The Covenant of the League of Nations was the charter of the League of Nations. It was signed on 28 June 1919 as Part I of the Treaty of Versailles, and became effective together with the rest of the Treaty on 10 January 1920.
Early drafts for a possible League of Nations began even before the end of the First World War. The London-based Bryce Group made proposals adopted by the British League of Nations Society, founded in 1915. Another group in the United States—which included Hamilton Holt and William B. Howland at the Century Association in New York City—had their own plan. This plan was largely supported by the League to Enforce Peace, an organization led by former U.S. President William Howard Taft. In December 1916, Lord Robert Cecil suggested that an official committee be set up to draft a covenant for a future league. The British committee was finally appointed in February 1918; it was led by Walter Phillimore (and became known as the Phillimore Committee) but also included Eyre Crowe, William Tyrrell, and Cecil Hurst. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was not impressed with the Phillimore Committee's report, and would eventually produce three draft covenants of his own with help from his friend Colonel House. Further suggestions were made by Jan Christiaan Smuts in December 1918.
At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, a commission was appointed to agree on a covenant. Members included Woodrow Wilson (as chair), Colonel House (representing the U.S.), Robert Cecil and Jan Smuts (British Empire), Léon Bourgeois and Ferdinand Larnaude (France), Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando and Vittorio Scialoja (Italy), Foreign Minister Makino Nobuaki and Chinda Sutemi (Japan), Paul Hymans (Belgium), Epitácio Pessoa (Brazil), Wellington Koo (China), Jayme Batalha Reis (Portugal), and Milenko Radomar Vesnitch (Serbia). Further representatives of Czechoslovakia, Greece, Poland and Romania were later added. The group considered a preliminary draft co-written by Hurst and President Wilson's adviser David Hunter Miller. During the first four months of 1919 the group met on ten separate occasions, attempting to negotiate the exact terms of the foundational Covenant agreement for the future League.
During the ensuing negotiations various major objections arose from various countries. France wanted the League to form an international army to enforce its decisions, but the British worried such an army would be dominated by the French, and the Americans could not agree as only Congress could declare war. Japan requested that a clause upholding the principle of racial equality should be inserted, parallel to the existing religious equality clause. This was deeply opposed, particularly by American political sentiment, while Wilson himself simply ignored the question.
During a certain interval while Wilson was away, the question of international equality was raised once again. A vote on a motion supporting the "equality of nations and the just treatment of their nationals" was made, and was supported by 11 of the 19 delegates. Upon Wilson's return he declared that "serious objections" by other delegates had negated the majority vote, and the amendment was dismissed. Finally on April 11, 1919, the revised Hurst-Miller draft was approved, but without fully resolving certain questions as had been brought forth regarding matters such as national equality, racial equality, and how the new League might be able to practically enforce its various mandates.
The new League would include a General Assembly (representing all member states), an Executive Council (with membership limited to major powers), and a permanent secretariat. Member states were expected to "respect and preserve as against external aggression" the territorial integrity of other members, and to disarm "to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety". All states were required to submit complaints for arbitration or judicial inquiry before going to war. The Executive Council would create a Permanent Court of International Justice to make judgements on the disputes.
Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations is the section calling for assistance to be given to a member that experiences external aggression. It was signed by the major Peacemakers (Allied Forces) following the First World War, most notably Britain and France. Due to the nature of the Article, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was unable to ratify his obligation to join the League of Nations, as a result of strong objection from U.S. politicians.
Although Wilson had secured his proposal for a League of Nations in the final draft of the Treaty of Versailles, the U.S. Senate refused to consent to the ratification of the Treaty. For many Republicans in the Senate, Article X was the most objectionable provision. Their objections were based on the fact that, by ratifying such a document, the United States would be bound by international contract to defend a League of Nations member if it was attacked. Henry Cabot Lodge from Massachusetts and Frank B. Brandegee from Connecticut led the fight in the U.S. Senate against ratification, believing that it was best not to become involved in international conflicts. Under the United States Constitution, the President of the United States may not ratify a treaty unless the Senate, by a two-thirds vote, gives its advice and consent.