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Woodrow Wilson’s Quest

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  • 1. Woodrow Wilson’s Quest toChange the WorldEven before the United States entered the “GreatWar” in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson wanted tochange the world. He sought a way for nations to jointogether to guarantee a permanent peace.I n 1796, President George Washington set the course for American foreign policy by cautioning the new nation“to steer clear of permanent alliances.” This isolationistpolicy reflected Washington’s desire to keep the UnitedStates out of Europe’s frequent wars.In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine warned the Europeansagainst establishing any new colonies or interfering in theaffairs of independent nations in the WesternHemisphere. It also reaffirmed that the U.S. would stayout of Europe’s alliances and wars except when Americanrights were threatened.In the 19th century, the United States expanded. Throughthe Louisiana Purchase, the acquisition of Florida, nego-tiations for Oregon, the annexation of Texas, the MexicanWar, the Gadsden Purchase, and the Indian Wars, thenation grew. By the turn of the 20th century, many Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), 28th U.S. president, led the nation through World War I and hoped to build an international frame-thought it should play a role as a world power. work for peace. (Library of Congress)Following the Spanish-American War in 1898,Republican presidents Theodore Roosevelt and WilliamHoward Taft pushed an aggressive nationalist foreign would thrive. The progressives believed that Americanspolicy. They argued for an American empire and for the had a God-given mission to spread their democratic idealsU.S. to act abroad for its own national interests. to the rest of the world.Many Americans agreed. But many other Americans In office only a few days, Wilson faced a foreign policyremained isolationists, both Republicans and Democrats.W crisis involving Mexico. That country was in the middle of They preferred that Americans tend to business a revolution. General Victoriano Huerta had seized power, at home. They believed two vast oceans could imprisoned the Mexican president, and probably issued U protect the U.S. from foreign threats. the order to have him killed. Wilson considered Huerta’s When Democrat Woodrow Wilson became presi- regime illegitimate and demanded that he resign. Wilson S dent in 1913, he remarked to a friend, “It would announced he would not recognize any Mexican president be an irony of fate if my administration had to whom the people had not freely elected. deal chiefly with foreign affairs.” Wilson, a for- H mer professor of American government, expect- Those Mexicans opposing Huerta, calling themselves Constitutionalists, raised an army. They defeated Huerta’s ed to spend most of his time working for I domestic progressive reforms such as a new troops in several battles but could not take Mexico City. In April 1914, Wilson ordered U.S. forces to occupy the income tax aimed at the rich. S Mexican port of Veracruz to cut off Huerta’s supply lines. ‘Moral Diplomacy’ Within three months, Huerta resigned, and Wilson with- T When Wilson entered office, European imperial drew U.S. troops. O powers dominated much of the world. They After this intervention in Mexico, Wilson began to express attempted to maintain a “balance of power” his ideas for a new American “Moral Diplomacy.” At its R through opposing military alliances. core was the principle of “self-determination,” the moral Progressives like Wilson had another vision for right of people to choose their form of government and Y the world. They wanted to disarm nations and leaders by democratic elections. end war to create a world where democracy (Continued on next page)Bill of Rights in Action (24:4)© 2009, Constitutional Rights Foundation 5
  • 2. Wilson the Peacemaker On August 19, 1914, shortly after the “Great War” in Europe began, President Wilson declared American neutrality. Wilson tried to mediate peace between the two warring European alliances. In May 1915, a German U-boat, a submarine, sank the British passen- ger ship Lusitania, killing more than 1,200 men, women, and children (including 128 Americans). This shocked Americans and prompted Wilson to demand that Germany end its U-boat warfare against civilian ships. Germany agreed to reduce its President Wilson addressed Congress in April 1917 asking for a declaration of war. (Library of submarine operations when Wilson Congress) promised to try to persuade Britain to lift its blockade of German ports. Congress declared war by a large margin, but not before In 1916, Wilson was re-elected president by a slim mar- isolationists like Republican Senator George Norris of gin on the strength of his slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Nebraska blamed a rush to war on Wall Street bankers Soon after his re-election, Wilson delivered a revolution- and munitions makers. “We are going into a war upon the ary foreign policy speech to Congress. He argued that the command of gold,” he said. fighting in Europe should end with a “peace without vic- The Fourteen Points tory.” Wilson explained that “victory” meant a peace Most Americans quickly mobilized behind the slogan, “A forced on the losers who would surely harbor war to end all wars.” The first military draft since the resentments leading to yet another war. Civil War produced the largest American army ever creat- W Wilson stated the moral principles he believed ed up to that time. Nevertheless, pacifists, political radi- necessary for world peace. Governments, he cals, certain churches, and some immigrant groups O said, must exist by the “consent of the governed” and enjoy the right to self-determination. Nations actively protested America’s participation in the war. In January 1918, as American troops fought on European must reduce their armies and navies. All must R enjoy “freedom of the seas” to engage in trade. soil for the first time, Wilson again appealed for peace. In an address before Congress, he spelled out his “Fourteen But most important, Wilson declared that nations Points” program for peace, expanding on his previous L large and small should join together in a “concert principles for peace: of power,” an international organization. 1. Open covenants of peace must be arrived at, after D Despite Wilson’s attempts to mediate a just which there will surely be no private international peace, the war continued as did Britain’s block- action or rulings of any kind, but diplomacy shall ade of Germany. In February 1917, Germany proceed always frankly and in the public view. H announced it would resume sinking without warning any ships approaching British or other 2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, I Allied ports. The U.S. also intercepted a German outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in telegram, seeking to enlist Mexico as an ally if war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or S America declared war. These German actions in part by international action for the enforcement persuaded Wilson to ask Congress for a declara- of international covenants. T tion of war. 3. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic O In his war speech to Congress on April 2, 1917, barriers and the establishment of an equality of Wilson condemned German U-boat killing of trade conditions among all the nations consenting R civilians as “warfare against mankind.” He went to the peace and associating themselves for its on to famously state, “The world must be made maintenance. Y safe for democracy.”Bill of Rights in Action (24:4)© 2009, Constitutional Rights Foundation 6
  • 3. 4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national on a covenant, a written agreement, to create an interna- armaments will be reduced to the lowest points tional organization: the League of Nations. consistent with domestic safety. The League Covenant covered many issues, including fair 5. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial working conditions and a mandate system to guide colo- adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a nial peoples toward independence. But to Wilson, the most strict observance of the principle that in determin- important purpose of the League was stated in the opening ing all such questions of sovereignty the interests words of the Covenant: of the population concerned must have equal The High Contracting Parties, In order to promote weight with the equitable claims of the government international co-operation and to achieve international whose title is to be determined. peace and security by the acceptance of obligationsExcept for the 14th point, Wilson’s remaining points dealt not to resort to war . . . Agree to this Covenant of thewith territorial matters, including returning and adjusting League of Nations.borders of the combatants in the war and providing for The covenant created new mechanisms to maintain perma-eventual self-rule for peoples in the Balkans, Poland, and nent world peace, including:the Turkish Ottoman Empire (an ally of Germany). • An Executive Council, consisting of five big powersIn the last of his Fourteen Points, Wilson returned to his and four smaller ones, to decide questions of war anddream for an international organization for world peace: peace by a unanimous vote. 14. A general association of nations must be formed • The authority for the Executive Council to order eco- under specific covenants for the purpose of afford- nomic penalties and to recommend necessary military ing mutual guarantees of political independence means against a war-making nation. and territorial integrity to great and small states • A pledge by member nations to reduce armaments to a alike. level necessary only to preserve order within theirIn 1917, the Russian Revolution had broken out. Russia borders.was one of the Allied nations fighting Germany. When • A Permanent Court of International Justice to settleCommunists took control of the Russian government, they disputes between nations.negotiated a separate peace. This freed thousands ofGerman troops to join a final offensive against the U.S. • Article X of the covenant committing members toand the other Allies on the Western Front in France. guarantee “the territorial integrity and existing politi- cal independence of all Members of the League”When their offensive failed in the spring of 1918, against any “external aggression.” This meant anGermany negotiated to end the fighting, hoping to reach a attack on any League member obligated all otherpeace agreement based on the Fourteen Points. A tempo- members to come to its defense.rary agreement, an armistice, was made on November 11,1918. (For years, November 11 was celebrated as The Covenant of the League of Nations represented a rev-Armistice Day. Today it is called Veterans’ Day.) By the olutionary change in international relations and a radicalend of the war, more than 53,000 Americans and millions departure from traditional American isolationism. Wilsonof Europeans had died in battle. had seemingly achieved his dream. But he had made a fatal mistake: He had not included any Republicans in his dele-The League of Nations Covenant gation to the Paris Peace Conference. In the congressionalIn December 1918, President Wilson arrived in Europe to elections of 1918, the Republicans regained majority con-help negotiate the treaty formally ending World War I. trol of the Senate, which had to approve any internationalThis was the first time an American president in office had treaty by a two-thirds vote.ever visited Europe. Wilson learned that nationalists and isolationists in theHuge cheering crowds greeted Wilson as a hero. One ban- Senate had serious concerns about Article X. They fearedner proclaimed him the “Savior of Humanity.” The other it would force American troops to act as policemen of theAllied leaders, however, were focused on redrawing the world. Even progressives had doubts, arguing that themap of Europe and punishing Germany. peacemaking authority of the League was too weak.The conference to write a peace treaty began in Paris in Wilson agreed to some changes in the covenant, particu-January 1919. The victors excluded the Germans from larly a new article to safeguard the Monroe Doctrine. Buttreaty negotiations. Wilson persuaded the other major he refused to compromise on Article X, which he viewedAllied leaders from Britain, France, and Italy to first work as essential for enforcing world peace. After concluding (Continued on next page)Bill of Rights in Action (24:4)© 2009, Constitutional Rights Foundation 7
  • 4. By September 1919, the treaty faced certain defeat in the Senate, mainly because of opposition to U.S. membership in the League. Wilson decided to go on a speaking tour of the country to gather public support for America’s participation in the League. Wilson opposed making any changes in Article X, arguing that this would undermine the idea of nations acting together to stop wars. He predicted that failure of the U.S. to the join the League would surely lead to “another struggle in which not a few hundred thousand fine men from America would have to die, but . . . many millions . . . .” Wilson spoke to large enthusiastic crowds but finally collapsed from exhaustion. Back in Washington, he suffered a massive stroke, which prevented him from continuing hisThe League of Nations held its first sessions in 1920. The United States rejected the Treaty of campaign for Senate ratification ofVersailles and never joined the League. (United Nations Office at Geneva) the Versailles Treaty with its League Covenant.that the League would correct any flaws in the rest of the The Senate finally voted against ratification. Heartbroken,treaty with Germany, Wilson signed the treaty at Wilson abandoned plans to run for president a third time.Versailles, the palace of the old French kings, on June 28, The big victory of Republican Warren G. Harding in 19201919. was widely viewed as a vote against American member-Wilson’s Fight for the League ship in the League of Nations.At first, the American public showed widespread support ‘Wilsonianism’for the Treaty of Versailles, including having the U.S. join Woodrow Wilson attempted to change the world by pro-the League of Nations. But the League troubled moting such principles as self-determination, disarma-Republican senators. Nationalists such as Senator Henry ment, and the cooperation of nations to preserve the peace.Cabot Lodge, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations This new approach to American foreign policy, sometimesCommittee, developed a series of “reservations.” These called “Wilsonianism,” was an idealistic alternative to thewere conditions for American membership in the League, balance of power between opposing military alliances. Themainly preserving the right of the U.S. to act in its own League of Nations operated for two decades but ultimatelynational interest. failed to stop World War II.One of the reservations required Congress, not just the Although Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920,president, to approve any U.S. military action under most Americans turned back to the isolationist attitude thatArticle X. A few isolationists in the Senate objected to the the U.S. should have as little to do with the rest of theU.S. joining the League at all, with or without reservations. world as possible. This sentiment prevailed until theThis left progressives in both parties to carry Wilson’s Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941.cause for the League. But many objected to the require- Although Wilson died in 1924, his reputation revived dur-ment for unanimous action by the Executive Council. They ing the Second World War. Many believed that if the U.S.thought it weakened the League’s authority to guarantee had become a member, the League of Nations could havepeace. They also expressed anger that Wilson had done lit- prevented that war. President Franklin D. Roosevelttle to restore free speech and other civil liberties that had seemed to vindicate Wilson’s idealism by identifyingbeen severely restricted in the U.S. during the war. “Four Freedoms” worth fighting for: freedom of speechBill of Rights in Action (24:4)© 2009, Constitutional Rights Foundation 8
  • 5. and worship; freedom from want and fear. After the war, theU.S. helped found the United Nations. A C T I V I T YThe Cold War undercut Wilsonian idealism by producing a The Fourteen Points“balance of terror” among distrusting nuclear powers. Yet In this activity, students evaluate six of the Fourteeneven during this period, elements of Wilsonianism sur- Points.vived. One example was the 1975 Helsinki Accords, signedby 35 nations, including the U.S. and USSR. In this docu- 1. Divide the class into small groups.ment, countries promised to respect the borders created at 2. Each group should read and discuss Points 1–5 andthe end of World War II. But they also promised to “respect Point 14. For each point, the group should discusshuman rights and fundamental freedoms, including the and answer these questions:freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.” Anotherexample was President Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy, a. What does it mean?which emphasized human rights. b. Is it relevant today? Why or why not?After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Wilsonianism c. Should it be part of international law today? Whysurfaced again. People in almost every part of the world or why not?wanted democracy, free trade, a ban on the spread of nucle-ar weapons, and an effective United Nations. All these 3. Call on groups to report and discuss their answers.things are rooted in Wilson’s vision for peace in 1919.President George W. Bush promoted a foreign policy tomake America safe by extending democracy to those whodo not yet enjoy it. Some have called Bush’s foreign policya form of Wilsonianism.For Discussion and Writing1. Why did Wilson argue for “peace without victory”? Do you agree or disagree with his view? Why?2. Why do you think Wilson failed in his fight for the U.S. to join the League of Nations?3. Do you think President George W. Bush was a “Wilsonian”? Use evidence from the article to support your answer.4. Do you think U.S. officials should be concerned with www.crf-usa.org human rights abuses in other countries? Explain. Back issues ofFor Further Reading Bill of the Rights in ActionDawley, Alan. Changing the World, American Progressives are now available online.in War and Revolution. Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Got to our web site and click onPress, 2003. Free Lessons and Bill of Rights in Action.“Woodrow Wilson.” American Experience. PBS Online,2001. URL: www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/wilson/filmmore/ps.html This web site includes Wilson’s key speeches andother primary sources. Bill of Rights in Action (24:4) © 2009, Constitutional Rights Foundation 9