One hundred years ago, on January 25, 1919, the delegates to the Paris Peace Conference approved a proposal to create the League of Nations. Nearly a year later, on January 16, 1920, the League held its first meeting with its stated principal mission of maintaining world peace.
American newspapers presented conflicting views of the League of Nations as evidenced in editorial cartoons of the time.
Support for the League initially appeared to run high among Americans, including within The Stars and Stripes, the official military newspaper “by and for the soldiers” of the American Expeditionary Forces.
Private Cyrus LeRoy Baldridge’s prophetic front-page cartoon depicted children who would be draft age by World War II, and so “most interested” in the League’s goal of preventing war. Baldridge expanded his career as an artist, illustrator, and author, while continuing to advocate for international peace throughout his life.
Even earlier, in the January 31, 1919 issue of The Stars and Stripes, Baldridge represented the graves of war dead as “The Founders of the League of Nations.”
War dead became a powerful symbol for and against the League. Baldridge did not specify the countries of the dead he memorialized in his cartoon. Less than two years later, the New York American, owned by William Randolph Hearst, emphasized American war dead with its anti-League cartoon of American graves on European soil: “35,000 American Dead. Enough!” This cartoon appeared in other Hearst-owned newspapers, including The Washington Times and The San Francisco Examiner, as well as being reprinted in additional newspapers, such as The Lake County Times.
Much of the opposition centered around Article Ten, which committed the League’s member nations “to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members…” Some Senators, along with other Americans, feared this clause would again entangle the United States in European squabbles. The Dearborn Independent on November 8, 1919, on the other hand, expressed concern about world peace and loss of international trade when it depicted opposing Senators as misbehaving babies. The Independent was the official organ of the Ford Motor Company from 1919 to 1925, and best known for its virulent antisemitism.
A few newspapers opted to reprint multiple cartoons, sometimes featuring varying viewpoints. An array of four cartoons in the New York Tribune, July 18, 1919, included two that recognized thorny issues related to American foreign policy and two that criticized the Senate for partisanship and attempting to ignore public opinion favorable to the League.
On the same page, the Tribune reprinted cartoons from “A Group of Foreign Critics of the Peace” following close upon the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Likewise, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle reprinted multiple cartoons, “Touching on and Appertaining to that League of Nations” on February 27, 1919.
On November 19, 1919 and again on March 19, 1920, the Senate failed to ratify the Treaty of Versailles and the U.S. never joined the League of Nations.
Find more World War I era editorial cartoons in context by searching in these digitized newspaper collections:
- Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers
- Stars and Stripes: The American Soldiers’ Newspaper of World War I, 1918 to 1919
- World War History: Newspaper Clippings, 1914 to 1926
Check out additional editorial cartoons looking in the Library’s Prints & Photographs Online Catalog:
League of Nations editorial cartoons in Prints & Photographs Division.
Help us improve access to our editorial cartoons and other newspaper illustrations by joining our crowdsourcing effort:
Are you in town?
- Attend tomorrow’s program at the Library: The United States and the World: Legacies of the Paris Peace Conference
- Visit the Library’s major exhibition during its final week: Echoes of the Great War: American Experiences of World War I
Discover even more:
- Topics in Chronicling America – League of Nations
- Topics in Chronicling America – Treaty of Versailles
- Treaty of Versailles Web Guide
World War I Centennial, 2017-2018: With the most comprehensive collection of multi-format World War I holdings in the nation, the Library of Congress is a unique resource for primary source materials, education plans, public programs and on-site visitor experiences about The Great War including exhibits, symposia and book talks.