Woodrow wilson and the treaty of versailles



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“mild reservationists.” Other Senators were known as “strong reservationists” and would only vote for the treaty if more important changes were made. These changes were proposed by their leader, Henry Cabot Lodge and were known as the Lodge Reservations. The most important of these reservations said that American troops could not be sent into action by the League of Nations until Congress gave its approval.
A third, smaller group called the irreconcilables would not vote for the Treaty under any circumstances. They believed the United States should stay totally isolated from the rest of the world. The irreconcilables were led by the very, very liberal in the senate, including Robert LaFollette.
According to many historians, if Wilson had been willing to accept the Lodge Reservations, the Treaty probably would have been ratified easily. Although this would not have created the treaty Wilson wanted, it would have perhaps been better than nothing and with future negotiations; it might be something to build on. However, Wilson refused to budge. It had to be all or nothing for him. He felt the United States had to join on equal terms with all the European nations and for the U.S. to have special rights would be unfair to the other nations.
Instead of trying to win his argument in Congress, Wilson went directly to the American people. He took a train tour and gave many speeches trying to convince the people to accept the treaty. However, the tour was too much for him and in September 1919 he had a small stroke. He returned to Washington where he had a second, larger stroke, which left him paralyzed on his left side. For six weeks, Wilson was bedridden in the White House and had no contact with anyone other than his wife Edith. (Wilson refused to resign and Edith was left in charge of her husband’s political affairs)There is some speculation that Edith was calling the shots here—she’s often been jokingly referred to as “The First Female President.” His advisers pleaded with him to accept the Lodge reservations. He continued to refuse.
In November of 1919, the treaty, with the Lodge Reservations was given to the Senate for a vote. It was defeated because supporters of Wilson refused to accept the Reservations. Then, the treaty was voted on without reservations. Supporters of Lodge defeated it. The following March, there was a final vote on the treaty with the Reservations. Although some of Wilson’s supporters changed their minds, the treaty still failed. The United States would never sign the treaty or join the League of Nations that Wilson worked so hard to create.
In the end, although he came to Versailles with high ideals, Wilson was unable to achieve his aims when negotiating the treaty and then unable to pass what was made in his own nation. In the end, in spite of Wilson’s dream, World War One was not the war to end all wars—in fact; in many ways it pretty much guaranteed World War Two would not be far behind.


  • Had Wilson been willing to compromise with Lodge, the treaty would have been ratified, and the United States would have tied its fate to that of Europe. Perhaps the next World War would have been avoided, in which case the twentieth century would have had a far less tragic history.”

--James McPherson—To The Best of My Ability: The American Presidency (p.204)


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