On July 10, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson walked into the Senate chamber with a document under his arm: the Treaty of Versailles. This occasion marked the first time in 130 years that a president personally delivered a treaty to the Senate floor.
The document reflected Wilson’s vision for a peaceful global order following World War I, and he had spent the past six months negotiating its conditions in France. If approved, it would have brought the United States into the League of Nations, a new intergovernmental organization founded on the idea that security threats to one member demanded responses from all members.
On the Senate floor, Wilson called for the chamber’s approval: “The stage is set, the destiny disclosed. It has come about by no plan of our conceiving, but by the hand of God. We cannot turn back. The light streams on the path ahead, and nowhere else.”
But Wilson’s big dreams for world peace crashed into harsh realities. Despite his advocacy, the Senate voted against the treaty, fearing the potential entanglements and obligations of membership associated with joining the League of Nations.
This humbling episode was far from the only time Congress has rebuffed a president’s foreign policy agenda. In fact, the executive and legislative branches periodically clash, in part by constitutional design, on issues such as using military force and signing international agreements. However, this relationship has constantly evolved over time, and, since the end of World War II, the president has frequently had the upper hand in shaping the country’s foreign policy.
In this lesson, we’ll explore what the Constitution says about making foreign policy and what its execution now looks like in practice.
In this resource from World101, students will explore what the Constitution says about making foreign policy and how two branches of government protect and advance the country's interests abroad.
CFR Education is an initiative within the Council on Foreign Relations that aims to make complex foreign policy and international issues accessible for middle, high school, and college students through its educational products: World101, Model Diplomacy, and Convene the Council.
World101 is a free collection of multimedia resources on the fundamentals of international relations and foreign policy. Designed to help your students understand the essential issues, forces, and actors that shape global affairs, World101 aims to support teachers with its videos, charts, essays, and timelines that can easily be added to any part of your lesson plan.