Isolationism follows peace

By the summer of 1918, when Germany's armies were being beaten back, the German government appealed to Wilson to negotiate on the basis of the Fourteen Points. After assuring himself that the request came from representatives of the people rather than of the military clique, the President conferred with the Allies who acceded to the German proposal. On this basis, an armistice was concluded on November 11.

It was Wilson's hope that the final treaty would have the character of a negotiated peace, but he feared that the passions aroused by the war would cause his allies to make severe demands. In this he was right. Persuaded that his greatest hope for the peace of the world, the League of Nations, would never be realized unless he made concessions to the demands of the Allies, he traded away point after point in the peace negotiations at Paris. Some negative points Wilson did accomplish: he denied Fiume to Italy, resisted Clemenceau's demand to detach the entire Rhineland from Germany, prevented France from annexing the Saar Basin, and frustrated a proposal to charge Germany with the whole cost of the war. But in the end there was little left of his positive proposals for a generous and lasting peace but the League itself, and Wilson had to endure the final irony of seeing his own country spurn League membership. In critical moments his own political judgment also forsook him. He made the capital political mistake of failing to take a leading member of the opposition Republican Party to Paris on his Peace Commission, and, when he returned to appeal for American adherence to the League, he refused to make even the moderate concessions that were necessary to win ratification from a predominantly Republican Senate. Having lost in Washington, he carried his case to the people on a tour through the country, pleading his cause with great eloquence. On September 25, 1919, physically ravaged by the rigors of peace-making and the pressure of the wartime presidency, he suffered a crippling stroke at Pueblo, Colorado, from which he never recovered; and in March 1920, the Senate, in its final vote, rejected both the Versailles Treaty and the League Covenant. From this point the United States withdrew deeper and deeper into a policy of isolation. The idealistic mood passed with Wilson, and an era of apathy followed.

In the presidential election of 1920, Wilson's own party nominated Governor James M. Cox of Ohio, who had not been associated prominently with the Wilson administration. The overwhelming victory of the Republican nominee, Warren G. Harding, testified to the general repudiation of Wilsonism. Although Harding had refused to commit himself clearly on the League issue during the campaign, his foreign policy, and that of his Republican successors, hewed generally to the isolationist line.

This election was the first in which women throughout the nation voted for a presidential candidate. During the war, Wilson had championed a federal amendment to permit women to vote, and the great contributions of American women to the war effort dramatized both their civic capacities and their right to the ballot. Congress submitted the Nineteenth Amendment to the states in June 1919, and it was ratified in time to permit women to vote the following year.