Uphill All the Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism, 1919-1929
By Kevin C. Murphy, Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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Chapter Seven:
America and the World

Progressives and the
Foreign Policy of the 1920s


IV. The Outlawry of War

I. The Sins of the Colonel.
II. Guarding the Back Door.
III. Disarming the World.
IV. The Outlawry of War.
V. The Temptations of Empire.
VI. Immigrant Indigestion.

As his dismay over the final fruits of the Washington Conference suggested, Senator Borah was still looking for a way to engage in international diplomacy without snaring America in any sort of entangling pacts or alliances, least of all anything that smacked of the League of Nations. "'I feel…indeed as I have always felt, that we have our obligations as a member of the family of nations and that we cannot in justice to ourselves and to humanity disregard these obligations," Borah wrote one friend in 1923. "My objection to many programs which have been proposed is that they commit us in advance to political obligations and hamper us when the hour comes as to the wisest course which we should pursue. But I would be shortsighted and foolish indeed to say that American must not confer with other powers when world interests are involved because we are a part of the world.'"1

To square this circle, he, and many other progressives of the period, eventually saw a potential way forward in the Outlawry of War movement. "I have no doubt the state of society was such at one time that it was thought impossible to outlaw murder," Borah explained to one constituent. "We can outlaw war if the public mind can be educated up to it and it can be."2

The Outlawry of War was an idea first concocted by Salmon O. Levinson, an enterprising Chicago lawyer, in March of 1918. "If it is lawful to do a thing," Levinson inquired to the readers of The New Republic that month, "why make such a cry about its being done? If war is legal, why object to militarism, which is a necessary effect of the legality of war rather than, as is popularly assumed, the cause of war?...As long as international law continues to legalize war all nations are moral accessories before the fact to 'collective murder.'" However, if the world were to make war illegal as it had with dueling, and a subject to be adjudicated by a powerful international Court, Levinson argued, the calculus becomes very different. "War, though made illegal, might still conceivably occur but it would be branded as a crime and the force of the world would be organized to deal with the criminal…[R]eduction of armaments would occur as a matter of course to the point required to protect domestic tranquility and other intra-national needs…Moreover, the elimination of war would automatically sweep away most of the present vexing international questions. The problems of contraband, blockade, in short the freedom of the seas, buffer states, the so-called balance of power, the sanctity of neutrality treaties, integrity of small nations, the 'rectification of boundaries,' are created by the existence of war and have no significance under peace conditions."3

Having formulated this idea, Levinson spent the next several years working to promote it. He quickly garnered a key philosophical endorsement from John Dewey, who thought the argument "simple and understandable." "Like all really simple and intelligible propositions," Dewey wrote in the introduction to a 1921 pamphlet on the idea, "it goes to the root of the situation. Above all it does more than any other plan yet proposed to provide natural and orderly agencies for enlightening the peoples regarding disputes among nations, and for concentrating all the moral forces of the world against modern war, the abomination of abominations." In short, by making the law illegal, the great force of public opinion could finally work against ending it for good. "It does not follow that all wars will automatically cease," Dewey argued in a 1923 editorial on the subject:
Crimes continue after there are laws against them. But for the average person law is almost a measure of morality. Ask almost anyone except someone who has given the matter thought why something is wrong and he will reply that it is wrong because it is against the law. The law has been a great educative force in fixing the moral beliefs and sentiments of men. As long as war is lawful it will be right to a great many persons…Outlaw war and the sentiment that it is criminal to resort to war will be strengthened. At present the pacifist in time of war is looked upon with suspicion by his fellow citizens; he is thought dangerous, almost, if not quite a criminal. Outlaw war and provide a world court to try all disputes that are not settled by conference and the militarist becomes the criminal, and the upholder of peace is the good and useful citizen."4
Another key early adopter of Levinson's Outlawry plan was former Roosevelt progressive Raymond Robins. "The people of the world are ready and eager for the next step in the slow advance from savagery toward international civilization," Robins argued in his own introduction to the Outlawry pamphlet. "They want war unmasked and declared in international law to be what it in fact is, the supreme enemy of the human race…They want war outlawed as a crime against the law of nations and the life of humanity." "As long as war continues to be the only method whereby nations can compel the settlement of international disputes," Robins wrote in 1923, "just so long does war serve a social function, and however bloody, cruel, and destructive, war will continue to remain because it is the only way…Internationally shall we live by violence or by law? Between these two we have to choose. There is no third alternative."5

Robins also enlisted his wife Margaret Dreier Robins, head of the Women's Trade Union League, to the cause, and the WTUL, working with the other members of the National Council, helped to promote Levinson's idea at Law Not War day and other anti-war festivities. Once again, the full force of the women's peace movement was brought to bear on the issue. "Women won suffrage," argued Alice Park, "women won prohibition. Now women are putting through the outlawry of war." The Women's Peace Union, an anti-League, pro-peace organization, began devoting all of its efforts to passing a constitutional amendment outlawing war, and then some: In 1924, the WPU pushed for a amendment removing Congress's power to declare war. One particularly active and notable supporter of Outlawry was Ohio judge and peace activist Florence Allen, the first women elected to a state Supreme Court. "Outlawry of war is not only the ideal for whose attainment we must strive," she wrote in 1925, "but…a practical and indispensable part of the machinery necessary to establish a warless world…We cannot stop war so long as we sanction its use."6

While harboring some reservations about the idea's practicality - among other things, she preferred the creation of a Department of Peace within the State Department - Carrie Chapman Catt thought Outlawry could revive the "spiritual strength of the World." In 1925, Catt became the first Chairwoman of the newly-founded Committee on the Cause and Cure of War, a coalition of nine women's organizations including the WTUL, AAUW, League of Women Voters, Women's Christian Temperance Union, and General Federation of Women's Clubs, that continued to advocate for outlawry and disarmament.7


Dewey, Robins, and the women's peace movement were early and important allies, but to have a decisive policy impact, the Outlawry plan needed a sponsor in Congress. And so, once William Borah put forward his original call for a disarmament conference, Levinson and other Outlawry advocates began to work on him. "I have always maintained that although you were an 'irreconcilable' in the League fight," Levinson wrote to Borah in February 1921 while sending him his plan, "you were as strongly in favor of the world peace movement on a practical basis as any man in the United States Senate." For his part, Dewey explicitly endorsed Outlawry as the solution to the Gordian knot Borah had been grappling with. Americans "don't want entanglement in European affairs, and at the same time they want the United States to do its part in international cooperation," Dewey wrote Borah in May 1922. "It seems to me that the man who first takes the leadership in a constructive movement at the present time will put himself in a position to go as far in politics as he may wish, even to the presidency, and that you are far better situated to lead this movement than anyone else."8

Similarly, Doremus Scudder of the Greater Boston Federation of Churches and Religious Organizations wrote to Borah a month later, urging him to act. "I do not believe that any previous proposal concerning international relations ever issued in this country has met with such immediate and widespread acceptance," Scudder argued, noting the endorsement of the National Committee, the YWCA, WILPF, Federal Council of Churches, the LWP, fifty presidents and professors, and even the American Legion. "I trust that you may in this thinking this matter over," Scudder concluded, "be guided by the great Directing Spirit of history to take the right and wise step in this crisis in human affairs."9

Directing Spirit or no, Borah was indeed intrigued by the idea, but he remained worried about the enforcement issue. Could public opinion alone prevent nations from going to war? The last thing Borah wanted was Levinson's original plan, which argued that the League of Nations could help to enforce the edict. Eventually, however, Borah came around to the idea of an international Court - completely separate from the existing World Court - that had the power to deem individuals guilty of warmongering, at which point the nations which were home to these criminals would actually try the offenders.10

This was the plan Borah officially put forward in a Senate resolution on February 14, 1923. It first called for a universal treaty that declared war "a public crime under the law of nations" and called for every nation "to indict and punish its own international war breeders or instigators and war profiteers." It also called for the creation and adoption of a "code of international laws of peace based upon equality and justice between nations." Finally, to create "a judicial substitute for war," the resolution authorized the creation of a court - modeled on the US Supreme Court -- "to hear and decide all purely international controversies as defined by the code, or arising under treaties" Its authority rested not on the power of force but upon "the compelling power of enlightened public opinion." Pushing the plan a year later in identical editorials for The Christian Century, The Central Christian Advocate, the Pacific Christian Advocate, and The New Republic, Borah argued "that the first successful step in the ending of war is to declare it a crime, to array against it the moral and legal condemnation of mankind - to outlaw it - to place it outside the place of respectability, of legality - to brand it as a criminal monstrosity. Other steps will follow."11

Borah once again received extravagant praise for this new idea among peace advocates. To the New York Evening Post's Mark Sullivan, Borah had made himself "the principal leader of world thought in the field of the relations of the nations with each other, a pioneer in a new conception of international relations." But others found the Outlawry plan less satisfying. "Abolishing war means abolishing the power of the interests that in each country control the destiny of society [through] the ownership and control of certain entities," thought Amos Pinchot. "Those who own and control these things control society." As such, outlawry, like disarmament before it, was mainly just telling people "to bite at the stick with which they are struck" rather than the hand wielding it.12

A particularly virulent critic of the Outlawry plan was Walter Lippmann, who assailed it in a long essay in the August 1923 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. Now that Borah was advocating Outlawry against the World Court, he argued, the phrase "outlawry of war" had been "employed in order to strengthen a league before there was a League. It was used to defeat the League after there was a League, and to advocate an international court before there was a Court. Now that the Court has been created, it is being used to defeat the Court and to advocate another court which does not exist." Now, "Mr. Borah's confirmed objections to a superstate sleep comfortably with his demand for a Supreme Court of the World, modeled on our Federal Supreme Court, having its gigantic power in conflicts between states…A position so illogical must be a political accident."13

In short, Lippmann thought the whole Outlawry movement was absurd. "[I]f you have the right to go to war for what you call your liberty, and the right to go to war because you think an attack is imminent, it would be a stupid Foreign Office indeed which could not legalize any war it thought necessary or desirable. The only war outlawed under this plan is a war openly announced to be a war of aggression. There are no such wars." Moreover, Lippmann thought, "the notion that a judicial process in a court is the only method of peace is fantastic. Mr. Borah, every day of his life, is engaged in adjusting disputes…If he believed that the only alternative to war was resort to the courts, he would not be wasting his talents in a nonjudicial body like the United States Senate. He would either be a judge or arguing before judges." In short, "if diplomacy is a necessary method of maintaining peace, then no plan which does not provide for it can be an effective plan to abolish war."14

Among those persuaded by Lippmann's devastating critique was Senator Hiram Johnson. "I read Lippmann's article very carefully," Johnson told Harold Ickes. "I resent his article because of my affection for Raymond, and the fact that it seemed to me in certain phases practically to demolish the plan Raymond presents. In any argument and on anything I would prefer Raymond Robins to prevail rather than Walter Lippmann." That being said, Johnson admitted his doubts. "I am fearful this scheme is chimerical, and not only that, but it would involve a super-legislature and a super-court wholly at variance with the genius of our institutions and outlaw only those wars which would never occur anyway." As for Ickes, who noticed the idea "seems really to be taking hold with a good many people," he could not figure how the "'Outlawry of War' scheme would fit in with the Versailles Treaty, but off-hand it would seem to me that a revision of that Treaty would have to precede the drafting of an International code outlawing war."15

Like Lippmann, Johnson and Ickes were also confused about the differences between the Court, which Borah had opposed, and this new court, which Borah now supported. "I am not all surprised at what you say about Borah espousing the World Court…He is as variable as the wind and as fickle as a maiden," Johnson told Ickes. "I have no faith in Borah's espousal of that cause, and I believe he would as readily drop it as he changed his position upon international affairs to seize it when he thought we were at low ebb last year." When Raymond Robins explained to Ickes in 1925 that he was supporting the World Court only if its members agreed to outlaw war within two years, Ickes and Johnson were left perplexed and irritated by Robins' maneuvering. "Raymond assured me," Ickes told the Senator, "that he was as unalterably opposed as ever to the League of Nations and the World Court. He insisted that the whole object of the compromise agreement…was to divide the pro-court advocates into two groups and that has been done." "What a tangled web we weave," Johnson replied. "Robins' idea…I take it from your letter, is by putting up a job on someone else, deceiving those with whom you agree to act, and voting ultimately a lie. In the days of the Stuarts this kind of public activity was justified by one great party and to it was applied by the other term 'Jesuitical,' which in the succeeding centuries has been the designation of crooked and treacherous policy." Either way, Johnson thought, it "leaves him pretty nastily naked intellectually."16

Borah had to fight off a similar conflation of goals when former Columbia history professor James Shotwell -- who, with Lippmann, had been a member of Wilson's Inquiry during the war and helped to fashion the Fourteen Points, and who now served as director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's economics and history division -- began to push the Outlawry idea as an argument for American participation in the League of Nations and the World Court. While the peace movement and its aims of disarmament and international goodwill were "gaining strength in America," Shotwell argued in The Survey in 1924, "the refusal of the United States to cooperate in the work of the League of Nations…constituted an almost insuperable obstacle to their practical realization." So Shotwell and a "small group of Americans," mostly from the Carnegie Endowment, had drafted a new treaty with Outlawry as its centerpiece, "which the Council of the League of Nations has accepted from their hands and placed before the leading governments of the world for their consideration." This fusion of Outlawry and Wilsonism came to be known in 1925 as the Harmony Peace Plan, and while it would help to tie the various factions of the peace movement together for a time, Borah never signed aboard, and the two groups of backers eventually went their separate ways.17

Nonetheless, it was Professor Shotwell, along with his Carnegie and Columbia colleague Nicholas Murray Butler, who brought Outlawry to the next stage of fruition in 1927. On a visit to France, Shotwell suggested the notion to the French Foreign Minister, Aristide Briand, who was eager to form some sort of alliance with the United States. On April 6th, 1927 - the tenth anniversary of American entry into the Great War -Briand sent a letter to the American people (drafted by Shotwell) suggesting that the two nations agree to renounce "war as an instrument of national policy." "If there were any need for those two great democracies to give high testimony to their desire for peace, and to furnish other peoples an example more solemn still," Briand's letter argued, "France would be willing to subscribe publicly with the United States to any mutual engagement tending to 'outlaw war,' to use an American expression, between these two countries."18

Two weeks later, Nicholas Murray Butler implored America to take notice of Briand's "epoch-marking offer" in a letter published in the New York Times. Noting that Briand had sent an open letter rather than a diplomatic communiqué, Butler suggested that France was trying "to ascertain whether the will to peace really exists among the people of the United States…Where and how could we find a more fitting tribute to the memory of those whose lives were given in that stupendous struggle," he argued, speaking of the World War, "than by taking a solemn compact with that nation more severely stricken by that war, for the formal and definite renunciation of war itself as an instrument of national policy?"19

Secretary of State Kellogg and Calvin Coolidge had also noted the fact that Briand's letter was public, and they did not appreciate either the French Foreign Minister or the Carnegie Endowment trying to jam them up. (In fact, Kellogg and Coolidge contemplated indicting Shotwell and Butler under the Logan Act, which forbade private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, before concluding that would cause even more of a stir.) William Borah also disliked the bilateral approach to outlawry, especially since the chances of the United States and France ever going to war were negligible. As a counter-offer, Borah suggested and ultimately convinced Kellogg to offer a multilateral treaty instead, open to any nation who wanted to join the movement to renounce war. This Kellogg proffered back to France on December 28th, 1927 - much to the irritation of Briand, who had simply wanted to lock the United States into a bilateral alliance, and who now found the powerful groundswell of public opinion he had hoped to capitalize on turned back at him.20

And so on August 27, 1928, Kellogg, Briand, and representatives from thirteen other nations -- including England, Italy, Japan, and Germany -- signed the Pact of Paris, declaring "in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another." From now on, these nations announced, "the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except by pacific means." Eventually, sixty-four nations would join the Pact. A satisfied William Borah declared the Kellogg-Briand pact "the only kind of treaty the United States could sign."21


But first, of course (and as Borah well knew), the Treaty had to get through the Senate. To make it happen, the peace movement again moved into full gear. "The women of this Nation," argued Carrie Chapman Catt, "are more united in their endorsement of this treaty than we have ever known them to be on any other question." Beginning in September, Catt pushed each affiliate of the Committee on the Cause and Cure of War to get their senators on record as supporting the pact. At each meeting of the Committee, of which there were over 10,000, a resolution calling upon the Senate to pass the treaty was adopted - Laid end to end, Catt told Borah, these 10,000 resolutions would stretch almost two miles. While Catt remained doubtful of its potential impact on ending war, the Pact, she argued, "will go far to prepare the way for disarmament. Such a treaty…must produce a psychological reaction that will give a new viewpoint to politics and lend a bolder spirit to disarmament conferences." It was, in short "a mighty stride toward peace."22

Like the original Outlawry plan, the Kellogg-Briand Pact had its share of critics. "It did not seem possible that the State Department could have been spending its efforts on a project so obviously absurd as this one seemed to be," Walter Lippmann scoffed in the New York World, arguing it was ridiculous that "Europe should scrap its whole system of security based on the enforcement of peace and accept in its place a pious, self-denying ordinance that no nation will disturb the peace." The Kellogg-Briand Pact and "the renunciation of war," he concluded, were "excellent devices for stopping wars that nobody intends to wage." Former irreconcilable James Reed of Missouri deemed the Pact an "international kiss," while former Wilson ally Carter Glass of Virginia, while agreeing to vote for ratification, was "not willing that anybody in Virginia think that [he was] simple enough to suppose that it is worth a postage stamp in the direction of accomplishing a permanent peace."23

Nonetheless, since its opponents presumed it was at best a harmless rhetorical gesture, the Senate ratified the Treaty 85-1 in January of 1929. (The sole no vote was John J. Blaine of Wisconsin.) It went into effect the following July, after all the original signatories had ratified it. "I think it is not too much to say that the Kellogg Pact, "declared Judge Florence Allen, "would not have been ratified in this country if women had not been voting." Democratic Senator Robert Wagner of New York, elected to that body in 1926, was similarly moved. While he thought the treaty should have gone farther -- it "fails to denounce war as a crime" and "fails to outlaw war," he pointed out correctly -- Wagner suggested the Kellogg-Briand Pact "gives basis to the hope that public opinion, successful in its first effort at treaty making, may push on to more substantial victories." "Here, at last," he argued, "we have a treaty which may be said to have its birth in popular initiative and its approval in a popular referendum."24

Jane Addams also thought the pact a much-needed victory for the increasingly troubled progressive engine of enlightened public opinion. "This comprehensive treaty," she argued in 1930, "illustrates, as nothing in all history has done, the genuine movement for peace taking place all over the world. It has been endorsed and ratified by government officials and voted upon favorably by hard-headed, even by hard-boiled politicians." Nonetheless, Addams thought, there was still much hard work to do. "The difficulties ahead lie in the enforcement of this high resolve and unless it is to prove an example, like the Prohibition Amendment, of government action outrunning public opinion, every effort for popular backing must be made along both educational and empirical lines." The enforcement problem would rear its head the following year, when Japan attacked one of its fellow signatories, China, in Manchuria, beginning the terrible conflagration that would come to be known as World War II. But even before then, there were signs that the "parchment peace" would not hold. In the first vote taken after the treaty's ratification in January 1929, despite the vociferous objections of Senate progressives and the peace movement, the Senate appropriated $274 million for fifteen new heavy cruisers.25

Continue to Chapter 7, Pt. 5: The Temptations of Empire.

Return to the Table of Contents.

1. Vinson, 52.
2. William Borah to Arthur Pound, June 26, 1924, WJB Box 148: 1923-24.
3. Vinson, 59-62. Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity, 116. Salmon O. Levinson, "The Legal Status of War," The New Republic, March 9, 1918, 171-173.
4. John Dewey, "Introduction," in Salmon O. Levinson, The Outlawry of War. (American Committee for the Outlawry of War, 1921. John Dewey, "Ridding the World of War," Life and Labor Bulletin, August 1923, 2.
5. Raymond Robins, "Introduction," in Salmon O. Levinson, The Outlawry of War, 1921. "Raymond Robins on the Next Step in Civilization," Life and Labor Bulletin, August 1923, 3.
6. Life and Labor Bulletin, August 1923. Alonso, Women's Peace Union, 28. Harriet Hyman Alonso, Peace as a Women's Issue: A History of the U.S. Movement for World Peace and Women's Rights (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1993), 117-118. Brown, 65. Florence Allen, "If War Were a Crime," The Survey, August 1, 1925, 477-478.
7. Carrie Chapman Catt, "The Outlawry of War," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, July 1928 (Vol. 138), 157-163. Susan Zeiger, "Finding a Cure for War: Women's Politics and the Peace Movement in the 1920s," Journal of Social History, Vol. 24, No. 1 (Autumn, 1990), 69-86.
8. Salmon Levinson to William Borah, February 21, 1921. WJB, Box 91: Disarmament - Illinois. John Dewey to William Borah, March 6, 1922. WJB Box 117: Levinson, S.O. Vinson, 63-64.
9. Doremus Scudder to Borah, June 20, 1922. WJB, Box 112: Four-Power Treaty.
10. Vinson, 67-70.
11. Vinson, 74-75, 87.
12. Vinson, 78. Ashby, 75.
13. Walter Lippmann, "The Outlawry of War," in Lippmann, Men of Destiny, 165-166.
14. Lippmann, Men of Destiny, 175, 178-179.
15. Johnson to Ickes, August 6, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ickes to Johnson, April 26, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
16. Johnson to Ickes, October 8, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Johnson to Ickes, October 2, 1923. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson. Ickes to Johnson, September 4, 1925 Box 33: Hiram Johnson. HLI. Johnson to Ickes, September 10, 1925 Box 33: Hiram Johnson. HLI. "The trouble with you is you are too far removed from the Puritan strain that I suppose you have in you," responded Ickes. "If you were a good time old Puritan and a regular church attendant, especially if you solemnly passed the plate on Sundays, you wouldn't revolt the way you do at deceiving one's friends in order to overcome one's enemies. Fortunately the destinies of the country are safe in the hands of those good old Puritans of undiluted stock and pillars of the church, Silent Cal and anything but silent General Dawes." Ickes to Johnson, September 15, 1925. HLI Box 33: Hiram Johnson.
17. Vinson, 96-103. David Swanson, When the World Outlawed War (Washington: eBookit, 2011). James T. Shotwell, "Security and Disarmament," The Survey, August 1, 1924 (Vol. LII, No. 9), 483-486. David Steigerwald, Wilsonian Idealism in America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994), 107-108.
18. Harold Josephson, James T. Shotwell and the Rise of Internationalism in America (Cranberry: Associated University Presses, 1975), 71. Glenn Hastedt, Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy (New York: Facts on File, 2004), 274. Gerald Leinwand, 1927: High Tide of the 1920s (New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2001), 121.
19. Nicholas Murray Butler, "Briand Proposes Eternal Peace with U.S.," New York Times, April 25, 1927.
20. Leinwand, 122-123. Vinson, 132-148.
21. "The Kellogg-Briand Pact," 1928. Vinson, 1.
22. Vinson, 163-164. Catt, "The Outlawry of War," 162. Brown, 66.
23. Steel, 254-255. Leinwand, 123. "War will not be abolished between the nations," Lippmann argued, "until its political equivalent has been created, until there is an international government strong enough to preserve order, and wise enough to welcome changes in that order. We may never live to see that. We may not wish to see it. But that, and nothing less, is what international peace will cost." Ibid.
24. Hastedt, 274. Brown, 66. Vinson, 172-173.
25. Addams, Second Twenty Years, 219. Leuchtenburg, Perils of Prosperity, 116. Hastedt, 274. Johnson, Peace Progressives, 2-3.

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