The prompt decision of the Wilson administration to declare neutrality at the outset of WWI showed that whilst there was a debate in America between those who had an expansive view of US foreign policy and those who did not, isolation from Europe reflected the sentiment of the vast majority of Americans. Until the sinking of the Lusitania and then the interception of the infamous Zimmerman Telegram President Wilson had sought to keep the United States from entering a war that he believed all that was wrong with European power politics. When he finally went to Congress to seek a declaration of war Wilson emphasized that the United States was a reluctant belligerent thrust into war against its will with no hidden agenda. He wanted to “make the world safe for democracy” and avert future wars by joining like-minded nations to secure peace. These aims were in his Fourteen Points which outlined a vision based on free trade, anti-imperialism and collective security and represented a departure from the traditional American policy which limited US interests to the Western Hemisphere and East Asia and was against any involvement in affairs of Europe. However, despite Wilson’s passionate support for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations the American people were in no mood to further involve themselves in European affairs. There was still no consensus to promote America to the head of the world order. It would take involvement in another World War to provide that consensus. The Senate blocked the Treaty of Versailles as it jeopardized American security and its traditional foreign policy. It further did not recognize the Monroe Doctrine and did not exclude internal affairs from the League’s jurisdiction. Most importantly, the Senate did not wish to preserve the independence and territorial obligations of the member states. It would not enter into this type of assurance until the NATO treaty of 1949 which was the first binding peacetime military alliance the US ever joined.
President Wilson engaged in an intense fight with Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican majority Senate leader. His speech of August 12th 1919 set out the isolationist argument which was to win the day. “The United States is the world’s best hope, but if you fetter her in the interests and quarrels of other nations, if you tangle her in the intrigues of Europe, you will destroy her power for good and endanger her very existence.” In the 1920 election Harding used “back to normalcy” and “America First appeals” and won a landslide for the Republicans which included both houses. His 1921 inaugural address went out of the way of killing any hope the country would join the League of Nations and the US would “seek no part in directing the destinies of the world”.
Having retreated into isolation, the United States sought to prevent the recurrence of the