The Wilsonian Moment?

By Chace, James | The Wilson Quarterly, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview

The Wilsonian Moment?

Chace, James, The Wilson Quarterly

How are we to balance the principle of national sovereignty and fundamental issues of human rights when the two are in conflict? The debate began in earnest after World War I and continues to this day.

Walter Lippmann, 27 years old and one of the brightest young men in Washington, was working in the War Department in 1917. A crusading progressive journalist at the New Republic, Lippmann had once been enamored of Theodore Roosevelt but had become an avid supporter of Woodrow Wilson. He joined the office of Secretary of War Newton Baker in an advisory group that included the future Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter and Eugene Meyer, later the publisher of the Washington Post. Lippmann established himself in the department as a standard-bearer for liberal causes, in particular that of protecting the press from arbitrary censorship. Using Wilsonian language, he reminded Wilson's eminence grise, Edward House, "We are' fighting not so much to beat an enemy, as to make a world that is safe for democracy." Though he was not, in his own words, a "sentimental liberal," he recognized that liberals were vital constituents in Wilson's search for consensus.

Lippmann's toughness recommended itself to the president and to House (who liked to be called "Colonel," an honorary Texas title). One day in September, six months after the United States had entered the Great War, Colonel House asked to see Lippmann on a secret matter: Wilson wanted to assemble a group of experts who would draw up material for an eventual peace conference. Lippmann was to be general secretary to the group, which would meet in New York under the rubric of "The Inquiry." Burying themselves in the offices of the American Geographical Society at 155th Street and Broadway, the members of The Inquiry pored over books and maps that would be critical to redrawing the frontiers of Europe. Lippmann did not exaggerate when he called the group's work "huge, superabundant, and overflowing."

As Ronald Steel recounts in his biography of Lippmann, the effort to apportion territory was seriously compromised by top-secret documents that Secretary Baker revealed to Lippmann one October afternoon at the War Department. The sheaf of agreements, which the Allies had signed with one another, spelled out how Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and Japan planned to compensate themselves once Germany was beaten. To Lippmann, a war that had already cost the antagonists millions of casualties now seemed to have been fought for reparations and territories. That hardly embodied the ideals to which Wilson was committed. France was to recover Alsace and Lorraine, the two provinces it had lost to Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, as well as parts of the Saarland. Great Britain was to get African colonies. Italy would be awarded the Austrian-held territories of Istria and Dalmatia. Japan would get the Shandong Peninsula of China. Wilson knew of these treaties, but he believed, as he told Colonel House, that when the war was over, the Allies could be brought around to his way of thinking, "because then, among other things, they will be dependent on us financially."

With that inducement in reserve, Wilson and House went to work drafting and redrafting the contents of the memorandum Lippmann gave them. What had emerged from weeks of discussion by The Inquiry was the rough basis for eight of the 14 points Wilson would present in a speech in January 1918 as the foundation of an enduring peace. The first five points and the fourteenth--dealing with open covenants openly arrived at, freedom of the seas, lower tariffs, disarmament, respect for colonial peoples, and, last but hardly least in Wilson's schema, a League of Nations--the president added himself.

Points six through 13 took up the territorial provisions that had been the concern of The Inquiry. Wilson struggled to resolve the provisions' inherent contradictions. He wanted to grant all peoples the right of self-determination and to acknowledge the legitimacy of their national aspirations, for he believed that to deny the legitimacy of nationalism by drawing boundaries that reflected dynastic claims would almost surely lead to conflict. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Wilsonian Moment?


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.