William E. Borah
Speech on the League of Nations
November 19, 1919
In 1919 in order to secure peace and to avoid bloodshed of other wars, American Democrat President Woodrow Wilson, managed to impose some of his ideas -based on the Fourteen Points- during the Paris Peace Conference, including the creation of the League of Nations. The League was an international organization founded as a result of the Treaty of Versailles. Its goals included disarmament, the prevention of war through collective security, the settlement of disputes between countries through negotiation, diplomacy and improvement of global welfare. Drafted by a special commission, the League was established by Part I of the Treaty of Versailles which was first signed by 44 States on June 28, 1919 but needed a followed ratification by every State. Despite Wilson's efforts to establish and promote the League, the United States never ratified the Treaty, America consequently never joined the League due to the opposition in the US Senate controlled by the Republicans since November 1918. With the Senate against him, Wilson decided to go to the people and in September 1919, he started a tour campaign across the country to rally American citizens to his cause. Delivering thirty-six speeches in twenty-three days, he suffered from a stroke that paralysed his left side on September 26, while he was giving a speech in Colorado. The rest of his trip campaign had therefore been cancelled. Opposed to Wilson were the Republicans, whom strongest and most virulent opponent was the Senator of Idaho: William Edgar Borah (1865-1940). In few words, Borah was a confirmed isolationist and the leader of the “irreconcilables”, a small but redoubtable group of some thirteen senators, who virulently insisted on the rejection of the treaty. He was known as a famed orator and later the Time magazine decided that he was “the most famed Senator of the century”. It has been said that his eloquence, his celebration of independence and his influence on major issues made him one of the nation's dominant political figures. In November 19, 1919, on the final day of the Senate debate over the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations embedded in the treaty, Borah made this address to the Senate giving the reasons why the US should not ratify the treaty and therefore not be a member of the league. Presenting himself as the true defender of the US Constitution and the basic principles upon which America had got its strength and power, Borah argued that America would not surrender its independence to a world body, no matter how good the goals of such a body might be. In a way, this text illustrates the fundamental shift that America was facing at that time in terms of its international relations policy. By his conception, Borah reminds us the old concept of American foreign policy of isolationism that was undermined by Wilson's conception of a new world order. The difference between the two men did not lay on the values they believed in, because they shared independence, freedom and democracy, but how they wanted those principles to be protected and spread among the world. Thus while Wilson plead for the US to be part of a world organization, Borah opposed any US commitments abroad. In this address Borah opposed US membership in any kind of international organization. He was a progressive man who did not want things to change, but he remains quite unclassifiable, appearing as a strong isolationist, he sometimes argued as an individualist, and sometimes with a society consciousness rhetoric. Congratulated and acknowledged for his powers of oratory, we will organize the study of his address around three themes that will help us to understand how rhetorically Borah allegedly managed to “move the leader of the Republican Senators Henry Cabot Lodge to tears”, what in this speech drove everybody so overwhelmingly to congratulate him... We will see...