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8.3: The League of Nations Debate

Created by: CK-12

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.

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 the treaty of peace and the Covenant of the League of Nations.

At the front of this great treaty is the Covenant of the League of Nations. Reflect, my fellow citizens that the membership of this great League is going to include all the great fighting nations of the world, as well as the weak ones.

And what do they unite for? They enter into a solemn promise to one another that they will never use their power against one another for aggression; that they never will violate the territorial integrity of a neighbor; that they never will 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 no matter what differences arise between them they will never resort to war without first submitting their differences to the consideration of the council of the League of Nations, and agreeing that at the end of the six months, even if they do not accept the advice of the council, they will still not go to war for another three months.

I wish that those who oppose this settlement could feel the moral obligation that rests upon us not to turn our backs on the boys who died, but to see the thing through, to see it through to the end and make good their redemption of the world.

For nothing less depends upon this decision, nothing less than liberation and salvation of the world.

You will say, “Is the League an absolute guaranty against war?” No; I do not know any absolute guaranty against the errors of human judgment or the violence of human passions but I tell you this: With a cooling space of nine months for human passion, not much of it will keep hot.

We have accepted the truth of justice and liberty and peace, and this truth is going to lead us, and through us the world, out into pastures of quietness and peace such as the world never dreamed of before.

Vocabulary

Territorial integrity
borders of a country
Abide
accept
Redemption
save from evil

Questions:

  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:

The 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 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, but when words describe a present that doesn’t exist and future that no man can predict, they are as unreal and short-lived as steam.

No doubt many excellent and patriotic people see a coming fulfillment 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 plan. For we, too, have our ideals, even if we differ from those who have tried to establish a monopoly of idealism.

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

Vocabulary

Reactionary
a person who opposes political reform
Allegiance
loyalty
Mongrel
a mutt; a cross-breed
Repulsive
disgusting
Fetter
restrain with chains
Intrigues
secret plans
Aspirations
hopes
Murky
dark and dirty

Questions:

  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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