Woodrow Wilsons Contribution To The Versailles Treaty

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5/12/16 History Reference this

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This essay aims to discuss and asses the aims of President Wilson in the war, America’s relationship with the other Allied Powers in the ending of the war, the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and the controversial League of Nations. Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the twenty eight president of the United States of America. He served for two terms lasting from March 1913 until March 1921. He was re-elected for his second term in 1916 which was partly due to his team slogan of “He kept us out of war”. The United States government kept a neutral stance for the first four years of the war so to the American people Wilson was doing what he promised. However the neutrality of the United States was jeopardised in early 1917 and they had to enter the war. President Woodrow Wilson never wanted to enter America into the war and he wanted to create a peaceful Europe. Through the few years following his declaration of war he created a Fourteen Points document which he wanted implemented to end the war. This in turn led to the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations.

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In 1915 during the first stages of the war, the German army attacked ships and vessels in the seas if they suspected they were helping the Allies. However one ship which they took down was carrying American civilians and this caused controversy in the case of American neutrality to the war. The Germans agreed that they would desert the unrestricted submarine warfare and that they would start warning ships if they were going to sink them [2] . The Germans wanted to keep the American government in a neutral state because they knew if The United States got involved on the Allied side of the war that Wilson’s men would end the war. However in February 1917 Germany resumed its attacks on the ships and President Wilson felt this was the sign of a threat. Also in February the American government got hold of a telegram being sent to Mexico from Germany asking for its alliance and this further agitated Wilson. These events acted towards the approval for Wilson to declare war by the American Congress on April 6th 1917 [3] .

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28th 1919 to ensure lasting peace and to end the First World War. It was going to do this by punishing Germany and by creating the League of Nations. The League of Nations was to be created to solve any diplomatic problems that occurred. It left a legacy of political and geographical difficulties once it was signed, and it can be seen as part of the cause for the Second World War. The Treaty took about six months to be finalised completely because of the amount of negotiations that had to be done between the three major Ally countries.

The Allies gathered to discuss a forthcoming peace treaty however the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary were not invited to these talks. They were allowed to present a response to the meeting but these responses were not taken seriously. The main representatives at the meeting in Paris were the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George; the French Prime Minister, Frances Clemenceau; the Italian Prime Minister, Vittorio Orlando; and the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson. They each went in to the talks with their own personal aims. Woodrow Wilson wanted to create a lasting peace among the countries, and he felt this was possible with the help of his “Fourteen Points” which he had previously created. He wanted the armed forces of every nation involved, ally or other, to be made smaller. He wanted the League of Nations created to ensure lasting peace.

Frances Clemenceau wanted Germany to suffer because of the war and it wanted it to pay. He wanted it stripped of its land, armed forces and parts of its industry. Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles states “The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies” [4] . It is clear in this section that Prime Minister Clemenceau wanted Germany to pay war reparations to the countries it affected by causing the war. France and Britain had both suffered great losses due to the war and so he wanted to make Germany a smaller European state. As France was invaded twice previously (1870 and 1914) he wanted to ensure that his homeland would never again be invaded by its neighbour Germany. The Prime Minister of the British Empire at the time wanted both of these. He himself was more inclined to go with Wilson’s outlook on the Treaty; however because of the opinion of the British public he didn’t really have a choice in the matter. He had to side more with Clemenceau and punishing Germany and her allies. Lloyd George like the treaty because it did help Britain’s empire grow and it helped them to control the naval areas better, however he did not like the treaty because like President Wilson he wanted to settle down Germany and create a more peaceful Europe. He thought the Treaty was very harsh on Germany and would ruin the country. In a speech Wilson gave on the radio in 1923 he says how he felt the Treaty of Versailles was going to cause another war [5] . Lloyd agreed with this and felt that at one of the most critical turning points in history that they had done wrong. The Italian Prime Minister went to Versailles with the hope of gaining back rule over the Austro-Hungarian Empire. During the negotiations Woodrow Wilson agreed to let Italy take over many states, such as Tyrol, even though at the time it was mostly a German speaking population and it went against his ninth point [6] .

The fourteen points were the aims given in a speech delivered by Woodrow Wilson to a session of the American congress in January of 1918 and what he wanted to achieve in ending the war. It was essential to make the American people know that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for post-war peace in Europe. The US had joined the Allies in the war in April of 1917; however by early 1918 it was clear that the war was nearing an end. In January 1918 Wilson’s speech took a lot of the ideas that had helped reform the US domestics and made them into his new foreign policy. The fourteen points was the only explicit aims set out by any of the countries fighting the war, some would only give a brief overview of their aims and others wouldn’t state any of their aims at all. Woodrow Wilson thought that if they could implement his ideas throughout Europe then it would keep Europe and peaceful. Some of the points he gave would not only benefit the countries of Europe, some would most definitely aid the United States. The third point on his list was “the removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance” [7] . This would benefit Europe because they would all be able to trade and move about between each other, it would also benefit America in that it was not going to be as expensive for them to trade with Europe so it would lead to more markets and more profits for the US. The next couple of points he gave were mostly freeing up the countries that had been invaded and it was helping to make smaller nations their own. For example the seventh point about Belgium, Wilson asks that it be given its own authority. He wanted it to be restored and evacuated of all foreign peoples so that it would be free for itself. He also adds about the territories taken over by France in point eight and those of Russia in point six. His final point that he gave was that “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” [8] . He wanted the nations to come together and form a union that would keep all the nations separate in the running of the countries but it would keep the nations united in peace.

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As Wilson wanted in his Fourteen Points, the Treaty of Versailles altered the way that territory in Europe was set out and it helped to make more independent states. It made Germany’s empire smaller. Alsace-Lorraine which Germany took over in 1870 was given back to France. Poland was named as an independent state along with some countries near Russia like Latvia and Lithuania. Also Wilson wanted Belgium to get more control of it itself and this also happened. In the Treaty the Allied powers made a law where all of the German territories overseas and in Europe were handed over to the ruling of the Allies. This was noted in Article 119 of the Treaty. It said that “Germany renounces in favor of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers all her rights and titles over her oversea possessions” [9] . Not everything the President Wilson wanted as regards territorial distribution was put into the Treaty of Versailles but he did manage to push freeing several countries so his Fourteen Points succeeded to a point. Wilson did however have a lot of say in the first few weeks as regards Italy and giving it new states to control and this meant the Italian Prime Minister was not going to get everything he wanted but only a small bit of it.

During World War One a lot of the countries involved had financial problems and therefore they created what was known as ‘war bonds’. These were taxes issued by a government to finance the military operations during the war. It gave the militaries more money and it helped the civilians feel included in their military. In the United States these were know as ‘Liberty Bonds’. They were sold in the States to people who wanted to support the allied cause in World War One. The US government issued these bonds in 1918. A massive campaign was created by the then Secretary of the Treasury to make the bonds seem like a great idea and make people want to get involved. The American government also used the influence of famous artists and actors to make the bonds appeal more to civilians. In total the US government earned 21.5 billion dollars from the Liberty Bonds throughout the war. As a result of the high costs of the war, in the Treaty of Versailles Germany was made to repay the countries their losses, the reparations of the First World War. This was mostly due to Clemenceau and his want of revenge on Germany.

After the conference in Paris Wilson went back to America but he was not to be met by a happy government. A Republican politician by the name of Henry Cabot Lodge, who did not agree with America joining the League of Nations, led a campaign to stop Wilson succeeding. One of his biggest arguments against it was in Article X of the agreement which stated that “The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In the case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled” [10] . Lodge wanted America to be able to deploy soldiers to conflict at will if it was felt by the American government that they needed to. He did not want to have the League of Nations to decide what America was going to and whether or not such conflict was a threat. Despite Wilson’s claims that The League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles would in time aid The United States, Lodge succeeded in putting doubt into the minds of the American population and they did not join the other Allied powers.

This essay has concluded that even though Wilson had great intentions in the Great War his ideas did indeed fail in the most part. His aims in the Fourteen Points were not all liked by the other Allied powers especially France so they did not all make it into the Treaty of Versailles. He wanted the League of Nations so that there would be a way to keep the countries at bay and mean the chance of more wars would be slimmer however he failed in this because of republican opposition at home and The United States never joined the war. Wilson’s contribution to the negotiations in Paris and his attempt at forging international relationships with the other Allies of the war were mixed. He went back to America with mixed reactions from all ends and the war did not end the way he wanted it to. Despite his idealistic belief that an era of collective security had begun that would prevent future wars of a similar magnitude, the outcomes of the Paris Peace Conference left this difficult to come through. It can be seen as part of the reason for the start of World War Two and Hitler.

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