Ohio History Journal

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Historians are often prone to conjecture, "What might have

happened if--?" Perhaps no other event in the history of the

United States has been the subject of as much hindsight speculation

as this nation's refusal to join the League of Nations after the

conclusion of the first World War. Not a few           historians have

suggested that World War II was in large degree made inevitable

when the United States declined to assume the role of world

leadership proposed by President Woodrow Wilson.

In attempting to explain the failure of the Wilsonian program of

American internationalism through our non-participation in the

league, many have concluded that the president was in no small

measure personally responsible for that failure due to certain errors

of judgment which went a long way in alienating public and con-

gressional opinion from his program. Among these errors, none was

to prove more costly than his decision to attend the Paris peace

conference in person. This was a decision without precedent in our

history, for which Wilson was to be censured by friend and foe

alike who maintained that the primary duty of the president was

to remain at home to solve the very difficult problems incident to

the nation's post-war readjustment. To a subordinate, they con-

tended, should have gone the task of preparing the peace treaty

at Paris.1

Paradoxically enough, this presidential decision which did so


* Phillip R. Shriver is an assistant professor of history at Kent State University.

1 The best account of this opposition to the president's going to Paris is given in

Thomas A. Bailey, Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace (New York, 1944), 71-86.

See also Charles Seymour, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House (4 vols., Boston,

1926-28), IV, 209-216; David F. Houston, Eight Years with Wilson's Cabinet, 1913-

1920 (2 vols., Garden City, Long Island, 1926), I, 350; Henry Cabot Lodge, The Senate

and the League of Nations (New York, 1925), 98-99; Denna F. Fleming, The United

States and the League of Nations, 1918-1920 (New York, 1932), 55-57; Robert

Lansing, The Big Four and Others of the Peace Conference (Boston, 1921), 38-39;

Arthur D. Howden Smith, Mr. House of Texas (New York, 1940), 285-288.