League to Enforce Peace

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The League to Enforce Peace (LEP) was an American organization established in 1915 to promote the formation of an international body for world peace. It was formed in Philadelphia by American citizens concerned by the outbreak of World War I in Europe.


Early efforts to support the formation of an international organization to contain and respond to violence once the current hostilities ended began in 1914 with speaking tours to arouse support. Advocates worked to distinguish their efforts from contemporary anti-war efforts that aimed at preventing American participation in the war and to counter misimpression that they were trying to end the war in Europe.[1] Hamilton Holt published an editorial in his New York City weekly magazine the Independent called "The Way to Disarm: A Practical Proposal" on September 28, 1914. It called for an international organization to agree upon the arbitration of disputes and to guarantee the territorial integrity of its members by maintaining military forces sufficient to defeat those of any non-member. The ensuing debate among prominent internationalists modified Holt's plan to align it more closely with proposals offered in Great Britain by Viscount James Bryce, a former ambassador from the U.K. to the U.S.[2]

At a convention in Philadelphia's Independence Hall on June 17, 1915, with the LEP's first president, former U.S. President William Howard Taft, presiding, one hundred noteworthy Americans formally announced the formation of the League to Enforce Peace. They proposed an international agreement in which participating nations would agree to "jointly use their economic and military force against any one of their number that goes to war or commits acts of hostility against another." The founders included Elihu Root,[3] Alexander Graham Bell, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore, and Edward Filene on behalf of the recently founded U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Elected to the Executive Committee were Harvard President Abbott Lawrence Lowell, former Cabinet member and diplomat Oscar S. Straus, magazine editor Hamilton Holt, Taft, and a dozen others [4]

Pacifists rejected the LEP's notion of collective security and nationalists rejected the idea of America submitting to arbitration. The LEP's founders, on the other hand, though varied in their outlooks, expressed a long established ideal of the civilizing influence of the British Empire and American democracy.[5]

The initial efforts of the League to Enforce Peace aimed at creating public awareness through magazine articles and speeches.[citation needed]

The LEP combined enthusiastic support for the American war effort with its proposals for a new international order to follow the defeat of Germany. It presented its plans for an international organization to respond to any nation that would follow a course like that of German militarism.[6]

President Wilson's specific proposal for the League of Nations met resistance from the Republican-controlled Senate and the opposition led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. The high-minded debate deteriorated until the ideal of international cooperation was, writes one historian, "sacrificed to party intrigue, personal antipathy, and pride of authorship."[7] The League to Enforce Peace believed American participation was more important than the exact nature of the organization, but found itself defending Wilson's plan against attempts to restrict American participation in it.[8] When the U.S. Senate debated the treaty with Germany, the LEP specifically opposed attempts in the Senate to restrict American participation in international arbitration.[9]

In February 1919, the League held a series of public meetings in more than half a dozen American cities in support of Wilson's League proposal.[10] President Wilson thanked the League for its support.[11]

In the summer of 1919, the LEP published a book of essays modeled on The Federalist Papers called The Covenanter: An American Exposition of the Covenant of the League of Nations. It delivered a copy to every member of Congress.[12] Lowell, Taft, and former Attorney-General George W. Wickersham were the authors. The New York Times called it a "masterly analysis" and thought it perfectly suited for a broad public: "This—thank Heaven—is a brochure for the lazy-minded!"[13]

With the formation of the League of Nations in 1919 the LEP changed focus slightly to raise grass roots American support for the League of Nations. For example, in November 1920 it analyzed the annual budgets of the League of Nations to demonstrate that participation in the League of Nations in the coming year would cost the United States "exactly one-tenth of one percent of what we spent on armaments during a single year before the war, while it would amount to something like two-thousandth of one per cent of what the direct cost of our belligerency reached in 1918."[14]

Support for the LEP dissolved and it ceased operations by 1923.[15]

Some of the League's records are held by the Harvard University Library.[15]


  1. ^ New York Times: "Seek to Stir West for Peace League," July 31, 1914, accessed January 1, 2011
  2. ^ Herman, 56-7
  3. ^ Strauss, Lewis (1962). Men and Decisions. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. p. 50. ISBN 1299121713.
  4. ^ New York Times: "League to Enforce Peace is Launched," June 18, 1915, accessed January 2, 2010
  5. ^ Herman, 57ff.
  6. ^ New York Times: "To Hold War Convention," March 18, 1918, accessed January 1, 2011
  7. ^ Yeomans, 454
  8. ^ New York Times: "Straus Deplores Taft Reservations," July 25, 1919, accessed January 1, 2011
  9. ^ New York Times: "Reed Reservation Called Fatal," November 17, 1919, accessed January 1, 2011
  10. ^ New York Times: "Send Committee to Paris," December 19, 1918, accessed January 1, 201
  11. ^ New York Times: "Wilson Praises Support," February 15, 1919, accessed January 1, 2011
  12. ^ New York Times: "Issues 'The Covenanter'," July 2, 1919, accessed January 1, 2011
  13. ^ New York Times: "The Truth about the League of Nations," July 27, 1919, accessed January 2, 2010
  14. ^ New York Times: "Compares Cost of War and League of Nations," November 22, 1920, accessed January 1, 2011
  15. ^ a b "League to Enforce Peace (U.S.) additional papers". Harvard University Library. Retrieved 31 December 2010.


External links[edit]

  • The League of Nations, What It Means And Why It Must Be*, by William Howard Taft - National Geographic, January 1, 1919, page 43 (pdf-pg55of566)