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26 June, 2013
Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter XLI - The Treaty Fight
by Tumulty, Joseph P.


Upon his return home from Paris, the President immediately invited, in most cordial fashion, the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to confer with him at the White House. Some of those who received the invitation immediately announced that as a condition precedent to their acceptance they would insist that the conference should not be secret in character and that what would happen there should be disclosed to the public. The President quickly accepted the conditions proposed by the Republican senators and made a statement from the White House that the conditions which the conferees named were highly acceptable to him and that he was willing and anxious to give to the public a stenographic report of everything that transpired.

In view of subsequent history, the conversation between the President and Senator Harding about the distinction between "legal" and "moral" obligations, which was interesting at the time, takes on an added interest. Said Senator Harding: "If there is nothing more than a moral obligation on the part of any member of the league, what avail articles X and XI?"

The President: Why, Senator, it is surprising that that question should be asked. If we undertake an obligation, we are bound in the most solemn way to carry it out.

Senator Harding: If you believe there is nothing more to this than a moral obligation, any nation will assume a moral obligation on its own account. Is it a moral obligation? The point I am trying to get at is: Suppose something arises affecting the peace of the world, and the council takes steps as provided here to conserve or preserve, and announces its decision, and every nation in the League takes advantage of the construction that you place upon these articles and says: "Well, this is only a moral obligation, and we assume that the nation involved does not deserve our participation or protection," and the whole thing amounts to nothing but an expression of the league council.

The President: There is a national good conscience in such a matter. I should think that was one of the most serious things that could possibly happen. When I speak of a legal obligation, I mean one that specifically binds you to do a particular thing under certain sanctions. That is a legal obligation, and, if I may say so, has a greater binding force; only there always remains in the moral obligation the right to exercise one's judgment as to whether it is indeed incumbent upon one in those circumstances to do that thing. In every moral obligation there is an element of judgment. In a legal obligation there is no element of judgment.

Never before did the President show himself more tactful or more brilliant in repartee. Surrounded by twenty or thirty men, headed by Senator Lodge, who hated him with a bitterness that was intense, the President, with quiet courtesy, parried every blow aimed at him.

No question, no matter how pointed it was, seemed to disturb his serenity. He acted like a lawyer who knew his case from top to bottom, and who had confidence in the great cause he was representing. His cards were frankly laid upon the table and he appeared like a fighting champion, ready to meet all comers. Indeed, this very attitude of frankness, openness, sincerity, and courtesy, one could see from the side-lines, was a cause of discomfort to Senator Lodge and the Republicans grouped about him, and one could also see written upon the faces of the Democratic senators in that little room a look of pride that they had a leader who carried himself so gallantly and who so brilliantly met every onslaught of the enemy. The President anticipated an abrupt adjournment of the conference with a courteous invitation to luncheon. Senator Lodge had just turned to the President and said: "Mr. President, I do not wish to interfere in any way, but the conference has now lasted about three hours and a half, and it is half an hour after the lunch hour." Whereupon, the President said: "Will not you gentlemen take luncheon with me? It will be very delightful."

It was evident that this invitation, so cordially conveyed, broke the ice of formality which up to that time pervaded the meeting, and like boys out of school, forgetting the great affair in which they had all played prominent parts, they made their way to the dining room, the President walking by the side of Senator Lodge. Instead of fisticuffs, as some of the newspaper men had predicted, the lion and the lamb sat down together at the dining table, and for an hour or two the question of the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles was forgotten in the telling of pleasant stories and the play of repartee.

Although, at this conference of August 19, 1919, the President had frankly opened his mind and heart to the enemies of the Treaty, the opposition instead of moderating seemed to grow more intense and passionate. The President had done everything humanly possible to soften the opposition of the Republicans, but, alas, the information brought to him from the Hill by his Democratic friends only confirmed the opinion that the opposition to the Treaty was growing and could not be overcome by personal contact of any kind between the President and members of the Foreign Relations Committee.

It is plain now, and will become plainer as the years elapse, that the Republican opposition to the League was primarily partisan politics and a rooted personal dislike of the chief proponent of the League, Mr. Wilson. His reŽlection in 1916, the first reŽlection of an incumbent Democratic President since Andrew Jackson, had greatly disturbed the Republican leaders. The prestige of the Republican party was threatened by this Democratic leader. His reception in Europe added to their distress. For the sake of the sacred cause of Republicanism, this menace of Democratic leadership must be destroyed, even though in destroying it the leaders should swallow their own words and reverse their own former positions on world adjustment.

An attempt was made by enemies of the President to give the impression to the country that an association of nations was one of the "fool ideas" of Woodrow Wilson; that in making it part of his Fourteen Points, he was giving free rein to his idealism. As a matter of fact, the idea did not originate with Woodrow Wilson. If its American origin were traced, it would be found that the earliest supporters of the idea were Republicans.

I remember with what reluctance the President accepted the invitation of the League to Enforce Peace, tendered by Mr. Taft, to deliver an address on May 27, 1916, at the New Willard Hotel, Washington, a meeting at which one of the principal speakers was no less a personage than Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, with Mr. Taft presiding. For many months the President had been revolving this idea in his mind and for a long time he was reluctant to accept any invitation that would seem to give approval to the idea. He patiently waited to make a complete survey of the whole world situation, to be convinced that the permanent participation of the United States in world affairs was a necessity if peace was to be secured.

It was not an easy thing to draw the President away from the traditional policy of aloofness and isolation which had characterized the attitude of the United States in all international affairs. But the invitation to discuss universal peace, urged upon the President by ex-President William H. Taft, was finally accepted.

In that speech he said: "We are participants, whether we would or not, in the life of the world, and the interests of all nations are our own; henceforth, there must be a common agreement for a common object, and at the heart of that common object must lie the inviolable rights of peoples and of mankind. We believe these fundamental things: First, that every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live. Second, that the small states of the world have a right to enjoy the same respect for their sovereignty and for their territorial integrity that great and powerful nations expect and insist upon. [This idea was substantially embodied in Article X]; and third, that the world has a right to be free from every disturbance of its peace that has its origin in aggression and disregard of the rights of peoples and nations."

These statements were uttered in the presence of Senator Lodge and applauded by Mr. Taft and his Republican associates gathered at the banquet.

The President, continuing his address, then gave expression to his views regarding the means to attain these ends. He was convinced that there should be an "universal association of the nations to maintain the inviolate security of the highway of the seas for the common use of all nations of the world, and to prevent any war begun either contrary to treaty agreements or without warning and full submission of the causes to the opinion of the world--a virtual guarantee of territorial integrity and political independence." And he ventured to assert, in the presence of Senator Lodge, who afterward became the leader of the opposition to these very ideas, "that the United States is willing to become a partner in any feasible association of nations formed in order to realize these objects and make them secure against violation."

Woodrow Wilson believed that the League of Nations was the first modern attempt to prevent war by discussion in the open and not behind closed doors or "within the cloistered retreats of European diplomacy." To him the League of Nations was the essence of Christianity. Yet when he took up the advocacy of the League of Nations, Senator Lodge, the spokesman of the Republican party at the dinner of the League to Enforce Peace, became the leader in bitter opposition to it.

Senator Lodge at this very dinner on May 27, 1916, delivered the following address:
I know, and no one, I think, can know better than one who has served long in the Senate, which is charged with an important share of the ratification and confirmation of all treaties; no one can, I think, feel more deeply than I do the difficulties which confront us in the work which this league--that is, the great association extending throughout the country, known as the League to Enforce Peace-- undertakes, but the difficulties cannot be overcome unless we try to overcome them. I believe much can be done. Probably it will be impossible to stop all wars, but it certainly will be possible to stop some wars, and thus diminish their number. The way in which this problem must be worked out must be left to this league and to those who are giving this great subject the study which it deserves. I know the obstacles. I know how quickly we shall be met with the statement that this is a dangerous question which you are putting into your argument, that no nation can submit to the judgment of other nations, and we must be careful at the beginning not to attempt too much. I know the difficulties which arise when we speak of anything which seems to involve an alliance, but I do not believe that when Washington warned us against entangling alliances he meant for one moment that we should not join with the other civilized nations of the world if a method could be found to diminish war and encourage peace.

It was a year ago in delivering the chancellor's address at Union College I made an argument on this theory, that if we were to promote international peace at the close of the present terrible war, if we were to restore international law as it must be restored, we must find some way in which the united forces of the nations could be put behind the cause of peace and law. I said then that my hearers might think that I was picturing a Utopia, but it is in the search of Utopias that great discoveries are made. Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. This league certainly has the highest of all aims for the benefits of humanity, and because the pathway is sown with difficulties is no reason that we should turn from it.
Theodore Roosevelt, in his Nobel Prize thesis, also expressed himself as follows, with reference to an association of nations:
The one permanent move for obtaining peace which has yet been suggested with any reasonable chance of obtaining its object is by an agreement among the great powers, in which each should pledge itself not only to abide by the decisions of a common tribunal, but to back with force the decision of that common tribunal. The great civilized nations of the world which do not possess force, actual or immediately potential, should combine by solemn agreement in a great world league for the peace of righteousness.
Upon the President taking up the League of Nations fight, Senator Lodge drew away from it as if in fear and trembling and began discussing our responsibilities abroad, evidencing a complete change of heart. He no longer asked Americans to be generous and fearless, but said:
The hearts of the vast majority of mankind would beat on strongly without any quickening if the League were to perish altogether.
The first objection to the League of Nations, urged by Senator Lodge, was that it involved the surrender of our sovereignty. There is a striking analogy between the argument of Senator Lodge and those put forth by gentlemen in Washington's day who feared that the proposed Constitution which was designed to establish a federal union would mean danger, oppression, and disaster. Mr. Singletary of Massachusetts, Mr. Lowndes of South Carolina, Mr. Grayson of Virginia, even Patrick Henry himself, foresaw the virtual subjugation of the States through a Constitution which at that time was often called the Treaty between the Thirteen States.

As Senator Brandegee and others contended that the Covenant of the League of Nations was a "muddy, murky, and muddled document," so Mr. Williams of New York, in 1788, charged "ambiguity" against the proposed Constitution, saying that it was "absolutely impossible to know what we give up and what we retain."

Mandates and similar bogies had their counterpart in Washington's day. George Mason, fearful like Senator Sherman of Illinois in a later day, "apprehended the possibility of Congress calling in the militia of Georgia to quell disturbances in New Hampshire."

The attitude of George Washington in his day was very similar to that of Woodrow Wilson. Writing to Knox, on August 19, 1797, he said: "I am fully persuaded it [meaning the Federal Constitution] is the best that can be obtained at this time. And, as a constitutional door is open for amendment hereafter, our adoption of it, under the present circumstances of the union, is in my opinion desirable." And of the opponents of the proposed Constitution he said, "The major part of them will, it is to be feared, be governed by sinister and self-important motives."

The storm centre of the whole fight against the League was the opposition personally conducted by Senator Lodge and others of the Republican party against the now famous Article X. The basis of the whole Republican opposition was their fear that America would have to bear some responsibility in the affairs of the world, while the strength of Woodrow Wilson's position was his faith that out of the war, with all its blood and tears, would come this great consummation.

It was the President's idea that we should go into the League and bear our responsibilities; that we should enter it as gentlemen, scorning privilege. He did not wish us to sneak in and enjoy its advantages and shirk its responsibilities, but he wanted America to enter boldly and not as a hypocrite.

With reference to the argument made by Senator Lodge against our going into the League, saying that it would be a surrender of American sovereignty and a loss of her freedom, the President often asked the question on his Western trip: How can a nation preserve its freedom except through concerted action? We surrender part of our freedom in order to save the rest of it. Discussing this matter one day, he said: "One cannot have an omelet without breaking eggs. By joining the League of Nations, a nation loses, not its individual freedom, but its selfish isolation. The only freedom it loses is the freedom to do wrong. Robinson Crusoe was free to shoot in any direction on his island until Friday came. Then there was one direction in which he could not shoot. His freedom ended where Friday's rights began."

There would have been no Federal Union to-day if the individual states that went to make up the Federal Union were not willing to surrender the powers they exercised, to surrender their freedom as it were.

Opponents of the League tried to convey the impression that under Article X we should be obliged to send our boys across the sea and that in that event America's voice would not be the determining voice.

Lloyd George answered this argument in a crushing way, when he said:
We cannot, unless we abandon the whole basis of the League of Nations, disinterest ourselves in an attack upon the existence of a nation which is a member of that league and whose life is in jeopardy. That covenant, as I understand it, does not contemplate, necessarily, military action in support of the imperilled nation. It contemplates economic pressure; it contemplates support for the struggling people; and when it is said that if you give any support at all to Poland it involves a great war, with conscription and with all the mechanism of war with which we have been so familiar in the last few years, that is inconsistent with the whole theory of the covenant into which we have entered. We contemplated other methods of bringing pressure to bear upon the recalcitrant nation that is guilty of acts of aggression against other nations and endangering their independence.
The Republicans who attacked the President on Article X had evidently forgotten what Theodore Roosevelt said about the one effective move for obtaining peace, when he urged: "The nations should agree on certain rights that should not be questioned, such as territorial integrity, their rights to deal with their domestic affairs, and with such matters as whom they should admit to citizenship." They had, also, evidently forgotten that Mr. Taft said: "The arguments against Article X which have been most pressed are those directed to showing that under its obligations the United States can be forced into many wars and to burdensome expeditionary forces to protect countries in which it has no legitimate interest. This objection will not bear examination."

Mr. Taft answered the question of one of the Republican critics if Article X would not involve us in war, in the following statement:

How much will it involve us in war? Little, if any. In the first place, the universal boycott, first to be applied, will impose upon most nations such a withering isolation and starvation that in most cases it will be effective. In the second place, we'll not be drawn into any war in which it will not be reasonable and convenient for us to render efficient aid, because the plan of the Council must be approved by our representatives, as already explained. In the third place, the threat of the universal boycott and the union of overwhelming forces of the members of the League, if need be, will hold every nation from violating Article X, and Articles XII, XIII, and XV, unless there is a world conspiracy, as in this war, in which case the earliest we get into the war, the better.

Evidently Mr. Taft did not look upon Article X as the bugaboo that Mr. Lodge pretended it was, for he said:

Article X covers the Monroe Doctrine and extends it to the world. The League is not a super-sovereign, but a partnership intended to secure to us and all nations only the sovereignty we can properly have, i.e., sovereignty regulated by the international law and morality consistent with the same sovereignty of other nations. The United States is not under this constitution to be forced into actual war against its will. This League is to be regarded in conflict with the advice of Washington only from a narrow and reactionary viewpoint.

Mr. Herbert Hoover, now a member of Mr. Harding's Cabinet, in a speech delivered on October 3, 1919, answering the argument that America would be compelled to send her boys to the other side, said:
We hear the cry that the League obligates that our sons be sent to fight in foreign lands. Yet the very intent and structure of the League is to prevent wars. There is no obligation for the United States to engage in military operations or to allow any interference with our internal affairs without the full consent of our representatives in the League.
And further discussing the revision of the Treaty, Mr. Hoover said:
I am confident that if we attempt now to revise the Treaty we shall tread on a road through European chaos. Even if we managed to keep our soldiers out of it we will not escape fearful economic losses. If the League is to break down we must at once prepare to fight. Few people seem to realize the desperation to which Europe has been reduced.


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