"Fourteen Points" Speech Summary

The “Fourteen Points” speech, delivered to Congress in January 1918, lays out President Woodrow Wilson’s terms for achieving peace after World War I.

  • Wilson calls for open and public peace talks, free access to the seas, equitable trade, a reduction of national armaments, and an adjustment of colonial powers’ claims.
  • The president also encourages other nations to lend their support to Russia and argues for new European nation-states to be granted sovereignty and independence.
  • Finally, Wilson proposes establishing an “association of nations” that will work together to ensure mutual autonomy and urges Germany to abandon its imperialist aims.

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Last Updated on September 29, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 706

United States President Woodrow Wilson delivered his “Fourteen Points” speech to the United States Congress on January 8, 1918, in the midst of World War I. The speech clearly outlines the American terms for “a just and stable peace.”

Wilson begins his speech by declaring that the processes of peace...

(The entire section contains 706 words.)

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United States President Woodrow Wilson delivered his “Fourteen Points” speech to the United States Congress on January 8, 1918, in the midst of World War I. The speech clearly outlines the American terms for “a just and stable peace.”

Wilson begins his speech by declaring that the processes of peace should be “absolutely open.” These processes should not be motivated by the interests of individual nations, and they should not be conducted in secret.

Wilson states that the United States entered the war because their own rights were confronted—in order to secure peace and justice for their own people, they needed to engage in the global conflict to secure peace and justice for all. He believes that the interests of the United States are not selfish; rather, they fall alongside the interests of all other nations seeking peace and justice in the world.

In Wilson’s “program of the world’s peace,” there are fourteen points. The first five points are general. Wilson restates the idea that all peace processes should be conducted in the open and demands that there be “absolute freedom of navigation” on the seas outside of territorial borders. Additionally, there should be equitable trade agreements between the nations that are pursuing peace, and economic barriers should be removed. Wilson also calls for guarantees that national military forces and equipment will not exceed what is required for ensuring domestic safety. In his fifth point, he declares that “colonial claims” should be adjusted, with the desires of the colonized peoples living in each region bearing “equal weight” with the desires of colonial powers.

In points six through thirteen, Wilson discusses issues of peace pertaining to specific nations, arguing that Russian, Belgian, and French territories should be evacuated and restored. Specifically, Soviet Russia should be supported and given “a sincere welcome into the society of free nations.” This support should not be tied to selfish goals; rather, assistance should be offered to Russia along the course of its own autonomous political development. Wilson also states that Italian borders should be reconsidered to reflect “clearly recognizable lines of nationality.”

Various peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wilson argues, should have the opportunity for “autonomous development.” Likewise, borders for individual Balkan states—including Serbia, Rumania, and Montenegro—should be redrawn, and each state should be permitted independence. Turkish regions of the Ottoman Empire should be given sovereignty, and minorities living within those regions should be guaranteed “security of life” and “unmolested opportunity.” Finally, regions occupied by Polish people should form “an independent Polish state,” and both Serbia and Poland should have “free and secure access to the sea.”

In his final point, Wilson insists that an “association of nations must be formed” to guarantee the rights and autonomy of “great and small states alike.”

After outlining his fourteen points, Wilson clarifies that the United States has no desire to subjugate or engage in conflict with Germany. Rather, he believes Germany should accept “a place of equality” among other states committed to peace instead of attempting to dominate its neighbors.

In accordance with his respect for the sovereignty of individual states, Wilson does not wish to propose that Germany “[alter] . . . her institutions.” He does, however, demand that in their communications with the United States, German spokespeople clearly state which governmental factions they represent—specifically whether they are speaking on behalf of the German Reichstag (Parliament) or on behalf of military leaders bent on “imperial domination.”

In closing, Wilson emphasizes that he has been clear in outlining American goals for peace. He reflects that in all fourteen points, there is a recurring key principle: the belief that all nationalities should be guaranteed the right to “live on equal terms of liberty and safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak.” This principle, Wilson declares, must be the “foundation of international justice”; without it, the entire structure will crumble. It is this principle of justice, and this alone, that the United States is willing to pursue. For the sake of establishing this principle, and of bringing the “moral climax” of the war to its desired end, Americans are willing to “put their own strength, their own highest purpose, their own integrity and devotion to the test.”

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