Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson, The League of Nations, and the Failure of an American Congress

12 Aug

Woodrow Wilson

The world vision held by President Woodrow Wilson and his plan for American leadership in a newly formed League of Nations – Wilson’s sweeping organizational construct designed to prevent future world wars, ultimately did not include the United States as a member due to Congressional failure to vote approval for the Treaty of Versailles, Covenant of the League of Nations, in 1920.[1] This failure, while devastating to the intellectual and intense Wilson, falls squarely on the shoulders of a man, who, while an idealist in pursuit of securing future peace through self-determination amidst growing world nationalism, could not tolerate the views of others who opposed his own.[2] In 1921, the noted historian Charles Seymour, in commenting on Wilson’s perceived failures, along with his idealism, observed that “Like the prophets of old, like Luther or Mazzini, he [Wilson] lacked the capacity for carrying to practical success the ideal which he preached.”[3] It was in Wilson’s failure of compromise at home, to win Republican support in the Senate by including them in the American delegation to Paris in 1919 that led to a weak newly created League of Nations – one that did not include the United States.

This research paper will explore the breakdown in support of Wilson and his League of Nations; that is, the collapse in the political decision-making process required for ratification of the Treaty and US entry into the League. Furthermore, this paper will support the thesis that the American President was true to his ideals during the Great War and its closure; that it was the failure of the US Senate, and not Wilson that led to a weakened League of Nations – and contrast the current perspective for his vindication in contemporary historical thought. It was this rejection by the Senate that led to non-entry into the League of Nations; and, a weaker League that failed to lead a directed course in the years following the Great War. Enforcement of world stability and peace would have been the duty of a strong, US-led League of Nations – the role of enforcer, to include the “promise of disarmament and collective protection,” one that Wilson claimed a collective security system would have achieved in a war to end all wars.[4] Wilson has been portrayed as the obstinate, uncompromising bumbler who, in the position of twenty-eighth president of the United States, made numerous missteps that led to an unstable new world order and far greater historic tragedies – when it was the failure of a small American coterie led by republican Senator from Massachusetts, Henry Cabot Lodge, along with former US president Theodore Roosevelt.

Topics to be explored include the Treaty of Versailles and Article X, Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the Supplementary Points, the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and Wilson’s ancillary actions in Europe, and finally the League of Nations and the failure to gain approval for America’s inclusion.

Historians have the luxury of looking back upon events, people, and places, in order to reconstruct the past to test and fit new theories and hypotheses. Caretakers of these histories are taught to do so without prejudice, or bias – but in doing so perspective of debate can be lost. The historical impact left by the Treaty of Versailles and Wilson’s influence on the world is examined today. Literature from historians such as Arthur S. Link, suggests that it was the failure of Allied nations to halt the rise of future dictators – not the punitive constructs of the Treaty of Versailles which led to their rise. Critics of Wilson contend that the Treaty and its verbiage paved the way for the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy, and Japanese aggression in China – all untrue.[5] John Milton Cooper, Jr., in Woodrow Wilson: A Biography advises that it was the Treaty of Versailles and its effects that led to ill feelings among Germany, Italy, and Japan was the impetus for Wilson’s design of the League of Nations – a forum to resolve issues as opposed to another war.[6] Link, former Director and Editor of “The Papers of Woodrow Wilson” at Princeton University, closed his masterpiece Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace by concluding that

the American people, and other peoples, learned the lesson that Wilson taught in 1919 and 1920, but at a fearful cost. And it is Wilson the prophet and pivot of the twentieth century who survives in history, in the hopes and aspirations of mankind for a peaceful world, and in whatever ideals of international service that the American people still cherish. One thing is certain, now that nations have the power to sear virtually the entire face of the earth: The prophet of 1919-1920 was right in his vision; the challenge that he raised then is no less urgent than it was in his own time.[7]

While former Princeton professor and distinguished historian Link’s quote is accurate, if not dramatic, Wilson was indeed prophetic in his assertion for the necessity of a strong League of Nations, structured by the Treaty of Versailles as it covenant. History can now affirm this with certainty and the benefit of historical retrospection. Princeton University was said to have distanced itself from Link, while Director and Editor of Wilson’s Papers, due to his later, and more favorable, revisions and thoughts on Wilson’s presidency and the League of Nations.

Henry Cabot Lodge & Theodore Roosevelt
Lodge and Roosevelt were the two leading Republican opponents to Democrat President Wilson in his fight for the Treaty of Versailles and US entry into the League of Nations. Their partnership led the way for the failures of Wilson.

Henry Cabot Lodge
In September of 1904, Lodge, in speaking to the upcoming presidential election (Lodge supporting the incumbent Theodore Roosevelt), wrote that “The argument here is that the party in control of government should be continued in its control because it is at this moment dealing with the same questions which it has been dealing with for the last eight years, and that if it remains in power it will go on dealing with these identical questions in precisely the same manner.”[8] This statement written by Lodge reveals that he, and his political stance, steadfast along party lines, an unbending, northern Republican senator who was an uncompromising leader. Lodge had attacked Wilson on this trait throughout the Treaty review process by the Senate.

The differences between Lodge and Woodrow Wilson ran deeper than those of politics; Lodge, a northerner harboring anti-South sentiments and ideals; while Wilson, a southern gentleman, born into a deeply religious family – each born and raised during the period of the Reconstruction Era, had innate differences that also positioned them as political opposites. Lodge spoke to the “political Civil War” he was still fighting, in his mind, in 1904: “The ruling element in the Democratic party, both in the Senate and House, is furnished by the South, and Southern Senators and Representatives are elected exclusively on a single issue, that of race, which is not an existent question in the Congress of the United States. The result is that the ruling element of the Democratic party in Washington is chosen to office on a wholly irrelevant issue.”[9] Lodge clearly had differing ideals from that of Wilson, as exemplified above – ideals that clouded his judgment in working through discussions of the Treaty and League. Interestingly, Lodge’s self-titled article, quoted above, from 1904 is “Why Theodore Roosevelt Should Be Elected President.”

Theodore Roosevelt
Lodge’s fellow Harvard alum, and anti-Wilson critic, Roosevelt, went on to win re-election in the 1904 presidential campaign. In 1912, after failing to win the Republican Party’s lead by blocking President Taft’s nomination, he launched his Bull Moose Party in a bid for the presidency that failed against Wilson’s Democrat Party.

Roosevelt was later empowered in his criticisms of Wilson after the Republicans took control of the House and Senate as a result of the 1918 elections. The Republican majority in the House was now 238 to 193, while the party won twelve Senate seats giving them a two-vote majority.[10] Roosevelt, now actively undermining the leadership of Wilson, told British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour that “In any free country, except the United States, the result of the Congressional elections on November 5th would have meant Mr. Wilson’s retirement from office and return to private life. He demanded a vote of confidence. The people voted a want of confidence.”[11] This was an egregious and disrespectful statement on Roosevelt’s’ part – particularly from a former president, and well-respected US Army officer.

On October 24, 1918, Roosevelt sent a telegram to Senators Lodge, Miles Poindexter, and Hiram Johnson urging the Senate to demand Germany’s unconditional surrender and “declare against the adoption in their entirety” of the Fourteen Points. “Let us dictate peace by the hammering of guns, and not chat about peace to the accompaniment of the clicking of typewriters…. so thoroly [sic] mischievous were the Fourteen Points that they held the potential to bring about the conditional surrender of the United States.”[12] This act on the part of Lodge and the others was printed in newspapers across the country.

To make matters worse for Wilson, Roosevelt communicated to Allied leaders David Lloyd George of Britain and Georges Clemenceau of France, in November of 1918, advising “them to disregard Wilson and impose a harsh peace on Germany.” Roosevelt told Balfour: “[His party stood] for absolute loyalty to France and England in the peace negotiations … to stand with the allies at the Peace Conference and present an undivided front to the world.”[13] This was a bizarre statement by Roosevelt; when taken at face-value, the assertion proved the US was anything but an “undivided front.”

Lodge and Roosevelt in concert
While Roosevelt was undermining his president in the press and by telegram, Lodge was doing the same in person. He visited the British and French embassies to tell the envoys that they should not follow Wilson’s lead in dealing with Germany. Cooper notes that “If the party situation had been reversed, if the Republicans had been in power, particularly if Roosevelt had been president, he and Lodge would have damned such actions as treason.”[14] Cooper concludes that the British and French did not comply with Lodge’s advice, aware that they had to continue to work with Wilson. The question must be raised at this point – why were Lodge or Roosevelt not censured for their treasonous overtures? In David M. Kennedy’s Over Here: The First World War and American Society, the author highlights the obvious shame that should be accorded Lodge and others: “He [Lodge] and other Republicans had sought since the spring of 1917 to find a means to turn the crisis to their political advantage…. ‘The fact is, we should run the risk of defeating our own ends if we made the attacks on Wilson that we all want to make. We must give no opening for the charge that we are drawing the party line and the cry that we are not loyal to the war. We have to proceed cautiously.’ ”[15]

It has been suggested by Thomas Fleming, in The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I, that personal animosities Lodge had for Wilson may have been attributed to the death of his (Lodge’s) son-in-law, US Representative Augustus “Gus” Gardner, a 52-year old reserve US Army officer who died of pneumonia while in a training billet at Camp Wheeler, Georgia on January 14, 1918. Gardner, then a Captain, was called-up to active duty; a move which, was suspect not only due to his age, but also because he was adamant in his demand, as Representative, for better preparedness among the Armed Services. He had advised Wilson’s Secretary that Joe Tumulty that 10,000 new draftees had arrived at Camp Wheeler – 7,000 of whom had no overcoats or experience in sleeping outdoors. Gardner also let Tumulty know that disease and pneumonia was rampant within the camp.[16] With no historical evidence to substantiate a claim that Wilson had an influence in Gardner’s call to active duty, this can only be a historical “footnote,” but is worth noting in light of the irresoluble political relationship between Lodge and Wilson. Fleming’s Illusion of Victory is fraught with bias against Wilson and his presidency; and, it is added to the bibliography to offer contrarian opinions.

It is obvious from the literature that both Lodge and Roosevelt were instrumental in leading the Republicans against Wilson in his nearly impossible tasks as wartime president. The influence of the unpatriotic and treasonous acts committed by Lodge was not lost on Wilson’s wife, Edith, after his passing: “When her husband died on February 3, 1924, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge was chosen by the Senate to head a delegation to the funeral. Edith wrote the senator a letter, telling him not come because his presence would be ‘embarrassing to you and unwelcome to me.’”[17] Lodge, in sullying the reputation of Wilson, had destroyed his own along the way … always to be remembered as the senator who defamed a president during his country’s darkest hour.

Challenges to the Treaty of Versailles and Article X
Although the Treaty was well-received throughout the numerous meetings and sessions during the Paris Peace Conference by the Council of Ten, the challenge awaiting Wilson upon his return to America and a divided Senate was another defining chapter in his presidency.[18] Article X of the Covenant was the fiercely disputed question within the Senate for it was thought to place the United States in a perilous position as a League member. Lodge and others were firm in their belief that only Congress could vote for war; an international organization such as a League of Nations could not determine whether or not the US would join other members in war against another nation. For Wilson however, Article X was the core of the Covenant, and essential for the League to function successfully. Lodge, bolstered by his new position as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was continuing his attempts at undermining Wilson in his report to the Committee:

Lodge [Republican Senator Henry Cabot] proposed to limit the American pledge to defend other nations against aggression, and to make that pledge in any case contingent on congressional approval. Though this was a technical point that might, if accepted, have had little impact on America’s relation to the League, it struck a sensitive Wilsonian nerve. Lodge’s reservation on Article X, Wilson thought, compromised America’s moral commitment to make the new body of work soundly; it was a “knife thrust at the heart of the treaty.”[19]

For Wilson, fatigued by an unrelenting international itinerary, subsequent domestic schedule and declining health, the impending revisions by Lodge were the beginning of the downward spiral for both the Treaty and the President. The essential point to the conflict between Wilson, Lodge, the revisionists, and the un-swayed majority may have been one of interpretation of Article X. Kendrick A. Clements writes in Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman that Wilson understood the intricacies and implications of Article X, and his interpretation differed from that of his opponents. Wilson’s critics argued that the league could force members to commit military or economic aid. Wilson differed on this point:

Wilson’s interpretation of the obligation was clear to him but obscure to almost everyone else. He pointed out that the council of the league could not recommend sanctions without a unanimous vote, thus giving the United States a veto, and he added even if the council voted sanctions, “the unanimous vote of the council is only advice in any case. Each government is free to reject if it pleases.”[20]

Wilson’s view of this obligation under Article X was one of moral compulsion rather than legal authority as Clements notes. The President’s idealism resurfaces throughout Article X, but while not open to compromise from Wilson, should not have led to the Treaty’s delay in ratification and final defeat. Lodge was incorrect on this point. Thomas J. Knock, in To End all Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order, points out that “It is still a major point of historical contention whether he [Lodge] wished, like the irreconcilables, to kill the League entirely, or merely to make it ‘safe’ for the United States. Most scholars lean towards the former explanation.”[21] This invites the significant question of partisan politics – Lodge as Republican in defiance of a Democrat president….  In speaking on the perils of a League “crippled by reservations” to a crowd in St. Louis on his epic cross-country rail tour, to gather support for the Covenant Wilson the prophet emerged. He had this to say: “And there would come, ‘sometime, in the vengeful Providence of God, another struggle in which, not a few hundred thousand men from America will have to die, but as many millions as are necessary to accomplish the final freedom of the peoples of the world.’ ”[22] Wilson recognized completely the League’s role and his own place in history. Prior to his ascendency as President of Princeton, Wilson had taught history at the university, feasibly giving him a greater understanding and self-awareness of his political self. The history and literature suggests that he possessed a far greater sense of the impact on history of the League’s purpose than did Lodge, or the League’s other detractors.

Wilson’s Concept for the League of Nations
Wilson’s genesis for the League began in 1914, in a conversation with his brother-in-law Stockton Axson. In this dialogue, he spoke of four key points in response to the new war: “1. There must never again be a foot of ground acquired by conquest. 2. It must be recognized in fact that the small nations are on an equality of rights with the great nations. 3. Ammunition must be manufactured by governments and not by individuals. 4. There must be some sort of an association of nations wherein all shall guarantee the territorial integrity of each.”[23] Item number three notwithstanding, the brief list by Wilson was a cohesive set of beliefs similar to what Link called the collective values and plans of fellow “international liberals.”[24]

Lodge, Wilson’s adversary, was a conservative who held beliefs similar to those of another critic of the President – Theodore Roosevelt. It is at this early stage that the differences between political ideals develop for the Covenant’s Article X confrontation. Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig in Decisions for War, 1914-1917, note that the aforementioned Lodge and Roosevelt thought Wilson acted late in joining the Allies and with the wrong motives: “To them, Wilson’s critics, led by Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, correctly recognized America’s strategic interest in an Allied victory and wanted to do whatever they could to assure that outcome to the war.” This opposing viewpoint and anti-Wilson stance by Hamilton and Herwig frames the decision-making process to the concept of Great War leadership by “coterie,” and assumes that Wilson did not have an understanding of the concept of a strategic interest for America. The authors add that “Even when the president did the right thing by their lights, they saw him as acting perilously late, when the Allies were teetering on the brink of disaster, and having the wrong justifications.”[25] Again, the assumption here is that the president could not grasp the magnitude of the fighting in Europe. The literature does in fact suggest that Wilson was acting in many instances alone – assimilating information, and making the decisions for war, when he deemed appropriate.

Had Wilson been able to comprehend the necessity for unified Senate support for the Covenants within the Treaty – accepting compromise with those whose views opposed his own, there might have been a final vote in favor of agreement resulting in United States active leadership and participation in the League of Nations.

Wilson’s Fourteen Points & their Impact
Wilson’s Fourteen Points Address was read on the eighth day of January 1918; the beginning of talks with Germany and their agreement to an armistice was the fortuitous result for Wilson. As Link noted, Germany responded to Wilson and not the Allied governments; the impact of Wilson’s skill, though controversial, needs no elucidation. [26] The countervailing dissent continued between Wilson and others at this juncture – it is important to add here. Roosevelt and others in the US wanted a definitive victory over Germany, a “crushing defeat,”[27] as opposed to Wilson’s oft-quoted concept of “peace without victory.”

Wilson had hopes that the Fourteen Points address would draw the Russian Bolshevik faction back to negotiating terms with the Allies rather than Germany. Furthermore, the address sought to rally liberals, socialists, and other war-weary constituents among the Allied nations – with Germany as the primary focus.

It is necessary to examine the Fourteen Points and their implications.

The Fourteen Points
The First Point, while general in nature, promised open diplomacy and set the tone for the agreement: “I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in public view.”[28]

An example of Wilsonian idealism, this point was the opening stanza to a poem that had Paris and others in Europe hailing him a hero – one who could lead the world from the conflagration of war. This point speaks to Wilson’s ideal of no entangled alliances – also referred to as a “general point” by Arthur S. Link.[29]

The Second Point; one that created the economic “tempest in a teapot” for Wilson, addresses the wanton murder of civilians and unarmed merchant ships by German U-boats: “II. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.”[30]

The Second Point addresses for the first time the phrase “enforcement,” one that commits League members to action – a point with which Lodge vehemently disagreed throughout. Lodge would lead the Senate in its failure to approve the Treaty on this point. The US could not relinquish its decision to approve war to an independent organization. Thomas Fleming observed that much of what Wilson was proposing was contradictory. He writes that “The president said he was for absolute freedom of the seas. He nevertheless permitted the British to strangle American commerce with Europe in the name of their infamous blockade and abandoned freedom of the seas along with the rest of the Fourteen Points at the peace conference.”[31]

The Third Point; one that points to Wilson’s own alliance to nationalism protects American trade interests abroad and the US economy: “III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.”[32]

David Stevenson notes in Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy that “the third point meant not free trade (the United States itself being highly protectionist) but lower and non-discriminatory tariffs.”[33] Wilson knew of the potential that America’s economy held in the post-war global economy. Allied indebtedness would constitute potent bargaining tools Wilson advised – a boon for America’s shipbuilding industry and merchant fleet business. The war ended too soon for this to become a reality however; the American shipbuilding industry and merchant fleets reaching capacity too late to be an economic bargaining chip for Wilson. The British still held a naval advantage over the US – their merchant fleet was still the world’s largest; and, the AEF and its two-million plus service members still in France might be left there should any competition for shipping business begin. This was an economic balance Wilson had to take caution in managing, in his immediate post-war agenda.[34]

The Fourth Point; one that was to be most critical to Germany: “IV: Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.”[35]

The Fourth Point is a key point to the countless attackers on Wilson and the League. John Milton Cooper, Jr., in Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, offers that “Their settlement would come to bear the stigma of ‘the peace that failed.’ In the eyes of many future interpreters, much of the blame for the failure would fall on Wilson’s head: he had not prevented the Allies from exacting vengeance and dividing the spoils, and he had compounded these iniquities with lofty rhetoric and excessive reliance on the feeble, doomed instrument of the League of Nations.”[36]

By stripping Germany of armaments in this Fourth Point, and in the Treaty of Versailles itself, Wilson’s detractors perceiveded this as an error – an impetus towards the future for Germany.

The Fifth Point: “V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty, the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.”[37]

It is here in the Fifth Point that we again see conflict between Wilson and Lodge. Wilson had in mind the idea of an international trusteeship as a means of doing away with colonialism. More specifically, Wilson’s overt intent in the Fifth Point was to strip Germany of her colonies. In a bizarre twist, Wilson proposed placing these German colonies in a trust to be administered by the League.[38] Furthermore, the former German colonies were to have been governed by small nations under League supervision. There was no possible path to victory for Wilson on this idea. He was successful however in seeing that the former German colonies would be governed under a specific mandate as directed by the League to those governments awarded the colonies.[39]

The Sixth Point, called for the German evacuation of Russia and the right of the Russian people to determine their own political and national sovereignty:

VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.[40]

Arthur S. Link and other historians agree that the Sixth Point was essential to any peace agreement, and was met with little or no resistance by Lodge, or other republicans within the Senate. This was clearly a concern for Wilson and lauded, of course, by Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin; a significant complication, as Russia had positioned the Allies in an intractable predicament by their signing the Brest-Litovsk Treaty with Germany. Under its provisions, Russia gave Germany land and resources in Poland in exchange for peace; a peace Russia needed in the midst of its revolution. This new peace freed hundreds of thousands of German troops who were sent to the Western Front in France.

The Seventh Point, addressing Belgium, was another essential element to the record. It said:

VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.[41]

Belgium had suffered greatly at the hands of its German occupiers during the war. From livestock to machinery, the country was stripped of nearly all of its resources; leaving in its wake in 1919, a devastating unemployment rate of 80 percent. The Council of Four (Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Orlando, and Wilson) had agreed to give Belgium four hundred square miles of land between Eupen and Malmedy; and, monetary compensation of $500 million, once Germany was able to pay.[42]

The Eighth Point, and perhaps one of the more over-arching elements in the document, aside from Germany, spoke to French concerns. It stated: “VIII. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.”[43]

Language in this point was at issue here – the ambiguity around “should,” is an object of controversy for historians, as well as those concerned with the effects of the Eighth Point. The Point should have been worded more precisely by Wilson. Link wrote that “must” rather than “should” would have been more effective. As it was written, the implication was that the issue was negotiable.[44]  Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France.

The Ninth Point, addressing the boundaries and nationality of Italy: “IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.”[45]

Wilson was an ineffective arbiter on this point  – in view of Italy’s desire for more territory. Italy held a much different view, however, of the American president; feelings of betrayal at the Peace talks led to much negative press for Wilson in Italy. In question were lands promised Italy in 1915 – spoils promised them for fighting on the side of Entente.[46] Arthur S. Link notes that “Italy had entered the war on the Allied side in 1915 under the terms of the Treaty of London, which promised Italy the Austrian Trentino to the Brenner Pass, the district of Trieste, the Dalmation coast south of the port of Fiume, and other territories.”[47]

As a tactic to gain support through consensus in Europe, Wilson appealed to the masses of Italy in hopes of persuading them to renounce her claim to Fiume. His argument to the Italian people was that the Treaty of London was in-place to protect Italy from Austria-Hungary, and since that empire was no longer in existence, the treaty was no longer valid. Wilson’s misjudgment here was in not engaging Italy’s Premier Vittorio Orlando in the process. Orlando, who abruptly left the Paris talks upon learning of Wilson’ s efforts. David M. Kennedy writes that upon Orlando receiving an overwhelming vote of confidence by the Italian Senate, the Italian people had soured on Wilson: “In the streets of Italy, the people covered with cloth the plaques and tablets they had erected only weeks earlier  in Wilson’s honor.”[48]

The Paris Peace talks were ultimately a failure for Italy – as well as Wilson, with the country receiving no share of Germany’s colonies after their early departure from the conference. Of greater consequence for Wilson was the view held by his critics of the Fiume impasse. The stalemate was viewed by the opponents of Wilsonian ideals as a “betrayal of the promise of self-determination” for Fiume and Italy.[49]

The Tenth of Wilson’s Fourteen Points concerned Austria-Hungary: “X. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.”[50]

Wilson had been harshly criticized for his role on Austria-Hungary in the aftermath of the war. Link writes that Wilson was not responsible for the destruction of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; that, in fact, he, Wilson had amended the Fourteen Points to include the new state of Czechoslovakia that did exist by the time the Paris Peace Conference began.[51]

The Eleventh of Wilson’s Fourteen Points spoke to the status and relations of Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro: “XI: Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territory restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic  independence  and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be  entered into.”[52]

Wilson’s idealistic tones in the Eleventh Point failed to take into account the mix of ethnicities and recent history among the peoples living in the Balkans; and, again left in the vagueness of “should” as opposed to “must.”

The Twelfth Point of the Fourteen Points concerned the future of Turkey and the remnants of the Ottoman Empire: “XII. The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.”[53]

The future of the Ottoman Empire was to take shape following Wilson’s Address. In the summer of 1918, Ottoman leaders indicated they would accept autonomy for the non-Turkish parts of the empire. Accepting the Fourteen Points, Turkey agreed to demobilize its few remaining combatants, and open the Straits (that passage between the Black and Aegean Seas). The Empire was all but destroyed; military and civilian deaths ranged from 1.5 and 2.5 million – the majority from famine and disease as opposed to battle-inflicted wounds. By the fall of 1918, the army, which began with 2.85 million men, had just 560,000 fighters remaining. David Stevenson writes that because of negotiating errors the Turks, desperate for peace, eventually conceded more.[54]

The Thirteenth Point, and key for Poland: “XIII. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.”[55]

In Paris, the question of Poland’s future and impact for Europe was a hot topic for France and Britain. To the French, a strong Poland would support the containment of future German expansionism and the growing influence of Bolshevism. Britain’s Lloyd George had similar concerns; the balance of territory, and its peoples, between Germany and Poland was seen as a portent for future crisis concerning the two countries. The new Poland, as it became, was a multi-national country with a large German population; of which, Lloyd George foresaw as trouble for Germany and Europe.[56]

Wilson, now suffering more frequently from exhaustion, was reticent once more to make any changes to the Treaty, as requested by Lloyd George and Georg Clemenceau, with respect to Poland. His one concession was to order a plebiscite to determine the destiny of Upper Silesia. Ultimately, it was the territories returned to the new Poland that created the most angst for Germany.

The Fourteenth and final Point stated: “XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”[57]

The closing Point by Wilson was in place to summarize the intention of good will the League asserted in Germany’s surrender. While each of the Fourteen Points was criticized for idealism, vagueness, or impracticality, the document in its entirety was undeniably successful in bringing about the surrender of Germany. Link summarized Wilson’s success as such: “It would be almost superfluous to remark upon the impact and importance of the Fourteen Points Address. It immediately became the moral standard to which liberals, labor leaders, and Socialists in the United States and Europe rallied.”[58] Wilson and the Fourteen Points address will stand as a defining event in the history of the Great War – an event and document so imperfect, yet so momentous, that historians are divided as to the eminence of Wilson’s legacy.

Wilson’s Supplementary Points
In the weeks following Wilson’s Fourteen Points Address, the President had given three more speeches that had addressed and expanded upon his original Address. The German government’s request to Wilson for an armistice was in response to all of his war addresses.

The three supplementary addresses that followed the original fourteen are as follows:
From Wilson’s February 11th  (1918) Four Points Address to Congress; the response to German Chancellor Count Georg F. von Hertling Reichstag speech – four principles by which peace talks may continue: “justice should govern the settlement of all issues; peoples should not be bartered and sold in the discredited game of balance of power; every territorial settlement should be made for the benefit of the peoples involved; and all well-defined national aspirations should be accorded satisfaction insofar as possible.” It was essential at this time for Wilson to respond to Hertling’s statement that Germany was: moving forward with their treaty with Russia; not about to return Alsace-Lorraine to France; and continue to remain vague concerning Belgium.[59]

Upon Germany’s renewed military push on the Western Front, Wilson again appealed to Germany and the world in his Four Additional Points at Mount Vernon of July 4 (1918):

I. The destruction of every arbitrary power anywhere… [or] its reduction to virtual impotence. II. The settlement of every question … upon the basis of the free acceptance of that settlement by the people immediately concerned … III. The consent of all nations to be governed … by the same principles of honour and respect that govern individual citizens of all modern states … IV. The establishment of an organization of peace which shall make it certain that the combined power of free nations will … serve to make peace and justice the more secure.[60]

Following the summer crisis with the intensified fighting on the Western Front, and America’s increased troop involvement, came Wilson’s last speech before the end of the war, in New York City on September 27 (1918). The Five Additional Points, which expanded upon the July points:

Equal justice should be done to all peoples in the peace settlement; that special interests should not be permitted to override the common interest; that there should be no special understandings within the general family of the league of nations; that there should be no selfish economic combinations or any form of economic coercion within the league, except as a means of preventing aggression; and that all international agreements should be made known in their entirety to the rest of the world.[61]

Determined to end the war amid cries for complete victory and a march to Berlin, Wilson was successful in securing Germany’s surrender on November 11th.

Points Summarization
Clements, in summarizing the challenge historians may find in researching the sixty-nine volumes of Papers in “The Papers of Woodrow Wilson and the Interpretation of the Wilson Era,” wrote that “History is a collaborative enterprise between the documentary record and the historian who brings to it new questions and new perspectives.”[62] That historians construe Wilson’s Fourteen Points as either failure or triumph is inconsequential – what endures is the epic geo-political struggle brought about the end of the Great War. Much of the literature on Wilson, the Fourteen Points, and the Senate’s rejection of the Treaty casts a damning shadow on the President; drawing neat inferences benefitted from the luxury of both hindsight and time – time that Wilson and combatants knew precious.

Wilson recognized that for America to have a seat at the Paris Peace Conference, the United States must have been an active belligerent during the war. He indicated that had America not participated in the war, the most they could have hoped for in Paris was a chance at “peeking through a crack in the door.” Wilson’s decision to not include Republican or Senate representation at Paris was regarded as a disastrous miscalculation along the path to ultimate Congressional rejection of American entry into the League of Nations. This is undeniable. What remains for history to determine is the estimation of Wilson and his impact on the future as he saw it.

Wilson was far too ill from his stroke to understand Lodge’s reservation and act on a compromise of Article X, in late 1919. When the Senate compromises came up for their final vote on March 19, 1920, it was too late. Arthur S. Link, in answering the question of why Wilson refused to accept the compromise when the agreement was so close, writes that

Dr. Weinstein has described the effects of the devastating stroke on Wilson’s personality and perceptions at this time. He is convinced that, had Wilson been in full health, he would have found the formula to reconcile the differences between the Lodge and Hitchcock reservations. There is a great deal of evidence to support this hypothesis. When Wilson made his decision, on November 17, to reject the Lodge reservation, he was still a very sick man. His mind could function well in certain circumstances, but his whole emotional balance had been shattered. He was sick, petulant, and rigid.[63]

John Milton Cooper, Jr., adds: “Wilson had blocked every effort at compromise, and only his active intransigence prevented more Democrats from voting for the treaty with the Lodge reservations…. The outbreak of another world war almost exactly twenty years after the ceremony in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles would lead many people to elevate Wilson to the stature of a prophet whose words had gone unheeded.”[64] This best summarizes the tragic figure and legacy for Wilson – he was right all along … and no one would listen.

Arthur S. Link proposes and answers the question of Wilson’s legacy most succinctly, “Did Wilson fail at Paris?: ‘it makes a great deal of difference whether one judges Wilson’s work by absolute so-called moral standards, or whether one views what he did while remembering the obstacles that he faced, the pressures under which he labored, what was possible and what impossible to achieve at the time, and what would have happened had he not been present at the conference.’ ”[65] Link’s statement is both accurate and profound.

What must also be considered are the ramifications had Wilson elected to keep America out of the war? Or, what would the League of Nations have looked like had America joined, but with an altered Article X, as Lodge and others had called for? The answer to the former is unthinkable and would have resulted in complete tragedy for Europe. Wilson was correct to make the decision for war when he did. In response to the latter; the League would not have been effective with a US member that could not promptly commit to fulfill its obligation. As Link affirmed, Wilson faced innumerable obstacles – most notably the attacks led by Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt.

In attempting the improbable task of single-handedly crafting an end to the Great War, Wilson designed a roadmap for the countries of the world to co-exist void of conflict;  that he may have failed as many have said is true – however, few would have undertaken that same task, and achieved a different result. In the end, the heart of the world was broken.


Clements, Kendrick A. “The Papers of Woodrow Wilson and the Interpretation of the Wilson Era.” The History Teacher  Vol. 27, No. 4 (August 1994): 475-489 [accessed June 29, 2012]

———. Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman. Chicago: Ivan R. Lee, 1987. Page references are to the 1999 edition.

Cooper, John Milton, Jr. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography. New York: Knopf, 2009.

Fleming, Thomas A. The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I. New York: Basic Books, 2003. Page references are to the 2004 edition.

Hamilton, Richard F. and Holger H. Herwig. Decisions for War, 1914-1917. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Herring, Pendleton. “Woodrow Wilson: Then and Now.” American Political Science Association Vol. 7, No. 3 (Summer 1974): 256-259 [accessed June 29, 2012]

Kennedy, David M. Over Here: The First World War and American Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980. Page references are to the 2004 edition.

Knock, Thomas J. To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995.

Link, Arthur S. Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 1979.

Lodge, Henry Cabot. “Why Theodore Roosevelt should be Elected President”. North American Review Vol. 179, No. 574 (September 1904): 321-330 [accessed July 4, 2012]

MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. New York: Random House, 2003.

Meyer, G.J. A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914-1918. New York: Bantam Dell, 2006.

Seymour, Charles. Woodrow Wilson and the World War- A Chronicle of Our Own Times. Lexington: Fili-Quarian Classics, 2010. First published 1921 by Yale University Press.

Stevenson, David. Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy. Cambridge: Basic Books, 2005.

Strachan, Hew. The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. Page references are to the 2000 edition.

“The Treaty of Versailles,” accessed July 5, 2012,


[1] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1985) 127.

[2] Pendleton Herring, “Woodrow Wilson: Then and Now.” American Political Science Association 7, No. 3 (Summer 1974): 256-259 [accessed June 29, 2012] 258.

[3] Charles Seymour, Woodrow Wilson and the World War: A Chronicle of our own Times (Lexington: Fili-Quarian Classics, 2010. First published 1921 by Yale University Press) 128.

[4] Strachan, Hew, The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 292.

[5] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1985) 103.

[6] John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 2009) 498.

[7] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 128.

[8] Lodge, Henry Cabot. “Why Theodore Roosevelt should be Elected President”. North American Review Vol. 179, No. 574 (September 1904): 321-330 [accessed July 4, 2012] 323-324.

[9] Ibid. 328.

[10] John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 2009) 447.

[11] Ibid., 448.

[12] Thomas J. Knock, To End all Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) 176.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 448

[15] David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 233.

[16] Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003) 154-155.

[17] Ibid., 488.

[18] Thomas J. Knock, To End all Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) 226.

[19] David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 362.

[20] Kendrick A. Clements, Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1999) 219.

[21] Thomas J. Knock, To End all Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) 257-258.

[22] Ibid., 262.

[23] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 74.

[24] Ibid., 72-73.

[25] Richard F. Hamilton and Holger H. Herwig, Decisions for War, 1914-1917 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004) 203.

[26] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 86.

[27] John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 2009) 453.

[28] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 495.

[29] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 83.

[30] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 495.

[31] Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003) 474.

[32] Ibid.

[33] David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy (Cambridge: Basic Books, 2005) 319.

[34] David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 332-333.

[35] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 495.

[36] John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 2009) 496.

[37] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 495.

[38] Thomas J. Knock, To End all Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992) 203.

[39] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 92.

[40] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 496.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., 277-278

[43] Ibid.

[44] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 83.

[45] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 496.

[46] Thomas Fleming, The Illusion of Victory: America in World War I (New York: Basic Books, 2003) 357.

[47] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 93.

[48] David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) 357.

[49] Kendrick A. Clements, Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1999) 209.

[50] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 496.

[51] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 95.

[52] Margaret McMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2003) 496.

[53] Ibid.

[54] David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War as Political Tragedy (Cambridge: Basic Books, 2005) 392-393.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Strachan, Hew, The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998) 296.

[57] Ibid.

[58] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 84.

[59] Ibid., 86.

[60] John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 2009) 441.

[61] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 86.

[62] Clements, Kendrick A. “The Papers of Woodrow Wilson and the Interpretation of the Wilson Era.” The History Teacher  Vol. 27, No. 4 (August 1994): 475-489 [accessed June 29, 2012] 485.

[63] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 122.

[64] John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 2009) 559.

[65] Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1979) 99.

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Posted by on August 12, 2012 in World War I - General


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