When the League of Nations was born in the mind of Wilson — Approved the Bryan "talk-it-over" treaties with thirty-one nations — Sent House to Europe before Serbian killing to sound out heads of government — A pledge to American soldiers — "We live in our vision"
"The cause of peace and the cause of truth are of one family. Whatever has been accomplished in the past is petty compared to the glory of the promise of the future." — Wilson
"We live in our vision." These words, uttered by President Wilson at Arlington Cemetery, May 30, 1915, give insight into the spiritual foundation that kept his purpose firm. "Let us go away from this place," he went on to say, "renewed in our devotion to daily duty and to those ideals which keep a nation young, keep it noble, keep it rich in enterprise and achievement; make it lead the nations of the world in those things that make for hope and for the benefit of mankind."
Wilson had approved and sent to the Senate the Bryan treaties, calling for a year to "talk it over" before war was declared, and had urged their ratification. Thirty-one nations gave approval to that excellent step toward the prevention of hasty war, such as came so suddenly in 1914. In his first annual message to Congress, December 2, 1913, the President said "It has been the privilege of the Department of State to gain p314the assent, in principle, of no less than thirty-one nations, representing four-fifths of the population of the world, to the negotiation of treaties by which it shall be agreed that whenever differences of interest or of policy arise which can not be resolved by the ordinary processes of diplomacy they shall be publicly analyzed, discussed, and reported upon by a tribunal chosen by the parties before either nation determines its course of action."
In the spring of that year he had given Colonel House a mission to sound out the authorities of Britain, France, and Germany, looking to some agreement with the United States to prevent war. Unfortunately Germany did not ratify the Bryan treaty and the Kaiser gave no welcome to the tentative plan Colonel House presented.
When was the League of Nations born in the resolve of Woodrow Wilson? It may be truly said it was the growth of long study of world conditions and conviction that the old order must give way to a new understanding between nations. From the moment Belgium was invaded a concrete league of nations was developing in his mind and he counselled with friends that it must come with peace.
In an address before the League to Enforce Peace, in Washington, May 27, 1916, President Wilson said: "The nations of the world must in some way band themselves together to see that the right prevails as against any sort of selfish aggression. It should be a universal association of nations to prevent any war begun either contrary to treaty agreements, or without warning and full submission of the causes to the opinion of mankind."
President Wilson rarely made an address which did not in some form present the idea "force will not accomplish anything that is permanent." One reason that p315early impelled him to neutrality was the belief that there should be one free nation "to assist in an association to prevent war when the fighting is over." Memorial Day, 1916, he reaffirmed his belief that the people of the United States were ready to become partners in any alliance of the nations that would guarantee public right above selfish aggression. From that time on the President lost no opportunity to stress the point that the United States should be a leader in a movement to restore a broken world. In an address delivered to the cadets graduating from West Point June 13, 1916, he said that America carried "the guiding lights of liberty and principle and justice."
In his address September 2, 1916, accepting the nomination for re-election, he pointed out "that the nations of the world must unite in joint guarantees that whatever is done to disturb the whole world's life must first be tested in the court of the whole world's opinion before it is attempted." Throughout the campaign he dwelt upon the duty of the United States to seek to promote in all ways "the interest of justice, righteousness and human government." At Indianapolis October 12, he said: "It will be the duty of America to join with the other nations of the world in some kind of league for the maintenance of peace." On numerous other occasions he repeated and emphasized the same thought.
When the United States entered the war and American youths were going to Europe by the hundreds of thousands to undergo the horrors and hardships of war and many of them to lose their lives, President Wilson's desire for some avenue by which the world might escape another such tragedy became even stronger. In his famous speech asking Congress to declare the existence p316of a state of war, he said that the object of the United States was "to vindicate the principle so peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth insure the observance of those principles."
He outlined in his address to the Senate, January 22, 1917, the essential terms of peace, giving in the large what he afterwards insisted upon in Paris and "proposing, as it were, that the nations with one accord adopt the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine of the world." Again this idea is foreshadowed in his second inaugural when he said "we wished to play the part of those who mean to vindicate and fortify peace."
"What we are striving for," he told Congress February 11, 1918, "is a new international order based upon the broad and universal principles of right and justice — no mere peace of shreds and patches." He warned thus early against "the method of the Congress of Vienna," which some Americans were willing to follow in Paris. He knew that in its sordid decisions lay the seeds of the great struggle that called the world to war in 1914, and that it was the unworthiest assemblage of men who ever undertook a mighty task.
Just two days before setting sail for the Peace Conference, addressing Congress December 2, after reviewing America's glorious part in the war, President Wilson announced that the goal of permanent peace was near. "And now," he said, "we are sure of the great triumph for which every sacrifice was made. It has come, come in its completeness, and with the pride and inspiration of those days of achievement quick within us we turn to the p317task of peace again — peace secure against the violence of irresponsible monarchs and ambitious military coteries — and make ready for a new order, for new foundations of justice and fair dealing.
"We are about to give order and organization to this peace not only for ourselves but for the other peoples of the world as well, so far as they will suffer us to serve them. It is international justice that we seek, not domestic safety merely."
Wilson went to Paris not to take part in a mere treaty of peace such as followed the Napoleonic and other wars. Any commission could arrange terms. He went on to "make ready for a new order" and to translate the hopes of two thousand years into a working organization. He did not suppose he had originated the noble conception. Undertakings having the same object in view had been seen in almost every century. He said he was only a "servant of humanity" seeking practical ways to end war.
At Mount Vernon on July 4, Mr. Wilson elaborated his theory for the creation of a League of Nations, declaring America was fighting for "the establishment of an organization of peace which shall make it certain that the combined powers of free nations will check every invasion of right and serve to make peace and justice the more secure by affording a definite tribunal of opinion to which all must submit and by which every international readjustment that cannot be amicably agreed upon by the peoples directly concerned shall be sanctioned."
The vision became reality.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
Life of Wilson
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 16 Aug 08