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8.3: The League of Nations Debate

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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After the end of World War I, in January 1919, the Allied Powers met at the Paris Peace Conference to decide on the terms of the treaty that would be presented to the defeated Central Powers. The Allies also created the League of Nations, an inter-governmental organization charged with peacefully resolving disputes between nations, promoting disarmament, and protecting human rights.

After the Paris Peace Conference, President Woodrow Wilson returned to the U.S. and tried to persuade Congress to ratify the treaty and join the League of Nations. The first document below is a speech given by Wilson in support of the League. The second is a speech by Republican senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who opposed the league.

League of Nations Speech – Woodrow Wilson

Source: Speech given by President Woodrow Wilson in Pueblo Colorado, September 25, 1919. Wilson toured the country to rally popular support for the treaty of Paris and the League of Nations.

Mr. Chairman and fellow citizens: It is with great pleasure that I find myself in Pueblo, and I feel it a compliment that I should be permitted to be the first speaker in this beautiful hall. One of the advantages of this hall, as I look about, is that you are not too far away from me, because there is nothing so reassuring to men who are trying to express the public sentiment as getting into real personal contact with their fellow citizens....

The chief pleasure of my trip has been that it has nothing to do with my personal fortunes, that it has nothing to do with my personal reputation, that it has nothing to do with anything except the great principles uttered by Americans of all sorts and of all parties which we are now trying to realize at this crisis in the affairs of the world. But there have been unpleasant impressions as well as pleasant impressions, my fellow citizens, as I have crossed the continent. I have perceived more and more that men have been busy creating an absolutely false impression of what the treaty of peace and the Covenant of the League of Nations contain and mean.... Don't think of this treaty so much as merely a settlement with Germany. It is that. It is a very severe settlement with Germany, but there is not anything in it that she did not earn [applause].... But the treaty is so much more than that. It is not merely a settlement with Germany; it is a readjustment of those great injustices which underlay the whole structure of European and Asiatic societies. Of course this is only the first of several treaties. They are constructed under the same plan.... But at the front of this great treaty is put the Covenant of the League of Nations. It will be at the front of the Austrian treaty and the Hungarian treaty and the Bulgarian treaty and the treaty with Turkey. Every one of them will contain the Covenant of the League of Nations, because you cannot work any of them without the Covenant of the League of Nations. Unless you get united, concerted purpose and power of the great governments of the world behind this settlement, it will fall down like a house of cards. There is only one power behind the liberation of mankind, and that is the power of mankind. It is the power of the united moral forces of the world. And in the covenant of the League of Nations the moral forces of the world are mobilized.... But all the nations that have power that can be mobilized are going to be members of the League, including the United States. And what do they unite for? They enter into solemn promise to one another that they will never use their power against one another for aggression; that they will never impair the territorial integrity of a neighbor; that they will never interfere with the political independence of a neighbor; that they will abide by the principle that great populations are entitled to determine their own destiny; and that they will not interfere with that destiny; and that no matter what differences arise amongst them, they will never resort to war without first having done one or other of two things–either submitting the matter of controversy to arbitration, in which case they agree to abide by the result without question, or having submitted it to the consideration of the Council of the League of Nations, laying before the Council all the facts, agreeing that the Council can publish the documents and facts to the whole world. In other words, they consent, no matter what happens, to submit every matter of difference between them to the judgment of mankind. And, just so certainly as they do that, my fellow citizens, war will be in the far background, war will be pushed out of the foreground of terror in which it has kept the world generation after generation, and men will know that there will be a calm time of deliberate counsel.... I believe that we will see the truth, eye to eye and face to face. There is one thing that the American people always rise to and extend their hand to, and that is the truth of justice and of liberty and peace. We have accepted the truth and we are going to be led by it, and it is going to lead us, and through us the world, out into pastures of quietness and peace such as the world has never dreamed of before.


  1. Sourcing: Who is giving this speech? When?
  2. Sourcing: What do you predict he will say?
  3. Contextualization: What else was going on at this time?
  4. Close Reading: What word would you use to describe the tone of this speech? Provide a quote to support your answer.
  5. Close Reading: What do you think is Wilson’s strongest argument for the League of Nations?

League of Nations Speech – Henry Cabot Lodge

Source: A speech given by Henry Cabot Lodge in Washington, D.C. on August 12, 1919. Cabot Lodge was a ferocious Republican opponent of the Democrat President Woodrow Wilson. Deeply suspicious of any attempt to unnecessarily involve the U.S. in international political matters Cabot Lodge campaigned against U.S. participation in the League of Nations. Cabot Lodge's viewpoint eventually won and the U.S. never joined the League.

Mr. President:

[T]he first step to world service is the maintenance of the United States.... You may call me selfish if you will, conservative or reactionary, or use any other harsh adjective you see fit to apply, but an American I was born, an American I have remained all my life. I can never be anything else but an American, and I must think of the United States first....

I have never had but one allegiance - I cannot divide it now. I have loved but one flag and I cannot share that devotion and give affection to the mongrel banner invented for a league. Internationalism, illustrated by the Bolshevik and by the men to whom all countries are alike provided they can make money out of them, is to me repulsive.

....The United States is the world's best hope, but if you fetter her in the interests and quarrels of other nations, if you tangle her in the intrigues of Europe, you will destroy her power for good and endanger her very existence. Leave her to march freely through the centuries to come as in the years that have gone....

We hear much of visions and I trust we shall continue to have visions and dream dreams of a fairer future for the race. But visions are one thing and visionaries are another, and the mechanical appliances of the rhetorician designed to give a picture of a present which does not exist and of a future which no man can predict are as unreal and short-lived as the steam or canvas clouds, the angels suspended on wires and the artificial lights of the stage....

No doubt many excellent and patriotic people see a coming fulfilment of noble ideals in the words ‘league for peace.’ We all respect and share these aspirations and desires, but some of us see no hope, but rather defeat, for them in this murky covenant. For we, too, have our ideals, even if we differ from those who have tried to establish a monopoly of idealism.

Our ideal is to make her ever stronger and better and finer, because in that way alone, as we believe, can she be of the greatest service to the world's peace and to the welfare of mankind.


  1. Sourcing: Who is giving this speech? When?
  2. Sourcing: What do you predict he will say?
  3. Close Reading: What word would you use to describe the tone of this speech? Provide a quote to support your answer.
  4. Close Reading: What do you think is Lodge’s strongest argument against the League of Nations?

Section Question:

  1. Corroboration: Based on both documents, why do you think Henry Cabot Lodge won this debate? Provide quotations to support your answer.

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