When President Woodrow Wilson brought the Treaty of Versailles back to the United States, the public and many state legislatures favored the treaty. However, the U.S. Senate, which held the constitutional power to ratify all treaties, opposed it. Many senators believed that the League of Nation’s powers undermined Congress’s own power to declare war.
In response to this opposition, Wilson began a national tour to rally support for the Treaty. However, in late 1919 he suffered a breakdown and a major stroke. Wilson’s condition eventually improved, but he never fully recovered.
With Wilson sidelined, Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, attached fourteen “reservations” to the pact, a play on Wilson’s original Fourteen Points. Wilson stubbornly refused to accept any changes and told Senate Democrats to vote against the altered Treaty in November 1919. At a final vote in March 1920, the Treaty failed by seven votes.
By the 1920 presidential campaign, the American public had tired of international obligations and idealism. Republican President Warren G. Harding won election by promising a “return to normalcy,” ending any chance of reviving the debate.
The U.S. signed separate treaties with Germany and the other Central Powers in 1921, but never joined the League of Nations. America would remain aloof from global politics until World War II.