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Peace with the Central Powers

The fighting in World War I was halted by the signing of an armistice on November 11, 1918. The United States, in a bitter struggle between President Wilson and determined Senate leaders, refused to take the next step and ratify the Treaty of Versailles, which was concluded in June 1919. Wilson was certainly the equal of Henry Cabot Lodge, the Senate leader, in stubbornness. The president vetoed a Congressional attempt to provide a formal end to the war, keeping the nation technically at war. Wilson hoped to force acceptance of the Treaty, including its provisions for the League of Nations — minus the reservations preferred by Lodge. An effort to force the Senate’s hand by making the Election of 1920 a referendum on Wilson’s version of the peace failed miserably and passed the question on to the administration of Republican Warren G. Harding. Harding had waffled shamelessly on the Treaty issue during the campaign, but made it clear upon entering office that he would not seek membership in the League. On July 2, 1921, Congress adopted a joint resolution declaring the war at an end. The United States proclaimed its right to the privileges granted the other Allied nations in the Treaty, but assumed no corresponding obligations. In late August, separate treaties were concluded with Germany, Austria and Hungary. These agreements were promptly ratified by the Senate, which provided an official end to the United States’ role in the conflict. No accommodation was sought with Bulgaria and Turkey because the U.S. had not declared war on those nations. These matters of diplomatic housekeeping drew little public notice at the time and paled in comparison to the events of the Washington Conference, which convened in November 1921.

See other diplomatic issues during the Harding administration.