Covenant of the League of Nations
|Signed||28 June 1919|
|Location||Paris Peace Conference|
|Effective||10 January 1920|
|Parties||League of Nations members|
|Depositary||League of Nations|
|Covenant of the League of Nations at Wikisource|
Early drafts for a possible League of Nations began even before the end of the First World War. A London-based study group led by James Bryce and G. Lowes Dickinson made proposals adopted by the British League of Nations Society, founded in 1915. Another group in the United States—which included Hamilton Holt and William B. Howland at the Century Association in New York City—had their own plan. This plan was largely supported by the League to Enforce Peace, an organization led by former U.S. President William Howard Taft. In December 1916, Lord Robert Cecil suggested that an official committee be set up to draft a covenant for a future league. The British committee was finally appointed in February 1918; it was led by Walter Phillimore (and became known as the Phillimore Committee) but also included Eyre Crowe, William Tyrrell, and Cecil Hurst. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was not impressed with the Phillimore Committee's report, and would eventually produce three draft covenants of his own with help from his friend Colonel House. Further suggestions were made by Jan Christian Smuts in December 1918.
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, a commission was appointed to agree on a covenant. Members included Woodrow Wilson (as chair), Colonel House (representing the U.S.), Robert Cecil and Cecil Hurst (Britain), Léon Bourgeois and Ferdinand Larnaude (France), Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and Vittorio Scialoga (Italy), Foreign Minister Makino Nobuaki and Chinda Sutemi (Japan), Paul Hymans (Belgium), Wellington Koo (China), Jayme Batalha Reis (Portugal), and Milenko Radomar Vesnitch (Serbia). Further representatives of Czechoslovakia, Greece, Poland and Romania were later added. The group considered a preliminary draft co-written by Hurst and President Wilson's adviser David Hunter Miller. The group met on ten occasions, and by 11 April 1919, the Hurst-Miller draft was approved with only a few changes.
The League would be made up of a General Assembly (representing all member states), an Executive Council (with membership limited to major powers), and a permanent secretariat. Member states were expected to "respect and preserve as against external aggression" the territorial integrity of other members, and to disarm "to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety." All states were required to submit complaints for arbitration or judicial inquiry before going to war. The Executive Council would create a Permanent Court of International Justice to make judgements on the disputes.
Major objections came from France and Japan. France wanted the League to form an international army to enforce its decisions, but the British worried such an army would be dominated by the French, and the Americans could not agree since only Congress could declare war. Makino and Chinda requested that a clause upholding the principle of racial equality should be inserted, parallel to the existing religious equality clause. This was deeply opposed, particularly by Americans, and Wilson simply ignored the question. While Wilson was away, a vote on a similar motion (supporting "equality of nations and the just treatment of their nationals") was supported by 11 of 19 delegates, but Wilson declared that "serious objections" by other delegates negated the majority vote, and the amendment was dismissed.
- Northedge, F. S. (1986). The League of Nations: Its life and times, 1920–1946. Leicester University Press. ISBN 0-7185-1194-8.
- League of Nations Covenant and United Nations Charter: A Side-by-Side (Full Text) Comparison by Walter Dorn
- The Covenant of the League of Nations from the Yale Avalon Project
- Primary Documents: Covenant of the League of Nations, 1919–24 from FirstWorldWar.com
- Northedge, F.S. (1986). The League of Nations: Its Life and Times, 1920–1946. New York: Holmes & Meier. ISBN 0-7185-1316-9.