Irreconcilable Differences. (History -- Struggle for Freedom)

By McManus, John F. | The New American, December 2, 2002 | Go to article overview

Irreconcilable Differences. (History -- Struggle for Freedom)


McManus, John F., The New American


In 1919, a group of patriotic senators saved America from becoming entangled in the fledgling League of Nations. These stalwart souls became known as "The Irreconcilables."

The Washington, D.C., home of Alice Roosevelt Longworth had hosted many social affairs, but few were as jubilant or as worthwhile as the gathering that occurred on November 19, 1919. Assembled at the home of the hostess, the daughter of Teddy Roosevelt and wife of a prominent congressman, were defenders of U.S. sovereignty, including several senators and their wives. They had come to celebrate the Senate's defeat of the League of Nations Covenant.

Mrs. Longworth believed the League of Nations "would pledge us to active participation in the affairs of Europe--indeed, of the whole world For months, the Longworth home had served as headquarters for the hardy band of 16 senators who became known as "The Irreconcilables" because of their unyielding opposition to the League. Among the stalwart 16, Mrs. Longworth found a kindred soul in William Borah (R-Idaho), who candidly denounced the proposed League as "a conspiracy to barter the independence of the United States."

Also present at the party was Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.), for whom Longworth had considerably less respect: Lodge's willingness to compromise during the debate over the League prompted Longworth to give him the name "Mr. Wobbly." Borah and the other irreconcilables opposed a watered-down version of the treaty, understanding that any compromise in principle would be disastrous for our nation. As Senator Borah told Lodge: "You can't amend treason." Faced with this unyielding resistance, Lodge first proposed reservations intended to assuage their concerns--and then finally voted against the treaty outright when his reservations failed.

The League of Nations was a pet project of President Woodrow Wilson, whose resistance to compromise proved to be an ironic boon to the irreconcilables. A devoted internationalist, Wilson initially called for "a general association of nations" among the "Fourteen Points" unveiled in a January 1918 address to Congress. At Wilson's insistence, the Covenant for the League of Nations was later incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles, presented to Germany by the Allied powers after the armistice.

By themselves, the 16 irreconcilables didn't have sufficient clout to defeat Wilson's drive for world government. Their cause was aided by Wilson's prideful intransigence, inflamed by personal antagonism between the president and Senator Lodge, who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If President Wilson had been willing to play ball with "Mr. Wobbly" and other "reservationists," he would likely have gotten enough support to gain Senate passage of the treaty. But he was unwilling to do so. As Thomas A. Bailey opined in his book Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal:

In the final analysis the treaty was slain in the house of its friends rather than in the house of its enemies. In the final analysis it was not the two-thirds rule [for ratifying treaties], or the "irreconcilables," or Lodge, or the strong and mild "reservationists," but Wilson and his docile following who delivered the fatal stab.... With his own sickly hands, Wilson slew his own brain child.

While this is true, it isn't difficult to imagine how different things might have been had there been no organized, principled resistance to the League of Nations juggernaut. Without the irreconcilables' steadfastness, "Mr. Wobbly" may well have collapsed--if not after the first vote, then after a second vote in March 1920 forced by pro-League senators unwilling to accept defeat.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth hosted another party after the second vote, and rightly so. The irreconcilables had derailed a major project not only of the president but of the powerful elitists of that day, who viewed the League of Nations as a way station on the road to world government.

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