U.S. delegates at The Hague supported a convention to create the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Because the Court was little more than a list of names of persons who could be called upon to hear issues, because the convention exempted matters of national honor or interest, and because the submission of disputes was optional for governments, isolationists in the Senate put up little serious resistance. The convention proved popular, especially after the American delegates added a proviso that ratification would not mean abandoning traditional policies of nonentanglement or policies like those found in the Monroe Doctrine.
The convention fertilized the young internationalist movement. By 1900 a number of persons had presented plans that would move the world beyond courts of arbitration. Most of these called for a world federation that vaguely reflected the American political experience. Benjamin F. True-blood, secretary of the American Peace Society, advanced the idea in The Federation of the World (1899), in articles, and in lectures. The interdependence of men and nations, he argued, would lead inevitably to "a complete political union of the world, a great international world state, built up somewhat on the pattern of our union of States, with supreme legislative, judicial and executive functions touching those interests which the nations have in common." Trueblood quickly cautioned that he envisioned no powerful agency. The union would operate primarily in a legislative and judicial capacity, without a formal executive, and it would possess no authority to compel its members to maintain peace. Between 1899 and 1914 a wide variety of proposals appeared, with a few internationalists devoting exceptional thought and time to the subject. Their suggestions unquestionably influenced the twentieth-century movement toward international organization, and their writings reflected a number of basic assumptions. First, they believed that an inexorable evolutionary process was at work. That process included the arbitration treaties, the willingness of governments to cooperate at The Hague in 1899, and the budding interest of governments in a court of justice. Secretary of State Elihu Root in 1907 enunciated this viewpoint when he declared that the importance of The Hague meeting of 1899 was that it made a follow-up meeting possible. Out of this he foresaw law, order, and peace. Said Root, "The world has entered upon an orderly process through which, step-by-step, in successive conferences, each taking the work of its predecessor as its point of departure, there may be continual progress toward making the practice of civilized nations conform to their peaceful professions."
Raymond Bridgman, a Boston journalist, echoed Root in a volume of essays, World Organization (1905). He saw continued meetings as the foundation stone for an international body. It could begin with a legislature modeled after the U.S. Congress, and then be followed by a court and an executive agency. New York attorney Hayne Davis also reflected this philosophy in articles published between 1903 and 1912. A "United Nations" would emerge, said Davis in what appears to have been the first use of that term. Just as the United States had been forced to develop a more perfect government after the Revolution and the Confederation period, so would the world be compelled to build a better system to keep the peace.
This evolutionary concept appeared in nearly all of the internationalist proposals. Each began by calling for further development of the arbitral network through a series of treaties that would bind nations together. Then states could explore other ways to promote their common needs. Events seemed to confirm such logic. Between 1903 and 1914 governments concluded more than 162 arbitration accords, and in 1907 the Second Hague Conference convened. The State Department kept step by negotiating a series of treaties in 1904 and 1905 that respected the Senate's concern for American rights, honor, and interests. Nevertheless, senators inserted into each agreement a clause giving the Senate the right to veto arbitration of a dispute. President Theodore Roosevelt reacted sharply. He considered the Senate action to be a violation of the constitutional authority of the chief executive and refused to exchange ratifications. In 1908, however, he relented, authorizing Root to negotiate other agreements that reflected the Senate's wishes.
In 1910, President William Howard Taft decided to go further and seek agreements to arbitrate all disputes. Two such treaties in 1911 inevitably ran afoul of the Senate, which nullified his efforts and restricted the process in such a way that Taft abandoned his quest. In short, even before Woodrow Wilson became president, internationalists understood that the Senate would likely object to any meaningful proposal for American participation in a world organization.
This may explain why Wilson's secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, took a less controversial course by signing conciliation accords with many governments. Unlike arbitration agreements, these did not bind the signatories to the decisions of a third party. Bryan also introduced the "cooling-off" principle, whereby political leaders promised they would not resort to force while a case was pending. This concept was widely adopted after 1914.
Internationalists soon moved beyond their advocacy for an arbitration system and presented an even more important proposal. The world, they argued, needed a genuine court of justice. They viewed arbitration as limited because it contained no fixed principles that could be universally applied. With established laws and impartial judges, nations could submit disputes to a reliable and fair tribunal. With the U.S. Supreme Court as their (usually) unstated example, internationalists believed that an international system incorporating universally accepted rules (laws) might prompt governments to allow the court to hear even cases involving honor and independence.
The United States officially supported the goal of a court of justice at the Second Hague Conference, but the delegates had been unable to agree on a method of selecting judges. International lawyers and advocates of the evolutionary hypothesis continued to work for some type of judicial agency. The American Society of International Law, established in 1906, and the American Society for Judicial Settlement of International Disputes along with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, both formed in 1910, concentrated on this objective. Resolutions of peace congresses and other internationalist organizations reflected a popular desire for a judicial tribunal. President Taft's secretary of state, former corporate lawyer Philander C. Knox, proposed in 1909 that a maritime prize court discussed at the Second Hague Conference be reconstituted as an international court of justice. The proposal went nowhere. The fears of nationalists continued to be more influential than the hopes of the internationalists.
Nevertheless, proposals concerning an international court of justice inevitably revived interest in the old scheme of a periodic congress. Evolutionists viewed it as a vital next step. Even more significantly, advocates of an international court saw it as an important development because, they argued, some agency had to establish the rules (the international law) that would guide the judges. The First Hague Conference had stimulated demands for additional meetings, and the congress theme became increasingly popular after 1900. Bridgman began a successful petition campaign to obtain the endorsement of the Massachusetts legislature, while the American Peace Society embarked upon an extensive propaganda campaign to reach religious and civic bodies. One writer breathlessly called the periodic congress idea "the demand of the hour."
Such agitation prompted action that had a direct bearing upon calls for the Second Hague Conference. In 1904, representatives of the Inter-parliamentary Union, an association of legislators from congresses within nations, met at St. Louis, where they resolved to support the convening of a second Hague Conference. Under the leadership of U.S. Representative Richard Bartholdt of Missouri, they persuaded President Roosevelt to join them in calling on foreign chancellories to support the plan. The 1907 conference was the fruit of their labors.
Bartholdt had launched this project along with peace advocate Hayne Davis, and the two men proposed that "a regular Congress of Nations be created, to meet at stated periods, to discuss international questions and make recommendations to the governments." By April 1906 the nearly two hundred congressmen who had joined the Interparliamentary Union agreed to endorse Bartholdt and Davis's aims. The periodic congress proposal gained acceptance at The Hague in 1907 in the form of a resolution calling for further meetings. Internationalists hoped that a third session might convene in 1914 or 1915. The out-break of war, however, frustrated their aims.
As the periodic congress idea gained in popularity, some planners began to focus on specifics, exploring, for instance, how an evolving organization would operate and the powers that it must have. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most of these planners thought in terms of a federation modeled after that of the United States, with legislative, judicial, and executive agencies. Such a structure would allow nations to divide their sovereignty. They would allocate certain responsibilities to the central body while retaining control over those affairs most important to themselves, an arrangement that many internationalists hoped, or perhaps assumed, would mollify nationalistic members of the Senate. Hamilton Holt, managing editor of The Independent magazine, popularized this theme, with help from other prominent internationalists like Andrew Carnegie. The steel magnate repeatedly called for a "league of peace," a proposal that may well have inspired Theodore Roosevelt to float his own version of a league of peace in 1910.
The most ambitious undertaking in the years from 1910 to 1912 was what Holt and his coactivist, Oscar Crosby, called a World-Federation League. Its intricacy may have owed much to Crosby's background as an inventor and engineer. He and Holt had been energized by Roosevelt's brand of skeptical idealism. They called for the creation of a U.S. commission authorized to draft for Congress "articles of Federation" for the "maintenance of peace, through the establishment of a court that could decide any dispute between nations." This was revolutionary enough, but what especially distinguished their proposal was that the court would have the ability to enforce its judgments by calling for the use of military force by members of the federation. The Holt-Crosby emphasis on legal procedures backed up by military force would become more common—and more controversial—during the next decade.
Although Congress failed to address their proposal, in 1910 it did unanimously pass a resolution sponsored by Representative William S. Bennet of New York. Perhaps the fact that the resolution passed unanimously signifies that it had little real importance, for it actually committed the United States to nothing that nationalists viewed as threatening the concept of sovereignty. What the resolution did do, however, was to call for a commission to explore the possibility of both arms reduction and the creation of an international naval force (composed of existing navies) that could police the oceans. In a sense, this may have been less radical than it appears. Former President Theodore Roosevelt had recently incorporated the policing idea into what historians call the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine as well as his league of peace proposal. Although his motives were no less nationalist than internationalist, he more or less legitimized the concept sufficiently to elicit congressional approval of Bennet's 1910 resolution.
President Taft, however, never acted. Despite pressure from pacifists and federationists, Taft—who would later contribute a great deal to the movement for a league of nations—kept his own counsel. Yet it is worth noting that Taft, whom historians generally view as much more conservative than either his predecessor or his successor, reflected the progressive emphasis on settling international disputes peacefully. Taft was the most legalistic president of the twentieth century, even more so than Woodrow Wilson. His commitment to the so-called conciliation treaties, along with his dedication to international law, provided additional foundation work for the flowering of internationalism later in the century.