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

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview

3

Wilson's Vision and Europe's Interests

While the delegates in Paris toiled over facts and figures and some strove for position and prestige, and while the voices of the people demanded a new order that would prevent war and would bring "social justice," the American prophet kept his eyes upon his envisioned horizon. During the first weeks of the Peace Conference he pursued his main purpose, his Fourteenth Point: the creation of an association of nations. In each of his positions of responsible leadership—at Princeton, in the governor's chair in New Jersey, and in the presidency—Wilson had acted promptly to champion great causes of the day that served the common interest. It was preordained that now, when the world looked to him for political leadership, he should honor his wartime commitment to the development of an international organism to prevent war. A league of nations, moreover, became in Wilson's mind a practical necessity for coping with the circumstances that followed the end of the fighting.

When the American prophet first embraced his great-hearted vision, which had long been the subject of idealistic speculation in Europe, it brought new hope to the exhausted peoples of the Old World. It shone like Utopia before survivors of the carnage, who longed for security and stability. It appealed to those who felt burdened by social injustice. The pressing business of the world at large, the aspirations of its races, the adjustment of its international boundaries, the effective governance of its undeveloped regions, the revival of its economy, and the welfare of its laborers—all these concerns were calling for the ministration of a permanent international authority. And the revolutionary turmoil that loomed in the east gave urgency to the popular clamor for immediate and drastic action to protect the values of society in the democracies. 1. These practical considerations called for bold political leadership.

Wilson and House perceived the opportunity that was opened for conspicuous service to mankind. They could hope to make their names, as well as that of their nation, illustrious in history. Moreover, the League of Nations could serve in the next presidential election as a great cause that would strengthen Wilson's popular mandate as well as the declining fortunes of the Democratic party.

When the president had visited England in December, he had talked with Lloyd George about building a league of nations. The prime minister was relieved to learn that Wilson's thought was, in general, in harmony with that of English advocates and that he did not wish to attribute executive powers to a world body. Lloyd George had hoped that by agreeing with the American program it might be possible to avoid tension over such explosive issues as the freedom of the seas and the disposal of the German colonies.

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1.
On the menace of bolshevism, see Amo J. Mayer, Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking, Prologue.

-40-

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