President Wilsons righteous views of his efforts were so strong that not even the advice and urging of his closest confidants could sway his stance. While it is true that opposition forces helped to defeat the treaty, it was ultimately Wilsons stubbornness that led to its defeat in the Senate.
There were many factors that led to the initial outbreak of World War I in Europe. A constant struggle to gain the upper hand in the balance of power existed, and it resulted in the formation of many alliances between European nations. For the most part, these agreements stipulated that the nations would aid one another if one of them were to be attacked by an enemy. Eventually two distinct sides formed: the Allies and the Central Powers. The former consisted of Britain, France, Italy, and Japan, while the latter was made up of Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and what was left of the Ottoman Empire.
Nationalism was an important factor in the outbreak of war as well. The French desperately wanted revenge against Germany, as well as the return of the Alsace-Lorraine region, which Germany had seized, from them. The Germans had their own nationalism at work, as their government took great pride in the industrial growth of the country, as well as the mounting power of their military.
Conflict for power existed not only in Europe, but also because of imperialism it spread across much of the Eastern Hemisphere. First and foremost, economic rivalries had developed between Britain, Germany, and France. The two Allied members of the group were very concerned about their Central opponent, as both wished to contain Germanys territorial claims on the resource- and labor-rich continent of Africa.
But what would ultimately lead to the outbreak of the First World War was Germanys ever-increasing belief in militarism. The German military power had continued to grow as their industrial sector did the same; such power was seen as a symbol of national pride by the government. Other nations had built up their arms stockpiles as well, though they did not glorify it nearly as much as the Germans did. Nevertheless, the availability of arms, when combined with other political and economic factors, meant that a full-scale conflict was all but unavoidable.
Billions upon billions of dollars worth of resources were poured into manpower and resources in World War I, yet after millions of lives were being lost to gruesome trench warfare, little was being gained by either side; for all their toils, the Allies and Central Powers were at a stalemate. The United States, tied to British trade, and supporters of their system of democracy, broke their official neutrality policy that dated back to the days of George Washington and joined the Allied powers. U.S. support would prove to be enough of a boost to strike down the Central Powers attack, and it also signaled Americas entrance into the peace negotiations that followed.
During a speech to Congress while the war was still going on, President Woodrow Wilson introduced his Fourteen Points, which called for a new Europe and a peaceful world. Ideas expressed in the speech included a policy of open diplomacy with no secret treaties, freedom of the seas, removal of tariffs, arms reduction, fair colonial policies, as well as several boundary changes in Europe. But most important of all was point fourteen. This item called for a general association of nations for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. This association, which would come to be known as the League of Nations, was conceived by the idealistic Wilson to keep the peace after the war and to promote open diplomacy between countries of varying types of size and power. In order to maintain peace the league was to be given the authority to impose economic sanctions against offending states, and it additionally called for its member states to respect the territorial boundaries of their neighbors. All of this was to take place without the league having any power to back it up.
In late June of 1919, Wilson met with other leaders of the victorious nations, including David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemanceau of France, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. This quartet, often referred to as the Big Four, created the Treaty of Versailles with little input from any other nations. The document called for the creation of nine new nations, gave all German colonies in Africa and on the Pacific islands to the Allies, and required Germany to pay reparations of $32 billion dollars. Wilson made one of his greatest mistakes at this time, as he never consulted Congress during treaty negotiations. This effectively turned the Senate against him and made any hope of U.S. participation in the league a difficult, uphill battle.
Back in Washington, the Senate majority leader, Republican Henry Cabot Lodge, led the battle against Americas ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. Of primary concern to lodge was the fact that the League of Nations would play a large role in the United States domestic affairs. The Senate has equal power and responsibility with the president in the making of treaties, Lodge explained. They will not, in my opinion, obey the orders of the president, who undertakes to command the Senate to ratify the treaty without the reservations adopted by a large majority of the Senate, which [would] Americanize it and make it safe for the United States. Lodge essentially advocated the U.S. enforcing its will on league members, while ensuring that the league itself would not have such power over America. Lodge furthermore wanted the U.S. to be able to increase its weaponry without league approval, as well as ignore league-imposed sanctions of Congress did not support them.
The citizens of the United States were divided on their views of international relations at that time as well. Conservatives, also known as realists, defended the traditional system which relied on the aforementioned balance of power. They also believed that each state had needs and ambitions that could easily conflict with those of another, and that threats to a countrys well-being were always possible; defense of interests, people, and territory would ultimately depend on defense in war. They condemned the Treaty of Versailles; said Senator William Borax, Will anyone advocate that those matters which are of vital importance to our people shall be submitted to a tribunal created other than by our own people and give it an international army subject to its direction and control to enforce its decrees? I doubt if anyone will advocate that.
Liberals, also called internationalists, shared the view of President Wilson. They were under the impression that if proper institutions were put in place, aggressiveness among states could be stopped, and that each state standing together would discourage such aggression. Herbert Hoover supported such plans. I have the belief, he writes, that with the League once in motion it can within itself and from experience and public education develop such measures as will make it effective. Of the liberals, historian Daniel R. Brower writes, Their liberalism persuaded them that most human beings were reasonable and capable of understanding the importance of common interests shared by states and peoples internationalists proposed [to bring an end to] wars among states.
By mid-November, Wilsons hardheaded attitude had buried his cause, and there was nothing that he or any of his supporters could do to remedy the situation. If the president would not allow any form of compromise, they could only allow voting on the matter to go ahead. There were three separate votes that took place: one to ratify the treaty with Lodges reservations, another to reconsider that same vote, and finally Wilsons plan of ratification without any reservations. All of the votes failed, with Wilsons losing the worst by a 55-35 margin. The treaty with Lodges reservations was only defeated 50-41, so if Wilson had been the least bit flexible he may have been able to sway 20 or so senators to vote his way, which would at the very least set the stage for some sort of peace. Instead, Wilsons self-righteousness buried his cause.
Although his intentions were in the best interests of the worlds nations, Wilsons method of getting the Versailles Treaty ratified ultimately led to its failure of passage by his own country. Not consulting the Senate during treaty negotiations was a terrible first step, but the presidents subsequent hard-line stance and unwillingness to concede anything left no chance for the doctrine to be passed. President Wilson is solely to blame for the Versailles Treatys failure. How prophetic he was in September of 1919, when in a pro-treaty speech he said, I am obliged to come to you in mortification and shame and say I have not been able to fulfill the promise. You are betrayed. You have fought for something that you did not get.
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