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The Fourteen Points

Video Introduction

With the war over, President Wilson turned his attention to making peace. He had called the war “the war to end all wars.” He hoped that the terms of settlement would assure freedom and peace for all nations.

The Peace Conference

Wilson sailed for Europe in December 1918 to attend the peace conference. He was the first American President to leave the country while in office. In Paris thousands of people lined the streets to cheer “Vive Wilson!”—”Long live Wilson!” The President hoped this reception would help him achieve “peace with honor.”

The Allies Disagree Over Terms of Peace.

Wilson and representatives from the victorious Allied countries met at Versailles (vuhr-SY), just outside Paris, to negotiate the peace treaty. The conference lasted from January to June 1919. More than 30 countries were represented at the conference, but the important decisions were made by four people, known as the Big Four. They included President Wilson, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Premier Georges Clemenceau (kleh-mahn-SO) of France, and Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando of Italy.

Wilson soon realized that the other three leaders did not share his hopes for “peace without victory.” The Europeans came from countries worn out by the war. They wanted revenge, and they wanted to crush Germany so that it could never make war again. In the discussion of payment for war damages and the location of new boundary lines, the Allied leaders wanted severe terms for Germany and the other Central Powers. Wilson believed that forcing harsh terms on the Central Powers would be a mistake. He felt that a policy of revenge would lead to more wars in the future.

Wilson Seeks a Peace Based on his Fourteen Points.

Wilson had already proposed terms for what he believed would be a lasting peace. His plan for a better world was contained in a speech delivered before Congress on January 8, 1918. Wilson’s statement became known as the Fourteen Points.

The fourteen points, or proposals, in Wilson’s speech were intended to prevent the kinds of international problems that led to World War I. The most important proposals were:

  1. Agreements among nations should be arrived at openly through public discussion, not made in secret.
  2. There should be freedom of the seas “alike in peace and war.”
  3. Trade barriers between nations should be broken down.
  4. Nations should reduce the size of their armies and navies.
  5. Colonial claims should be settled as fairly as possible.
  6. National groups should have the right to self-determination —the right to decide how they will be governed.
  7. “A general association of nations” should be set up to promise independence and safety “to great and small nations alike.”

The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty is Written

At first the Allies accepted the Fourteen Points as the basis for peace. As the talks continued, however, the other members of the Big Four did not support Wilson’s peace plans. The chief concern of Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Orlando was to gain advantages for their own countries. Reluctantly, Wilson was forced to give up most of his Fourteen Points. On one point, however, President Wilson refused to budge. He insisted that the peace treaty should set up an association of nations to help keep peace.

The Treaty of Versailles was completed in June 1919. The harsh terms of the treaty shocked the Germans, who had not been represented in the peace talks. Germany and the other defeated countries were forced to sign the treaty, however. The agreement included the following points:

  1. Germany had to accept responsibility for starting the war. The Germans would also have to make huge reparations —payments for damages—to the Allied countries.
  2. The Allies would occupy that part of Germany west of the Rhine River to make sure the Germans met their obligations under the treaty.
  3. Germany was disarmed and had to agree not to own or build battleships, warplanes, or tanks. Its army was to remain small.
  4. Germany had to give its colonies, as well as some of its territory in Europe, to other countries.
  5. Several new European nations were formed from land taken from the defeated countries and Russia. These new nations included Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia. These homelands would permit self-determination for such national groups as Poles, Czechs, and Slays.
  6. The treaty created a world organization known as the League of Nations.

The T
reaty Outlines the Plan for the League of Nations

Each country to sign the Treaty of Versailles would be a member of the planned League of Nations. The League was to include an Assembly in which all member nations would have a vote. There would also be a Council of the five Allied powers (the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan), plus four other members chosen by the Assembly. A World Court, organized by the League, would judge disputes between nations.

The purpose of the League was to promote cooperation among nations and bring about international peace. If a country attacked another country and continued fighting in spite of the League’s orders, the members could act against it. They could stop lending money to such a nation or cut off trade with it. In some cases, the League might use force against a warring country. One negative vote in the Assembly could block such action.

Video Review


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