treaty to become know as the ‘Lodge reservations.’ Essentially the struggle over the treaty was a struggle for power, specifically in relation to the area of foreign affairs, between the legislature and the executive. Traditionally the Senate had been sensitive to interference with its power in foreign relations. Wilson had refused to separate the Versailles Treaty from the League of Nations covenant, insisting that they be passed together. He said, “The Senate must take its medicine.”23 A large number of Republicans and even democrats, disliked Wilson for his dictatorial manner and the struggle over the treaty was in a real sense an executive-legislative conflict for control of foreign policy.24 In broad terms, the Irreconcilables would not pass the treaty because of concerns over sovereignty, enmity of Wilson and loss of diplomatic freedom. The Reservationists, to whom Lodge belonged, had two groups within them, the mild and the strong Reservationists. Lodge was certainly a strong Reservationist. They wanted to see many points of the treaty clarified or amended, acceptance of these changes by the Allied powers (which was forthcoming), protection for the Monroe doctrine, protection over the United States control over tariffs and immigration and a watering down of article X. The real debate in the Senate was between the mild and strong internationalists, not isolationists and internationalists.25 The pre existing divisions in the Senate were advantageous to Lodge as he could use this to cause delay to the treaty’s ratification and use the time to point out defects in the treaty. As mentioned previously, public opinion though strongly nationalistic after the war, was widely in favour of American entry into the League of Nations. Regardless of the correctness of Lodge’s views he certainly took his role in the Senate seriously though he was not above twisting events for his and the Republican Party’s political gain.
23 24

John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 354. Daniel Smith, The great departure; the United States and World War I, 1914-1920, New York, 1965, p. 181. 25 Ibid, p. 181.

Lodge said, “To yield helplessly to the clamour [of public opinion] was impossible for those to whom was entrusted the performance of a solemn public duty.” 26 Lodge decided that holding up the process of the treaty was “one of our strongest weapons.”27 By adding reservations to the treaty and convincing the public of their utility, Lodge could ‘Republicanise’ the treaty. Lodge’s stated goal was to “take the US out of the treaty entirely on all points were we whish to refuse obligations.” 28 When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee convened to consider the treaty and produce a report, Lodge took up the first two weeks in reading the entire document of roughly 268 pages.29 This committee eventually delivered a report that recommended ratification of the treaty with reservations. A separate Democratic report recommended ratification without change. The Senate subsequently split and neither side gained the necessary two-thirds needed for ratification. Only one Senator, Porter J. McUmber of North Dakota took a middle ground. He criticised both parties for playing politics with such an important issue.30 Former President Taft accused Lodge of stacking the Foreign Relations committee to prejudice the report.31 Thus, while the Senate was unable to reach a consensus, Wilson went on the road to increase public pressure on Lodge to pass the treaty unamended. Lodge’s principal concern lay with article X. He was concerned that the guarantee of collective security would take the power to declare war out of the hands of congress. He said, “It must be made perfectly clear that no American soldiers…can ever be engaged in war or ordered anywhere except by the constitutional authorities of the United States.”32 Wilson argued that article X was the “kingpin of whole the whole structure” and that the “will to war is everything” 33 Wilson claimed that the Lodge reservations as a whole, do “not provide for ratification, but rather, for the nullification of the treaty.”34 But by July 1919 public opinion was turning toward

26 27

Henry C. Lodge, The Senate and the League of Nations, New York, 1925, p. 161. John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 368. 28 W.F. Kuehl, Seeking World Order, Nashville, 1969, p. 335. 29 Daniel Smith, The great departure; the United States and World War I, 1914-1920, New York, 1965, p. 186. 30 Ibid, p. 191. 31 Ibid, p. 186. 32 Ibid, p. 184. 33 Frank A. NinKovich, The Wilsonian century: U.S. foreign policy since 1900, Chigago, 1999, p. 50. 34 Frank A. NinKovich, The Wilsonian century: U.S. foreign policy since 1900, Chigago, 1999, p. 50

ratification with the reservations35 and Wilson went on his speaking tour on 3 September 1919.36 Unfortunately Wilson suffered his stroke during this tour and afterwards took a less active but still important role in the debate. Scholars disagree on what the effect of the reservations would have been on America’s participation in the League. The majority seems to conclude that the reservations would have significantly curtailed American participation. Kuehl argues that the reservations did nullify the articles that they were aimed at,37 and Smith contends that the difference between entering the League with or without the reservations was a “limited and grudging participation in world affairs and Wilson’s concept of an America willingly assuming the full burdens of a great power and becoming actively involved in making the League a success.”38 Fromkin argues that the proposed reservation regarding article X today appears reasonable, as it would have essentially handed power to declare war to the executive and that no Senate would today consider such a move.39 Finally, Ninkovich asserts that article X was flexible and placed no constraints on sovereignty. He points out that courts had previously sustained the power of the executive the enter treaties that required some kind of military guarantee.40 Whether Lodge’s reservations were reasonable or not, some scholars have criticised Wilson for his intransigence and inability to compromise and blame him equally for the failure of the treaty to be passed by the Senate. Today, Wilson’s view of the future in which he stated, “I do not hesitate to say that the war we have just been through…is not to be compared with the war we would have to face the next time [if the treaty were not ratified]”, 41 seems to be too close to the truth. Wilson, on two separate occasions, urged Democrat Senators to vote down the treaty with the Lodge reservations attached. He described the Presidential elections of 1920
35 36

John A. Garraty, Henry Cabot Lodge, a biography, New York, 1953, p. 368. Henry C. Lodge, The Senate and the League of Nations, New York, 1925, p. 156. 37 W.F. Kuehl, Seeking World Order, Nashville, 1969, p. 335. 38 Daniel Smith, The great departure; the United States and World War I, 1914-1920, New York, 1965, p. 194. 39 David Fromkin, “Rival Internationalism: Lodge, Wilson and the two Roosevelts.” In World Policy Journal, Summer 1996, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 78. 40 Frank A. NinKovich, The Wilsonian century: U.S. foreign policy since 1900, Chigago, 1999, p. 76. 41 Ibid, p. 75.

as a “great and solemn referendum”42 on the League issue. But it seems that Wilson’s optimism that public pressure would eventually force the Republicans to cave in was misplaced. Lodge seems to have had the better grasp of public sentiment after the war. Wilson had gone to war based upon the lofty aims of his fourteen points. He asserted that America was on a mission to spread the benefits of its democracy across the world. Ninkovich argues that Wilson’s historical interpretation of the war was not believable enough for the American public and that Americans had gone to war to defend neutral rights and to teach the Germans a lesson. Wilsonianism was at once too idealistic and too alarmist and the public did not accept Wilson’s portents of doom if the United States did not join the League. 43 Smith argues that Wilson should have emphasised America’s self interest in joining the League. The end to costly armaments, protection against a revival German imperialism, the justice and convenience of a world court and the practical non-political functions.44 Lodge identified the trend toward self-interest in the American public and encouraged the nationalism that spurred it. The American public were increasingly disillusioned with Wilson’s idealistic exhortations and the result of this would be a tragedy for American foreign policy. The broad consequence of America’s failure to ratify the Versailles treaty and join the League of Nations was an estrangement between the United States and the Allies. The United States retreated from active participation in Europe, a situation that would remain until America entered World War II. Allied confidence in the United States was undermined as the French wanted American participation to restrain a recalcitrant Germany and the British to restrain French demands.45 John W. Davis, the United States ambassador in London said that he preferred ratification with the Lodge reservations to nothing, as “this action would at least show Germany that America stood with the allies on a substantive portion of the treaty, regardless of the League of Nations.”46 The French President Clemenceau stated, “Fundamentally, so far as the
42 43

W.F. Kuehl, Seeking World Order, Nashville, 1969, p. 328. Frank A. NinKovich, The Wilsonian century: U.S. foreign policy since 1900, Chigago, 1999, p. 76. 44 Daniel Smith, The great departure; the United States and World War I, 1914-1920, New York, 1965, p. 178. 45 Lloyd E. Ambrosius, Woodrow Wilson and the American diplomatic tradition: the treaty fight in perspective, New York, 1987, p. 211. 46 Lloyd E. Ambrosius, Woodrow Wilson and the American diplomatic tradition: the treaty fight in perspective, New York, 1987, p. 215.

League of Nations itself is concerned, our ardent desire is to see America, as a result of whose initiative it came into being, make the enterprise a success.”47 Europe also noted the anti European tone present in the League of Nations debate in the United States. Wiseman, the chief adviser on American affairs in the British delegation at Versailles observed an anti British character in Republican criticisms of the League. After the election of the Republican President Harding, the United States retreated into isolation for much of the 1920s and 30s. A Neutrality Act, one of a number, was passed in 1935 and the peak of isolationism was recorded in 1937 with a Gallup Poll showing 94% being opposed to American intervention in Europe.48 Thus the Versailles Treaty and the League of Nations was defeated in the United States Senate. Lodge achieved his goal of either seeing the treaty go through with significant reservations or not go through at all by more accurately judging the public mood and inflaming its nationalism and self-interest Lodge was able to discredit Wilson and ensure that a Republican President was elected in 1920. It can be convincingly argued that Lodge did want to pass the treaty in some appropriate form but by his own actions may well have defeated this aim. Thanks to Lodge’s campaign Harding inherited a foreign policy platform that was isolationist and did not resemble in any way Lodge’s vision of America asserting itself as a great power. We have seen that Lodge’s personal dislike of Wilson, party political considerations and concerns over the text of the League of Nations covenant and its effect on America’s independence, beloved Monroe doctrine and the power of the Senate, were all factors influencing his position. He waged a campaign based on delay and negativity that Wilson was unable to counter and the result was a United States that remained inward looking like much of its history.

47 48

Ibid, p. 211. Henry J. Sage, Background to World War II:American Foreign Policy 1920-1941, http://www.sagehistory.net/worldwar2/topics/1920WWII1940.htm, accessed 14 October 2005.

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