The Versailles Treaty
WHAT WERE THE GOALS OF THE VERSAILLES TREATY OF 1919?
HOW DID THE TREATY UPHOLD THE PRINCIPLE OF SELF-DETERMINATION OF PEOPLES?
WHAT WERE THE PRINCIPAL PROVISIONS IN REGARD TO GERMANY? WHAT WAS THE GERMAN REACTION?
WHAT DID WOODROW WILSON ACCOMPLISH IN MEETING HIS GOALS? WHAT WAS THE REACTION IN THE UNITED STATES?
WHAT WERE THE MAJOR PROBLEMS RELATED TO THE TREATY?
The United States, England, and France were the three major participants in treaty negotiations. While many nations around the world sent delegations, the big three, represented by Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau, made the most important decisions.
Wilson, in his 14-point speech, had raised hopes that a more just and more democratic future would be established. Enthusiastic crowds greeted him in London and in Paris, and representatives from numerous countries, including China, hoped that their national aspirations might receive support.
The English and the French had their own national agendas to pursue. The French, in particular, wanted to ensure that Germany would not rise to threaten France again.
The Italians expected to collect their promised territorial reward for having joined in the war on the side of the English and the French.
The Germans were barred from participating, and were given no choice but to accept the results.
The Russians, in the throes of a civil war, were not represented.
Wilson's primary goal was the establishment of an international authority whose principal purpose was to preserve peace in the future through collective action of its member nations against any aggressor.
To achieve this, he was willing to accept compromises on other issues, in the belief that the League of Nations could work to resolve problems that had not been solved or, indeed, foreseen by the Treaty conferees.
A secondary objective that Wilson fought for, but accepted numerous compromises, was the principle of self-determination.
Poland was re-created from territories formerly claimed by Germany and Russia. The Polish Corridor and Silesia all had significant German populations but were included in Poland.
The former Austria-Hungary was divided into the tiny and independent states of Austria and Hungary , the belligerent states, while an enlarged Rumania included many Hungarians. Czechoslovakia included Germans in the border region, the Sudetenland.
The Slavic portion of the old empire, where Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, and Muslims lived in closely interwoven patterns of settlement, was the site for the creation of a new multi-national state: Yugoslavia.
Italy had demanded the Dalmatian coast where an Italian minority lived, but Wilson adamantly opposed this, and the Italian representative, Orlando was embittered and left the conference. Italy did acquire a portion of the Tyrolean Alps where the majority were German.
The French had demanded
annexation of the west bank of the Rhine, but the
United States and England opposed this. The French acquired 15-year occupation rights in the coal-rich Saar Basin, and were allowed to annex Alsace-Lorraine.
Economic provisions of the treaty included reparations from Germany, with the French receiving the majority because their territory had been the scene of the greatest destruction from the war. A so-called war-guilt clause was included in the reparations section of the treaty. Actual amounts of reparations were to be assigned by a Reparations Commission established in accordance with a set of guiding principles.
The United States demanded no reparations, but did insist on payment of inter-Allied debts. Since the Allies relied on reparations to enable them to pay their debts to the United States, the two issues were related.
The German army had been disbanded as a condition for the Armistice, and Germany was defenseless against the Allies. There was, therefore, no choice for the Germans but to sign the Treaty even though many of its terms were highly objectionable to them.
The treaty limited the size of the Germany army to 100,000 men, but the German officer corps remained intact, and there were large numbers of illegal paramilitary forces, known as Freikorps, who had taken up arms.
Wilson did not have bi-partisan support for U.S. involvement in the treaty obligations, and was unable to obtain the necessary 2/3rds vote for Senate ratification. While on a cross-country train trip, trying to build public support for the treaty, he suffered a stroke and was incapacitated for the remainder of his Presidency.
These were not auspicious circumstances for the postwar world. Although the United States had become the most powerful nation in the world as a consequence of the war, the American people were not prepared to take a leadership role.
The United States did not become a member of the League of Nations even though Wilson had been the driving influence in establishing the League.
The vengeful attitude of the British and French, though understandable, had led to the imposition of harsh conditions upon Germany just as a new republican form of government was struggling to survive. This, combined with severe economic problems, created instability in Germany.