League of Nations.
“A living thing is born” (Foley 149). With these words, United States President Woodrow Wilson presented the first
draft of the Covenant to the nations attending the Paris Conference of 1919 and to those around the world. This
Covenant was to establish an international organization that would promote peace and security throughout the world
and provide a forum through which the different interests of nations could be peacefully resolved. President Wilson
named this living thing the League of Nations. After the four devastating years of the First World War, an Armistice
was finally signed in 1918 and the nations around the world began to realize that some sort of new international
system had to be established to prevent the recurrence of so great a disaster. This hatred of war spread throughout
the civilized world and eventually lead to the formation of the League of Nations. During its short life span of
twenty years, all of the recognized nations at one point or other be!
came a member of the League, with the exception of one: the United States. How was it possible, then, that a
country that takes pride in peaceful negotiation and international leadership exclude itself from the very institution it
helped create?
President Woodrow Wilson had no doubt that the United States should join the League of Nations. The nation had
been united in war and therefore, he assumed, would be no less united in their support for his Fourteen Points, which
served as a model for the Covenant of the League. Upon failing to gain support from Congress, Wilson announced
to the world that he would attend the Paris Conference in person and resolved that the establishment of the League
should become its first and principal task. By this, he believed that he was representing the will of the American
people. Proving to be untrue, Wilson tried defeat the opposing arguments within his country by explaining that,
“America and her determinations now constitute the balance of moral force in the world, and if we do not use that
moral force we will be of all peoples the most derelict. We are in the presence of this great choice, whether we will
stand by the mass of our own people and the mass of mankind” (Foley 147!
). The president failed to achieve broad domestic consensus on international foreign policy and about commitments
abroad (Schild). Therefore, after eight months of debate, Wilson was able to gather a large majority (57 to 37) but
still lacked the necessary two-thirds of the votes in the United States Senate required to approve the Treaty of
Versailles and US membership in the League of Nations (Fisher 17). The American ruling class did not accept his
scheme of a global foreign policy but rather embraced isolationism (Khodnev 24). In addition, there were more
complex problems facing the League than simply ensuring that there was enough domestic support for the
international peacekeeping organization. Examples of this occurred in the 1930’s, with the inability of the League to
prevent aggressions in China and Ethiopia. There was neither military force nor any efficient decision-making body
to follow through with the judgments of the League.
Although the United States was coming closer to the League of Nations, in mid-February 1932, before his
nomination as the Democratic candidate for President, Franklin D. Roosevelt stated that though he had fought hard
for the Covenant in President Wilson’s day, he did not wish the United States to join the League as it had since
developed (Walters 2: 564). Although it is true that both presidents “believed in collective security as the ultimate
guarantee of national safety,” Roosevelt’s security concept, “differed radically and deliberately” from Wilsonian
collective security (Schild 27). Roosevelt was of the opinion that the US should participate in the League or some
sort of world court. However, Roosevelt was never as optimistic as Wilson was. During his campaign for vice-
presidency in 1920, Roosevelt promoted a strong pro-League platform and advocated Senate ratification of the
Treaty of Versailles and membership into the League of Nations. Unlike Wilson, who focuse!
d on the idealistic aspects of the League, Roosevelt described the “practical necessity” (Schild 28) of the League.
Therefore, Roosevelt emphasized, if the United States did not eventually join the League,