The Historical Journal

Articles and Communications

Britain and the ‘Great Betrayal’: Anglo-American Relations and the Struggle for United States Ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, 1919–1920*

George W. Egertona1

a1 University of British Columbia

Historians have examined in great detail the dramatic debate in American politics over the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles which culminated in the physical collapse of President Wilson and the defeat of his peace programme. The failure of Wilson to carry his programme through the United States senate represented also a distinct setback for the peacemaking strategies of the British government whose policies at the peace conference had been based in large measure on the hope that an enduring trans-Atlantic partnership could be established. The British government followed closely the American treaty debate, sending Viscount Grey, the former Liberal foreign secretary, as a special ambassador, and played a significant if unsuccessful role in the outcome of the drama. It is the intention of this article to examine the attitudes and role of the Lloyd George government through the latter part of 1919 and into 1920 with regard to the fate of the Treaty of Versailles in America, and in particular to reassess the part played by Viscount Grey. It is hoped to shed some new light on the dilemmas of foreign policy and defence strategy encountered at this time by Britain and the empire, as well as to elucidate certain aspects of the American struggle. Since the Covenant of the League of Nations lay at the heart of the American fight over the treaty, it is hoped also that new insight will be provided on the uncertain inauguration of the League.


* The author wishes to express gratitude to the Canada Council and the University of British Columbia for support in financing the research on this article.