Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate

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Author: Robert J. Dole  | Date: March 19, 1920

Senate Rejects Treaty of Versailles

On March 19, 1920, the Senate chamber served as the setting for the final act of one of the greatest dramas in American political history. Several months earlier, President Woodrow Wilson had personally delivered to the Senate a bulky copy of the peace treaty ending World War I. On that occasion, he had been escorted by Henry Cabot Lodge, who, as a result of the return of the Senate to Republican control in the elections of 1918, served as both majority leader and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee In a dramatic speech to the Senate, the president urged quick consent to the treaty’s ratification He expected no changes and assumed that the Senate, which had never before rejected a treaty, would grant its approval.

Following protracted hearings, Lodge reported the treaty to the Senate with four so-called reservations, directed at provisions for a League of Nations, and forty-five specific amendments. Democratic supporters of the president and a number of Republican "mild reservationists" voted down the amendments and returned the treaty to the committee for further consideration. At that point, President Wilson set out on a 9,500—mile tour of the West to bring popular pressure on the Senate for approval without change. During that trip, he suffered a stroke. With a stricken president more determined than ever to hold out, Lodge brought the treaty before the Senate in November 1919. It contained fourteen reservations, but no specific amendments. The Senate decisively defeated the treaty.

As sympathy for the president faded, and with the 1920 elections on the horizon, loyal Democrats came under increasing pressure to support the treaty with its reservations. On March 19, as the final vote approached, two members of the president’s cabinet worked the Senate floor to prevent defections. With the galleries jammed and the atmosphere electric with tension, the Senate failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority to approve the treaty. This action mortally wounded the League of Nations as viable defense against a second world war.

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Chicago: Robert J. Dole, "Senate Rejects Treaty of Versailles," Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress (Washington, D.C.: U.S Government Printing Office, 1989), in Original Sources, accessed January 22, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QC8LQ14M374D9I6.

MLA: Dole, Robert J. "Senate Rejects Treaty of Versailles." Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, Washington, D.C., U.S Government Printing Office, 1989, in , Original Sources. 22 Jan. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QC8LQ14M374D9I6.

Harvard: Dole, RJ 1989, 'Senate Rejects Treaty of Versailles' in Historical Almanac of the U.S. Senate: A Series of Bicentennial Minutes Presented to the Senate During the One Hundredth Congress, U.S Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.. cited in , . Original Sources, retrieved 22 January 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=QC8LQ14M374D9I6.