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

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Chapter Two:
The "League of Dam-Nations"

Progressives and the League of Nations

III. The League After Armistice

I. Collapse at Pueblo
II. The Origins of the League
III. The League After Armistice
IV. Progressive Nationalists
V. The Treaty Arrives
VI. The Articles of Contention
VII. Things Fall Apart
VIII. Aftermath

Within two weeks of the cessation of hostilities, the League to Enforce Peace -- Taft and the conservatives' organization -- announced its "Victory Program." As per both their earlier peace plan and Wilson's Fourteen Points, it included a "League of Free Nations with judicial, administrative, and executive powers and functions."1

While remaining purposefully vague about the details so as to encourage "discussion and criticism by all organizations and persons seeking international cooperation," the LEP recommended that the League include "an administrative organization for the conduct of affairs of common interest [and] the protection and care of backward regions and internationalized places" and "a representative Congress to formulate and codify rules of international law, to inspect the work of administrative bodies and to consider any matter affecting the tranquility of the world or betterment of human relations." Most importantly, "a resort to force by any nation should be prevented by a solemn agreement that any aggression will be met immediately by such an overwhelming economic and military force that it will not be attempted." The "initiating nucleus" of this League would be solely "the nations associated as belligerents in winning the war." In the "Victory Program," all the major tenets of conservative internationalism -- imperialism over "backwards regions," independent nations interacting through international law, collective security, and a peace determined by the Allied victors -- were reaffirmed.2

A few days later, the progressives weighed in, vis a vis the Statement of Principles penned by the League of Free Nations Association (LFNA). Formed in April 1918 by the Survey's Paul Kellogg as a private study group on the war aims suggested by the Fourteen Points, the "Committee on Nothing at All," as it was originally known, ended up being "the only expressly liberal organization in the League fight, and it represented the only effort of liberals to organize on either side of the controversy." The statement was printed in six major progressive journals (the Dial, the Independent, the Nation, the New Republic, the Public, and the Survey) simultaneously, and the signers of the League statement, according to historian Wolfgang Helbich, "read like a Who's Who of American liberalism."3

As with the LEP's "Victory Project," the LFNA's statement of principles restated the basic intentions of the progressive internationalists. "The fundamental principle underlying the League of Nations," it argued, "is that the security and rights of each member shall rest upon the strength of the whole League, pledged to uphold by their combined power international arrangements ensuring fair treatment for all." To accomplish thus, the LFNA advocated a rolling back of national power, as "any plan ensuring nationals security and equality of economic opportunity will involve a limitation of national sovereignty."

In keeping with arguably the central tenet of progressive ideology, the LFNA emphasized the importance of the League as a vehicle of and for enlightened international public opinion: "If the League of Nations is not to develop into an immense bureaucratic union of governments instead of a democratic union of peoples, the elements of (a) complete publicity and (b) effective popular representation must be insisted upon." And, drawing upon the federal example and history of the United States, the LFNA argued for the League as a first step in molding a new international order, one which would allow for "the greatest measure of autonomy, and for absolute freedom of religion, of civil liberty, of cultural development of the weaker peoples within the stronger nations, and of the native peoples of the undeveloped regions of the earth." More than just the collective security pact suggested by the Victory Program, the progressive League outlined by the LFNA represented the first step toward a more just and democratic world.4

To some, the League of the progressive internationalists seemed dangerously naïve, if not downright un-American. "We are not internationalists. We are American nationalists," thundered Theodore Roosevelt in Chicago in the summer of 1918. "To substitute internationalism for nationalism means to do away with patriotism," he declared in New York soon thereafter. "The professional pacifist and the professional internationalist are equally undesirable citizens." Desiring a League that would serve "only as an addition to, and in no sense as a substitute for the preparedness of our own strength for our own defense," Roosevelt later scoffed at the global order articulated by Wilson and the progressives, saying it would force America into war "every time a Jugoslav wishes to slap a Czechoslav in the face." In very Rooseveltian language, TR's old friend, Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana, also deplored the "amiable old male grannies who, over their afternoon tea, are planning to denationalize America and denationalize the Nation's manhood."5

But even as conservatives and progressive internationalists wrangled over the character and make-up of a possible post-war League, another set of observers rejected the idea of an international organization outright. Disgusted by what they thought to be imperialistic forays by Wilson into Mexico, the Caribbean, and Russia, and deeply fearful of the obligations which they believed League membership would place on the United States, a group of progressives in the Senate worked feverishly -- and hand-in-glove with conservatives -- to kill the treaty and the League, believing nothing less than the fate of the republic was at stake. These, to use a term coined by historian Robert David Johnson, were the Senate "peace progressives."6

Continue to Chapter 2, Pt. 4: The Third Way: Progressive Nationalists.

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1. "Draws Up Program for World League," New York Times, Nov. 25, 1918, 13.
2. Ibid. For his part, Theodore Roosevelt aligned strongly with the nationalistic bent of the conservatives. "Would it not be well to begin with the League which we actually have in existence, the League of the Allies who have fought through this great war? Let us at the peace table see that real justice is done among those allies" first, he argued, "and that while the sternest reparation is demanded from our foes…let us agree to extend the privilege of the League as rapidly as their conduct warrants it to other nations." Pietrusza, 66-67.
3. Wolfgang J. Helbich, "American Liberals in the League of Nations Controversy." The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Winter, 1967-1968), pp. 573-575. According to Helbich, the formation of the LFNA represented a high-water mark for progressive unity, "one that was soon to be destroyed by the new rifts and bitter debates after the disappointing Peace Treaty." In fact, a major wing of progressivism was left unrepresented by the memo - More on them in due course.
4. "League of Free Nations Association Statement of Principles," The New Republic, November 30, 1918. Vol. XVII, No. 213, pp. 134-136.
5. Knock, 169, 229. William Leuchtenburg, The Perils of Prosperity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958), 57. It's hard to imagine any organization constructed by Wilson would have satisfied Roosevelt, who deemed his wartime presidency akin to "fighting the Civil War under Buchanan." Knock, 169.
6. Johnson coined this term in his book-length examination of the "Peace Progressives." They, and particularly their leader, are also covered thoroughly in John Chalmer Vinson's William Borah and the Outlawry of War.

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