The 14 points proposed by President Woodrow Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles both outlined postwar policies for participating nations at the end of World War I. However, the tone and substance of the proposed solutions were profoundly different.
Wilson shared his 14 points during a speech at a Congressional meeting on January 8, 1918. Wilson's tone was optimistic and conciliatory. His intention was to secure international peace after the devastating world war. To this end, he urged magnanimity among the Allied Nations. Instead of punishment, Wilson urged restraint and a united effort aimed toward rebuilding trust, security, and prosperity. For instance, he called for open diplomacy, free navigation of the seas, free trade among nations, and a worldwide reduction in arms. Several of the points had to do with restoring independence and territories to specific nations such as Russia, Belgium, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, Poland, and the Balkans. The final point called for an association of nations that could help ensure world peace through negotiations instead of warfare.
On the other hand, the Treaty of Versailles was drawn up at the Paris Peace Conference, which began on January 18, 1919. Besides Wilson of the United States, the main participants were Georges Clemenceau of France and David Lloyd George of Great Britain. Vittorio Orlando of Italy was also in attendance, but played a lesser role. Russia was not there, having dropped out of the war earlier, and the defeated countries of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria also did not attend.
Each nation had its own objectives. Wilson wanted to pursue peace along the lines of his 14 points, but the leaders of the other nations did not agree. France wanted to punish Germany and ensure that Germany could not attack them again. Great Britain wanted to rebuild Germany for the purpose of trade. Italy was mainly concerned with expanding its territory. Ultimately, the Treaty of Versailles drew little from Wilson's idealistic 14 points. It was extremely harsh on Germany, forcing the conquered country to limit its army and navy, eliminate its air force, surrender 10 percent of German territory and all colonies overseas, sign a "war guilt clause" in which it took total responsibility for the war, and pay an overwhelming amount in punitive damages. These terms devastated Germany, and their harshness contributed to the later rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.
There was one major similarity between Wilson's 14 points and the Treaty of Versailles: the United States Congress rejected both propositions. The United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, nor did it join the League of Nations when it was set up at Wilson's suggestion after the war.