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Wilson Loses His Treaty and League of Nations

When Wilson returned from the Paris Conference in mid-1919, the Republicans held a slight majority in the Senate. A two-thirds vote in the Senate was needed for ratification of the treaty signed in Paris, and Wilson needed to win to his side a minority of Senators who were inclined to oppose ratification. A few Republican senators wished to deny Wilson any glory he had won during his trip to Paris, and some were still disappointed that he had not included any prominent Republicans in his mission. A few Republican senators feared that ratifying the treaty would forever embroil the United States in Europeans affairs. Sounding like Mussolini, Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana saw the treaty as raising "the motley flag of internationalism," and he described the treaty as a plan to "denationalize America and denationalize the nation's manhood." A few Senators were opposed to that part of the treaty involving the League of Nations. They spoke of the US losing its sovereignty by joining the League, and they were opposed to the US being drawn into a war in behalf of the League.

On the opposite side of the treaty issue, only a few senators believed that the treaty was excessively harsh with Germany. One of them was the courageous Senator Robert LaFollette, who was under attack for being pro-German. He described the Versailles Treaty as preparation for a future bloodbath and as a mockery of self-determination.

In an effort to gain the needed two-thirds vote in the Senate, Wilson turned to the public for support. On September 3, he began traveling across the nation by train, fighting for his grand alliance, the League of Nations. He grew weary, and by the end of the month he was back in the White House, a victim of a stroke. He remained bedridden for the remainder of his presidency.

Many who had favored sending the young to Europe to make the world "safe for democracy" were now unwilling to follow through with commitments to strengthen the peace in Europe. The public was in no mood to have the US help guarantee France's territorial integrity or to contribute to a guarantee of independence for any who had joined the great alliance. Many in the US were fed up with Wilsonian "high-mindedness." They believed that it was time for the nation to put its feet on the ground. By this they meant that the US could defend itself adequately on its own, that the rest of the world should take care of itself without help from the US, and they believed that those powers that owed the US money – such as Britain and France – should pay up sooner rather than later.

In the Senate, to ratify the treaty signed at Versailles a compromise bill was proposed. But Wilson opposed any compromise and, following instructions from Wilson, Democrats voted against any such compromise. It was to be a vote accepting or rejecting the whole of the peace treaty. In late November, 1919, the Senate voted 55 in favor and 39 against, short of the needed two-thirds majority. This meant that the United States was to remain outside the League of Nations and that the US continued to be officially at war with Germany, Austria and Hungary.

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