Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview
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6

The Triumph of Wilson's Great Cause

Having won the vote of the Peace Conference for the immediate drafting of a constitution for a league of nations, Wilson took the leading part in the construction of what he liked to call a "covenant." In ten meetings in February he sat with the committee that the Peace Conference had appointed and gave it the prestige of his presence, serving as its chairman. Lacking confidence in Secretary Lansing, Wilson asked House to sit on the league commission. The colonel, continuing to make what he called "moves ... on the board," suggested to Orlando, who was solicitous of Wilson's good will, that the way to "get closer" to the president was to serve on the commission; and the Italian premier agreed to do so. 1. Lloyd George and Clemenceau stood aside. The British and French members were advocates of a league of nations: Lord Robert Cecil, General Smuts, Léon Bourgeois, and Professor Larnaude, dean of the law faculty of the University of Paris. Japan was represented by Makino and Chinda, and the small powers by their most able delegates.

The Americans had yet to get the consent of the Allies to the sort of league that they envisioned. There was little public interest in France. 2. However, a committee headed by Bourgeois had prepared recommendations that supplied what seemed to Lloyd George to be "far and away the most detailed, precise, and far-reaching definition of the constitution and powers of the projected League which had yet been presented to any belligerent government. " 3. French thinking centered upon the value of a league as a guarantee of French security by Great Britain and the United States. 4.

Wilson had been wary of any specification. It seemed to him that a project so delicate required protection from the pressures of politicians and publicists. 5. Wilson perceived that an extention to the international level of practices that were routine in municipal law would not be immediately acceptable to many nations, and perhaps least of all to his own. He recognized the force of the aversion to "entangling alliances" that his people had long felt. Six weeks before the armistice he had taken the precaution of explaining publicly that in this "new day" he sought "a general alliance which will avoid entanglements and clear the air of the world for common understandings and the maintenance of common rights." He talked much of the power of moral suasion; yet mere precept in the presence of the undeniable right of states to go to war was to him fatuous. He alluded to the work of the Hague Con‐

____________________
1.
I.P., vol. 4, pp. 303-304. House diary, January 23, 1919.
2.
Shotwell, At the Paris Peace Conference, p. 100.
3.
Lloyd George, The Truth about the Peace Treaties, p. 610.
4.
Miller, My Diary, vol. 1, p. 26, entry of December 3, 1918.
5.
"His enemies here and abroad hope that he will particularize so that they can attack him," Tumulty cabled. "People of the world are with him on general principles. They care little for details." Tumulty to Grayson, December 21, 1918, Tumulty papers.

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