Isolationism Follows Peace

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 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.

In the end, however, 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. This outcome was partly due to his own poor judgment at the time. He made the 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 necessary to win ratification from a predominantly Republican Senate.

Woodrow Wilson Having lost in Washington, Wilson carried his case to the people on a tour throughout the country. On September 25, 1919, physically ravaged by the rigors of peace-making and the pressures of the wartime Presidency, he suffered a crippling stroke at Pueblo, Colorado, from which he never recovered. 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 posture of isolationism. The idealistic mood passed with Wilson, and an era of apathy followed.

In the presidential election of 1920, Wilson's own party nominated a man who had not been associated prominently with the Wilson Administration, Governor James M. Cox of Ohio. The overwhelming victory of the Republican nominee, Warren G. Harding, was final evidence of 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, for their great contributions to the war effort had dramatized both their civic capacities and their right to the ballot. In 1919, Congress submitted to the states the Nineteenth Amendment, which was ratified in time to permit women to vote the following year.