The Allies Meet at Versailles
Thirty two delegates met at Versailles for the Paris Peace Conference. Four of them, Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, and Vittorio of Orlando, led the majority of the meeting. Germany and Russia were not among those countries represented at the conference.
Paris Peace Conference, 1919.
Wilson’s Plan for Peace
Woodrow Wilson created a series of proposals known as the Fourteen Points during the war whose purpose were to create lasting peace. These points were driven by self-determination. The points had goals regarding the creation of new nations, the changing of borders, freedom of the seas, free trade, reduction of national armies and navies, and the ending of secret treaties. The fourteenth point suggested a "general association of nations," the league of nations.
A newspaper headline regarding Wilson's Fourteen Points, 1918.
The Allies Dictate a Harsh Peace
Britain and France were hesitant to agree to Wilson's Fourteen Points because they were concerned about national security and wanted to deprive Germany of it's war-making power. In June 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed and helped to settle tensions between Germany and the allied nations. The treaty took to Wilson's final point and created the League of Nations. The goal of the League of Nations was to maintain an international peace. While many nations played a role in the plan created for the League of Nations, Russia and Germany were left out. The treaty singled out Germany by placing all of the blame for the war on them and forcing them to pay reparations, seizing their territory, and restricting their military operations. It was decided that German land seized in Africa and the Pacific would be governed by the Allies until they were deemed ready for independence.
Depiction of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
The Creation of New Nations
Throughout 1919 and 1920, Western powers signed treaties with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. Similarly to the Treaty of Versailles, these treaties created a significant loss of land for the Central Powers. Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia were all declared independent nations. The Ottoman Turks' empire was disbanded with only the land in modern day Turkey remaining in their possession. The Allies declared the nations taken from the Ottoman Turks should be mandates rather than independent nations. The British gained control of Palestine, Iraq, and Transjordan while the French gained control of Syria and Lebanon. Romania and Poland gained Russian territory. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were professed independent nations.
A map of Europe after the Treaty of Versailles.
"A Peace Built on Quicksand"
The Treaty of Versailles was ultimately unsuccessful in maintaining peace. This was due to many reasons including the United States' rejection of the treaty because a majority of Americans believed that the most successful way to stay out of war would be to remove themselves from European affairs. The United States made a separate treaty with Germany and its allies. Another reason for the failure of the Treaty of Versailles was the bitterness of the German people, especially regarding the war guilt clause. Nations in Africa and Asia were angered by the treaty's seemingly disregard for their desire for independence. Japan and Italy were displeased because they had gained less from the treaty than they wanted to. The lack of support of the treaty from various nations led the settlements at Versailles to be described as "a peace built on quicksand." Tensions created by the treaty contributed to World War II.
Germany faced reparations following the Treaty of Versailles.
The Legacy of the War
World War I was different than all of those previous to it because it used new technologies and created unforeseen conflict on a global scale.
A majority of Europe was involved in World War I.
The War's Extreme Cost
There were close to 30 million casualties and fatalities total in World War I. Starvation, disease, and execution also contributed to the death of a large number of civilians. An entire generation of Europeans was eradicated. An estimated $338 billion was lost from European treasuries during the war. Many homes, towns, and plots of land were destroyed during the war.
The debt of nations following World War I.
The Lost Generation
Disillusionment plagued Western society and the survivors of World War I. This emotion was often displayed in art and literature. The insecurity felt by society effected many future generations but most immediately caused the Russian Revolution.
Art showing gruesome scenes of World War I.
Terms and Names
- Woodrow Wilson: President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Created a plan for peace called the Fourteen Points and represented the United States at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
- Georges Clemenceau: Delegate who represented France at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
- David Lloyd George: Delegate who represented Great Britain at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.
- Fourteen Points: A series of proposals put forth by Woodrow Wilson whose goal was to achieve and maintain international peace.
- Self-determination: A term that means allowing people to decide for themselves under what government they wish to live.
- Treaty of Versailles: Treaty signed in 1919 at the end of World War I that ended the state of war between Germany and the Allies.
- League of Nations: Created as part of Wilson's Fourteen Points. An international association whose goal would be to keep peace among nations.
- "The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make."- To congress, on the state of war with Germany in 1916. Woodrow Wilson, president of the United States, said this because he yearned for international peace and was an advocated for self-determination.
- "War is a series of catastrophes that results in a victory."- To Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. George Clemenceau, the delegate representing France at the Paris Peace Conference, said this to President Wilson because he was an advocate for French participation in World War I and believed that war was not without purpose.
- "At eleven o’clock this morning came to an end the cruelest and most terrible War that has ever scourged mankind. I hope we may say that thus, this fateful morning, came to an end all wars."- To House of Commons, November 11, 1918. David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, said this at the ending of World War I. He said this because he was an advocate for peace and was optimistic about the peace that the end of the Great War would bring.
- January 8, 1918: President Woodrow Wilson gives a speech outlining the principles and goals of the Fourteen Points.
- June 28, 1919: Exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the Treaty of Versailles is signed and ended the war between Germany and the Allies.
- January 16, 1920: The League of Nations hosts its first meeting in Paris.
- March 19, 1920: The United States Senate rejects the Treaty of Versailles for the second and last time.
- August 25, 1921: The United States and Germany come to an agreement and sign the US-German Peace Treaty.
Woodrow Wilson played an incredibly significant role in the development of the Treaty of Versailles. His aim to achieve lasting peace and encouragement to other nations to strive for the same thing motivated countries internationally to come to an agreement with one another. His Fourteen Points also set forth the principles of the League of Nations that was created by the Treaty of Versailles. George Clemenceau was another important figure at the Paris Peace Conference. His passion regarding French interest in international relations created a more prominent sense of urgency among the delegates present to come to an agreement.