The League of Nations

I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not work together to prevent it.

from a statement by the American President, Woodrow Wilson,

made during the peace discussions in 1919.



American site - enthusiastic

The League's Aims, as shown in the Covenant

HAL Fisher on the Covenant

Wilson's speech in favour of the League


   Describe the aims and work of the League in the 1920s.


The League's Aims

The League of Nations was set up because President Wilson wanted this more than anything else.

He wanted the League to be a kind of ‘world parliament’, where nations would sort out their arguments.   He hoped this would stop wars.   But Wilson wanted to do more than just stop war; he wanted to make the world a better place.   He wanted the League to do things to improve people’s lives and jobs.   He wanted to improve public health, and to end slavery.

Wilson also hoped that the League would persuade the nations to agree to disarmament – to put down their weapons.   That would make war impossible.

Finally, Wilson thought that the League of Nations could enforce the Treaty of Versailles, and persuade countries to keep the promises they had made.


Source A

The League of Nations has its roots in a popular support far deeper and firmer than shifting governments.   To the peasant in France, with the horror of the war seared in his memory, it represents the symbol of a new hope.   To the worker, the League's labor office, under the leadership of Albert Thomas, is the promise of a better fortune.   The League stands for disarmament, for peace, for international justice, for the protection of backward peoples, for a better standard of living, for the relief of suffering, for the fight against disease, and for all the other forward-looking policies bound up in the longings of mankind for a better world-policies which the people everywhere in Europe, as distinguished from their governments and leaders, are unwaveringly supporting.   The people understand the League; at least they know what it aims to accomplish.

Raymond Fosdick, writing in the Atlantic Monthly (Oct 1920)

Fosdick was a wealthy American lawyer who was a lifelong supporter and disciple of Woodrow Wilson.   He held a number of government posts where his task was to root out corruption in the government, business and police. He also served on the Education Board of New York, and between the wars he supported Prohibition.

Fosdick believed passionately in the League of Nations.


Source B

Why did the League fail?   I can tell you in a word: Wilson.   Head in the clouds, so high-minded that he was no earthly use - it failed while it was still in his mind.   Its aims were dreams - stop wars, make the world a better place...   They were beyond God, never mind the League.

Written by a modern historian (2004).


Source C

  Powerpoint presentation explaining the cartoon

This picture by the British cartoonist David Low appeared in the Star newspaper on

11 November 1919.

Click here for the interpretation




1.   Imagine you are Wilson, talking to Clemenceau and Lloyd George.   Tell them about your idea for the League of Nations, what it would do, and how it would work.  

2.   Read Sources A and B, then consider the League's FOUR main aims in turn: were the League's aims too ambitious?