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World War 1 Picture - Woodrow Wilson's Speech in Congress: January 8, 1918.

Fourteen Points Information

Fourteen Points

World War 1 Picture - Woodrow Wilson's Speech in Congress: January 8, 1918.

Picture - Woodrow Wilson's Speech in Congress: January 8, 1918.

The Fourteen Points was a speech delivered by United States President Woodrow Wilson to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The address was intended to assure the country that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace in Europe. People in Europe generally welcomed Wilson's intervention, but his Allied colleagues (Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George and Vittorio Emanuele Orlando) were skeptical of the applicability of Wilsonian idealism.

The speech was delivered 10 months before the Armistice with Germany and became the basis for the terms of the German surrender, as negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The Treaty of Versailles had little to do with the Fourteen Points and was never ratified by the U.S. Senate.

"Colonel" Edward M. House worked to secure the acceptance of the Fourteen Points by Entente Leaders. Sir William Wiseman was the Chief of British Intelligence in 1915. House and Wiseman worked together through World War I. On October 16, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson and William Wiseman sat down for an interview. This interview was one reason why the German government accepted the Fourteen Points and the stated principles for peace negotiations.

The report made as negotiation points, and later the Fourteen Points was accepted by France and Italy on November 1, 1918. England later signed off on all of the points except the freedom of the seas. England also wanted Germany to make reparation payments for the war, and thought that that should be added to the Fourteen Points.

The U.S. joined the Allies in fighting the Central Powers on April 6, 1917. The Fourteen Points in the speech were based on the research of the Inquiry, a team of about 150 advisors led by foreign-policy advisor Edward M. House into the topics likely to arise in the anticipated peace conference. Wilson's speech on January 8, 1918, took many of the principles of progressivism that had produced domestic reform in the U.S. and translated them into foreign policy (free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination). The Fourteen Points speech was the only explicit statement of war aims by any of the nations fighting in World War I. Some belligerents gave general indications of their aims, but most kept their post-war goals private.

The speech also responded to Vladimir Lenin's Decree on Peace of October 1917, which proposed an immediate withdrawal of Russia from the war, calling for a just and democratic peace that was not compromised by territorial annexations, and led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918.

Fourteen Points



Influence on the Germans to surrender

The speech was widely disseminated as an instrument of propaganda to encourage the Allies to victory. Copies were also dropped behind German lines, to encourage the Central Powers to surrender in the expectation of a just settlement. Indeed, a note sent to Wilson by Prince Maximilian of Baden, the German imperial chancellor, in October 1918 requested an immediate armistice and peace negotiations on the basis of the Fourteen Points.

The speech was made without prior coordination or consultation with Wilson's counterparts in Europe. As the only public statement of war aims, it became the basis for the terms of the German surrender at the end of the First World War, as negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and documented in the Treaty of Versailles.

Opposition from the Allies

Opposition to the Fourteen Points among British and French leaders became clear after hostilities ceased: the British were against freedom of the seas; the French demanded war reparations. Wilson was forced to compromise on many of his ideals to ensure that his most important point, the establishment of the League of Nations, was accepted. In the end, the Treaty of Versailles went against many of the principles of the Fourteen Points, both in detail and in spirit. Rather than Wilson's proposed "peace without victory," The Treaty of Versailles sought harsh punishment of Germany both financially and territorially. "France reclaimed Alsace and Lorraine, lost in 1871, despite the fact that barely one in ten of the population were French-speakers." The resulting bitterness in Germany, impoverishment of the German people, the release from military service of thousands of unemployed soldiers, together with competing political parties, notably the Communists, and the economic depression of the 1920s in Germany (which the Versailles Treaty helped create) all conspired to lay the seeds for the rise of Nazism in the 1930s. Financial loans from the United States to Germany helped lift the German economy out of depression, but it was not a source of the rise Nazism, which was more the result of the above factors and the unequal "guilty party" treatment of Germany.

Both financially and territorially under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany became a subservient, essentially non-sovereign state) Germany was also stripped of its right to vindicate itself by trying its own war criminals, Such emasculation of the once proud Prussian people primed their ears for Hitler's Fascist answers to perceived injustices (which were more easily called to mind than those inflicted on distant battlefields over a decade prior) suffered at the hands of the Allies, particularly The French, whom due to proximity were unforgiving in their enforcement of reparation payments.

Wilson's lofty Fourteen Points were, like any political ambition, realized only partially. He espoused that, "Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor's terms imposed upon the vanquished." In that, Wilson was correct and failed to inspire the "Victors" to break the cycle of conquest and subjugation which had plagued the globe since the advent of warfare. The Treaty of Versailles did achieve the final of Wilson's Fourteen Points, "A general association of nations...affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike" In such was laid the legal construct for the United Nations as it presents today- a theoretical international peacekeeping body.

Wilson was a progressive globalist, ahead of his time and not trusted or accepted by many (See- Failure of the U.S. to ratify the Treaty of Versailles). Article II of The Constitution of the United States provides an outline of executive, or presidential powers. Clause 2 permits and requires "that the president [He] shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors..." "The President may enter the United States into treaties, but they are not effective until ratified by a two-thirds vote in the Senate." This allegedly did not happen with respect to The Treaty of Versailles. [citation needed]

Although the Fourteen Points declared that the peoples of Austria-Hungary should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development, this principle was selectively applied to German-speaking or Hungarian populations. Hungarians had comprised 54% of the population of the Kingdom of Hungary, and formed 88% of Hungary after the Treaty of Trianon, yet 3.3 million Hungarians were left in successor states, and formed the majority in specific districts of southern Slovakia and Transylvania. Similarly, "under the terms of the 1919 Treaty of St Germain-en-Laye, more than 3.2 million Germans in Bohemia, Southern Moravia and the hastily constituted Austrian province of Sudetenland found themselves the reluctant citizens of a new state, Czechoslovakia." This exclusion of the will of German-speaking populations from Bohemia and Moravia, and instead incorporating them into Czechoslovakia was a stark violation of principle five of Wilson's Fourteen Points-in determining all such questions of sovereignty, the interests of the people concerned must have equal weight with the claims of the government whose title is to be determined-the principle that all people should have a positive freedom of (or at least significant say in their) self-determination. The "problem for self-determination was that none of the peacemakers saw it as applying to their own empires--only to the empires they had defeated." The lingering perceived injustice of the German-speaking peoples who were excluded from this principle is arguably a factor in the events leading to the Second World War. The German-speaking population of southern Tyrol was cut off from the rest of Tyrol and incorporated into Italy, also against their will.

Failure of the U.S. to ratify the Treaty of Versailles

World War 1 Picture - United States Senator Henry Cabot Lodge opposed ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

Picture - United States Senator Henry Cabot Lodge opposed ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.

The United States Senate refused to consent to the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, making it invalid in the U.S. and effectively hamstringing the nascent League of Nations envisioned by Wilson. The largest obstacle faced in the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles was the opposition of Henry Cabot Lodge. It has also been said that Wilson himself was the second-largest obstacle, not least because he kept the leaders of the Republican-led Congress in the dark during treaty deliberations and refused to support the treaty with any of the alterations proposed by the United States Senate. One of the largest obstacles was over the League of Nations; Congress believed that committing to the League of Nations also meant committing U.S. troops to any conflict that might have arisen (see also Article X of the Covenant of the League of Nations).

The last vote on the treaty occurred in the Senate on March 19, 1920, and fell short of the necessary two-thirds majority required for the Senate to consent to ratification. The U.S. did later sign a separate peace treaty with Germany without joining the League.

Nobel Peace Prize

Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize, for his peace-making efforts. He also inspired independence movements around the world including the March 1st Movement in Korea.

MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919. (2001) ISBN 0-375-76052-0
Text and commentary from John Jay College of Criminal Justice
Text and commentary from
Interpretation of President Wilson's Fourteen Points by Colonel House's_Fourteen_Points from, Niall, The War of the World: Twentieth Century Conflict and the Decline of the West (New York: Penguin Press 2006)
"Wilson on Germany and the Fourteen Points". John L. Snell. "The Journal of Modern History". Vol. 26, No. 4 (Dec. 1954), pp. 364-369. Published by: The University of Chicago Press

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