Title Reviewed:
The Irreconcilables: The Fight Against the League of Nations

Author Reviewed:
Ralph Stone

Walden S. Freeman


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 185-186

Article Type:
Book Review

Download Source:

The Irreconcilables: The Fight Against the League of Nations. By Ralph Stone. (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1970. Pp. 208. Notes, appendix, bibliographical essay, index. $9.95.)

The irreconcilables are often depicted as having been the victors in the Senate struggle over the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations in 1919 and 1920. In the sense that they achieved their goal of keeping the United States out of the League, they were victorious; but, as Ralph Stone clearly points out, they were not mere negativists nor motivated by only personal or political gain. Their reasons for opposing the treaty as harmful to the interests of the United States– or of mankind–were based on principle, although the principles were likely to be quite diverse when one considers the irreconcilables individually. Within the battalion of death were "conservatives and liberals, pacifists and militarists, imperialists and anti-imperialists, isolationists and internationalists … more a cross section of the nation than an ideologically homogeneous minority" (p. 178).

Early in the treaty fight the irreconcilables took the initiative and maintained it throughout most of the struggle, ever keeping their views before the Senate and the public and making most effective the influence they had. But there were, even at the end, only sixteen bitter enders. How could they have achieved their goal when they constituted only one sixth of the Senate? Stone sees, first, the importance of the talents of the irreconcilables themselves, among whom were "several of the outstanding senators of the twentieth century" (p. 2). Second, the political situation played into their hands. The Republicans in the 1918 election had won control of the Senate by the barest margin; the new majority leader, Henry Cabot Lodge, by virtue of his office if nothing else, was much concerned with party unity and was sensitive to pressure. Third, there was Democratic inflexibility. President Woodrow Wilson and most bitter enders desired a forthright vote on the treaty as written at Paris. Wilson, with encouragement from the irreconcilables, refused to change his goal; but the bitter enders, who recognized that they needed Lodge as much as he needed them, yielded to political necessity and, for the moment at least, supported the reservation method of bringing the treaty to a vote.

Stone has provided a thoroughly and widely researched work, one which is a welcome corrective to the view of the irreconcilables as a homogeneous group of traditionalist isolationists. The author's style is smooth and his point of view clearly explained. Although Stone at times yields to the temptation to list the reactions of individual irreconcilables to a particular event, it is hard to see, in light of the author's goals, how such exposition is altogether to be avoided. The Irreconcilables may not be popular fare for beginning history students, but it is essential for anyone seeking an understanding of the almost incredibly complex struggle over the part in world affairs to be taken by the United States after the First World War. It is instructive also in helping to understand similar discussions in more recent years.

William Woods College, Fulton, Mo. Walden S. Freeman

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.