Wilson and the Fight
for the League of Nations
Wilson returned to the United States in June 1919 to face the crucial task of winning the support of the American people and the approval of the Senate for the Versailles Treaty, the underpinning of the Paris settlements. During the months following Wilson's homecoming, indeed until the election of 1920, there ensued in the United States a debate no less important than the great debate of 1787–1789 over ratification of the Constitution. At stake was the issue of American participation in a new world order capped by the League of Nations, an instrumentality designed to promote world cooperation and peace and armed with sanctions (including military force) to prevent aggression.
Some details of the well-known parliamentary struggle and of the bitter personal controversy between Wilson and his chief antagonist, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, cannot be ignored. However, the emphasis of this chapter will be upon what has often been obscured by too much focus on the dramatic details—how the great debate of 1919–1920 revealed differences in opinion concerning the role that the United States should play in world affairs. These differences were fundamental and authentic because they transcended partisanship and personality. They also are as relevant to Americans in the latter part of this century as they were in Wilson's day.
The general lines of battle over ratification of the Treaty of Versailles were drawn before Wilson went to Paris, and largely by Wilson himself. Wilson's appeal during the congressional campaign