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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

27

Paralysis at Washington

The peacemakers were handicapped in the last months of 1919, as we have seen, by uncertainty as to the acceptance by the United States of the commitments that had been made by its president. The American machinery for negotiation remained in the Crillon, but after Wilson and House left in June the mainspring was no longer at Paris. The complex settlement was incomplete in some respects. It would be ineffective in many of its provisions without a League of Nations in which the United States would play its part. 1.

When Wilson departed from Paris, the fortunes of the League were at hazard. Would it be in fact a Holy Alliance such as the European powers had formed a century earlier, a continuation of the collaboration that had won the war? Would it serve to extend to the whole world, with American participation, the mutual benefits that British statesmen saw in their empire? Was its function, in reality, merely to enforce the terms of the peace treaty and to collect debts? Of most immediate importance, what was the significance of the attitude of the United States Senate? It was suspected at Paris that criticism of the Covenant at Washington reflected a desire of American businessmen to make a separate peace for the advantage of their trade with Germany. 2.

Although Wilson had put on a bold front when he was directly challenged at Paris, 3. he had been anxious during the spring months about the fate of the treaties in the Senate. Indeed, one of the legal advisers had confessed that Senate acceptance of the League Covenant seemed unlikely. It had become more unlikely when Wilson took a defiant attitude toward the Senate's opposition. 4.

In the face of gathering hostility the president had been compelled by financial necessity to convoke the American Congress while the Peace Conference was still in session. His call to the Congress, written with great difficulty because of his ignorance of affairs at home, 5. appeared in the American press on May 8. The legislators convened on May 19 to hear the president's State of the Union message. At this time Miller advised House that Wilson had the situation "wholly in his own

____________________
1.
On the importance of American membership in the League, see above, ch. 26, and James Barros, Office without Power, pp. 28-30.
2.
Seymour, Letters from the Paris Peace Conference, p. 273.
3.
When Ambassador Jusserand expressed at Paris a doubt as to the outcome of the conflict at Washington between the tradition of isolation and the doctrine of Wilson, the president responded with an assurance that was founded on the faith that he knew his country better than anyone, Jusserand to M.A.E., November 24, 1919, Archives du M.A.É., À paix, 1154.1, f. 156.
4.
See above, p. 186. Nicolson recalled (orally to the author, October 25, 1959) that on an occasion at which he was present but could not date, Balfour asked very politely whether in view of all the concessions the Europeans were making the president could get the League Covenant accepted at Washington, and Wilson, rising from his chair and pacing up and down, turned pale but maintained he could so so.
5.
Benham diary letter, May 14, 1919.

-528-

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