The rise of bolshevism in Russia during World War I spurred President Wilson to outline his terms for peace nearly a year before the war ended. Wilson had looked with distaste on an alliance with the autocratic czar of Russia and generally favored the provisional government led by moderate Socialist Aleksandr Kerensky, whose liberal policies and commitment to keep Russia in the war were popular with the Allies.
The seizure of power by the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, frightened world leaders. They knew bolshevism could potentially attract millions of discontented, war-weary workers to its ranks. The Bolsheviks embraced the Communist ideology of Karl Marx, who called for class war between workers and capitalists rather than world war between capitalist governments. Lenin embarrassed world leaders by publishing secret pacts that revealed Allied territorial ambitions.
Wilson did not want to be associated with the pacts, nor did he want to support the Bolsheviks. His answer to the dilemma emerged as the Fourteen Points, which he hoped would dilute the ideological appeal of bolshevism. Provisions in the Fourteen Points included removal, as far as possible, of all economic barriers, self-determination for nations invaded during the war, freedom of ocean travel and trade, open agreements instead of secret pacts, arms reductions, impartial adjustment of colonial claims, and the establishment of a League of Nations–an international mediating body.
Although the European masses applauded Wilsons plan, British and French leaders took a different view of the document, especially the provisions that undercut British dominance of the seas or French determination to punish Germany Wilson endangered the Fourteen Points by urging Americans to vote Democratic in the 1918 mid- term elections. Republicans took it as an affront to their patriotism. When voters elected Republican majorities to Congress, Wilson lost credibility at the negotiating table.
The victorious Allies ignored Wilsons plea to end secret pacts. They kept the press away from the negotiations and pared down the number of countries actually shaping the outcome to the Big Four–the United States, Great Britain, France, and Italy. They excluded Germany and Russia completely. The Fourteen Points dwindled amid an atmosphere of self-interest. Rather than honor national self- determination, which would have threatened colonial claims, victorious nations demanded spoils of war–territorial rights, seaports, and more.
Japan, the dominant power in the Pacific, manipulated the issue of race to gain power in Asia. It attached a provision to the Fourteen Points calling for racial equality. The conference members let Japan expand its influence over China, provided it dropped the racial equality proposal When the Treaty of Versailles was finally signed, most of the Fourteen Points had vanished, except the provision for a League of Nations.
Ratification of the Treaty of Versailles meant approval of the League of Nations, which was by no means widely accepted. Opposition to the League was consolidated in two camps in Congress: (1) the irreconcilables, the mostly progressive Republicans who would not vote for the League under any circumstances, and (2) reservationists, people who approved of the idea of a League but wanted to modify Wilsons proposal.
Irreconcilables were mainly anti-imperialists who wanted to focus on reforms at home rather than on colonial politics abroad. The reservationists disliked the article that the League defend the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. Both irreconcilables and reservationists feared Article 10 of the treaty, which seemed to suggest that the League itself would have the authority to decide if and when the United States, or any League members, would enter a conflict in defense of a nations independence. If this were so, the power of the League superseded the power of Congress to declare war.
Henry Lodge–motivated by genuine misgivings and anger that Wilson got full credit for the idea of an international peacekeeping organization– led the reservationist attack against the League Wilson took his case directly to the people, undertaking a grueling cross-country speaking tour that ultimately destroyed his health. As both Lodge and Wilson remained entrenched in their positions, the Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles with its League of Nations.
In the election of 1920, a fear of bolshevism led a war-fatigued nation to turn inward. Voters elected Warren G. Harding, who promised normalcy, to the presidency.