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Woodrow Wilson

If a general and brief biography were to be composed of the presidency of Woodrow Wilson, it would be quite clear that his many outstanding accomplishments nearly outweighed several great faults. Among numerous eminent achievements, “his foreign policy established a new vision for America’s role in the world,” and after emerging victoriously from WWI, he was acknowledged by many as the savior of the Western world. Wilson’s idealism, however, proved to be too far-advanced for its time, as it was soon rejected by nearly the entire country. Many critics would agree that the downfall of Wilson’s presidency did not lie specifically with his ideals, but with his failure to apprehend conflicts that could arise in the near future.

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One of the main criticisms that Wilson encountered after the war regarded the structure of his League of Nations, and the negative outcomes that could possibly be derived from it. For instance, the major reasons that the public rejected this proposal was because it feared that the United States would have to merge with European countries at the expense of losing its independence. Henry Cabot Lodge, a republican senator opposed to Wilson’s foreign policy, addressed the president regarding this matter: “Sir, we are told that this treaty means peace.

Even so, I would not pay the price. Would you purchase peace at the cost of any part of our independence?” (3). Lodge proceeds to address past wars in which independence versus peace was at hand. The true concern of the general public, however, lied within an issue much greater than a loss of independence; it was, in fact, with the fear of losing the American spirit: its independence, capitalism and democracy, which, Lodge notes, were paid for with a high price. He concludes his address to Wilson with:

Can you hope for peace when love of country is disregarded in your scheme, when the spirit of nationality is rejected, even scoffed at? … With a ruthlessness unparalleled, your treaty in a dozen instances runs counter to the divine law of nationality. Basically, although Wilson’s plan for a League of Nations to be united together in course of action might have lessened the likelihood of war, the price to pay for peace was far greater than what the United States would be acquiring for it.

Warren G. Harding, another republican politician, expressed similar sentiments: “It is better to be the free and disinterested agent of international justice and advancing civilization…than to be shackled by a written contract which surrenders our freedom of action and gives a military alliance the right to proclaim America’s duty to the world.” (4). Harding expressed concerns which paralleled those of Lodge (and much of the rest of the public), however Harding was additionally apprehensive of what the United States’ duty would be to these countries with whom it would merge.

It seemed that at the time, even Wilson was unaware of the strict policies the US would have to follow in order to ensure the succession of the League. In Wilson’s “Fourteen Points,” guidelines for the League of Nations, certain trade restrictions and secret alliances would be abolished, armaments curtailed, certain colonies set for independence, while others would be evacuated, and the communistic country of Russia welcomed into the League. (League). * Therefore, Harding, like many other citizens, was concerned that America’s participation in the proposal could very well force us into war, rather than away from it. With such an agreement, the country would have no choice as to with whom it could ally in a time of war, and might be forced to partake in a war with other countries of the League. Harding concludes that:

No surrender of rights to a world council or its military alliance. No [garbled] mandatory, however appealing, ever shall summon the sons of this republic to war. Their supreme sacrifice shall be only asked for America, and its call of honor. There is sanctity in that right, which we will not surrender to any other power on Earth. (4) Many other criticisms came from the greatly opposed French Premi�re Georges Clemenceau, for whom simply agreeing to a proposal for the League of Nations would not be enough. Clemenceau demanded complete justice for all of its losses, which of course could never be fully possible.

He argued that, “Justice, therefore, is the only possible basis for the settlement of the accounts of this terrible war. Justice is what…Germany had been promised…[and] shall have. But it must be justice for all…for [the] millions whose homes and land, ships and property German savagery has spoliated and destroyed.” (9). In this case, Germany, too wanted justice for its losses. Therefore, what Wilson had not perhaps anticipated was that rather than having his proposal carried out as he had planned, he “was forced to compromise away some of his less cherished Fourteen Points in order to salvage the more precious League of Nations.” (text). Thus, because Wilson was so focused on his plan for a united front among the United States and Europe, he failed to recognize the conflicts that were arising before him, until it was too late.

Generally, Woodrow Wilson would have served an excellent presidency had he been more aware of the near-future outcomes of his decided courses of action. Although his ideals and policies were exceptionally advanced for the time of his presidency, he was too concerned with the distant future to recognize the immediate consequences of his actions. Thus by too often “gazing on the stars” of an apparently bright future for the country, he was “at the mercy of the puddles in the road,” by failing to observe the conflicts that lay directly ahead of him.

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