Although WWI fighting ended November 1918, the Treaty of Versailles to formally end the war was registered in late October 1919. Requiring territorial changes and reparations, enough U.S. senators opposed it to prevent 2/3 passage by Congress.
Here, two U.S. senators debated the pros and cons of the treaty: Nebraska Democrat Gilbert Hitchcock in favor and Idaho Republican William Borah against.
Sen. Hitchcock, in favor:
This treaty… was secured from Germany at the cannon’s mouth. They all represent concessions which Germany would not willingly grant.
We have withdrawn our armies from Europe except a few thousand men, and have practically completed demobilization. We are through fighting, and Germany knows it. If we fail to hold her to the bargain made at Versailles when the armies were in the field and when Germany was helpless, we will be compelled to negotiate as equals and lose a large part of all that was granted in the settlement.
Sen. Borah, against:
If the treaty is rejected, the United States will be relieved at once of all obligations, legal or moral, to take part in European affairs, and we will as a people be enabled to take up at once and devote our entire time and attention to the solution of impending domestic problems.
Whatever we should see fit or think proper to do in the way of friendly assistance, advice, or support for other peoples anywhere, we should be able to do of our own volition and in our own way, relieved entirely of the embarrassment of carrying forward the plans and schemes of other nations.
Two Senate votes were taken on November 19, 1919, exactly a month after this article’s publication. One vote rejected the treaty 41-51, the other vote later in the day rejected the treaty 39-55.
However, enough other nations signed the treaty that it went into effect regardless. This is similar to other international agreements during the Trump administration, such as the Paris climate accords, which remain in effect with almost every nation besides the U.S. still party to its provisions.
Also, clearly 1919 was an era when referring to “Hitchcock” by last name alone — as this article does — meant the Nebraska senator Gilbert, not the film director Alfred.
If the Treaty is Rejected — What Then?: The Question Answered by Hitchcock and Borah
Published: October 19, 1919
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