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practical operations of a League before the organic agreement was put into final form. Postponement would also have given opportunity to the nations, which had continued neutral throughout the war, to participate in the formation of the plan for a League on an equal footing with the nations which had been belligerents. In the establishment of a world organization universality of international representation in reaching an agreement seemed to me advisable, if not essential, provided the nations represented were democracies and not autocracies.
It was to be presumed also that at a conference entirely independent of the peace negotiations and free from the influences affecting the terms of peace, there would be more general and more frank discussions regarding the various phases of the subject than was possible at a conference ruled by the Five Great Powers and dominated in its decisions, if not in its opinions, by the statesmen of those Powers.
To perfect such a document, as the Covenant of the League of Nations was intended to be, required expert knowledge, practical experience in international relations, and an exchange of ideas untrammeled by immediate questions of policy or by the prejudices resulting from the war and from national hatreds and jealousies. It was not a work for politicians, novices, or inexperienced theorists, but for trained statesmen and jurists, who were conversant with the fundamental principles of international law, with the usages of nations in their intercourse with one an
other, and with the successes and failures of previous experiments in international association. The President was right in his conception as to the greatness of the task to be accomplished, but he was wrong, radically wrong, in believing that it could be properly done at the Paris Conference under the conditions which there prevailed and in the time given for consideration of the subject.
To believe for a moment that a world constitution for so its advocates looked upon the Covenant — could be drafted perfectly or even wisely in eleven days, however much thought individuals may have previously given to the subject, seems on the face of it to show an utter lack of appreciation of the problems to be solved or else an abnormal confidence in the talents and wisdom of those charged with the duty. If one compares the learned and comprehensive debates that took place in the convention which drafted the Constitution of the United States, and the months that were spent in the critical examination word by word of the proposed articles, with the ten meetings of the Commission on the League of Nations prior to its report of February 14 and with the few hours given to debating the substance and language of the Covenant, the inferior character of the document produced by the Commission ought not to be a matter of wonder. It was a foregone conclusion that it would be found defective. Some of these defects were subsequently corrected, but the theory and basic principles, which were the chief defects in the plan, were preserved with no substantial change.
But the fact, which has been repeatedly asserted in the preceding pages and which cannot be too strongly emphasized by repetition, is that the most potent and most compelling reason for postponing the consideration of a detailed plan for an international organization was that such a consideration at the outset of the negotiations at Paris obstructed and delayed the discussion and settlement of the general terms necessary to the immediate restoration of a state of peace. Those who recall the political and so cial conditions in Europe during the winter of 1918–19, to which reference has already been made, will comprehend the apprehension caused by anything which interrupted the negotiation of the peace. No one dared to prophesy what might happen if the state of political uncertainty and industrial stagnation, which existed under the armistices, continued.
The time given to the formulation of the Covenant of the League of Nations and the determination that it should have first place in the negotiations caused such a delay in the proceedings and prevented a speedy restoration of peace. Denial of this is useless. It is too manifest to require proof or argument to support it. It is equally true, I regret to say, that President Wilson was chiefly responsible for this. If he had not insisted that a complete and detailed plan for the League should be part of the treaty negotiated at Paris, and if he had not also insisted that the Covenant be taken up and settled in terms before other matters were considered, a preliminary treaty of peace would in all probability have been signed, ratified, and in effect during April, 1919.
Whatever evils resulted from the failure of the Paris Conference to negotiate promptly a preliminary treaty and it must be admitted they were not a few — must be credited to those who caused the delay. The personal interviews and secret conclaves before the Commission on the League of Nations met occupied a month and a half. Practically another half month was consumed in sessions of the Commission. The month following was spent by President Wilson on his visit to the United States explaining the reported Covenant and listening to criticisms. While much was done during his absence toward the settlement of numerous questions, final decision in every case awaited his return to Paris. After his arrival the Commission on the League renewed its sittings to consider amendments to its report, and it required over a month to put it in final form for adoption; but during this latter period much time was given to the actual terms of peace, which on account of the delay caused in attempting to perfect the Covenant had taken the form of a definitive rather than a preliminary treaty.
It is conservative to say that between two and three months were spent in the drafting of a document which in the end was rejected by the Senate of the United States and was responsible for the non-ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. In view of the warnings that President Wilson had received as to the probable result of insisting on
the plan of a League which he had prepared and his failure to heed the warnings, his persistency in pressing for acceptance of the Covenant before anything else was done makes the resulting delay in the peace less excusable.
Two weeks after the President returned from the United States in March the common opinion was that the drafting of the Covenant had delayed the restoration of peace, an opinion which was endorsed in the press of many countries. The belief became so general and aroused so much popular condemnation that Mr. Wilson considered it necessary to make a public denial, in which he expressed surprise at the published views and declared that the negotiations in regard to the League of Nations had in no way delayed the peace. Concerning the denial and the subject with which it dealt, I made on March 28 the following memorandum:
“The President has issued a public statement, which appears in this morning's papers, in which he refers to the 'surprising impression' that the discussions concerning the League of Nations have delayed the making of peace and he flatly denies that the impression is justified.
“I doubt if this statement will remove the general impression which amounts almost to a conviction. Every one knows that the President's thoughts and a great deal of his time prior to his departure for the United States were given to the formulation of the plan for a League and that he insisted that the ‘Covenant' should be drafted and reported before the other features of the peace were considered. The real difficulties of the present situation, which had to be settled before the treaty could be drafted, were postponed until his return here on March 13th.