Fundamental Causes of World War I

In 1914 the nations of Europe were teetering on the edge of war. The murder of a prominent European leader set off a chain of violent attacks, and within days most of the countries of Europe were declaring war on one another. The United States tried to steer clear of the conflict, but the war affected the American people in many ways. The nation gradually became more and more entangled in the struggle.

Tension had been building among the countries of Europe for a number of years, as rival nations competed for empires and military power. Fearing attacks, Europeans formed complicated alliances with one another. Once violence began, most of the continent of Europe was quickly drawn into the conflict.


Nationalism, intense feelings of pride in and loyalty to one’s country, caused much of the tension. In the 1800’s, nationalists called for freedom and self-government. People who shared common language and culture wanted to throw off foreign rule and form their own countries. Nationalism created special problems for those nations that had created empires. Often the individual groups of people who had been forced into the empire wanted to be free to control their own affairs.

Nationalism encouraged unity within those countries where most of the people shared a common culture and history, but it also set nation against nation. It created mistrust and even hatred. The major powers of Europe set out to prove their country was the best. Who had the most and the best colonies? Who had the biggest army? Who had the biggest navy? The quest for the answers to these questions led to an intense competition and rivalry.

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During the 1800’s, the powerful nations of Europe tried to add to their wealth and power by building empires. Empires enriched the parent countries by providing cheap raw materials and larger markets for finished goods. Britain, Germany, France, and Italy sought to build their empires by making colonies in Africa and Asia. Russia and Austria-Hungary built their empires by taking over neighboring lands in Europe. The scramble for empires led to a number of bitter rivalries, especially between France and Germany and between Russia and Austria-Hungary.


As they competed with one another, the rival European nations grew deeply nationalistic. Each country was determined to protect its own interests. To do so, the nations of Europe built large armies and navies. The policy of building strong armed forces to prepare for war is called militarism Militarist governments in Germany, France, and Russia each assembled armies of more than 4 million soldiers. Great Britain built up the world’s largest navy. Uniforms grew more elaborate, and were often trimmed with gold braid, fur, or feathers. Frequent military parades showed each country’s national pride.

Rival Alliances

To further protect themselves, European powers formed alliances with one another. By 1914 there were two major alliances in Europe. The Triple Alliance included Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy. The Triple Entente (ahn-TAHNT) included France, Russia, and Great Britain. Within each alliance, the members promised to help one another in case of an enemy attack. In addition, some powerful nations agreed to protect smaller countries from aggression —attack. For example, Great Britain promised to protect Belgium, and Russia promised that it would protect Serbia.

With all of Europe heavily armed, and nations connected by promises to defend one another, Europe was like a powder keg. “It requires only a spark to set the whole thing off,” noted an American diplomat.

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Immediate Cause

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was visiting the city of Sarajevo. The Archduke was the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary. Thousands of people crowded the streets of Sarajevo to see the future ruler. As the Archduke’s car drove through the crowded streets, two shots rang out, killing the Archduke and his wife Sophie. The killer was Gavrilo Princip, a nationalist from the neighboring country of Serbia. Austria-Hungary had recently taken over the area around Sarajevo, called Bosnia, where many Serbs lived. Princip and other nationalist Serbs were upset that Austria-Hungary had taken over Bosnia, and plotted the murder to get revenge.

World War I Begins

Austria-Hungary blamed Serbia for the crime. On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia, keeping its agreement to protect Serbia, mobilized —prepared—its military forces for war. As a result, Germany, which was allied with Austria-Hungary, declared war on Russia on August 1. On August 3 Germany also made a declaration of war on Russia’s ally France.

Germany feared having to fight a war on its eastern and western borders at the same time. The Germans were hopeful of taking France out of the war quickly, but the French had heavily fortified its border with Germany. To get around the French fortifications, German armies invaded Belgium, heading toward France. Great Britain, which was Belgium’s ally, then declared war on Germany. On August 6, Austria-Hungary declared war on Russia. After this, France and Great Britain, Russia's allies, declared war on Austria-Hungary. Thus, within a few days after the murder of Archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo, most of the European nations were at war.

The Great War, or World War I, was to last until 1918. On one side were Germany and Austria-Hungary. These countries were also called the Central Powers because of their location in the center of Europe. Bulgaria and Turkey later joined the Central Powers. On the other side were the Allied Powers of France, Russia, and Great Britain. Italy joined the Allies in 1915, and 20 other nations joined the Allies before the fighting finally ended.

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War in the Trenches

The German army nearly succeeded in winning a quick victory against France in 1914. German troops poured through Belgium and advanced to within 15 miles of Paris, the French capital. In September, however, French and British troops stopped the German advance at the Marne River. After the Battle of the Marne, the fighting bogged down. Neither side was able to win a clear victory. A "stalemate" developed. For three years the two armies faced each other and fought without making a move forward or backward more than a few miles.

With no victory in sight, both sides dug trenches for protection. These long ditches stretched for 400 miles across Belgium and France. The line of trenches was called the Western Front. Soldiers on both sides lived for months in the muddy trenches, with enemy shells exploding continually nearby. Between the trenches of the two sides was “no man’s land”—a wasted zone of mud, barbed wire, and land mines. In trench war fare, troops from one side or the other would go “over the top”—rush out of the trenches— and try to break through the enemy lines.

Soldiers lived in the trenches, eating and sleeping during the day and digging more trenches during the night. Troops had no way to protect themselves from bad weather, enemy shells, or poison gas. To make matters worse, the trenches were infested with rats and lice. Many soldiers died from diseases or the cold.

Attacks "over the top" across "no man's land" were met with machine-gun fire and seldom succeeded. In just one day during the first Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, the British lost 60,000 men - and gained not one inch of territory. The battle continued for months. When it ended in November, British casualties totaled 450,000. French losses were 195,000, and 650,000 German soldiers lay dead or wounded. For all their losses during all that time, the Allied Powers advanced less than eight miles during the battle.

As the war went on, new weapons—poison gas and tanks—increased the number of dead and wounded. Both sides also used another relatively new invention, the airplane, to observe and attack enemy positions. Millions of soldiers were lost on both sides. In the east, the armies of the Central Powers and the Russian forces also faced each other along miles of trenches, with neither side able to win a clear victory.



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American Policy

The outbreak of war in 1914 had shocked Americans. Still, Europe and its quarrels seemed far away. Americans hoped to stay out of the war and avoid Europe’s problems.

As soon as World War I began, President Woodrow Wilson urged all Americans to be “neutral in fact as well as in name, impartial in thought as well as in action.” By not taking sides, Wilson believed the nation could avoid the war. Most Americans supported the President’s position. Slowly, however, and for various reasons, the United States drew closer and closer to involvement in the conflict.

American sympathies are divided. Americans from the start found it hard to be neutral. It seemed to most people that Germany and Austria-Hungary were chiefly responsible for the war. Also, many people had emotional ties to one side or the other. The majority of Americans were of British descent and were tied to Great Britain by common customs and language. Some Americans also remembered France’s aid in the Revolutionary War. On the other hand, many German Americans sympathized with Germany and the Central Powers. Many Irish Americans, who bitterly opposed Great Britain, also tended to give their support to the Central Powers.

As the war dragged on, American support for the Allies grew. Most of the war news that reached the United States came from Allied sources and was favorable to the Allied cause. The Allies also influenced American opinion through propaganda. Propaganda is the spreading of opinions that favor a cause or point of view. Allied propaganda called the Germans “Huns” and pictured them as bloodthirsty savages. The propaganda spread by the Central Powers made the British seem equally horrible. In general, however, Allied propaganda had a greater effect on American opinion.

The British Navy blockaded Germany, making it difficult for American ships to reach German ports. Americans found it easier to trade with Britain and France. The United States shipped huge amounts of arms, food, oil, and other supplies to the Allies. This trade created an economic boom in the United States. Americans naturally favored those nations that bought American goods.

Perhaps the greatest influence on American opinion was Germany’s use of submarines, called U-boats. Submarines were new, and for several reasons people considered their use unfair. First, submarines attacked from hiding to avoid the guns of enemy ships. Second, submarines could not take captives. Torpedoed ships sank very quickly and U-boat crews could not rescue survivors from the sinking vessels or rescue survivors. People of the time considered it monstrous not to rescue survivors from a sinking ship. Finally, submarines often sank the ships of neutral countries. According to international law, a warring nation had the right to stop neutral ships and seize war goods being shipped to the enemy. The German U-boats could not follow this rule. Instead, submarines attacked and sank neutral ships without warning.

Early in the war, Germany warned the United States that it would attack neutral ships sailing to Great Britain. President Wilson responded to this threat with another warning. He said the Germans would be held to account if American lives were lost in U-boat attacks. In the view of German leaders, however, cutting Great Britain’s supply lines was worth the risk of angering the neutral countries.

On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat sank the British passenger liner Lusitania near the coast of southern Ireland. The Lusitania—then one of the largest and fastest ships in the world—was heading from New York to Liverpool, on the west coast of England. Hit by a single torpedo, the huge liner tilted sharply and sank within 18 minutes. Of nearly 2,000 passengers and crew members, 1,198 died. Among the dead were 128 Americans.

Americans were outraged by the sinking of the Lusitania. The United States issued strong warnings to the German government not to endanger the lives of American citizens. For a time Germany agreed to limit its submarine warfare.

In spite of the growing anti-German feeling, most Americans still wanted to stay out of the war. Wilson agreed. “There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight,” he said. In 1916 Wilson ran for reelection as President. His campaign slogan was “He kept us out of war.” The Republicans chose Charles Evans Hughes, a Supreme Court justice, to run against Wilson. The election was close, and Hughes went to bed believing he was the new President. When election returns came in from California, however, President Wilson was the victor.

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Declaration of War

Following his reelection, Wilson tried to arrange peace talks between the warring powers. The effort failed. Instead, Germany decided to gamble on a quick victory.

By the start of 1917 Germany was becoming desperate. The British blockade created serious shortages of supplies. In February 1917 the Germans announced that they would again attack any ship nearing Britain. The Germans expected this decision to bring the United States into the war. Germany, however, hoped to gain the victory before American troops could get to Europe.

In response to the German announcement, Wilson broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. Wilson had kept the United States out of war for two and a half years. He now began to believe that Germany was a threat to the United States.

Near the end of February, Americans learned of a secret German message involving the United States. The message was sent by Germany’s foreign minister, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German ambassador in Mexico City. In it Zimmermann suggested an alliance between Germany and Mexico. If war broke out between the United States and Germany, Mexico would be invited to join with Germany. In return, Germany would help Mexico recover its “lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.” British agents had intercepted and decoded the Zimmermann telegram and had passed it on to President Wilson. When Wilson made the message public, the American people were outraged. Anti-German feeling increased greatly.


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In March 1917 German U-boats sank several more American ships. Wilson decided that the United States could no longer stay neutral. On April 2 he asked Congress to declare war on Germany.

“The world must be made safe for democracy,” Wilson told Congress. He said that the war had become a contest to secure the rights of democratic countries: "It is a fearful thing to lead this great, peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts—for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government, for the rights and liberties of small nations."

The United States had entered the war, but the nation was not prepared for battle. Throughout 1917, Americans worked to mobilize the country. In 1918 thousands of American troops arrived in Europe and helped turn the tide of war in favor of the Allies. By the end of the year the Central Powers were defeated.

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Winning the War

American troops arrived in Europe in June 1917. These “Yanks” brought new hope to the Allies, who cheered as the Americans marched through Paris. More Americans arrived in the fall and winter, but their numbers increased slowly. Throughout 1917 the Allies lost huge numbers of soldiers.

The situation grew worse as a result of two revolutions in Russia. In March 1917 the Russians overthrew the czar, or emperor. They established a democratic government that promised to bring new freedom and reforms. In November 1917, however, the new government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks. This small party, led by Vladimir I. Lenin, intended to establish communism in Russia. Communism is a social and political system based on the ideas of the German thinker Karl Marx. Marx predicted that the workers of the world would overthrow the ruling classes. Then, Marx believed, private property would be abolished, and the workers would set up a classless society. Until that time, however, the government would have complete control over the economy and the people's lives. The Bolsheviks changed Russia’s name to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR. The nation was often called the Soviet Union.

The Bolshevik leaders wanted peace so they could set up their new communist system. They signed a peace treaty with Germany in March 1918. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk gave up huge amounts of Russian territory to Germany. It also made it possible for Germany to move its troops from the eastern front to the western front.

With all its troops in the west, Germany began a new attack against the Allies. The Germans hoped to capture Paris and win a final victory. From March until June the Germans hammered at the Allied lines, pushing them back toward Paris. By June 3 the Germans had advanced to within 50 miles of the French capital.

American forces reached full strength in Europe in the spring of 1918. The Allies wanted to use American soldiers to replace their lost troops. General John J. Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) - the name given to the U.S. troops in Europe - Pershing refused. With President Wilson’s backing, Pershing insisted that the Americans fight as a separate unit.

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In June of 1918 the Americans helped the French turn back the Germans at Château-Thierry on the Marne River. Pershing’s troops then advanced against the Germans in nearby Belleau Wood. After three weeks of fierce fighting the Americans won the Battle of Belleau Wood on June 25.

In July the Germans attacked again along the Marne River. After three days of fighting, the Allies stopped the Germans. Then a counterattack by the Americans forced the Germans to re treat. This battle, General Pershing wrote, “turned the tide of the war.”

The Allies were now on the offensive. In September, American troops attacked German positions at St. Mihiel. After four days, the Germans were driven out. This battle marked the first time airplanes were used to support ground troops. Many of the planes were flown by Americans.

In late September more than 1 million American troops joined the Allies in the Battle of the Argonne Forest. In the thick forest soldiers could see only a few yards, and their advance was hindered by rain, mud, barbed wire, and heavy German machine-gun fire. More than 120,000 Americans were killed or wounded. After 47 days of fighting, the Germans were driven back. The battle produced one of the war’s most popular heroes, Alvin C. York of Tennessee. York destroyed a German machine-gun nest and then, acting alone, captured over 100 prisoners.

The Central Powers had no hope of winning. Germany’s allies surrendered one by one. On November 11 Germany signed an armistice —a cease fire agreement. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918, the fighting ended. Europe’s Great War was over.

As the battlefields fell silent, the world counted the losses caused by the war. Altogether, 8.5 million soldiers had died. An equal number of civilians lost their lives. The United States had lost about 50,000 troops in battle and about the same number to disease. These losses, however, were small compared to those of European nations. Britain had lost 1 million soldiers, and France 1.3 million. Germany lost 1.8 million. The war had almost wiped out a generation of European men.

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Preparing for War

President Wilson realized that to win the war in Europe, Americans had to organize at home. Wilson quickly took steps to muster support for the fighting.

A draft law strengthens the armed forces.

When the United States declared war, the army had only about 200,000 troops. The country had to create a large fighting force quickly. On May 18, 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act. This draft law required all men between 21 and 30 years old to register for the draft. These age limits were later expanded to 18 and 45.

In the next 18 months, almost 5 million Americans entered military service. About 3 million were drafted. Others volunteered or belonged to National Guard units that were called for duty. About 370,000 black Americans were among those who joined the armed forces. Blacks, however, suffered discrimination in many ways. They were not permitted to enlist in the Marine Corps. In the army, blacks were assigned to segregated, all-black units led by white officers. In spite of discrimination, black soldiers fought bravely, and many were among the war’s most decorated troops.

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Soldiers also joined the army from every other American ethnic group, including Puerto Ricans, Mexican Americans, Native Americans, and Asians. In addition, thou sands of women served in the armed forces as nurses, ambulance drivers, and clerks.

The government spurs production of war resources.

The millions of draftees had to be quickly equipped with food, clothing, and weapons. The nation also had to produce vast amounts of heavy weapons and equipment, including locomotives, freight cars, railroad tracks, trucks, and cannon. Ships had to be built to transport troops and supplies to Europe. In addition, Americans knew early in 1917 that Britain and France were almost out of food and supplies. To win the war, the United States would have to supply the Allies as well as its own troops.

The government set up dozens of agencies and committees to spur production of needed war goods. The Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover, urged Americans to conserve and expand food supplies. Families grew their own vegetables in backyard “victory gardens.” Farmers planted extra crops. Americans observed “wheatless Mondays” and “meatless Tuesdays.” Another agency, the War Industries Board, regulated industry. It decided which factories would receive supplies of steel and other resources, and told the factories what to produce. The War Labor Board was set up to prevent strikes and labor problems. It regulated wages and working hours.

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To pay for the cost of the war, the government increased taxes. It also raised $21 billion through the sale of Liberty Bonds. Americans bought the bonds as a way of loaning money to the government. Movie stars and athletes helped sell the bonds. The government also organized thousands of “Four-Minute Speeches” to build support for the war. Speakers at clubs, theaters, churches, and union meetings spread the message that the war was necessary to de fend democracy.

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New workers join the labor force.

As men joined the armed forces, millions of women found opportunities to work outside their homes. Women ran elevators and streetcars, made ammunition and heavy machinery, directed traffic, and delivered mail. These had been considered men’s jobs. With so many women working, Americans began to change their view that women could only do certain kinds of work.

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Black Americans had new job opportunities as the nation mobilized. Many left farms in the south to move to northern cities. They found work in factories making goods for the war. Black ghettos began to develop in such northern cities as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit.


Opponents of the war are harshly treated.

Most Americans supported the war effort, but a few spoke out against it. Most of them were pacifists —people who oppose all wars. Pacifists were treated harshly be cause of their views. The government passed the Sedition Act in 1918, making it illegal to speak against the government or the war. More than 1,500 people were arrested under this law.

Harsh treatment was also directed at many German Americans. Some were fired from their jobs. Others were attacked on the A streets. Schools stopped teaching German, and many Americans refused to use German words such as hamburger and sauerkraut.

The Fourteen Points

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With the war over, President Wilson turned his attention to making peace. He had called the war “the war to end all wars.” He hoped that the terms of settlement would assure freedom and peace for all nations.

The Peace Conference

Wilson sailed for Europe in December 1918 to attend the peace conference. He was the first American President to leave the country while in office. In Paris thousands of people lined the streets to cheer “Vive Wilson!”—”Long live Wilson!” The President hoped this reception would help him achieve “peace with honor.”

The Allies Disagree Over Terms of Peace.

Wilson and representatives from the victorious Allied countries met at Versailles (vuhr-SY), just outside Paris, to negotiate the peace treaty. The conference lasted from January to June 1919. More than 30 countries were represented at the conference, but the important decisions were made by four people, known as the Big Four. They included President Wilson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Premier Georges Clemenceau (kleh-mahn-SO) of France, and Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando of Italy.

Wilson soon realized that the other three leaders did not share his hopes for “peace without victory.” The Europeans came from countries worn out by the war. They wanted revenge, and they wanted to crush Germany so that it could never make war again. In the discussion of payment for war damages and the location of new boundary lines, the Allied leaders wanted severe terms for Germany and the other Central Powers. Wilson believed that forcing harsh terms on the Central Powers would be a mistake. He felt that a policy of revenge would lead to more wars in the future.

Wilson Seeks a Peace Based on his Fourteen Points.

Wilson had already proposed terms for what he believed would be a lasting peace. His plan for a better world was contained in a speech delivered before Congress on January 8, 1918. Wilson’s statement became known as the Fourteen Points.

The fourteen points, or proposals, in Wilson’s speech were intended to prevent the kinds of international problems that led to World War I. The most important proposals were:

  1. Agreements among nations should be arrived at openly through public discussion, not made in secret.
  2. There should be freedom of the seas “alike in peace and war.”
  3. Trade barriers between nations should be broken down.
  4. Nations should reduce the size of their armies and navies.
  5. Colonial claims should be settled as fairly as possible.
  6. National groups should have the right to self-determination —the right to decide how they will be governed.
  7. “A general association of nations” should be set up to promise independence and safety “to great and small nations alike.”

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty is Written

At first the Allies accepted the Fourteen Points as the basis for peace. As the talks continued, however, the other members of the Big Four did not support Wilson’s peace plans. The chief concern of Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando was to gain advantages for their own countries. Reluctantly, Wilson was forced to give up most of his Fourteen Points. On one point, however, President Wilson refused to budge. He insisted that the peace treaty should set up an association of nations to help keep peace.

The Treaty of Versailles was completed in June 1919. The harsh terms of the treaty shocked the Germans, who had not been represented in the peace talks. Germany and the other defeated countries were forced to sign the treaty, however. The agreement included the following points:

  1. Germany had to accept responsibility for starting the war. The Germans would also have to make huge reparations —payments for damages—to the Allied countries.
  2. The Allies would occupy that part of Germany west of the Rhine River to make sure the Germans met their obligations under the treaty.
  3. Germany was disarmed and had to agree not to own or build battleships, warplanes, or tanks. Its army was to remain small.
  4. Germany had to give its colonies, as well as some of its territory in Europe, to other countries.
  5. Several new European nations were formed from land taken from the defeated countries and Russia. These new nations included Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. These homelands would permit self-determination for such national groups as Poles, Czechs, and Slays.
  6. The treaty created a world organization known as the League of Nations.

The T
reaty Outlines the Plan for the League of Nations

Each country to sign the Treaty of Versailles would be a member of the planned League of Nations. The League was to include an Assembly in which all member nations would have a vote. There would also be a Council of the five Allied powers (the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan), plus four other members chosen by the Assembly. A World Court, organized by the League, would judge disputes between nations.

The purpose of the League was to promote cooperation among nations and bring about international peace. If a country attacked another country and continued fighting in spite of the League’s orders, the members could act against it. They could stop lending money to such a nation or cut off trade with it. In some cases, the League might use force against a warring country. One negative vote in the Assembly could block such action.

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The U.S. Rejects the Treaty

The Campaign for the League

President Wilson returned to the United States certain that the League of Nations was a means of preserving peace. He found, however, that many Americans did not share his views. Some felt the treaty did not punish the defeated nations enough. Some German Americans, on the other hand, thought the terms were unfair to Germany.  Many Americans were simply tired of the war and tired of being involved in the squabbles of Europe. They longed to return to the way things were before the war - a return to isolationism.

The Senate Debates the Treaty

The United States Constitution requires that treaties be ratified (approved) by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. Wilson therefore had to seek the Senate’s approval of the new treaty. Many senators strongly opposed the treaty and the League of Nations. Some senators were angry because the President had ignored them in working out the peace treaty. Others did not think the peace treaty supported the plan for peace set forth in the Fourteen Points. Still others were tired of Europe and its troubles and wanted to avoid any further involvement overseas. Many Americans shared these isolationist views after World War I. Their isolationism led them to oppose the League of Nations. They feared the League would draw the United States into new European quarrels.

Two main groups of senators opposed the League of Nations. The “bitter-enders” would not accept the League under any conditions. A second group, led by Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, was willing to accept the League with some compromises. Lodge especially disliked one section of the plan for the League. This section called on members to act together against nations that threatened the peace. Under the Constitution only Congress has the authority to declare war. Lodge believed that Congress should be able to decide whether or not the United States would take part in any action against another nation.

Wilson Asks the People for Support

Wilson would not accept Lodge’s restrictions on American membership in the League. Instead, Wilson decided to take his case to the people. In September 1919 he began a national speaking tour to explain the League of Nations. He visited 29 cities and asked people to support the League.

On September 25, as his train sped from Colorado to Kansas, Wilson became seriously ill. The trip was canceled and Wilson returned to the White House. There, on the night of October 2, 1919, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Although he stayed in office until the end of his term, Wilson never fully regained his health.

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The Senate Rejects the League

In spite of Wilson’s efforts, many Americans still wanted to steer clear of affairs outside the Americas. In November the Senate voted not to accept the Treaty of Versailles. As a result, the United States never joined the League of Nations. America signed a separate peace agreement with Germany in 1921. The League was set up without the United States in 1920, but, without U.S. support, it proved too weak to bring about Wilson’s dream of lasting peace.

Before & After Maps


World War I: Summary & Review

Nationalism, imperialism, militarism and competing alliances created political tension in Europe. In 1914 the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary sparked World War I. For three years the Allies and the Central Powers waged trench warfare, at great cost in human life. At first the United States adopted a policy of neutrality. Public opinion turned against Germany as a result of submarine warfare and the Zimmermann telegram Early in 1917 the United States declared war against Germany.

The nation mobilized for war by rapidly building up its armed services and increasing industrial production. Mobilization gave new opportunities to women and minorities, but it also led to attacks on pacifists and others who disagreed with national policy. The Allied situation in the war worsened when Bolsheviks took over the Russian government, and Russia withdrew from the war to establish communism In 1918 American troops helped the Allies stop the German advance toward Paris and then won fierce battles at St. Mihiel and the Argonne Forest. In November Germany signed an armistice ending the fighting.

President Wilson hoped for generous peace terms based on his Fourteen Points. The other members of the Big Four at the Paris peace conference wanted revenge and sought huge reparations from Germany. Wilson compromised on most of his proposals, but the Treaty of Versailles included his plan for the League of Nations The treaty also established new nations in central Europe to promote self-determination for national groups there. Many members of the United States Senate opposed the League of Nations. Wilson toured the nation seeking support for ratification of the treaty, but illness forced him to end the tour. The Senate rejected the treaty, and the United States never joined the League of Nations.


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