Katharine Fields

Western Civilization II

April 14, 2012

Primary Source Paper: Treaty of Versailles and Wilson’s Fourteen Points

            World War I has been argued to be the war that never actually ended in all complete terms, but instead found a lull point for decades before the next World War began. In fact, World War I did have an end although the effectiveness of such may be argued. The Treaty of Versailles was officially signed by Germany and the victorious powers, namely Britain, France, and the United States, among many others, on June 28, 1919. The signing of the treaty put a permanent end to the war while bringing to action a series of terms and conditions that had been put in the treaty for the sake of the countries involved to agree to the treaty and to be cooperative with others in future instances. World War I is a unique war from most due to the sheer multitude of countries which became involved over the four years of fighting. Although the treaty was signed in 1919, the war had already been over since 1918. The representatives of the various countries involved in the war took time to agree on the best way to officially end the war and how the repercussions should be spaced out. The majority of the terms and conditions of the treaty were addressing the punishment of Germany considering that Germany was given the blame for the causes and duration of the war. Not all victor nations wanted such harsh punishments and blame on Germany’s behalf. Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States from 1912 until 1920, wanted a treaty of peace. Wilson verbalized his views and hopes through his speech given on January 8, 1918 Within this speech Wilson presented the fourteen points that he believed, if implemented, would bring peace and cooperation for all people involved, in a speech to Congress titled “Fourteen Points”. The fourteen points were meant to be a list of the goals the United States had upon entering the war, but they were not received or implemented as such. Although Wilson had the best intentions going into the Paris Peace Conference of January, 1919 where the Treaty of Versailles was to be written, the treaty did not turn out according to his views.

One reason that Wilson’s ideas on peace did not make an appearance within the treaty is the United States’ lack of involvement compared to the other countries involved. Woodrow Wilson, when running for re-election in 1916 ran on a platform promising the people of the United States that he would again continue to keep the United States out of the war as he had done since 1914 when the war had begun. This promise was broken when in April of 1917 the United States formally declares war on Germany, not as an associated power but instead as agreeing to cooperate with the other countries also waging war on Germany, namely Britain, France and Russia. With an armistice being declared on November 11, 1918, the United States had not been involved in the war for a significant period of time compared to the other countries. It is because of this that the United States and President Wilson were not given all that much say at the Paris Peace Conference. Since the other countries had lost many more soldiers and the people of which had suffered immensely, the negotiators representing those countries fought for much harsher punishments for Germany.

George Clemenceau was the negotiator at the conference on behalf of France. The battles in France had forced Germany to declare the armistice and on behalf of the French people who had lost so many of their own, Clemenceau wanted nothing more than to mercilessly punish Germany. Clemenceau had been elected prime minister by the French people during November of 1917, when the war had not yet turned and the allies were losing to Germany. At this time, the French people had little hope and Clemenceau tried his best to turn this around with his speech to the National Assembly of France at which he famously declared “I make war!”(Document, 1207). It was for these reasons that Clemenceau strongly disagreed with Wilson and his notions of peace, and instead rallied for the harshest punishments imaginable for Germany. Lloyd George, the negotiator on behalf of Britain, had originally agreed with Wilson and his want for peace. However, the people of Britain wanted Germany to suffer as they had suffered and for this reason Lloyd George sided with Clemenceau to harshly punish Germany with the terms of the treaty that Germany would have no choice but to sign. Since Lloyd George had been elected by the people of Britain to lead the peace terms, he was forced to side with the voters and with popular public opinion. The British public was making their hopes clear of what would happen to Germany by their slogan of “Hang the Kaiser!”(Document, 1207).

The Treaty of Versailles is made up of a multitude of separate articles, four hundred forty in total, each addressing a country’s concern and reparations addressed towards Germany. In particular, Article two hundred thirty one named Germany responsible for  “causing all the loss and damage…as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies”(Document, 1217). As a consequence of Germany accepting responsibility for all damages, the country would also be forced to pay for such damages. Article two hundred thirty two and Article two hundred thirty three both deal with the economic reparations that Germany would be forced to comply by. All in all, Germany would be forced to pay a lump sum in installments determined, in 1921, to be a total of tens of billions of dollars. It was also acknowledged in these particular articles that Germany was in no condition as a country to be able to pay such extensive reparations, thus granting the country a right to a trial of sorts where the German representatives would be given an opportunity to state their thoughts on the best way to pay the reparations. On top of having to pay an astronomical sum to repair the damages for many countries, Germany also lost the majority of its territory as it was divided amongst the victors. Articles twenty seven through thirty address the new borders that will now be respected, removing much of the territory from Germany and granting the rights to the land to the other victorious nations such as France, Belgium, and Poland. Wilson also addressed the issues of borders and land distribution within his fourteen points. However, Wilson hoped to re-establish peace within the same borders or at least with regard to the people already living within their countries with his points six through thirteen. Possibly the most important article of the treaty is article forty-nine, which resulted in the creation of the League of Nations. The formation of an association of nations is arguably the most important outcome of the war and may very well be the only similarity between the Treaty of Versailles and Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Wilson’s final point of his speech called for “A general association of nations [to] be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike”. Wilson hoped that such cooperation among countries in a forum that each would feel equally heard and respected could result in peace for all and prevent future turmoil as such that had spread throughout the world over the past years. The League of Nations did not result in such outcomes but instead never had much of an impact. Part of this reason was Germany’s aggression towards the other countries over the terms of the treaty. Wilson had all along hoped to welcome Germany into a peaceful arrangement of “…a general conference with regard to terms of peace and settlement” (Speech). Many reasons contributed to the eventual failure of the League of Nations. For example, although the United States may be granted with coming up with the idea and ultimately for the creation of the league, the United States never ratified the league and joined it. Also, Germany was not in any position to join the league given the anger the country felt over the terms of the treaty. Germany was also in no position to argue their points since the ports had been blockaded since 1914 and the people of the country were starving and ready for the war they had already lost to be over.

Despite the lack of reputable similarities between the Treaty of Versailles and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech, both had an impact on the end to a war that is said to never have really ended. The reason for this, at least partly, is the harsh tone of the treaty and the total blame and punishment that Germany was forced to accept for the cause and continuation of World War I. Unfortunately, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States did not have the respect needed to have his points become evident in the final treaty. The United States’ lack of involvement in the war during the first few years reined evident as the casualty numbers showed how greatly the other countries had suffered, namely France and Britain. For this reason, the people of France and Britain voiced their desire for vengeful terms through Clemenceau and George who reciprocated such feelings. The Treaty of Versailles was made up of four hundred forty articles, each meant to punish Germany relentlessly. There are very few instances where the tone of peace Wilson so wanted is seen.



Treaty of Versailles and Information:

Bonhomme, Brian. Milestone Documents in World History: Exploring the Primary Sources That Shaped the World. Vol. 3. Dallas, Schlager Group, 2010. Pages 1205-1219. Print.

Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points Speech:

Harold B. Lee Library. Brigham Young University. February 28, 2008. http://wwi.lib.byu.edu/index.php/President_Wilson%27s_Fourteen_Points. April 14, 2012.

-Katharine Fields-



3 Comments so far

  1.    nopey on May 11, 2012 3:29 pm

    is this even a primary source???.

  2.    Bronder Giroux on May 22, 2012 6:51 pm

    No it is not nopey!!!!;;;;;))))))

  3.    Bronder Giroux on May 22, 2012 6:52 pm

    im a teacher but not really

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