The Irreconcilables were bitter opponents of the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

 in the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 in 1919. Specifically, the term refers to about 12 to 18 United States Senators
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

, both Republicans
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 and Democrats
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

, who fought intensely to defeat the ratification of the treaty by the Senate in 1919. They succeeded, and the United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles and never joined the League of Nations
League of Nations
The League of Nations was an intergovernmental organization founded as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first permanent international organization whose principal mission was to maintain world peace...


The Republican Party controlled the United States Senate after the election of 1918, but the Senators were divided into multiple positions on the Versailles question. It proved possible to build a majority coalition, but impossible to build a two thirds coalition that was needed to pass a treaty. One block of Democrats strongly supported the Versailles Treaty. A second group of Democrats supported the Treaty but followed President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

 in opposing any amendments or reservations. The largest bloc, led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge
Henry Cabot Lodge
Henry Cabot "Slim" Lodge was an American Republican Senator and historian from Massachusetts. He had the role of Senate Majority leader. He is best known for his positions on Meek policy, especially his battle with President Woodrow Wilson in 1919 over the Treaty of Versailles...

, comprised a majority of the Republicans. They wanted a treaty with reservations, especially on Article X, which involved the power of the League Nations to make war without a vote by the United States Congress. The closest the Treaty came to passage, came in mid-November 1919, was when Lodge and his Republicans formed a coalition with the pro-Treaty Democrats, and were close to a two thirds majority for a Treaty with reservations, but Wilson rejected this compromise and enough Democrats followed his lead to permanently end the chances for ratification.

Among the leading Irreconcilables were Republicans George Norris of Nebraska, William Borah of Idaho, Robert LaFolette
Robert M. La Follette, Sr.
Robert Marion "Fighting Bob" La Follette, Sr. , was an American Republican politician. He served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, was the Governor of Wisconsin, and was also a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin...

 of Wisconsin, and Hiram Johnson
Hiram Johnson
Hiram Warren Johnson was a leading American progressive and later isolationist politician from California; he served as the 23rd Governor from 1911 to 1917, and as a United States Senator from 1917 to 1945.-Early life:...

 of California. Democrats included Senators Thomas Gore
Thomas Gore
Thomas Gore was a Democratic politician. He was blind and served as a United States Senator from Oklahoma from 1907 until 1921 and from 1931 until 1937. He was the maternal grandfather of author Gore Vidal.-Life and career:...

 of Oklahoma, James Reed of Missouri, and the Irish Catholic leader David I. Walsh
David I. Walsh
David Ignatius Walsh was a United States politician from Massachusetts. As a member of the Democratic Party, he served in the state legislature and then as Lieutenant Governor and then as the 46th Governor . His first term in the U.S...

 of Massachusetts.

The lists vary, but Stone (1963) identifies sixteen: William Borah of Idaho, Frank B. Brandegee
Frank B. Brandegee
Frank Bosworth Brandegee was a United States Representative and Senator from Connecticut.-Biography:He was born in New London, Connecticut to US Representative Augustus Brandegee....

 of Connecticut, Albert B. Fall
Albert B. Fall
Albert Bacon Fall was a United States Senator from New Mexico and the Secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding, infamous for his involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal.-Early life and family:...

 of New Mexico, Bert M. Fernald
Bert M. Fernald
Bert Manfred Fernald was a United States Senator and the 47th Governor of Maine.Born in West Poland, Maine, he attended the public schools, Hebron Academy and a business and preparatory school in Boston. He then taught school , and then engaged in the canning, dairy, and telephone businesses...

 of Maine, Joseph I. France
Joseph I. France
Joseph Irwin France was a Republican member of the United States Senate, representing the State of Maryland from 1917–1923.-Early life:...

 of Maryland, Asle J. Gronna of North Dakota, Hiram W. Johnson of California, Philander C. Knox
Philander C. Knox
Philander Chase Knox was an American lawyer and politician who served as United States Attorney General , a Senator from Pennsylvania and Secretary of State ....

 of Pennsylvania, Robert M. LaFollette of Wisconsin, Medill McCormick of Illinois, George H. Moses
George H. Moses
George Higgins Moses was a U.S. diplomat and political figure.He graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1887 and Dartmouth College with the class of 1890....

 of New Hampshire, George W. Norris of Nebraska, Miles Poindexter
Miles Poindexter
Miles Poindexter was an American politician. As a Republican and later a Progressive, he served as a United States Representative and United States Senator.-Early life:Poindexter was born in Memphis, Tennessee...

 of Washington, James A. Reed of Missouri, Lawrence Sherman of Illinois, and Charles S. Thomas of Colorado. Reed and Thomas were Democrats, the other 14 were Republicans

McCormick's position can be traced to his Anglophobia
Anglophobia means hatred or fear of England or the English people. The term is sometimes used more loosely for general Anti-British sentiment...

 and nationalistic attitudes, Sherman's to personal antipathy to President Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913...

 and his domestic policies. Indeed, all of the Irreconcilables were bitter enemies of President Wilson, and he launched a nationwide speaking tour in the summer of 1919 to refute them. However, Wilson collapsed midway with a serious stroke that effectively ruined his leadership skills.

According to Stone (1970), the Irreconcilables in the Senate fell into three loosely defined factions. One group was composed of isolationists and extreme nationalists who proclaimed that America must be the sole commander of its destiny, and that membership in any international organization that might have power over the United States was unacceptable. A second group, the "realists", rejected narrow isolationism in favor of limited cooperation among nations with similar interests. They thought the League of Nations would be too strong. A third group, the "idealists", called for a truly democratic league to foster peace and justice in the world. The three factions cooperated together to help defeat the treaty. All of them denounced the League as a tool of Britain and its nefarious empire.

Among the American public as a whole, the Irish Catholics and the German Americans were intensely opposed to the Treaty.

Further reading

  • Bailey, Thomas A. Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (1945)
  • Duff, John B. "The Versailles Treaty and the Irish-Americans," Journal of American History Vol. 55, No. 3 (Dec., 1968), pp. 582–598 in JSTOR
  • Stone, Ralph A. The Irreconcilables: The Fight Against the League of Nations. (University Press of Kentucky, 1970)
  • Stone, Ralph A. "The Irreconcilables' Alternatives to the League," Mid America, 1967, Vol. 49 Issue 3, pp 163–173,
  • Stone, Ralph A. "Two Illinois Senators among the Irreconcilables," Mississippi Valley Historical Review Vol. 50, No. 3 (Dec., 1963), pp. 443–465 in JSTOR
  • Stone, Ralph A. ed. Wilson and the League of Nations (1967), articles by scholars.
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