Monday, November 4, 2019

1919 Chronology

On November 1-2, 2019, the National World War I Museum and Memorial hosted the latest in its series of annual symposiums commemorating the centennial of the Great War.  The symposiums have been held every year beginning in 2013, and every year I have had the honor of being asked to contribute a month-by month chronological narrative of the events of the year a hundred years earlier.  This is my 1919 chronology, published in the program for this year's symposium.


At the end of 1918 the world was poised between the end of the most destructive conflict in history and the beginning of a process designed to bring the war to an official close and lay the foundation for an enduring peace.  As national leaders and diplomats gathered in Paris, soldiers returned home to a changed world.


After their triumphal visit to France and Great Britain in December, President and Mrs. Wilson visited Italy, where they were greeted by enthusiastic crowds.  The Peace Conference convened at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris.  After President Poincare's welcoming speech, the conferees chose Premier Clemenceau as permanent chairman.  At a preliminary meeting the heads of government of France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States designated a “Supreme Council” or "Council of Ten" (the heads of government of those nations plus Japan and their foreign ministers) as the Conference’s principal decision-making body.  Among its first acts was to extend a formal invitation to the warring factions in Russia to attend a conference on the island of Prinkipo in the Sea of Marmara in an attempt to reach “some understanding and agreement by which Russia may work out her own purposes, and happy, cooperative relations be established between her people and the other peoples of the world . . . provided there is in the meantime a truce . . .”  In the United States, former President Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep at his home on Long Island.  The Eighteenth Amendment, forbidding the importation, manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors, was added to the Constitution, to become effective in a year.


Less than a month after the Peace Conference convened, President and Mrs. Wilson left Paris and returned to the United States so the President could be in Washington for the end of the 65th Congress.  Before his departure, in his capacity as chairman of the League of Nations Committee, he submitted a preliminary draft of the League covenant.  British Prime Minister Lloyd George and Italian Premier Orlando took advantage of the recess to visit their own capitals.  Hoping to lay the groundwork for ratification back home, Wilson sent cablegrams to members of the Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees inviting them to dinner at the White House and asking them to withhold comment on the draft covenant until he had briefed them.  He did not follow his own advice, however, but immediately upon his arrival in Boston gave a fiery speech attacking those who opposed the League as “narrow-minded men that have no sweep beyond the day’s horizon.”  The dinner at the White House took place, but no minds were changed.  In the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered a speech in which he objected that the provisions of the proposed covenant “seem to give a rich promise of being fertile in producing controversies and misunderstandings” which would only delay achieving the immediate goal of making peace with Germany.  A proposed woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution, already passed by the House of Representatives, came to a vote in the Senate but fell one vote short of the necessary two-thirds.  Supporters vowed to resubmit it in the next Congress.  In New York, African-American troops returning from France paraded up Fifth Avenue from Madison Square to Harlem, cheered by thousands of spectators.  A shipyard workers strike in Seattle rapidly expanded into a general strike, which was called off after five days.  In Paris, an assassination attempt on Premier Clemenceau failed but left him with a bullet he carried in his body for the rest of his life.  In Germany, the National Assembly in Weimar elected Friedrich Ebert, leader of the Social Democratic Party, as the nation’s “Provisional State President.”  In the Russian civil war the White forces, hopeful of victory over the Bolsheviks, rejected the Allies’ proposal for a conference at Prinkipo.


On the last day of the 65th Congress, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge introduced a “round robin” signed by thirty-seven senators, more than enough to defeat ratification, opposing the existing draft of the League of Nations covenant.  President Wilson left Washington after Congress adjourned, stopping in New York on his way back to Paris to deliver another speech denouncing senators who criticized the League of Nations.  Although Congress had adjourned with unfinished business pending, Wilson refused to call a special session that would have allowed debate on the treaty to continue in the now-Republican Senate.  For the first time in its history the Supreme Court addressed the question of First Amendment protections for political speech, affirming the convictions of Charles Schenck, general secretary of the Socialist Party, and Eugene V. Debs, the party’s former presidential candidate, for violating the Espionage Act by printing leaflets and making speeches urging resistance to the draft.  Writing for a unanimous Court, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes held that words can be prosecuted when they create a “clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.”  In Paris the Peace Conference resumed, with the original “Big Four” (Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Wilson and Orlando) now acting as the central decision-making body.  At the top of its agenda was the peace treaty with Germany, the principal issues of which were disarmament, territorial adjustments, and reparations.  In a further attempt to reach an accommodation regarding Russia’s participation, an American delegation led by William C. Bullitt traveled to Moscow, met with Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders, and returned to Paris with a proposal for a truce between the warring factions.  The Supreme Council delegated a commission to draw the border between Hungary and Rumania.  When the commission awarded part of the disputed territory to Rumania and designated most of the remainder as a neutral zone, Hungarian Prime Minister Michael Karolyi’s government fell and Béla Kun, the leader of the Hungarian Bolsheviks, emerged from prison to take power.  Italy, claiming the right to Turkish territory under the terms of its wartime agreements with the Allies, landed troops on the Mediterranean coast of Anatolia.


Because the United States was not a party to the 1915 Treaty of London, which promised Italy much of the Dalmatian coast in return for joining the war on the side of the Allies, President Wilson was able to take a firm stand against Italy’s claims on the ground that they violated the principle of self-determination.  He also rejected, along with other members of the Supreme Council, Italy’s claim to the port city of Fiume, which was not covered by the Treaty of London, as a spoil of war.  When Wilson released a statement rejecting Italy’s claims, Prime Minister Orlando and Foreign Minister Sonnino, under intense domestic political pressure, walked out of the Conference and returned to Italy.  The question of Russia’s participation in the conference was effectively resolved when the Allies ignored the Bolshevik proposal Bullitt had brought back from Moscow and allowed the deadline for a response to expire.  Fighting broke out between Rumania and Hungary as a peacemaking mission by South African Foreign Minister Jan Smuts failed and the Rumanian Army occupied the area awarded to it by the Supreme Council and invaded the neutral zone as well.  The Allies reached substantial agreement among themselves on the terms of the treaty to be presented to Germany.  Germany’s armed forces were to be significantly reduced in size and their future expansion severely limited.  Germany was to lose all of its colonies, which would be governed as mandates under the League of Nations.  The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine were to be returned to France and a small area adjacent to the Rhineland ceded to Belgium.  The Rhineland itself was to be demilitarized.  The fate of Schleswig-Holstein, annexed by Bismarck in 1867, would be determined by plebiscite.  The Kiel Canal, built by the Kaiser in 1895, would remain in Germany, with a provision guaranteeing free passage for other nations.  The island of Heligoland, site of the main base of the German High Seas Fleet during the war, was to remain German but its fortifications and harbors were to be destroyed.  On Germany’s eastern border, the provinces of West Prussia, Posen and Upper Silesia were to be severed from Germany and added to the new nation of Poland.  Danzig would become a free city to be governed by the League of Nations, and a “corridor” along the Vistula River was to be given to Poland to provide access to the Baltic.  The fate of southern portions of East Prussia would be submitted to a plebiscite.  The issue of reparations would be submitted to a commission for determination.


The final draft of the treaty, negotiated among the Allies without input from Germany, was presented to the Germans on May 7, “Lusitania Day.”  Premier Clemenceau, presenting the treaty, made it clear that it was non-negotiable.  He told the German representatives “It is neither the time nor the place for superfluous words. . . .  You have asked for peace.  We are ready to give you peace.  We shall present to you now a book which contains our conditions. . . . You will find us ready to give you any explanation you want, but we must say at the same time that this second Treaty of Versailles has cost us too much not to take on our side all the necessary precautions and guarantees that the peace shall be a lasting one.”  He told the Germans “no oral discussion is to take place,” and gave them fifteen days to present a written response.  When the head of the German delegation, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, was given the floor, he acknowledged Germany’s defeat and responsibility to make reparations, but rejected the assertion that Germany and its people were the only ones responsible for the war.  “Such a confession in my mouth,” he said, “would be a lie.”  In its written response, Germany objected to the proposed treaty on the grounds, among others, that it was contrary to President Wilson’s Fourteen Points and that the reparations being discussed were far more than Germany would be able to pay.  Italian Premier Orlando and Foreign Minister Sonnino, not wishing decisions to be reached without their participation, returned to the Peace Conference.  Shortly afterward, Italian troops were put ashore at Smyrna, on the Aegean coast of Turkey.  With the encouragement of the other members of the Supreme Council, Greece landed troops to contest the Italian claims.  The Curtiss NC-4, a flying boat with a crew of five under the command of Lieutenant Commander Albert Read, completed the world’s first transatlantic flight, flying from New York to England in twenty-three days.


After two weeks of uncertainty and debate among the Allies about how to reply to the Germans’ lengthy objections to the draft Treaty, they chose to leave the Treaty substantially unchanged and gave the Germans a deadline to accept or reject it.  Brockdorff-Rantzau urged his government not to sign, but the German National Assembly in Weimar declined to follow his advice and passed a resolution agreeing to the Treaty as written.  While the Treaty was under consideration in Weimar, most of the ships of the German High Seas Fleet interned at Scapa Flow were scuttled by their crews.  The Treaty ending the war with Germany was signed in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles on June 28, the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo.  Germany was represented by its new Foreign Minister Hermann Mueller.  After the signing, President Wilson left Paris.  In Brest he boarded the U.S.S. George Washington for his return voyage to the United States, where he faced a hostile Congress.  British pilot John Alcock and his navigator Arthur Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight, flying a Vickers Vimy bomber from St. John’s, Newfoundland to County Galway, Ireland, in about sixteen hours.  Bombs planted by anarchists exploded in cities across the United States, including one at the Washington, D.C. home of Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer.


For the first time in history, an American president appeared in person before the Senate to present a treaty for ratification.  President Wilson told the Senators that the League of Nations was the “only hope for mankind,” and that if the United States rejected the Treaty of Versailles it would “break the heart of the world.”  Former President William Howard Taft, a supporter of the League of Nations and the founder and president of the pro-ratification League to Enforce Peace (LEP), proposed some reservations, as did other prominent Republicans including 1916 presidential nominee Charles Evans Hughes, former Secretary of State Elihu Root and Republican National Committee Chairman Will Hays.  A few days later, facing criticism from League supporters, Taft supported an LEP resolution in support of unconditional ratification, but a mixed message had been sent.  In the Senate, debate on the treaty began with a speech by Senator Claude Swanson (Dem., Va.) in support of ratification, and President Wilson began holding meetings with Republican senators in an effort to persuade them to support the treaty.  On the last day of the month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began public hearings.  Race riots broke out in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and a rapid increase in the cost of living led to labor unrest.  In Toledo, Ohio, Jess Willard, the “great white hope” who had defeated Jack Johnson to win the heavyweight boxing championship in 1915, lost his title to challenger Jack Dempsey when he failed to answer the bell for the fourth round.


In a speech on the Senate floor, Senator Lodge outlined five reservations he considered essential to ratification of the Treaty.  Shortly afterward, at Lodge’s request, President Wilson agreed to meet with the Foreign Relations Committee.  The meeting took place at the White House, but no progress was made toward agreement.  The battle lines were inadvertently hardened the next day when resolutions introduced by Senator Key Pittman (Dem., Nev.) in an attempt to outline mutual understandings that had been reached regarding the “construction and interpretation” of the Treaty were disavowed by the “mild reservationists” who had attended the meeting.  The failure to arrive at a satisfactory compromise emboldened the “irreconcilables” opposed to League membership, and a few days later the Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor of an amendment to the Treaty that would return Shantung to China.  The Committee approved three more amendments, including one to equalize the votes of the United States and the British Empire in the General Assembly.  In response, the White House announced that the President would embark on a “swing around the circle,” a cross-country speaking tour to the west coast and back, with speeches planned in fifty cities in thirty days in support of the Treaty.  Senator Philander Knox of Pennsylvania, an influential Republican who had served as Secretary of State under President Taft, joined the ranks of the “irreconcilables” opposing American membership in the League of Nations.  An actors strike closed plays on Broadway.  The territorial conflict between Hungary and Rumania ended in a Rumanian victory when the Rumanian Army occupied Budapest and Béla Kun fled to the Soviet Union.


President Wilson departed on his cross-country speaking tour.  His first stop was a luncheon address in Columbus, Ohio, the home of Republican Senator Warren G. Harding, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a treaty opponent.  That evening the President spoke in Indianapolis, Indiana, a state represented by two other Republican senators.  His next stops were in St. Louis and Kansas City, reflecting the fact that one of Missouri’s senators, James A. Reed, was the most outspoken Democratic opponent of the Treaty.  Speeches, sometimes two a day, followed at Des Moines, Omaha, Sioux Falls, Minneapolis and St. Paul.  As his train crossed Montana, Wilson learned of William Bullitt’s testimony before the Foreign Relations Committee in which he revealed that Secretary of State Lansing had shared many of his own concerns about the Treaty and the League in a private conversation.  Among other things, Lansing had called the League “entirely useless” and designed to serve the interests of England and France.  In response to press inquiries, Lansing declined comment, sending a telegram to Wilson that reached him several days later in Los Angeles.  He called Bullitt’s conduct “despicable and outrageous” but stopped short of an outright denial.  Returning from the west coast, President Wilson issued a statement challenging the Senate to hold an up or down vote on the treaty without amendments or reservations.  After struggling through a speech in Pueblo, Colorado, he collapsed from what was described by his physician Admiral Grayson as “nervous exhaustion.”  The remainder of his speaking tour was cancelled, and he returned directly to Washington.  During his absence, the Foreign Relations Committee forwarded the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate with thirty-eight amendments and four reservations, along with hearing transcripts and a report signed by Senator Lodge on behalf of the Republican majority, which stated that “the committee believes that the League as it stands will breed wars instead of securing peace.”  In New York, General Pershing led the First Division in a victory parade on Fifth Avenue.  In Boston, police officers went on strike.  The mayor fired the police commissioner, but Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge reinstated him and mobilized the State Guard to police the city.  A Steelworkers strike shut down steel mills throughout the country.


Shortly after returning to the White House, President Wilson suffered a debilitating stroke that forced the cancellation of a reception for the visiting King and Queen of Belgium.  Admiral Grayson continued to refuse to provide information about the President’s condition beyond the initial announcement that he was suffering from “nervous exhaustion.”  Senator George Moses (Rep., N.H.) wrote in a letter to a constituent that the President was “a very sick man” who is “unable to undergo any experience which requires concentration of mind.”  When Moses’ letter was leaked to the press, Grayson questioned the Senator’s medical qualifications and said he “must have information that I do not possess.”  In the Senate several amendments to the Treaty were defeated, including amendments to limit voting by the British Empire and to delete the provision allowing Japanese occupation of Shantung.  French President Poincare issued a declaration stating that, because Great Britain, Italy and France had ratified the Treaty of Versailles, France’s state of war with Germany was at an end.  Labor unrest spread across multiple industries in the United States.  A strike of east coast longshoremen paralyzed transatlantic and coastwise shipping for a week before it was called off following an ultimatum from the War Department.  The steel industry strike that began in September led to violent confrontations between striking steelworkers, police and strikebreakers.  Martial law was declared in Gary, Indiana and surrounding steel cities, and Army units under the command of General Leonard Wood were sent into the city to maintain order.  Following cabinet meetings presided over by Treasury Secretary Carter Glass, a statement issued in the President’s name denounced a threatened coal strike as “calculated to create a disastrous fuel famine.”  Attorney General Palmer went to court and obtained an injunction forbidding the United Mine Workers from going ahead with the strike, but when the strike deadline arrived at month’s end the miners walked off the job without further direction from the union’s national officers.  The Volstead Act, enforcing nationwide prohibition pursuant to the newly adopted Eighteenth Amendment, was returned to Congress with a veto message objecting that the legislation included provisions, no longer appropriate, to continue enforcement of wartime prohibition.  Congress overrode the veto the next day.  In another First Amendment challenge to the Espionage and Sedition Acts, the Supreme Court in a 7-2 ruling affirmed the conviction of Russian immigrant and anarchist Jacob Abrams and several of his comrades for distributing leaflets condemning President Wilson for sending troops to Russia to fight the Bolsheviks.  The lasting impact of the decision, however, was not in the majority ruling but in the dissenting opinion of Justice Holmes, joined by Justice Louis Brandeis, in which he included a ringing affirmation of the bedrock principle of free speech, writing that the First Amendment is based on belief in the “free trade in ideas – that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” and insisting that “we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death, unless they so imminently threaten immediate interference with the lawful and pressing purposes of the law that an immediate check is required to save the country.”  The Belgian King and Queen, before leaving the United States at the end of the month, visited the President in his bedroom at the White House.  In baseball, the Cincinnati Redlegs defeated the heavily favored Chicago White Sox to win the best-of-nine World Series five games to three.  Not long afterward the “Black Sox” scandal surfaced when a grand jury charged that some of the Chicago players had conspired with a gambling syndicate to lose the series intentionally.


For much of November the Senate was occupied debating and voting on a series of proposed amendments and reservations to the proposed Treaty of Versailles.  A cloture rule, adopted after the Armed Ships Bill filibuster in 1917 but applied now for the first time, limited each senator’s time to speak, but there was no limit to the number of senators who could have their say.  All the proposed amendments were defeated, as were most of the reservations other than fourteen proposed by the Foreign Relations Committee, referred to as the “Lodge reservations.”  The LEP continued to send a mixed message, generally supporting the Treaty but voting down a resolution to oppose the Lodge Reservations.  In doing so it followed the lead of two of its most prominent members, former President Taft and Harvard President Lawrence Lowell, who argued that some reservations might be necessary to get the Treaty ratified.  After two meetings with the President, Senator Gilbert Hitchcock, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, summarized the President’s views in a draft letter, which he gave to Mrs. Wilson.  She read it to the President, revised it as he directed, and returned it to Senator Hitchcock, who shared it with his fellow Democrats.  Promptly leaked to the press, it said that in the President’s opinion “the resolution [for ratification with the Lodge reservations] does not provide for ratification, but rather for nullification of the treaty,” and that he “hope[s] the friends and supporters of the treaty will vote against the Lodge resolution of ratification.”  The President’s firm rejection led to the Treaty’s defeat.  Three final votes on consent to the Treaty were taken, two with the “Lodge reservations” attached and one with no reservations. All three failed to pass, and the Senate adjourned.  President Wilson declined to make any statement in response to the Senate’s action, and refused even to see Senator Hitchcock when he called at the White House.  Hitchcock and other treaty supporters resolved to bring the treaty before the Senate again in the next session of Congress which (as the Constitution provided prior to the adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1933) would begin the first Monday in December.  The war on radicals continued as Attorney General Palmer, using authority given by the Espionage Act, ordered raids on the headquarters of the Industrial Workers of the World and the Seattle Union Record, organized labor’s newspaper voice in the Pacific Northwest.  In Great Britain, Lady Astor became the first woman elected to the House of Commons.  Born Nancy Langhorne in Virginia, she was the wife of William Waldorf Astor, a wealthy American who had moved to England where he became a British subject and member of the House of Lords.  The Prince of Wales visited the United States and Canada, calling on President Wilson in the White House and touring New York City and the Military Academy at West Point, where he was greeted by the new superintendent, Brigadier General Douglas MacArthur.  The next week at the Polo Grounds, the Army-Navy football rivalry resumed after a two-year hiatus due to the war.  Navy won 6-0.


As was the custom, President Wilson delivered the annual State of the Union message on the first day of the new session of Congress.  For the first time in his presidency, he delivered the address in writing, his physical condition making it impossible for him to appear in person.  Despite its importance, the message did not mention the Treaty of Versailles or the controversy over its ratification.  This, in addition to the President’s refusal to see Senator Hitchcock a week earlier, increased concern in Congress about his ability to perform the duties of his office.  When an American citizen was seized in Mexico, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee appointed a subcommittee of two (Senator Hitchcock and Republican Senator Albert Fall) to visit the White House and discuss the matter with the President in person.  After the meeting both senators judged him “perfectly capable of handling the situation,” a conclusion perhaps aided by the dim light in the President’s bedroom, by the artful arrangement of the bedclothes, and most importantly by the announcement during the meeting that the American citizen had been released.  In the Senate, efforts to reach an accommodation regarding acceptable reservations continued until mid-December, when the White House issued a statement that seemed to foreclose any hope that the President might be willing to compromise.  It said “the hope of the Republican leaders of the Senate that the President would presently make some move which will relieve the situation with regard to the treaty is entirely without foundation,” and insisted that the President has “no compromise or concession of any kind in mind,” but intends “that the Republican leaders of the Senate shall continue to bear the undivided responsibility for the fate of the treaty and the present condition of the world in consequence of that fate.”  Still hoping to find an acceptable formula, Senator Hitchcock said he agreed with the President that concession or compromise is for the Senate, not the President, and that Senate supporters of the Treaty “will continue to seek a compromise between the Lodge reservations and those I offered last November.”  Senator Lodge, the Republican leader, blocked a proposal by Senator Oscar Underwood (Dem., Ala.) to establish a conciliation committee of ten senators to reach a compromise.  On the day before Christmas the White House announced that the nation’s railroads would be returned to private ownership on March 1.  A Christmas Day parade on Fifth Avenue in support of amnesty for political prisoners was broken up by police.  At the end of the month the President’s secretary Joseph Tumulty met separately with the President and Senator Hitchcock, leading to speculation that the new year might see the President become more involved in the ratification debate.  General Leonard Wood gave permission for his name to be entered in the South Dakota Republican Presidential Primary.  Viscount French, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and former commander of the British Expeditionary Force in France, escaped an assassination attempt by members of the Irish Republican Army as he was being driven through Phoenix Park in Dublin on his way to the Viceregal Lodge.  One of the attackers was shot dead and two policemen were injured.  In Paris, Premier Clemenceau won a strong vote of confidence after a speech outlining France’s foreign policy.  He expressed his satisfaction with the military guarantees from Great Britain and the United States, predicted a solution to the disagreement with Italy about Fiume, and declared France’s firm opposition to the Soviet government in Russia, promising that “we will be the allies of all peoples attacked by Bolshevism.”

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Paris Peace Conference

When I discontinued my monthly blog posts in January, I promised (threatened?) to add more posts from time to time.  Now we are observing another important centennial (June 28 is the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, and perhaps coincidentally the 105th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo).  So I've decided to post another installment, this one devoted entirely to the Paris Peace Conference.

As Margaret MacMillan wrote in her book about the conference, "For six months in 1919, Paris was the capital of the world . . . Paris was at once the world's government, its court of appeal and its parliament, the focus of its fears and hopes."  The most destructive war in history had come to an end, and many of the world's empires lay in ruins, both physically and politically.  The leaders of the victorious powers struggled to redraw the map of Europe and create a new world order, trying against all odds to reconcile the frequently conflicting goals of security, democracy, national self-determination, and colonial ambitions.

Although Germany and Russia were among the first major powers to go to war in August 1914, neither was represented in Paris.  Of the "Big Four" nations that dominated the conference and made all the important decisions, only France and Great Britain had been in the war from the beginning.  The most recent, the United States, had led the way in bringing about an armistice, but President Wilson's Fourteen Points proved difficult to apply in the real world of peace negotiations.  In the end, he proved willing to compromise many of his principles in the interest of the goal that outweighed all others: the creation of a League of Nations and the inclusion of the League covenant in the final settlement.  The Treaty of Versailles, signed on the fifth anniversary of the event that triggered the Great War, was resented in Germany, rejected in the United States, and proved a failure in its ultimate goal of establishing the foundation for a lasting peace.


The Big Four

The heads of government of the victorious Allies assembled in Paris in January 1919.  They faced a daunting task: to remake the world in the wake of the greatest military conflict in its history.  The four principals were Georges Clemenceau, the French Premier; Prime Minister David Lloyd-George of Great Britain; President Woodrow Wilson of the United States; and Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando of Italy.  (Of the four, only Wilson was also his nation's head of state).

Germany, the strongest by far of the Central Powers, had been defeated on the Western Front but had decisively prevailed against Russia in the East.  Even in the West, the armistice had ended the fighting while the German Army was still in France and Belgium.  While the terms of the armistice were very much in the Allies’ favor, therefore, the Germans, and particularly German civilians who had not experienced first hand their army’s defeats in the field, were justified in believing that their country’s surrender was less than total.  

The "Big Four," formally organized as the Supreme War Council, met for the first time at the Quai d'Orsay on Sunday, January 12.  At the urging of Great Britain, they agreed to add the Japanese prime minister to the group, which with the further addition of each nation's foreign secretary, was referred to thereafter as the Council of Ten.  Between mid-February and mid-March, there was a pause in the conference as Orlando, Wilson and Lloyd George returned to their capitals.  After the conference reconvened in March, the Council of Ten was discontinued and all major decisions were made by the original "Big Four."

The first formal meeting of the conference was held on Saturday, January 18.  Its first order of business was the selection of a permanent chairman.  President Wilson nominated Premier Clemenceau, who was elected unanimously.

 Lord Robert Cecil

On January 25 the Peace Conference created a Commission on the League of Nations, chaired by President Wilson.  Originally the Commission consisted of ten members, two from each nation represented in the Supreme Council (the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan).  When smaller nations such as Belgium objected, they were allowed to nominate four additional members, a number later increased to nine.

President Wilson named Colonel House as the second United States member of the Commission.  Lloyd George and Clemenceau appointed neither themselves nor their foreign ministers.  Lloyd George selected Lord Robert Cecil and South African Foreign Secretary Jan Smuts to represent the interests of Great Britain and the British Empire, and Clemenceau chose former French Prime Minister Leon Bourgeois and Dean Ferdinand Larnaude of the University Of Paris School Of Law as France’s representatives.  Bourgeois advocated a League with the power to resolve disputes by compulsory arbitration enforced by economic sanctions and, if necessary, military force.  Both Britain and the United States resisted the Bourgeois proposal, arguing that such measures were unconstitutional and would threaten to involve member states in disputes unrelated to their national interests.

On February 14, the day before he left Paris to return to the United States for the end of Congress, Wilson presented the temporary draft of the League covenant to a plenary session of the Conference.  Some issues were still unresolved.  The French still hoped to strengthen the League’s enforcement powers, and the disposition of the former German colonies and the lands of the Ottoman Empire had yet to be determined.  How would the League’s powers be reconciled with the Monroe Doctrine, and would the Japanese be entitled to adopt a similar doctrine in East Asia?  And speaking of the Japanese, how would their proposal for racial equality be received by the representatives of the worldwide British and French empires and the segregated United States?   That night the President left Paris to return to the United States for the final days of the 65th Congress.

League of Nations Mandates

The dissolution of the Austrian, Russian and Ottoman Empires left large amounts of the world without functioning governments.  Colonization by the victorious powers was contrary to the Fourteen Points and strongly opposed by President Wilson.  The solution adopted by the Peace Conference was the assignment of “mandates” under the supervision of the League of Nations.  The mandatory powers were given the power and responsibility to exercise governmental functions under the supervision of the League of Nations.  Three categories of mandates were eventually agreed upon.  Class A mandates were former territories of the Ottoman Empire whose “existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of advice and assistance” by the mandatory power (Great Britain or France).  The Class B mandates were former German colonies in west and central Africa in which the mandatory power (Great Britain, France, or Belgium) was made “responsible for the administration of the territory.”  The Class C mandates were formerly German territories in the Pacific and Southwest Africa deemed “best administered under the laws of the Mandatory as integral portions of its territory.”  The mandatory powers for these territories were Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand (for Pacific territories south of the Equator), Japan (for Pacific territories north of the Equator), and the Union of South Africa (for Southwest Africa).

The Russian Civil War

A major question confronting the Allies throughout the conference was what role, if any, Russia would have.  The nation that first went to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1914 was not represented in Paris.  Although it was the largest of Germany's enemies, and probably saved France from defeat in the early months of the war, its withdrawal from the war at the beginning of 1918 with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk came close to bringing about the Allies' defeat, and was regarded by them as a betrayal.  Germany was obliged by the armistice, however, to renounce Brest-Litovsk, so Russia was still technically one of the nations at war with Germany.  On a practical level, moreover, it was virtually impossible for the Paris conferees to discuss a peace settlement without considering Russia.  The role of Russia in the conference was further complicated by the fact that its control over its territory was contested by White revolutionaries, by the fact that Allied troops occupied Vladivostok and parts of the Russian Arctic, by the Bolsheviks' repudiation of Russia's debt to the Allies, by their publication of the Allies' secret agreements, and perhaps most fundamentally by uncertainty about whether the Bolshevik government even cared to participate in the conference.

 Prinkipo (Princes' Islands) in the Sea of Marmara

On January 22, 1919, at the urging of President Wilson and Prime Minister Lloyd George and over the opposition of Premier Clemenceau, the Supreme Council submitted a formal invitation to “every organized group that is now exercising or attempting to exercise political authority or military control anywhere in Siberia, or within the boundaries of European Russia” to send representatives to Princes’ Islands (Prinkipo) in the Sea of Marmora, near Constantinople and the southern entrance to the Bosporus, to confer with representatives of the associated powers in an attempt to reach “some understanding and agreement by which Russia may work out her own purposes, and happy, cooperative relations be established between her people and the other peoples of the world . . . provided there is in the meantime a truce . . .”

The next day the White Russians issued statements rejecting the proposed conference.  Sergei Sazonov, the former foreign minister of the Russian Empire who was representing White Russian interests in Paris, issued a statement saying he “will not sit with assassins.”  Former premier Georgy Lvov agreed, saying “we never thought that the conference would begin its peace work by renewing relations with our tyrants."

The Soviet government’s reply was received on February 4.  The Bolsheviks offered material concessions, such as raw materials and territory, but did not comment on the stated goals of "happy, cooperative relations" and failed to respond to the precondition of a truce.  That ambiguous response, combined with the opposition expressed by France and the negative reaction of the White factions, caused the Allies' interest to fade.  The White Russians sent their official rejection on February 16, two days after President Wilson had left Paris for his return to the United States.

William C. Bullitt and Lincoln Steffens

Lloyd George and Wilson remained interested in trying to resolve the Russian situation. William C. Bullitt, a junior but outspoken member of the American delegation, urged that a mission be dispatched to Russia.  Colonel House, who had been named by Wilson to lead the delegation in his absence, asked Bullitt to lead such a mission.

In early March, the Bullitt Mission (comprised of Bullitt, muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, and a U.S. Army intelligence officer) traveled from Paris to Moscow, where they held a series of meetings with Lenin and his Foreign Minister. On March 14 Lenin submitted a proposal calling for a ceasefire throughout the former Russian Empire and agreement to hold a peace conference in a neutral nation. The terms proposed for discussion at the conference included allowing all the de facto governments in Russia to retain the territory they held prior to the armistice, disarmament of the warring factions, lifting of the Allied blockade, withdrawal of Allied troops from Russia, and a commitment by the Bolshevik government to honor Russia’s financial obligations to the Allies. Bullitt returned to Paris with the Soviet proposal accompanied by a report in which he asserted that the violent phase of the Bolshevik Revolution was over, that the Bolsheviks enjoyed popular support, and that Lenin was willing to compromise.  Steffens was also impressed by Lenin and the Bolsheviks.  After his return to Paris he famously reported “I have seen the future, and it works.”

When Bullitt arrived in Paris on March 25, he faced resistance to Lenin's proposal. Lloyd George was initially receptive, but changed his mind when news of the mission leaked to the British press. Clemenceau had opposed the mission from the start. Wilson, who had returned to Paris on March 14, was focused on negotiations concerning the League of Nations and the peace treaty with Germany. Finally, the military news from Russia seemed favorable to the Whites, lessening the perceived need to negotiate with Lenin. The April 10 deadline for the Allies to respond to Lenin’s offer passed without any response. In May, after the terms of the German treaty were disclosed, Bullitt resigned and headed for the Riviera to, as he said, “lie on the sand and watch the world go to hell." 

By the time the Allies began to explore the possibility of recognizing the White governments of Admiral Kolchak in Siberia and General Denikin in the Caucasus, the military tide had turned, and the Whites were in retreat.  By 1920 the Soviets were in control.  It was years before diplomatic relations were established between the Allied nations and the Soviet Union.  The first American ambassador, appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, was William C. Bullitt.

Formation of Yugoslavia

A new Balkan state was represented in Paris.  Proclaimed on December 1, 1918 by Prince Alexander of Serbia, it combined the pre-war nations of Serbia and Montenegro with the former Austro-Hungarian provinces of Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in a new nation called the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.  Non-Serbs within its borders preferred to call it Yugoslavia.  Its name, however, was the least of the challenges for the long-term cohesion and viability of the new state.  Others included the fact that Serbs, Croats and Slovenes had fought on opposite sides of the World War, that despite their common Slavic ethnicity they professed different religions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Muslim), that they had different linguistic and cultural traditions (the Slovenian language differed from Serbo-Croatian, and Serbs, unlike Croatians, used the Cyrillic alphabet), and that they had conflicting territorial ambitions (Croats and Slovenes were willing to compromise territorial disputes with Rumania in return for Italian concessions on the Adriatic coast; for the Serbs the reverse was true).  Prince Alexander appointed Nikola Pasic, Serbia's pre-war prime minister, to represent the new nation in Paris, accompanied by Ante Trumbic, a Croatian, as its foreign minister.

The new nation shared borders with seven other nations: Italy, Austria, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece and Albania.  All but one (Greece) were included on the agenda when the Supreme Council met with the Yugoslav delegation on February 18.  Medjumurje and Prekomurje, regions sandwiched between Austria, Hungary and Slovenia, were awarded to Yugoslavia.  The Banat, Baranya and Backa (all formerly in Hungary) were divided between Yugoslavia and Rumania.  Those awarded to Yugoslavia were grouped together as the Vojvodina.  On the border with Bulgaria, four slivers of territory that were populated mainly by Bulgarians but included key railroads considered essential to the new nation’s security were awarded to Yugoslavia.

Albania had gained it independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1912, and ended the war occupied by Serbia, Greece and Italy.  It was the avenue of retreat for the Serbian Army after its 1915 defeat by Austria-Hungary, and remained occupied by the Austro-Hungarian Army for most of the war.  As a result, Albania’s territorial claims at the peace conference were weak, but the competing claims of Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia, combined with the Wilsonian principle of self-determination, preserved Albania’s independence and territorial integrity until 1920, when Italy withdrew its forces and Greece and Yugoslavia dropped their demands.  Albania’s only loss was the failure of its claim to Kosovo, an area populated largely by Albanians but of great patriotic and historical significance to the Serbs.

The most serious of the disputes regarding Yugoslavia’s borders was the one with Italy.  Italy based its claims in large part on the 1915 Treaty of London with Great Britain, France and Russia, which brought Italy into the war on the side of the Entente.  Among other things the treaty had promised the Istrian peninsula, including the port of Trieste, and large portions of Austrian territory on the Dalmatian coast to Italy in the event of an Entente victory.  The Treaty of London was one of the secret treaties unearthed and publicized by the Bolsheviks when they seized power in Russia in November 1917, and denounced by Woodrow Wilson in his Fourteen Points address to Congress two months later.  As parties to the treaty, Great Britain and France could hardly be as adamant as Wilson, but they also opposed use of the treaty as a basis for the post-war settlement because the territory in question was no longer being taken from an enemy state but from the new Yugoslav nation, the largest part of which was Serbia, the first nation in the war on the side of the Allies.

Gabriele D'Annunzio

The port of Fiume was not part of the territory promised to Italy in the Treaty of London, but it was occupied under the terms of the armistice by the Italian military, who claimed it as a prize of war essential to control of the Adriatic.  It had become a major political issue in Italy, seized on by a prototypical fascist movement led by the poet, journalist and flamboyant war hero Gabriele D’Annunzio, who anticipated the rise a few years later of Benito Mussolini.

The dispute over the border between Italy and Yugoslavia, like most of the other issues before the conference, was still unresolved when the conference paused to allow the principals to return to their capitals.  It was only in early April that Italy was asked to make its case before the other members of the Council of Four.  In a meeting on April 3 Orlando rejected a proposal to make Fiume a free city under the auspices of the League of Nations and refused to attend a meeting to hear the Yugoslav position.  The Yugoslavs were insistent that their new nation include the port of Fiume and the Dalmatian coast.  Great Britain and France were willing to abide by the Treaty of London but encouraged the Italians to compromise.  President Wilson, refusing to give any force to the Treaty of London, took the side of the Yugoslavs and issued a public statement on April 23 rejecting the Italian position.  Orlando and Sonnino decided to boycott the conference and departed the next day.  On May 5, when it appeared that the conference would proceed without them, they decided to return to Paris.

The territorial dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia remained unresolved when the Versailles treaty with Germany was finalized and signed on June 28 and President Wilson left Paris for the last time.  By then Orlando was no longer prime minister of Italy, his government having fallen on June 19.  In November 1920 the two countries resolved their differences in the Treaty of Rapallo, which gave most of the Istrian Peninsula and the city of Zara (Zadar) to Italy and created the independent free state of Fiume.  Fiume, now called Rijeka, has been part of Croatia since Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge

The Supreme War Council was in recess from mid-February to mid-March to allow President Wilson to return to Washington to attend to the press of last-minute business as the 65th Congress came to an end on March 4. (The Twentieth Amendment, added to the Constitution in 1933, changed the expiration date of Congress every two years from March 4 to January 3.  It also eliminated the mandatory “lame duck” session that followed congressional elections every two years by changing the date Congress must assemble every year from the first Monday in December to January 3, the date the old Congress expires and the new one takes office.  So now Congress has “lame duck” sessions only when it chooses to have them.  The Twentieth Amendment also moved the expiration date of the president’s term every four years up from March 4 to January 20).

President Wilson left Paris on February 16 bound for Boston, the home of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, the incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  After almost running aground in heavy fog off Cape Ann, the USS George Washington arrived in Boston on February 24.  After a motorcade through a crowd estimated at 200,000, he lunched at the Copley Plaza Hotel and proceeded to Mechanics Hall, where he was introduced to a capacity crowd by Massachusetts Governor Calvin Coolidge.  Although he had asked members of Congress to withhold comment until he had had a chance to brief them, he delivered a fighting speech attacking opponents of the proposed League of Nations, accusing them of having “narrow-minded minds that have no sweep beyond the day’s horizon” and telling his audience “I have fighting blood in me, and it is sometimes a delight to let it have scope.”

On the morning of February 19, while President Wilson was still at sea, Premier Clemenceau left his house in Paris to attend a meeting at the Foreign Office with Colonel House, British Foreign Secretary Balfour, and Italian Foreign Minister Sonnino.  (Unlike Lloyd George and Orlando, who had left their foreign ministers in charge in their absence, Wilson had designated House as his stand-in despite the fact that Secretary of State Lansing was with him in Paris.)  As Clemenceau got into his car, an anarchist named Emile Cottin ran up and fired several shots through the window, three of which struck the premier and one of which barely missed vital organs.  He was carried back into his house, and was back at work by the end of the month.

Back in Washington, President Wilson hosted a dinner at the White House on February 26 for the members of the congressional foreign relations committees.  After dinner he moved his guests to the East Room and fielded questions until midnight.  It does not appear that any opinions were changed.  Two days later Lodge delivered a long speech on the floor of the Senate expressing concern that the articles of the proposed League of Nations covenant “seem to give a rich promise of being fertile in producing controversies and misunderstandings,” which would only delay the important immediate goal of making peace with Germany. 

Shortly after midnight on the last day of the 65th Congress, Lodge introduced a resolution, signed by thirty-seven Republican senators and senators-elect (more than enough to defeat ratification of the treaty) stating that the existing draft of the League of Nations covenant should not be approved and that the signing of a peace treaty should take precedence.  Among their principal objections to the proposed League covenant were that it contravened the Monroe doctrine and that it infringed on Congress’s power under the constitution to declare war.  Denied unanimous consent for immediate consideration of his resolution, Lodge read the names of the signers and placed it in the record as a “round robin.” 

Republican senators, hoping to force the President to call a special session of the new Congress so that debate on the League of Nations could continue, mounted a filibuster on pending revenue bills, and the 65th Congress expired at noon without those bills being brought to a vote.  Wilson, however, made it clear he would not call Congress into session until after his return from the peace conference.  He issued a defiant statement echoing his denunciation of the “little group of willful men” who had filibustered the Armed Ship Bill two years earlier: “A group of men in the Senate have deliberately chosen to embarrass the government … and to make arbitrary use of the powers intended to be employed in the interests of the people.“  (The 20th Amendment made it impossible for this to happen again; it requires that Congress assemble every year on January 3, which is the same day every two years that the newly elected Congress takes office.)

President Wilson left Washington that afternoon.  Stopping briefly in Philadelphia to visit his newborn grandson, he arrived at New York’s Pennsylvania Station that evening and went directly to the Metropolitan Opera House, where he was joined on stage by former President Taft.  Introduced by Governor Al Smith, Wilson told the crowd of 5,000 that senators’ criticisms of the proposed League of Nations made no impression on him, and expressed amazement “that there should be in some quarters such a comprehensive ignorance of the state of the world.”  Answering the argument that the peace treaty should be considered first, the President said that “when the treaty comes back, gentlemen on this side will find the covenant not only in it, but so many threads of the treaty tied to the covenant, that you cannot dissect the covenant from the treaty.”  The next morning he departed from Hoboken on the U.S.S. George Washington for the nine-day return trip to Paris.

Germany's Territorial Losses

When President Wilson got back to Paris on March 14, Lloyd George and Orlando had already returned and Clemenceau had largely recovered from the wounds inflicted by his would-be assassin (though he would carry one of the bullets in his body for the rest of his life).  Now the item at the top of the agenda, despite Wilson’s continuing insistence that the League of Nations take precedence over all other issues, was the settlement with Germany.  

Much had changed in the four months since hostilities had ceased in November.  The German Army had been allowed to return home in good order and the Allied armies were melting away.  Other than the forces occupying the Rhineland under the terms of the armistice, no Allied troops were on German soil.  Germany, however, likewise had little if any bargaining leverage.  Its army was in no condition to resume hostilities; its navy was in British custody at Scapa Flow; the Kaiser was in exile; the new German government was unstable; and the German population was starving as food imports were restricted by the continuing British blockade, the scarcity of available shipping, and disagreement about who would pay for them.  There was no political will on either side to continue the war.

The principal remaining issues regarding Germany were disarmament, territorial adjustments and reparations.  The first, and in many ways the most straightforward, was disarmament.  Upon his return to France, Wilson was frustrated to be told that the military issues had been largely resolved in his absence.  Germany was to be limited to an army of 100,000 and a navy of 15,000 (the major part of its fleet was interned at Scapa Flow).  It was to have no air force, no dirigibles, no tanks, heavy guns or submarines.  Most of its existing stocks of weapons, and all of its fortifications in the Rhineland and on both banks of the Rhine itself were to be destroyed.  Severe limits were imposed on military training by schools and private organizations.  All told, the limits on Germany’s military were, in Margaret MacMillan’s words, “like the ropes of the Lilliputians over Gulliver.”

Of the territorial questions, the easiest to resolve were the forfeiture of German colonies and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France.  To the north of Alsace-Lorraine and west of the Rhine River lay the Rhineland, populated largely by Germans but considered by France to be essential to its security, especially the coal-rich Saar basin to the south.  Clemenceau argued for the creation of an independent buffer state, but the Council of Four eventually settled on continuation of the military occupation for fifteen years.  A small area on the border between Germany and Belgium was awarded to Belgium.  The Council also decided on plebiscites to determine the fate of Schleswig-Holstein, annexed by Bismarck in 1867.  Held in February and March 1920, they resulted in the award of Northern Schleswig to Denmark.  The Kiel Canal, built by the Kaiser in 1895, remained in Germany, with a provision in the treaty guaranteeing free passage through the canal for other nations.  The island of Heligoland, site of the main base of the High Seas Fleet during the war, remained German but its fortifications and harbors were destroyed.  On Germany’s eastern border, the provinces of West Prussia, Posen and (initially) Upper Silesia were severed from Germany and added to the new nation of Poland.  Danzig was declared a free city to be governed by the League of Nations, and a “corridor” along the Vistula River was given to Poland to provide access to the Baltic.  The fate of southern portions of East Prussia was submitted to a plebiscite which, when it was held in 1920, resulted in an overwhelming vote in favor of remaining in Germany.  German objections to the loss of the industrial and resource-rich region of Upper Silesia led to a 1921 plebiscite that yielded a mixed result and laid the foundation for future strife.

The issue of reparations was the most difficult.  Germany, the nation expected to pay the lion’s share of reparations, was an economic basket case.  Its foreign trade was nonexistent, and the costs it had incurred in waging the war had been financed largely by borrowing secured by the promise of repayment after victory.  The issue of reparations, moreover, was inseparable from the territorial issue.  If the treaty were to deprive Germany of territory that included some of its most productive resources, Germany’s ability to pay reparations would obviously be affected.

The most difficult question was what to count as compensable costs when calculating the amount of reparations.  Should they be limited to the damage done by Germany’s unlawful aggression or should they include the costs the Allies had incurred in waging war?  President Wilson in his Fourteen Points had called for a peace with “no annexations, no contributions, no punitive damages,” but even limiting reparations to compensation for measurable injury left unanswered the question of what the elements of that injury were.  Destruction of property was most extensive on the Western Front, most of which was in France.  Great Britain, however, had borne the bulk of the financial burden of the war, and Belgium had suffered occupation of almost all of its territory for four years.  And apart from damage to property, what about the cost of supporting veterans and surviving widows and orphans?

However the damages were calculated, it was clear that Germany would not be able to pay them in any foreseeable future.  In the end, the Supreme Council decided not to decide, either on a total amount of reparations or on how any reparations payments would be allocated.  Instead, it formed a special commission on reparations to make the decision.  The final treaty presented to the Germans in June left the total amount open.  It included a “war guilt” clause, Article 231, drafted by a young American lawyer named John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State Lansing’s nephew and a future secretary of state), stating that Germany bore responsibility for all the damage done by the war.  In 1921 the commission set the total amount of reparations at $34 billion.

One issue that was discussed but never resolved was individual criminal responsibility for waging the war.  When Lloyd George ran for reelection in December, “Hang the Kaiser” was a popular and effective campaign slogan.  By the time the conference was considering the German peace terms, however, the Kaiser was in Holland, the Netherlands had refused to turn him over, and the public appetite for prosecuting individuals for war crimes was diminishing.  The Kaiser remained in the Netherlands until his death in 1941, just before Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union.  Unlike the Nuremberg trials after the Second World War, there were no war crime trials after the First World War.

Poland and the Curzon Line

The eastern border of the new Polish nation was still a work in progress when the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the end of June.  The Commission on Polish Affairs, established by the Supreme Council in February, recommended a border between the predominantly Polish population to the west and the mixed population of Poles, Ukrainians, Byelorussians and Lithuanians to the east, a line extending roughly south from the eastern boundary of East Prussia to the formerly Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia on the Czechoslovak border.  Endorsed by acting British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon, it became known as the Curzon Line.  Poland refused to accept the Commission’s line as its eastern boundary, and its forces on the ground succeeded in occupying substantial territory to the east, all of which was conceded by the Russians in the 1921 Treaty of Riga and remained Polish until it was reclaimed by The Soviet Union in the opening campaign of the Second World War.  At the end of the Second World War the Curzon Line (approximately) was reestablished as the eastern boundary of Poland.  Poland, however, gained East Prussia and an additional swath of land to the west, both taken from Germany.

To the north of the land contested between Poland and the Soviets, the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea was occupied by ethnic groups with their own ideas of nationhood following the collapse of the Russian Empire.  The Allies recognized Estonia and Latvia as independent states in 1921.  The southernmost, Lithuania, abutted Poland, which regarded Lithuania, or at least large parts of it, as an integral part of its territory.  The Conference eventually recognized the independence of all three Baltic States.

At the southern end of the Curzon Line lay the province of Galicia, formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Western Galicia was conceded to be Polish but Eastern Galicia was contested by Ukrainians and Czechoslovaks.  The League of Nations awarded the entire province to Poland in 1923.

Dissolution of Austria-Hungary

When the Peace Conference assembled, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had already ceased to exist.  Emperor Charles had relinquished power on the day of the armistice, and the constituent parts of the Empire entered the conference as separate entities.  The Austrian regions of Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia and the Hungarian region of Slovakia had already come together under the leadership of Tomas Masaryk and declared the independence of the new nation of Czechoslovakia, and Edvard Benes had gained recognition of the new nation as a belligerent on the side of the Allies.  The Supreme Council decided that the new nation would include the Sudetenland, which bordered Germany to the north and west and was largely populated by Germans.  On Czechoslovakia’s northern border, a dispute with Poland over a small but coal-rich area in western Galicia that included the city of Teschen, a major railway junction, was referred to a commission and eventually resolved by a division that satisfied no one.

Austria and Hungary themselves remained in existence, but much shrunken in size.  Austria, in addition to the territory it lost to Czechoslovakia, lost its former territories of Galicia to Poland, Tyrol to Italy, and Slovenia to Yugoslavia.  Anschluss, or union with Germany, was expressly forbidden.  On Austria’s southern border, a territorial dispute with Yugoslavia was submitted to a plebiscite and resolved in Austria’s favor.

Hungary, in addition to losing Slovakia to Czechoslovakia, lost Croatia to Yugoslavia and Transylvania to Rumania.  When the decision awarding Transylvania to Rumania was announced, the government of Hungarian Prime Minister Michael Karolyi fell.  Béla Kun, a revolutionary supported by the new Communist government in Russia, emerged from prison, took power, and proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic, all on the same day.  He rejected the Supreme Council’s decision, and refused further attempts to dictate Hungary’s borders.  This resulted in a military conflict with Rumania, in which Hungary was defeated.  By early August the Rumanian Army had occupied Budapest and Kun had fled to the Soviet Union.

Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk)

The war ended for the Ottoman Empire on October 30, 1918, with an armistice signed aboard the British battleship H.M.S. Agamemnon, anchored off the Island of Mudros in the Aegean Sea.  Sultan Mehmed VI, motivated principally by a desire to preserve the Sultanate and stay on the throne, was more than willing to cooperate with Great Britain and its occupying army, which numbered over a million men.  By the time the Treaty of Versailles was signed, however, the number of British troops in the Ottoman Empire was only a little over 300,000.

In March, during its boycott of the conference, Italy landed troops on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, claiming a right to Turkish territory under its wartime agreements with the Allies.  It followed up in early May with landings at Smyrna, a city on the Aegean coast with a large Greek population.  The Allies, objecting to the Italian incursion, encouraged Greek Prime Minister Venizelos to send troops to Smyrna to contest Italy’s claim.  They arrived and occupied the city on May 15.  

The Sultan’s cooperation with the Allies was perceived by Turkish nationalists as threatening the loss, not only of the Arabic portions of the Empire but of large parts of Turkey itself: coastal enclaves such as Smyrna but also large areas such as Armenia, Kurdistan and the Dardanelles and Bosporus  Straits connecting the Mediterranean and Black Seas.  Increasing resistance to the Sultan’s rule led British officers in Constantinople to insist that an officer be sent to the interior to restore order.  The officer chosen was General Mustafa Kemal, the hero of Gallipoli.  He departed on May 9 for the Black Sea port of Samsun, where he began using the broad civil and military powers he had been given not only to impose law and order but also, contrary to the original intent of his mission, to organize resistance throughout central and eastern Anatolia to the peace terms being demanded by the Allies.  When the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28 and President Wilson left Paris to return to the United States, the fate of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire remained uncertain.  The Ottoman Sultanate was abolished in 1922 at the conference of Lausanne.  The treaty of the same name, signed the following year, established the national boundaries largely as they now exist.  Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) became the first president of modern Turkey.  The Caliphate was abolished in 1924.

Emir Faisal at Versailles

Before the Armistice of Mudros was signed, British forces under General Allenby had captured Jerusalem and Damascus and driven the Ottoman army out of Palestine and Syria.  An Anglo-Indian army had captured Baghdad over a year before, and a British government was installed in Mesopotamia.  The disposition of the non-Turkish portions of the Ottoman Empire was an issue to be negotiated, not with the Turks or their neighbors but between the British and the French, with reference to the often contradictory provisions of the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, President Wilson’s 1918 Fourteen Points, and the claims of Emir Faisal bin Hussein, whose father, the Sharif of Mecca, had raised the standard of revolt against the Ottomans during the war, and whose claim to the throne of an independent Syria was backed by the British.  President Wilson suggested a commission to visit the area and ascertain the desires of the people who lived there.  The British and French at first agreed but then withdrew, leaving a commission consisting only of the American members, Henry King and Charles Crane, who began their investigation in June 1919 as the peace conference was nearing its end.  The King-Crane Commission’s report, submitted in August 1919, was suppressed by the Allies and played no role in the ultimate Middle East settlement.  In Syria, when Faisal was forced by his fellow Arabs to assert his independence, the French forced him to relinquish power.  In 1921 the British installed Faisal as king of the new nation of Iraq, which combined the Mesopotamian provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra.  Faisal's brother Abdullah was made king of another new nation, Transjordan, on the east bank of the Jordan River.  The 1920 Treaty of San Remo confirmed the British mandate over Mesopotamia and Palestine and the French mandate over Syria.  Still festering were the contradictory British commitments to the Arabs to support their claims for self-rule and to the Zionists to support the establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people in Palestine.


Among the most difficult of the issues the delegates had to deal with in Paris was a territorial dispute on the other side of the world.  By the end of August 1914, Japan had joined the war on the side of the Allies.  By the end of the year the Japanese had occupied Germany’s undefended island colonies as well as the Chinese province of Shantung, including Tsingtao, its principal city.  Japan then presented a list of twenty-one demands to the Chinese government, which were bitterly resisted by Chinese nationalists but led in 1915 to a treaty, reaffirmed in notes exchanged near the end of the war in 1918, in which China granted Japan many of its demands including control over Shantung.  In Paris, the Chinese representatives disputed the validity of those agreements, claiming they were coerced and contrary to the principles of the Fourteen Points.

Meanwhile, the Japanese had introduced a proposal to include a racial equality clause in the League of Nations covenant, requiring member states to accord to nationals of other member states “equal and just treatment in every respect, making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.”  The proposal was adamantly opposed by Australia’s prime minister, and somewhat less vigorously by the representatives of the British Empire and the United States.  When the vote was taken at the final meeting of the League of Nations Commission on April 11, a majority voted in favor of including it, but President Wilson as chairman ruled that it would not be included due to the strong objections that had been raised.  At the same meeting, Wilson succeeded in adding a provision recognizing the continuing validity of the Monroe Doctrine, implicitly rejecting Japan’s argument that it was entitled to similar consideration in Asia.  

In principle, Japan’s claim to Shantung was hard to distinguish from Italy’s claim to the port of Fiume in the Adriatic.  Both were supported by international agreements and occupying military forces and both were flatly contrary to the principle of self-determination enshrined in the Fourteen Points.  Japan’s threat to make an issue of the rejection of the racial equality clause, however, changed the calculus.  Italy had walked out of the conference over Fiume, and the threatened defection of Japan put the whole League of Nations project in jeopardy.  On April 28, the Council approved an agreement whereby Japan took over Germany’s former rights in Shantung in return for an essentially unenforceable promise by Japan for its eventual return to China.  

This outcome sparked resentment and outrage in China, beginning with massive demonstrations against the government in Tiananmen Square on May 4.  China did not sign the Versailles Treaty, but made a separate peace with Germany in September.  At the Washington Naval Conference in 1922, Japan agreed to return Shantung to China, but Japan continued to cast a covetous eye on the Chinese mainland as civil unrest grew in China with increasing numbers of Chinese looking to Soviet Russia for a model of governance.

The Hall of Mirrors, June 28. 1919

The final draft of the treaty with Germany was sent to the printer on May 4.  The German representatives were already in Versailles, having been brought there on special trains that slowed to a crawl as they moved through the devastated lands of the Western Front to give the Germans a good look at the damage the war had done to France.  They were summoned to the Trianon Palace Hotel in Versailles on May 7, the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania, and presented with the treaty.  Premier Clemenceau, as presiding officer, opened the session by addressing the German representatives.  He said “It is neither the time nor the place for superfluous words. . . .    You have asked for peace.  We are ready to give you peace.  We shall present to you now a book which contains our conditions. . . . You will find us ready to give you any explanation you want, but we must say at the same time that this second Treaty of Versailles has cost us too much not to take on our side all the necessary precautions and guarantees that the peace shall be a lasting one.”  He declared that “no oral discussion is to take place,” and gave the Germans fifteen days to present a written response.  When the head of the German delegation, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau, was given the floor, he acknowledged Germany’s defeat and responsibility to make reparations, but rejected the assertion that Germany and its people were the only ones guilty of the war.  “Such a confession in my mouth,” he said, “would be a lie.”

Germany submitted its 150-page reply on May 29.  It objected to the proposed treaty on a number of grounds, including that it was contrary to President Wilson’s Fourteen Points, on the basis of which Germany had agreed to the armistice, and that the reparations demanded were far more than Germany would be able to pay.  On June 16, after two weeks of uncertainty and controversy among the Allies about how to respond, they left the treaty substantially unchanged and gave the Germans a three-day deadline to sign.  Brockdorff-Rantzau urged his government not to sign, but after requesting and receiving a short extension of the deadline the German National Assembly in Weimar passed a resolution on June 23 agreeing to the treaty as written.  Two days earlier, most of the ships of the German High Seas Fleet interned at Scapa Flow had been scuttled by their crews. 

The signing ceremony was held in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles, the location of the signing some forty-eight years earlier of the treaty ending the Franco-Prussian War.  Germany was represented by its new foreign minister Hermann Muller, and Johannes Bell, the Minister of Colonial Affairs.

Although there had been much negotiation regarding the Treaty’s provisions, none of it had involved Germany: all had been done by Germany’s enemies negotiating among themselves.  And as we’ve seen not even all of the Entente nations were there.  Germany’s original enemy, Russia, was absent; the Bolsheviks were consolidating their power at home, and their only interest in foreign affairs was in spreading the Communist revolution throughout the world.  In the United States, opposition to the treaty was building in Congress and bombs planted by anarchists were exploding throughout the country, including one at the attorney general’s home in Washington, D.C.  In Germany resentment was building as people were being told that their army had not really been defeated and that the principles of the Fourteen Points had been betrayed.  But the Great War was over at last, and the Treaty of Versailles had been signed.  So aside from a few worrisome details, what could go wrong?



American Review of Reviews, January-July 1919
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
William Mulligan, The Great War for Peace
New York Times, January-June 1919
Patricia O'Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made 
David Reynolds, The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931