Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the League of Nations

Authored by: Ross A. Kennedy

The Routledge Handbook of American Military and Diplomatic History

Print publication date:  June  2013
Online publication date:  August  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415888479
eBook ISBN: 9781135070991
Adobe ISBN: 9781135071028


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During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson developed an ambitious program to transform the international system in a way that he believed would end balance-of-power politics forever. Rooted in both national security fears and in a faith in American exceptionalism, Wilson developed his program before the United States entered the war, but it reached its fullest expression in the president’s Fourteen Points Address in January 1918. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Wilson managed to achieve much of his vision, including most notably the creation of a new world peacekeeping organization, the League of Nations. But he failed to convince the United States Senate to ratify his work. On one level, this defeat resulted from Wilson’s refusal to compromise over reservations that Republican leaders wanted to attach to America’s commitment to the League. More basically, however, the Senate’s rejection of the League reflected internal contradictions and ambiguities that had marred Wilson’s peace program from its inception. Regardless of Wilson’s good intentions, he failed to find a way to escape from the same power politics he sought to reform, thus making it relatively easy for liberal and conservative critics to block the creation of a Wilsonian world order. 1

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