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.


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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.



Shantung

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?


*****


Sources:

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

Thursday, January 31, 2019

January 1919

It's January 1919.  The Great War has come to an end, and the victors are assembling in Paris to decide on the terms of the peace.  In the United States former President Roosevelt dies at his home in Oyster Bay.  The Eighteenth Amendment is ratified making prohibition the law of the land.

As we observe the end of an era in world history and the beginning of a new one, I have decided that it is an appropriate time to end my monthly blog posts.  This month-by-month review of world events (mostly from an American perspective) has been an enjoyable and educational exercise for me, as I hope it has been for my readers.  All of the monthly installments, beginning with September 1911, remain available in the blog archive, and I may well add posts from time to time, just not on the rigid monthly schedule I've followed for the last seven plus years.  Many thanks to all of you for your interest and feedback.

*****


 Roosevelt at Sagamore Hill

Former President Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill on the morning of January 6.  He had returned home on Christmas Day after a hospital stay that began on November 11 for treatment of a painful case of inflammatory rheumatism.  The cause of death was a pulmonary embolism.  Roosevelt was working hard as recently as the day before his death, proofreading a series of magazine articles and planning a meeting with Republican Party Chairman Will Hays to discuss a possible run for the presidency in 1920.  On January 3 he had dictated an article for the Kansas City Star in which he criticized President Wilson's utterances as "still absolutely in the stage of rhetoric precisely like the 'fourteen points,'" some of which may "be construed as having a mischievous significance, a smaller number might be construed as being harmless, and one or two even as beneficial, but nobody knows what Mr. Wilson really means by them."  Instead of the proposed League of Nations, Roosevelt asked whether it would not "be well to begin with the League which we already have in existence, the League of the Allies who have fought through this great war," and then "extend the privileges of the League, as rapidly as their conduct warrants it, to other nations."  Finally, he asserted that "the American people do not intend to give up the Monroe Doctrine," and recommended a similar policy for the rest of the world, proposing that "civilized Europe and Asia introduce some kind of police system in the weak and disorderly countries at their thresholds."

A funeral service was held on January 8 at Christ Episcopal Church in Oyster Bay, followed by a graveside burial service.  Because the grave is on a steep hill accessible only by foot, automobiles had to be parked outside the cemetery gate.



President Wilson and King Victor Emmanuel

After their visit to Great Britain, President and Mrs. Wilson returned to France on the last day of the year, then moved on to Italy, arriving in Rome with the President's daughter Margaret on Friday, January 3.  They were greeted at the station by King Victor Emmanuel and Queen Helena, local officials, and members of the Italian government.  The crowds that greeted the President and his party as they were carried through the streets were, if possible, even larger and more enthusiastic than those in Paris and London.  On the day of his arrival he addressed the Italian Parliament, attended a state dinner as the guest of honor, and was made an honorary citizen of Rome.  The next day he was received at the Vatican by Pope Benedict XV.  On his way back to Paris, he stopped at Genoa, Turin and Milan.  In Turin he was notified by telegram of the death of President Roosevelt, perhaps his most outspoken political adversary, and sent a telegram of condolence to his widow.



The Supreme War Council (Left to Right: Orlando, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Wilson)

The President arrived back in Paris on January 7.  Resisting the urgent requests of President Poincare, Premier Clemenceau, Ambassador Jusserand and others, he declined to visit the devastated regions of Belgium and France.  His stated reason was that he wanted the conference to proceed on schedule; privately he expressed concern that the European Allies had extended the invitation in the hope that the visit would cause him to share their hatred of Germany, and insisted he wanted to attend the conference with an open mind.  On January 11 Secretary of State Lansing gave the President an outline of topics for discussion at the conference, including a skeletal version of the peace treaty.  Wilson angrily rejected it, saying he did not want lawyers drafting the treaty.

The Supreme War Council (the heads of government of France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States) met at the Quai d'Orsay on January 12 for preliminary discussions.  Among other things, they decided to add Japan to the group, along with each nation's foreign minister.  The resulting "Council of Ten" will be the principal decision-making body of the conference.  On January 18 the formal opening of the conference took place.  After President Poincare's welcoming speech, the conference chose a permanent chairman.  Following his nomination by President Wilson, Premier Clemenceau was elected unanimously.

 

William Jennings Bryan

As newly elected state legislatures convened throughout the United States, one after another passed resolutions ratifying the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which will prohibit the import, manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors.  When the month began, the amendment had been ratified by only fifteen of the necessary thirty-six states; by month's end, the number was forty-four.  The thirty-sixth state to ratify the amendment, on January 16, was Nebraska, the home state of former Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, a prominent advocate of prohibition who famously served grape juice at a diplomatic dinner shortly after becoming Secretary of State.  The amendment became part of the Constitution at noon on January 29, when acting Secretary of State Frank L. Polk signed the formal proclamation in the reception room adjoining the Secretary's office.  Among those present were Mr. Bryan, the amendment's sponsor Senator Morris Sheppard of Texas, and representatives of various temperance organizations.  The amendment will take effect one year from the date of its ratification, January 16, 1920.


*****


January 1919 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, January and February 1919
New York Times, January 1919

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fifth Year of the Great War: 1918
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Giles MacDonogh, The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II 
Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I 
Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography
William Mulligan, The Great War for Peace
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Patricia O'Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made 
Edward J. Renehan, The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Andrew Roberts, Churchill: Walking With Destiny
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy 
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward, A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History

Monday, December 31, 2018

December 1918


It's December 1918 and the Great War has come to an end.  As the United States Congress convenes in its “lame duck” session after the mid-term elections, President Wilson delivers his annual State of the Union address.  Explaining his decision to attend the peace conference in person, he receives a noticeably less friendly reception than in previous appearances before Congress. The next day he departs for France, where his welcome is far more enthusiastic.  After spending Christmas with American troops he travels to England, where he and Mrs. Wilson are guests of the King and Queen.  While he is there, the results of the British Parliamentary elections are announced.  The expanded British electorate, which includes women for the first time, returns Lloyd George's coalition government to power while inflicting decisive defeats on the parties that controlled Parliament when the war began.  The European Allies meet in London in an effort to arrive at a common approach to issues certain to arise at the peace conference, but fail to reach agreement on many issues.  Russia, nominally a victor in the war, has not been heard from.  A new nation of South Slavs is proclaimed in Belgrade; combining nations on both sides of the war practicing different religions and speaking different languages, it faces an uncertain future.


*****


 President Wilson Delivering His State of the Union Address

As required by Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution, Congress convened on December 2, the first Monday in December.  The Constitution also requires that the President "from time to time give to the Congress information on the State of the Union," and President Wilson has chosen throughout his presidency to do so in person.  After both houses passed resolutions approving the convening of a joint session, the Senators walked through the Capitol building to the House chamber, where at 1:00 p.m. a committee of Senators escorted the President to the podium.  The Congress he addressed, of course, is the outgoing one.  The Congress elected in November will not take office until March, and will not convene in its regular session until December of next year.

The dominant subject of the President's message was the recent end of the fighting in Europe.  Near the end of his speech he announced his plan to attend the peace conference in person.  He said he regarded it as his duty to attend because, both sides having accepted his Fourteen Points as the basis for peace, he should be available to give his “personal counsel in their interpretation and application.”   He asked for Congress's support: "May I not hope, gentlemen of the Congress, that in the delicate tasks I shall have to perform on the other side of the seas in my efforts truly and faithfully to interpret the principles and purposes of the country we love, I may have the encouragement and the added strength of your united support?"  Unlike the friendly reception President Wilson had received every other time he had addressed Congress, especially last year when he asked for a declaration of war against Germany and again last month when he announced the terms of the armistice, the applause that greeted this announcement was hesitant and almost entirely limited to Democratic members of the House of Representatives.  The Justices of the Supreme Court, seated in the well in front of the first row of Senators, seemed uncertain what to do, finally standing as a show of respect but not applauding.  Chief Justice White, who had led the applause on previous occasions, was absent.  Most Senators kept their seats.

President Wilson's trip to Europe is the first by any President while in office, and except for President Roosevelt's brief trip to the Panama Canal Zone in 1906 it is the first time any sitting president has left the country.  Before the joint session convened, resolutions were introduced in both houses of Congress declaring the office of President vacant during the President's absence, and Senator Albert B. Cummins (Rep., Iowa) introduced a resolution providing for the appointment of a committee of eight Senators to attend the peace conference.  Congress remains under Democratic Party control until March, however, so none of the resolutions was brought to a vote.


Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. Earlier This Year

Former President Roosevelt has been hospitalized since the armistice at Roosevelt Hospital in New York with a severe case of rheumatism.  When President Wilson announced that he would lead the peace commission to Paris, Roosevelt immediately objected that in view of the recent Congressional election Wilson has "no authority whatever to speak for the American people." On December 3, the day after the President's address to Congress, Roosevelt issued a statement from his hospital bed that "President Wilson has not given the slightest explanation of what his views are or why he is going abroad.  He pleads for unity, but he is himself responsible for any division among the American people."  "As for the fourteen points," he said, "so far as the American people have expressed any opinion upon them, it was on November 5, when they rejected them."  He insisted that America must look after its own interests, maintaining its economic independence, preserving the Monroe Doctrine and control over the Panama Canal, and otherwise avoiding interference in foreign affairs.  At the Peace Conference, he said, "it is [the President's] business to stand by France, England, and our other allies and to present with them a solid front to Germany."  On Christmas Day, Roosevelt left the hospital and returned to his home at Oyster Bay.



The President Departs for Europe

The evening following his address to Congress President Wilson left the White House and traveled by rail to Hoboken, New Jersey, where he boarded the U.S.S. George Washington, a former German ocean liner seized and converted to a troop transport during the war.  The President's wife accompanied him, along with two of the other members of the American Peace Commission, Secretary of State Lansing and Ambassador White.  (Colonel House and General Bliss, the other members of the Peace Commission, were already in France).  Over one hundred others were also on board, including Admiral Grayson, the President's physician; George Creel of the Committee on Public Information; the French, Italian and Belgian ambassadors; and twenty-three members of the Inquiry, a group of experts assembled last year to advise the President on matters related to the peace (see the January 1918 installment of this blog).  Lord Reading, the British Ambassador to the United States, is also Lord Chief Justice of England.  He returned to England in August.

During the voyage to Europe President Wilson and his wife kept largely to themselves.  Although Secretary Lansing had written a memorandum to the President shortly after the armistice laying out a number of questions likely to arise at the peace conference, the President had not replied.  At the suggestion of Inquiry member William C. Bullitt, the President held one meeting en route to France with selected members of the group in which he outlined in general terms his objectives for the conference.  He emphasized that he would rely heavily on their advice, saying "Tell me what's right and I'll fight for it."



 The President Arrives in France

The U.S.S. George Washington dropped anchor in the Brest roadstead on Friday, December 13, a date many superstitious people might consider unlucky.  President Wilson, however, considers thirteen his lucky number.  His name has thirteen letters, he became Princeton's thirteenth president in his thirteenth year there, and his inauguration as President of the United States took place in 1913.  Add the fact that thirteen is the number of stripes on the American flag, representing the thirteen original states, and his choice of the thirteenth as the date for his arrival seems inevitable.  In Brest, he made brief remarks in a crowded reception room at the pier, where Ambassador Jusserand led the applause waving his hat above his head.  Automobiles then carried the President's party to the railroad station along a fifteen-minute route lined by thousands of cheering spectators, including soldiers and sailors in uniform and children dressed in Breton costumes.







 Paris Welcomes President Wilson

At ten o'clock the next morning the presidential train pulled slowly into the Bois de Boulogne Station in Paris with an American flag draped across the front of the locomotive.  As President Wilson stepped down from the first car, he was greeted by a young woman in the peasant costume of Alsace.  After brief informal greetings on the platform, Presidents Wilson and Poincare entered a carriage drawn by two horses and followed by a dozen other carriages carrying the presidents' wives, Prime Minister Clemenceau, Ambassadors Sharp and Jusserand, and other dignitaries.  The procession, greeted for miles by enthusiastic crowds waving American flags, moved from the Bois de Boulogne to the Champs Elysses, across the Alexander III Bridge, then back across the river through the Place de la Concorde to the palace of Prince Murat, where President Wilson will reside during his stay in Paris.  He spent two hours with Colonel House that afternoon, and met with Premier Clemenceau twice in the following days.  


 President and Mrs. Wilson with the King and Queen and Princess Mary

President Wilson spent Christmas Day at American Army headquarters in Chaumont, where he reviewed the troops.  The President and Mrs. Wilson shared Christmas dinner with General Pershing and departed that evening for London.  The next day they were greeted by the King and Queen at Charing Cross Station and taken through streets lined with cheering crowds to Buckingham Palace, where they stayed as guests until their return to France on the last day of the year.



 Eamon de Valera

Parliamentary elections were held in Great Britain on December 14.  Because it took some time to receive and tabulate the soldier vote, the results were not announced until December 28, during the President's stay in London.  The newly enacted Representation of the People Act expanded the franchise significantly, giving the vote to all men over age 21 and men in military and naval service over age 19.  It also included the first grant of woman suffrage, allowing women to vote who were over age 30 and met certain property qualifications.  Prime Minister Lloyd George's coalition government was returned to power by a large majority.  The election was a major defeat for the two parties that together had controlled the government at the beginning of the war.  Herbert Asquith's Liberals saw their representation in Parliament reduced from 272 to 36, and John Dillon's Parliamentary Irish Party lost all but six of its seats to Eamon de Valera's Sinn Fein.  Sinn Fein calls for Irish independence from Great Britain, and has announced that it will meet separately in Dublin and refuse to join the British Parliament in Westminster.  Asquith and Dillon lost their own seats in Parliament.
 



European Allies Confer in London (Front row left to right: Orlando, 
Bonar Law, Clemenceau, Curzon, Lloyd George, Sonnino)

When the month began, Premier Clemenceau was in London meeting with Prime Minister Lloyd George and representatives of the other European Allies.  To allay any concern that the United States was being excluded, Clemenceau met with Colonel House before leaving France and advised him of the meeting, assuring him that no important decisions would be made without the United States.  In fact, the European Allies tried but were unable to reach agreement on common positions on several issues, including disposition of the lands of the Ottoman Empire and Italian claims to lands in the Adriatic.

Another question on which there is no consensus is what role, if any, Russia will have in the Peace Conference.  The nation that first went to war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in 1914 is 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 this year with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk came close to bringing about the Allies' defeat, and is regarded by them as a betrayal.  Germany was obliged by the armistice, however, to renounce Brest-Litovsk, so Russia is still technically one of the nations at war with Germany.  On a practical level, moreover, it is virtually impossible for the Paris conferees to discuss a peace settlement without considering Russia.  The role of Russia in the forthcoming conference is further complicated by the fact that its control over its territory is contested by White revolutionaries, by the fact that Allied troops occupy 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 cares to participate in the conference.



 Nikola Pasic

A new Balkan state declared its existence in Belgrade on December 1.  Combining the pre-war nation of Serbia (now including Montenegro) and southern parts of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, Prince Alexander of Serbia, acting as Regent for his father the King, proclaimed the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.  Non-Serbs prefer to call the new nation Yugoslavia.  Its name, however, is the least of the factors presenting a challenge for the long-term cohesion and viability of the new state.  Others include the fact that Croats and Slovenes were on opposite sides of the recently concluded war; their different religious, linguistic and cultural identities; and their conflicting territorial ambitions.  Alexander has appointed Nikola Pasic, Serbia's pre-war prime minister, to represent the new nation in Paris.  He will be accompanied by Ante Trumbic, a Croatian who has been named foreign minister.




Senator Lodge 

On December 21, while President Wilson was enjoying the adulation of Parisians, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (Rep., Mass.), who will be Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, gave a speech on the Senate floor in which he warned against trying to base a peace treaty on the Fourteen Points.  He said it would be "a grave mistake on the part of the President to ignore the Senate, because our ultimate responsibility in making the peace is quite equal to his own."  While he had "no fault to find with [the President] not appointing Senators as delegates to the conference," he expressed the opinion that at least five of the Fourteen Points should be put aside until agreement is reached on the terms of the peace with Germany.  He said the Points regarding secret diplomacy, freedom of the seas, economic barriers, reduction of armaments, and establishment of a League of Nations presented issues which, if interjected into the conference, would likely cause delay and "lead to division among the nations which have conquered Germany."


*****


December 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, December 1918 and January 1919
New York Times, December 1918

Books and Articles:
A. Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fifth Year of the Great War: 1918
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson's War
Kenneth S. Davis, FDR: The Beckoning of Destiny
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949 
Anthony Lewis, Make No Law, The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment
W. Bruce Lincoln, Passage Through Armageddon: The Russians In War and Revolution 1914-1918
Giles MacDonogh, The Last Kaiser: The Life of Wilhelm II 
Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World
Robert K. Massie, Castles of Steel: Britain, Germany, and the Winning of the Great War at Sea
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I 
Ted Morgan, FDR: A Biography
William Mulligan, The Great War for Peace
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Patricia O'Toole, The Moralist: Woodrow Wilson and the World He Made 
Edward J. Renehan, The Lion's Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
David Stevenson, Cataclysm: The First World War As Political Tragedy 
David Stevenson, With Our Backs to the Wall: Victory and Defeat in 1918
J. Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward, A First Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I