Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 3: The Debate in the United States over the League of Nations: Five Camps: From Voices of Consent to Voices of Dissent


The Lesson


Woodrow Wilson for League of Nations

Woodrow Wilson

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.

Guiding Questions

  • What was Woodrow Wilson's role in and vision for peace and the League of Nations after World War I?
  • What were the central issues in the debate in America over the League of Nations?

Learning Objectives

  • Describe Wilson's concepts for peace and the League of Nations and efforts to foster American support for it.
  • Discuss the opposition to the League in the Senate.

Preparation Instructions

  • Review the lesson. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing. Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Five Views

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.)

Activity 2. Wilson's Final Campaign

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.

Guiding Discussion Questions:
  • In what ways were Wilson's predictions proven correct by events occurring after 1923?
  • Given the harsh provisions of the Treaty of Versailles (to which Wilson agreed in order to ensure that the League of Nations would be part of the agreement), is there any reason to believe the League of Nations could have prevented World War II had the U.S. joined?


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.

The Basics

Grade Level


Time Required

2-3 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies > Place > Europe
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > The Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > War and Foreign Policy
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Debate
  • Discussion
  • Evaluating arguments
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Interpretation
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Textual analysis
  • Using archival documents
  • MMS (AL)


Activity Worksheets