Race and Ethnicity - Wilsonian diplomacy



President Woodrow Wilson projected the United States into the center of postwar European political issues, and his call for self-determination to become an underlying principle in drawing the new map of Europe excited many domestic ethnic constituencies with the possibilities of national independence for their ancestral homes. After having stirred the aspirations and raised hopes of ethnic groups as never before, Wilson the peacemaker could not match expectations. He had not counted on either the multiple conflicting aims among the hopeful nations or his inability to win the approval of the other allied powers. Ethnic groups that had once supported him now fought the approval of the Treaty of Versailles (1919). His inability to press for Irish independence as part of the World War I peace settlement resulted in bitter Irish-American attacks against the president and the treaty, and played a key role in blocking its passage in the Senate.

Whether to ratify the treaty was, in fact, an issue that resulted in several other emotionally charged campaigns. Various ethnic minorities, each specially motivated to seek a negative Senate vote on ratification, assailed Wilson's handiwork. German Americans could not accept the relatively harsh punishment meted out to Germany. Since the Versailles agreement failed to provide for the expanded Italy hoped for by Italian nationals, initial Italian-American enthusiasm for Wilson soon turned to denunciation. Exclusion of the Adriatic city of Fiume from Italy's control was considered to be one of the treaty's most objectionable points.

Not only the larger and more influential ethnic minorities resisted Wilson's endeavors to secure U.S. acceptance of the treaty; Armenian Americans, Syrian Americans, Greek Americans, and Lithuanian Americans, as well as several other groups, joined forces with the foes of ratification for a variety of reasons. Millions of Americans viewed Wilson as the man who had betrayed dreams of nationalistic glory for their land of origin.

New nations did come into existence as a result of Wilson's insistence that the treaty recognize self-determination, and Americans with ties to those fortunate nations were delighted. Few ethnic groups have been as successful in influencing foreign policy as were Polish Americans during the peacemaking following the world war. The re-creation of Poland following the war has been linked to the Wilson administration's interest in securing the Polish-American vote.

Scholars have clashed over the issue of whether Anglo Americans, whose contributions of language, law, and culture have been synonymous with the launching of the Republic, can legitimately be considered another of the nation's ethnic groups. There is no doubt, however, that Americans of English ancestry have had a significant impact on formulating diplomatic relationships with Great Britain. Since the earliest days of the Republic, Anglo Americans have influenced American foreign policy. For instance, by placing pressure upon President Wilson, who was of English ancestry, the Anglo Americans exerted a powerful influence in stimulating American intervention in World War I.



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