Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points

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Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points

President Wilson enunciated his Fourteen Points, on the basis of which Germany sued for peace, in his famous speech before Congress on January 8, 1918. These Fourteen Points gave a new conception of an international order based on the cherished American principles of freedom, justice and equality. President Wilson pleaded in his speech that if this world were to become;

[A] fit and safe place to live; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation, which like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other people of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All the people of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to other it will not be done to us. (Wilson) This was what Wilson hoped to get from his Fourteen Points. His objective was to reinstate a new international arrangement for everlasting peace.

He further aimed at propagating the American ideal of national self-determination globally. It has been often alleged by the Germans that they surrendered on the basis of Wilson’s Fourteen Points and the Peace Treaties completely betrayed those principles. However it may be noted that the Germans surrendered before the Supreme Command to avoid a catastrophe and later invoked Wilson’s Fourteen Points to set a favorable treatment. Without going into this controversy, let us examine how far Fourteen Points of Wilson found their way in the peace treaty.

Harold Nicholson has taken the stand that the peace treaty was not a Wilsonian treaty because the “open covenants” were not openly arrived at, the freedom of the seas was not secured, far from free trade being established in Europe a set of tariffs walls were erected, the national armaments were not reduced by all the powers (this provision was applied to Germany alone). The German colonies were distributed among the victors in a manner which was neither free nor open minded, nor impartial. The wishes of people were flagrantly violated in the case of Saar, Shatung and Syria.

Point 6 of Wilsonian treaty provided that “The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire.

” (Wilson) But ythis provision was not met in its letter and spirit. Although all German armies were withdrawn from Russian soil, the Allied did not hesitate to send their armies to exterminate the Bolshevik government of Russia. Russia was not welcomed to the community of nations nor was she accorded unhampered freedom to develop her own institutions. Point 9 said that “A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

” (Wilson) But the frontiers of Italy were not adjusted along the lines of nationality and many Austrians and Slavs were left in the co-organized Italy. Though Wilson promised independence to different races of the defunct Austro Hungarian Empire, this promise was not fulfilled. Many Austrian and Magyars were left under foreign domination. Similarly, the territories of Poland included many people who were indisputably not Polish. Although, Allied forces were withdrawn from Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, The Turkish potions of the Ottoman Empire were not assured a secure sovereignty.

The final point of Wilson Fourteen points vested a great responsibility on the shoulders of newly formed League of nation and envisaged it a powerful international but his optimism remained only in theoretical domain. Point 14 said, “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”. (Wilson) The League of the Nations was not in a position to assure political Independence to all states alike.

The territorial settlement in almost all the case was based on mere adjustments and compromises between the claims of the rival states and the people were merely treated as ‘pawns and chattels’ in the game of power politics. Though the Fourteen Points of Wilson had to be compromised in many ways, with a view to adjust them according to the mutual commitments of the Allies, yet some of them found thief way into the peace settlement. As regards the League of Nations, it cannot be denied that without the whole-hearted support of Woodrow Wilson, the League covenant would not have been drafted and placed within the framework of the treaties.

The Peace Settlement also paid great respect to the principles of self-determination. The Poles, the Croats, Czechs, Letts, Finns, Alsatians etc. were released from foreign subjection. It will be wrong to ay that that in no previous settlement so much attention was paid to the principle of nationality as in the Peace Settlement after World War I. As a result of this settlement the number of people living under foreign rule came down to 16 million in 1919 as compared to 40 million at the commencement of War.

No doubt that the problem of minorities remained unsolved in certain cases, but it cannot be denied that the Peace-Settlement Tried to make an all-out effort to give every possible protection to the minorities. The creation of independence states of Yugoslavia, Poland and Czechoslovakia and the restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France , were also in keeping with the Fourteen Points of Wilson. It is an undeniable fact that Peace Settlement made certain departures from Wilson’s Fourteen Points, but this inevitable.

The principles enunciated Wilson were merely a “piece political oratory incapable of exact interpretation” and could not be form the basis for a binding international agreement. They had to be modified in the light of mutual negotiations by the various powers. Further, some of Wilson’s principles were mutually contradictory. For example the ban on Austro-German union imposed by the Treaty, at first seems to be a negation of the principle of national self-determination. But if the union had been permitted, it would have meant a repudiation of ‘essential justice’ and posed a threat to “permanent peace”.

The revengeful attitude of Germany as evident in the Treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Bucharest concluded with Russia and Rumania, convinced the Allies that Germany had not regard for the point enunciated by Wilson, and consequently their attitude toward Germany hardened up. As these principles were drafted before Germany concluded treaties with Russia and Rumania, the German conception of treaty making could not be anticipated. Consequently, the Allies did not find it binding on them to faithfully follow these principles in the actual negotiations.

In conclusion it can be said that although all the Fourteen Points of Wilson were not incorporated in the Peace Settlement, they provided the basis for the same. At home, there was controversy over his peace plans in the United States. Although majority of American people were enthusiastic about the peace treaty yet the final ratification to be done by the Senate. At that time Senate has 49 Republican senators out of 96. The Foreign Relation Committee of the Senate, at that time was headed by Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican conservative and a nationalist. He wanted to Repulinanize the treaty by attaching a number of reservations.

He was aided by other Republican senators of the committee. Thus the Foreign Relation Committee adopted purely partisan attitude. In reality, Lodge’s opposition was mainly against League of Nations. He was of the view that commitment to League of Nation would underemine American nationalist interests. Lodge said in 1919; The United States is the world’s best hope, but if you fetter her in the interests and quarrels of other nations, if you tangle her in the intrigues of Europe, you will destroy her powerful good, and endanger her very existence. Leave her to march freely through the centuries to come, as in the years that have gone.

(Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. Against the League of Nations, 1919) He was further instigated by political interests. Prof. Parkes puts this controversy was designed to “ assert the authority of the Seante, humiliate Wilson and discredit the Democratic Party in order to assure a Republican victiory at the next election. Thus a vital question of national security became a football of party politics”. (p. 582) This clearly manifest the agenda behind the oppositions and it seems that these objections were not based on any concrete of real premises but were a production of false notions and misconceptions.


Blum, John M. The national experience; a history of the United States. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World. 1963. Parkes, Henry B. The United States of America, a history. New York: Knopf. 1953. MacMillan, Margaret. Paris 1919 : six months that changed the world. New York : Random House, 2002. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Sr. Against the League of Nations. Washington, D. C. , August 12, 1919. Website: <<http://www2. volstate. edu/socialscience/FinalDocs/WWI- 0s/lodgeagainst. htm>> The Avalon Project : President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. 8 January, 1918. Website: <http://www. yale. edu/lawweb/avalon/wilson14. htm>>


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