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The Senate and the League of Nations

Henry Cabot Lodge (1925) 

In 1925, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge published The Senate and the League of Nations, which chronicled the Senate's consideration of the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles officially ended military actions against Germany in World War I and created the League of Nations, an international organization designed to preserve peace. President Woodrow Wilson, who led the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, was a principal architect of the League. Senator Lodge, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and de facto majority leader, was troubled by the peace treaty, taking particular exception to Article Ten of the League Covenant, which he and others felt required all League members to come to the aid of any member state under attack.

Despite the book's title, Lodge's memoir has a broader focus than the Treaty of Versailles. He recalls a meeting with Wilson shortly after his inauguration when the new president told the Senator that “you were the first editor who accepted an article written by me,” which Lodge had done during his tenure as an editor of the International Review. Lodge also traces the early years of the Wilson presidency, offering his perspective on U.S. relations with Mexico; the beginnings of World War I; issues surrounding U.S. neutrality; and Germany’s sinking of the British passenger ship Lusitania, which killed 128 Americans.

When he turns his attention to events surrounding the treaty’s negotiation and the ratification struggle, Lodge is critical of the president. He terms Wilson’s decision to go to Paris and negotiate the treaty himself  “a serious mistake.” He describes a dinner with the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees at which “the President answered questions for two hours about the draft of the constitution of the League of Nations, and told us nothing.”

President Wilson hand-delivered the treaty to the Senate on July 10, 1919, and then addressed the chamber. The treaty was referred to the Foreign Relations Committee, which held public hearings from July 31 to September 12, 1919. President Wilson testified on August 19 when he received Chairman Lodge and fifteen committee members (including future President Warren G. Harding) in the East Room of the White House. Lodge writes that the President “took the questioning, which was rather sharp at times, in good part, although at the end . . . he seemed very much fatigued.”

On September 16, Senator Lodge called up the treaty for consideration of the full Senate. On November 15, the chamber was still considering the treaty when, for the first time in its history, the Senate voted to invoke cloture–or cut off debate–on the treaty. Four days later, the Senate took up Senator Lodge’s resolution of ratification, which included fourteen reservations to the treaty. The Lodge resolution failed on a 39-55 vote. The Senate then considered a resolution to approve the treaty without reservations of any kind, which failed on a 38-53 vote. After 55 days of debate, the Senate had rejected the Treaty of Versailles.