In 1917, the United States entered World War I after Germany expanded its submarine warfare to include the sinking of ships, including US passenger vessels. Even prior to the outbreak of war, President Woodrow Wilson had indicated to the American public his ultimate plans to secure world peace and to...
In 1917, the United States entered World War I after Germany expanded its submarine warfare to include the sinking of ships, including US passenger vessels. Even prior to the outbreak of war, President Woodrow Wilson had indicated to the American public his ultimate plans to secure world peace and to change the balance of world power. In January of 1918, Wilson presented his famous “Fourteen Points” speech to Congress, in which he outlined idealistic proposals for ending World War I and suggested principles for future implementation in the post-war world.
President Wilson’s recommendations included plans for settlement of territorial issues among the warring factions, covenants to maintain peace with respect to trade issues, arms reduction, free sea passage lanes, and rights of self-determination. His fourteenth point became the foundation of the League of Nations:
A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
In January 1919, the initial Paris Peace Conference was held at Versailles for the purpose of establishing the terms of a peaceful settlement to the war. Wilson’s Fourteen Points formed the basis of a League of Nations, which would include plans for an international security agreement to prevent future wars. Although Wilson was a strong supporter of the League, the concept was unpopular at home and faced fierce congressional opposition since it was widely believed that such an international security agreement would financially overburden the United States and weaken the nation’s ability to maintain its own defenses. Additionally, Congress feared future entanglements with European political affairs.
The Treaty of Versailles encapsulated the main ideas for establishing a just peace from Wilson’s Fourteen Points, but changed many of the territorial divisions Wilson had suggested. Acceptable territorial boundaries were complicated by secret treaties among and between allied nations for post-war divisions. In addition, the treaty focused mainly on punishing Germany for the war, while Wilson’s plan called for far more leniency toward Germany. Instead, the other allied nations insisted upon:
compensation by Germany for all damage done to the civilian population of the Allies and their property by the aggression of Germany by land, by sea and from the air.
Ultimately, Wilson’s insistence on an international security agreement resulted in the US rejection of the League of Nations. The US did not enter the League, which weakened it considerably. Furthermore, with the exception of the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, the political territorial provisions proposed by Wilson in his Fourteen Points differed greatly from divisions adopted in the Treaty of Versailles. Finally, Wilson’s idea of a just peace as articulated in his Fourteen Points conflicted with the harsh restrictions and reparations demanded by the allied nations in the Treaty of Versailles.