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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 29

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 31

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p318  Chapter XXX
The Fight for the Covenant

First shot fired at Boston, heard around the world — Treaty and covenant one and inseparable — The round robin — Senate refused to help fix amount of reparations — The Propaganda of the bitter-enders — Lodge's reservations meant nullification of the treaty, not amending it

"I am a Covenanter." — Wilson

The first shot in the United States for the League was fired February 24, 1919, at Boston. It was truly "heard around the world."​a

The George Washington landed at Boston. The magnificent reception proved the deep interest of the American people. President Wilson's speech made a profound impression. It contained one sentence that was construed to be aimed at the Senators who afterwards came to be known as "Bitter-Enders." He said: "the people are in the saddle, and they are going to see to it that if their present governments do not do their will, some other Governments shall." In Europe the powers-that‑be, looking for a return to old alliances, had resented all his references to "the people" and his appeal to the popular conscience. The same feeling existed among Senators, and the opposition press cried out that "he was going over the head" of a co‑ordinate branch of government.

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© Western Newspaper Union

On the bridge of the George Washington

President Wilson's return from Paris after signing the Treaty of Peace with Germany was marked by a tremendous ovation which began as soon as his ship reached Quarantine and continued throughout his progress up New York Bay

The President knew there was a fight by Senators.  p319 But all through the war there had been such sincere and general response to his pledges that the fruits of war should be garnered in an association of nations for permanent peace, that he did not believe the American people could be persuaded to lose that for which their sons had fought and died. That confidence was expressed in his speech in New York, March 4, as he was going back to Paris. "The first thing I am going to tell the people on the other side of the water," he said, "is that an overwhelming majority of the American people is in favor of the League of Nations." Upon the same occasion ex-President Taft spoke and assured the country that the League would not place the Monroe Doctrine in jeopardy. Wilson was supremely confident the people were with him as the George Washington set sail. And all surface indications justified his belief. Most of the Republican newspapers and nearly all the independent papers conveyed that impression and most of them favored the principle.

Irreconcilables and Bitter-Enders, in and out of Congress, were to have their innings. They organized a campaign with appeals to the voters of German birth or blood to oppose "Wilson's League" as they called it, because he had "waged war on Germany" as they put it. They never said that always Wilson differentiated between the Imperial German Government and the German people in all his addresses and notes. They also suppressed information as to Wilson's action in Paris for a just peace that would enable Germany again to re-establish itself and meet its obligations. He looked, indeed, to seeing Germany admitted to the League of Nations in the fulness of time. Senatorial appeal by Wilson-hating Senators to the Irish was based upon the charge that Wilson had refused  p320 to demand the freedom of Ireland as a condition precedent to co‑operation with Lloyd George, never pointing out that his policy led the way to Home Rule for Ireland and made possible Ireland's becoming a member of the League of Nations. Ireland was admitted to member­ship in the League in 1923, as Wilson foresaw. The Italians in America were urged to vote against "Wilson's League" and Wilson's party because Mr. Wilson had not given Fiume to Italy. The Italian voters were not told that Wilson made possible a return of Italia Irredenta and was the true friend of Italy's best interests. The recent action by Italy and Jugo-Slavia, giving to Jugo-Slavia a port, on which Wilson insisted, has finally brought about that co‑operation between these two countries which Wilson sought to accomplish. To this propaganda, addressed to various groups, was added the fear sent into the hearts of mothers that "American boys could be sent to fight again in Europe by a super government." These various unworthy appeals came to a climax in an appeal to Republican voters that a victory for "Wilson's League" would mean another victory for the Democratic party. It was that danger more than all others which actuated that senatorial opposition. It was largely in order to let this poison propaganda get in its work that the Senate dawdled and debated through this summer and fall.

Wilson had such faith in the people's devotion to peace he could not believe the campaign to prejudice popular opinion against Covenant had possibility of success.

As Wilson was setting sail for Paris, thirty-seven Senators, more than one-third the total number, signed a "round robin" to the effect that the League of Nations  p321 Covenant "in the form now proposed to the Peace Conference should not be accepted by the United States." This was intended to weaken the influence of the President in Paris, but when he accepted certain suggestions by Taft and Root and Hughes, he believed all reasonable objections to the Covenant had been met. Practically the chief fear in America was that unless specifically incorporated in the document, the Monroe Doctrine would be abrogated. The text of Article XXI, secured by Wilson, removed such fear. It was in these words: "Nothing in this Covenant shall be deemed to affect the validity of international engagements, such as treaties of arbitration or regional understandings like the Monroe Doctrine, for securing the maintenance of peace."

Great excitement followed the unauthorized publication of the Treaty early in June, and the campaign against it was in full force when the President arrived in Washington, ready to begin his fight. On July 10 the Treaty was formally laid before the Senate with a full statement of its provisions, its purposes, and the manner in which it had been framed. The interest was so great that the Senate broke a precedent and for the first time in its history decided to receive and debate a treaty in open session. "My services and all the information I possess will be at your disposal," the President told Senators.

Wilson invited the members of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Senate to dinner at the White House. Some of the Senators made it a condition of their acceptance that what was said should not be regarded as private or confidential. That suited Wilson exactly and all that was spoken at that gathering was taken down by a stenographer. The conference, held August 19, lasted  p322 three hours. It was opened with a statement by the President and afterwards there were questions and answers and debates touching the principle and every controverted article "in the Covenant." It was a clash at close quarters of conflicting opinions. The President was never quite so much the master of any gathering in logic and brilliancy of advocacy of a cause. But from the beginning it was clear that there were Senators so committed against the treaty as to forbid the idea of agreement.

The fight was on. The Committee on Foreign Relations ordered hearings. While the Senate debate and listened to parties supposed to have information that would throw light upon the Treaty, the President started on September 3 on a speaking tour in behalf of the League, going as far west as the Pacific Coast.

He saw that nothing would influence the majority of the Senate except an overwhelming mandate from the people. This had been impressed upon him particularly by its refusal to act favorably upon his request that an American member of the Reparation Commission be appointed prior to ratification of the Peace Treaty. If the Senate had granted Wilson's request, it is the belief of the best informed men of the world that the long-drawn‑out delay in fixing the reparation Germany must pay would have been avoided. If these men are right, the occasion, or necessity, of sending French soldiers into the Ruhr valley would have been obviated and much of the trouble of these four years would not have arisen. Recently, with the approval, or the knowledge, of President Coolidge, this country accepted representation "unofficially" on the Reparation Commission in the person of General Charles G. Dawes. It has required  p323 forty-eight months to undertake by indirection the plain duty the Senate thwarted when Wilson proposed it.

The debate in the Senate and the program of poison propaganda in the country went along pari passu all the summer. From the beginning of the debate, Senator Lodge having called the League "a deformed experiment," there was a group of Senators who were bent on preventing ratification. What was not in the League they read into it. Early action was what Wilson and the shell-shocked world demanded. The Senate's answer was hearings, debate, haggle, delay, criticism, conferences, resolutions, and hostility. The treaty was laid before the Senate July 10, 1919. It was done to death by the Senate March 19, 1920. It required sixteen weeks in Paris to draft it. The senate's mañana way of deliberation required thirty-six weeks to prevent ratification.

It was not until September 10 that the report of the Foreign Relations Committee was brought formally before the Senate. It recommended ratification if accompanied by forty-six amendments. The formal reading begun September 5 was concluded October 20. All amendments submitted, including those proposed by the Foreign Relations Committee, were defeated. On November 6, Senator Lodge presented a revised list of fourteen reservations recommended by the Foreign Affairs Committee and a reservation to the preamble. The reservation to the preamble declared that "the reservations and understandings adopted by the Senate" were to be made a part of the treaty, the latter not to take effect until the reservations were accepted by at least three of the principal powers. Thirteen of the fourteen reservations received a majority vote of the Senate.

 p324  A summary of the reservations follows:

(1) The United States shall be the sole judge of fulfillment of its obligations in notice of withdrawal from the League of Nations, and notice of withdrawal shall be given by concurrent resolution of Congress.

(2) The United States assumes no obligation to protect the territorial integrity or political independence of any country or interfere in controversies between nations unless Congress, by joint resolution, shall so provide.

(3) No mandate shall be accepted by the United States except by the action of Congress.

(4) The United States reserves the right to decide what questions are within its domestic jurisdiction; declares domestic questions to be solely within its own jurisdiction; and specifically prescribes immigration, labor, coastwise traffic, the tariff, and commerce as domestic questions.

(5) Declares the Monroe Doctrine to be wholly without the jurisdiction of the League of Nations and not subject to inquiry or arbitration.

(6) The United States withholds its assent to the Shantung provisions and reserves full liberty of action with respect to any controversy growing out of them.

(7) Congress shall provide for and appoint all representatives of the United States on commissions set up under the Covenant of the League, and none other than persons so appointed shall represent the United States.

(8) Interference with trade between Germany and the United States by the Reparation Commission shall occur only with the sanction of Congress.

(9) Congress shall control all expenses of United States commissions under the League of Nations.

 p325  (10) In case of agreement to limit armaments, the United States reserves the right to increase its armament for defense or when engaged in war without consulting the Council of the League.

(11) The United States reserves the right to permit the nationals of the Covenant-breaking state to continue trading with the nationals of this country.

(12) Nothing in the Covenant or Treaty shall be taken to approve any act otherwise illegal or in contravention of the rights of citizens of the United States.

(13) The United States declines to take an interest in or responsibility for disposition of the overseas possessions of Germany relinquished under the Treaty.

(14) The United States reserves the right to decide what questions affect its honor or vital interests and refuses to submit them to arbitration. (Rejected).

Asked for his opinion as to the treaty carrying Lodge's thirteen reservations, President Wilson on November 18 wrote to Senator Hitchcock: "The resolution in that form (including the thirteen reservations) does not provide for ratification, but rather for nullification of the Treaty." He said; "I sincerely hope that the true friends and supporters of the Treaty will refuse to support and will vote against the Lodge resolution." He added: "I understand that the door will probably then be open for a genuine resolution of ratification."

The Senate failed the world.

Thayer's Note:

a This infelicitous metaphor of violence may puzzle non-Americans. The reference is to a gunshot fired — by whom, on which side, is not known — at Lexington, Massachusetts (about 15 km NW of Boston) on April 19, 1775; the encounter has been enshrined as the first engagement of the American Revolutionary War. Secretary Daniels means to imply that a successful League of Nations would have been as great a breakthru in human affairs as was the Constitution of the United States born of the American Revolution.

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