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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.”