Credit: Courtesy of American Memory (Library of Congress
American foreign policy continues to resonate with the issues surrounding the debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations-collective security versus national sovereignty, idealism versus pragmatism, the responsibilities of powerful nations, the use of force to accomplish idealistic goals, the idea of America. Understanding the debate over the League and the consequences of its ultimate failure provides insight into international affairs in the years since the end of the Great War and beyond.
In this lesson, students read the words and listen to the voices of some central participants in the debate over the League of Nations.
Note: This lesson may be taught either as a stand-alone lesson or as part of the curriculum unit, The Debate in the United States Over the League of Nations. This curriculum unit may serve as a sequel to the complementary EDSITEment lesson U.S. Entry into World War I: A Documentary Chronology.
Working in either a whole-class setting or small groups, students should listen to and/or read the texts listed above, then fill in the chart "The Debate Over the League of Nations" on page 1 of the Master PDF.
There were five basic viewpoints about the League of Nations:
In the end, the Senate adopted 14 changes. If desired, review with the class the Reservations drawn up by Republican Senators, available via a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website Great War Primary Documents Archive. For more detail about the Senate debate, consult The Senate and the League of Nations on Documents of World War I, another link from Great War Primary Documents Archive (NOTE: The document begins with Lodge's 14 reservations, but quite a bit of additional material follows.)
On November 10, 1923, one day before his last public statement, former President Wilson delivered a speech, the text of which is available at Wilson's Final Campaign on the EDSITEment resource Links to the Past.
Prepare a class set of cards labeled: Strong Internationalist, Mild Internationalist, Mild Reservationist, Strong Reservationist, and Irreconcilable. Pass the cards out placing one each in an envelope to keep political positions secret. Read a statement or a position about the League of Nations and ask those representing a stance in agreement with that position to stand. After discussion about why students stood, pass the envelopes around to change the assigned stances of individuals. Repeat as desired. For a list of suggested position statements, see the “Hypothetical Position Statements on the League of Nations” on pages 2-3 of the Master PDF.
An alternative assessment would be to have students choose the political positions with which they agree the most and then write responses in defense of their chosen positions.
2-3 class periods