Covenant of the League of Nations

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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

The Covenant of the League of Nations was the charter of the League of Nations.


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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1] 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 Christiaan Smuts in December 1918.[1]

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 Jan Smuts (British Empire), Léon Bourgeois and Ferdinand Larnaude (France), Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and Vittorio Scialoja (Italy), Foreign Minister Makino Nobuaki and Chinda Sutemi (Japan), Paul Hymans (Belgium), Epitácio Pessoa (Brazil), Wellington Koo (China), Jayme Batalha Reis (Portugal), and Milenko Radomar Vesnitch (Serbia).[2] 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.[1]

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.[1] 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.[1] 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.[1]

The treaty entered into force on 10 January 1920. Articles 4, 6, 12, 13, and 15 were amended in 1924. The treaty shares similar provisions and structures with the UN Charter.[3]

Article X[edit]

Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations is the section calling for assistance to be given to a member that experiences external aggression. It was signed by the major Peacemakers (Allied Forces) following the First World War, most notably Britain and France. Due to the nature of the Article, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was unable to ratify his obligation to join the League of Nations, as a result of strong objection from U.S. politicians.

Although Wilson had secured his proposal for a League of Nations in the final draft of the Treaty of Versailles, the U.S. Senate refused to consent to the ratification of the Treaty. For many Republicans in the Senate, Article X was the most objectionable provision. Their objections were based on the fact that, by ratifying such a document, the United States would be bound by international contract to defend a League of Nations member if it was attacked. Henry Cabot Lodge from Massachusetts and Frank B. Brandegee from Connecticut led the fight in the U.S. Senate against ratification, believing that it was best not to become involved in international conflicts. Under the United States Constitution, the President of the United States may not ratify a treaty unless the Senate, by a two-thirds vote, gives its advice and consent. Because the Senate would not support ratification, the U.S. never joined the League of Nations, hampering the League's credibility as a mediator of world conflict.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

  • Northedge, F.S. (1986). The League of Nations: Its Life and Times, 1920–1946. New York: Holmes & Meier. ISBN 0-7185-1316-9.