Wilson Fights for Peace In December 1918, President and Mrs. Wilson sailed for Europe. At the magnificent palace of Versailles outside Paris, Wilson tried to persuade the Allies to construct a just and lasting peace. This was the second time a U.S. president left the country while in office. (TR had left to visit the Panama Canal.)
Wilson had delivered his Fourteen Point Plan for world peace to Congress in January 1918.
This is a good idea because . . . 1. No secret treaties 2. Freedom of the seas 3. Tariffs lowered or abolished 4. Arms reduction 5. Consideration of the interests of colonial peoples
Points 6 – 13 dealt with specific boundary changes and self-determination of ethnic/national groups. Wilson based these provisions on the principle of self-determination “along historically established lines of nationality.”
14 calls for international organization or League of Nations League would provide a forum to discuss and settle problems without war
The “Big Four” at Versailles: Wilson (USA), Clemenceau (France), Lloyd George (UK), Orlando (Italy) The Central Powers, Russia, and smaller Allied nations were excluded. Wilson’s dreams of peace collided with political realities.
Clemenceau had lived through two German invasions of France Lloyd George had won reelection on the slogan, “Make Germany Pay!” Orlando wanted control of Austrian territory. Wilson gives up most of his points in return for a League of Nations.
On June 28, 1919, the Big Four and the leaders of the defeated nations gathered in the Great Hall of the Palace of Versailles to sign the treaty.
Treaty of Versailles Created 9 new nations (including Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia); shifted the boundaries of other nations. Carved four areas out of the Ottoman Empire and gave them to France and Great Britain as temporary colonies: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine.
Treaty places various conditions on Germany: - must demilitarize: army, navy, air force severely limited - must return Alsace-Lorraine to France - must pay reparations, or war damages, of $33 billion to Allies - War-guilt clause—Germany must accept sole responsibility for war The Treaty of Versailles sowed the seeds of postwar international problems that eventually led to WWII.
But maybe it was Wilson’s fault. Consider this: If General Pershing’s fresh and plucky troops had not reached the scene in the closing stages of the bloodbath, universal exhaustion would almost certainly have compelled an earlier armistice, on less savage terms. Without President Wilson’s intervention, the incensed and traumatized French would never have been able to impose terms of humiliation on Germany; the very terms that Hitler was to reverse, by such relentless means, a matter of two decades later. Christopher Hitchens reviewing The Pacifists and the Trenches
Meanwhile, President Wilson returns to the United States with the Treaty of Versailles. Article II of the Constitution states: He [the President] shall have power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur. So, what must be done now?
Strong opposition to treaty in U.S. • Some think treaty too harsh, fear economic effects • Some feel treaty exchanged one group of colonial rulers for another • Some ethnic groups not satisfied with new national borders • Some think League of Nations threatens U.S. foreign policy of isolation • Senators like Henry Cabot Lodge mistrust provision for joint action. Republicans control the Senate. That evil thing with the holy name! Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, describing the League of Nations.
Wilson goes on speaking tour to convince nation to support League He has a stroke and is temporarily disabled
For the first time in its history, the Senate rejected a peace treaty. League of Nations 1920s (3:56) The League failed to prevent rise of Axis powers and WWII.