Evaluate the role of Woodrow Wilson at the Paris peace conference. What obstacles did he face? How successful was he in shaping the settlement?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Woodrow Wilson was one of the "Big Four" at the Versailles Peace Conference, comprised of Wilson, Georges, Clemenceau of France, David Lloyd George of England and Victor Orlando of Italy. Wilson had grandiose plans (dreams might be a more appropriate word) for the peace settlement, and accomplished most of them; however in the long run, his efforts were for naught.

Wilson arrived at the conference intent on implementing his famous Fourteen Points which he had previously promulgated. He ran into opposition almost immediately, primarily from Clemenceau and Lloyd George. France had been humiliated by Prussia in the Franco-Prussian War, and a substantial amount of the fighting in the war had occurred on French soil. Clemenceau was determined not only to punish Germany but also to prevent it from invading France again by keeping it crippled. Prior to the conference, he famously remarked

Moses gave us the Ten Commandments and we broke them; Wilson has given us the Fourteen points. We shall see.

Lloyd George was no less vindictive. He won election in Britain on a promise to make Germany pay dearly for its transgressions, stating

We shall squeeze the orange until the pips squeak."

The conference deadlocked almost immediately, and Wilson packed his bags to return home. The conference was only saved because Clemenceau feared the breakup of conference would leave France alone and exposed to another invasion from Germany.

As agreed upon the Treaty of Versailles was much more punitive than Wilson would have liked; but it did contain a provision for his most cherished dream, the creation of a League of Nations. The latter provision ultimately won Wilson the Nobel Peace Prize; ironically, however, the Treaty was not ratified by the U.S. Senate, primarily because of Wilson's intransigence, and the U.S. never joined. The League had a brief and unremarkable existence. Wilson therefore accomplished little at Versailles that proved long term.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main obstacle that President Wilson faced was the fact that the other Allied leaders did not really agree with Wilson's ideas.  Wilson really wanted to have a peace settlement that did not treat Germany in a harsh way.  He wanted a settlement that treated everyone well and didn't try to get any territory for the winners.  But the other leaders wanted Germany punished.

Therefore, Wilson was not very successful in shaping the settlement.  The Treaty of Versailles ended up punishing Germany harshly.  It made them pay war reparations and it took away a lot of their territory, for example.