By Charles Hoffacker 

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war. —Ed McCurdy, 1950

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the most extraordinary multilateral treaty ever signed by the United States. Known by various names, including the Pact of Paris, the Kellogg-Briand Pact is an international agreement that outlawed war. Sometimes ridiculed, usually ignored, this treaty is the subject of renewed attention in our time. This is due largely to the publication of The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (Simon & Schuster, 2016) by two Yale Law School professors, Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro.

Although signed by 57 nations in 1928-29 and by still others later, the Kellogg-Briand Pact has not succeeded, of course, in eliminating war, even as civil laws against theft and murder have not succeeded in eradicating those crimes. But as Hathaway and Shapiro explain, the pact contributed to a dramatic shift in understanding among the nations and in international law that amounted to a major step ahead for the world. Before Kellogg-Briand, one nation could conquer the territory of another and retain it. This was legal. The conquering nation did not have to prove itself in the right. Hathaway and Shapiro call this the Old World Order. What Kellogg-Briand helped bring about was the rejection of legal conquest, historically a major reason that nations went to war. The two authors call this the New World Order.


As legal instruments go, the pact is simple and straightforward. Here is its substance:

The High Contracting Parties solemnly declare in the names of their respective peoples that they condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.

The High Contracting Parties agree that the settlement or solution of all disputes or conflicts of whatever nature or of whatever origin they may be, which may arise among them, shall never be sought except but by pacific means.

The Kellogg-Briand Pact remains in effect today. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 shows that the world community respects this treaty outlawing conquest, as the vast majority of nations reject that annexation and refuse to recognize Crimea as part of Russia.

Even nuclear deterrence, morally objectionable in so many ways, implicitly acknowledges Kellogg-Briand, as the nuclear powers claim that they maintain nuclear weapons solely for the purpose of deterrence, and in fact nuclear weapons have never been used to conquer and annex territory. In addition, while one can have grave reservations about particular international trade agreements, it must be recognized that widespread trade today among the nations represents a significant step away from the patterns of conquest and subjugation characteristic of the Old World Order.

The Pact of Paris stands out as a collective act of sanity by those who survived the horrors and losses of the First World War. Many of them, both statesmen and ordinary citizens, witnessed combat on their nations’ soil. Tens of millions were killed outright in the war and by the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 that resulted from it. People around the world, including in the United States, felt a desperate need to establish and maintain international peace.

But among all those who longed for a peaceful future, who are Kellogg and Briand, for whom the pact is named?

Aristide Briand (1862-1932) was France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs when he signed the Pact of Paris in 1928. A socialist and atheist, he served 11 terms as Prime Minister of France. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926 along with German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann for the reconciliation of Germany and France after World War I. His actions to develop what became the Treaty of Paris preceded those of Kellogg.

Frank B. Kellogg (1856-1937) was the United States Secretary of State when he signed the pact. A Republican from Minnesota, Kellogg had been a trustbuster for Teddy Roosevelt, president of the American Bar Association, a one-term senator from Minnesota, and ambassador to Great Britain before his time as Secretary of State. Later he became a judge of the Permanent Court of International Justice. Although he won the Noble Peace Prize in 1929, he was not a prominent peace advocate before his work in support of the Treaty of Paris.

Kellogg is of special interest to the Episcopal Church since he was an Episcopalian. A member of St. John the Evangelist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, Kellogg is mentioned on that parish’s website and in its comprehensive parish history, For All the Saints: St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church: A History by James E. Frazier (reviewed in TLC, Nov. 15, 2015). Frank Kellogg and Clara May Kellogg, his wife of more than 50 years, are buried in Washington National Cathedral. A large tablet below the Kellogg memorial window declares that he “served his nation with conspicuous ability and sought equity and peace among the nations of the earth.”

Photo by Tim Evanson

In 1937, the year Kellogg died, his authorized biography by David Bryn-Jones was published. This elegant study recounts Kellogg’s substantial professional accomplishments, but reveals practically nothing about his personal life, including his faith and his church membership. Thus it leaves to the imagination what connections he may have drawn between his Christianity and his labors for peace that culminated in the 1928 Pact of Paris. It is certain, however, that Kellogg considered the Treaty of Paris the pinnacle of his public service, what Bryn-Jones describes as “the consummation and crown of his labors.”

Kellogg’s support for the Pact of Paris was a matter of his recognizing where the parade was going and placing himself among its leaders. A hot-tempered man known to privately curse pacifists, Kellogg was effective in persuading nations to support a treaty that banned war. In the Bible and elsewhere, there are many examples of how God works through unlikely choices to achieve divine purposes. Kellogg became an instance of this principle, and for that the world can be thankful.

In his book When the World Outlawed War, David Swanson explains how America’s leadership came to promote this treaty. What moved Kellogg to take the actions he took, Swanson claims, was

a global partnership for peace and a U.S. partnership with France created through illegal diplomacy by peace activists. The driving force in achieving this historic breakthrough was a remarkably unified, strategic, and relentless U. S. peace movement with its strongest support in the Midwest; its strongest leaders professors, lawyers, and university presidents; its voices in Washington, D.C., those of Republican senators from Idaho and Kansas; its views welcomed and promoted by newspapers, churches, and women’s groups all over the country; and its determination unaltered by a decade of defeats and divisions.

This sturdy movement to prohibit war, which became known as Outlawry for short, depended in large part on the political power of women newly enfranchised nationwide due to the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. While treaty-making in the past had often been secretive, advocates for the Kellogg-Briand Pact and steps that led to it often engaged in blatant public activity.

Where did Kellogg’s church stand in the movement to outlaw war? What was the Episcopal Church’s perspective on the Kellogg-Briand Pact? Along with countless other organizations across the land, the Episcopal Church offered strong support for the Treaty of Paris.

It happened that General Convention met in Washington, D.C., in October 1928, during the interval between the Paris signing of the pact in August of that year and Senate ratification (by a vote of 85-1) and presidential signing of the pact the following January.

The 1928 General Convention endorsed statements by the two previous General Conventions that saw “a warless world as a possibility” and said “the nations of the world must adopt a peace system,” one “built on the conviction that war is unchristian in principle and suicidal in practice.” Regarding the new Pact of Paris, the 1928 General Convention declared,

We commend with unqualified approval the effort of our own Government to achieve the outlawry of war and, noting the epoch-making significance of the proposals now awaiting ratification, pray God for its success. We believe these treaties to be steps in the realization of the hopes of the nations for a permanent peace and pledge our best endeavors and constant prayers to this end.

What practical lessons can we draw from how the Kellogg-Briand Pact resulted in part from moral witness and political maneuver in the United States? The seven points that follow include admonitions by Swanson.

1. Find out what traumas are energizing people.

2. Something taken as normal, even unquestionable, can be overthrown when it is revealed as repugnant.

3. Keep the morality of the issue front and center and make politics the servant of this morality.

4. An effective movement includes people being made uncomfortable by others in the movement.

5. Take popular demands to public servants and insist that they do something.

6. Do not censure yourself.

7. Welcome late arrivals to the effort, even a secretary of state.


The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, lives in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Further reading

Frank B. Kellogg: A Biography (1937) by David Bryn-Jones is both Kellogg’s authorized biography and his only full-length biography.

When the World Outlawed War (2011) by David Swanson is a brief, popular, and informative look at the Kellogg-Briand Pact and its history.

The Internationalists: How a Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World (2016) by Oona A. Hathaway and Scott J. Shapiro is a detailed, scholarly, and readable study of the Kellogg-Briand Pact that sets it in a historical context ranging from Hugo Grotius in the 17th century to the Islamic State in the 21st century.

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