Treaty of Versailles

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Treaty of Versailles

Most of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were set at the Paris Peace Conference, which was dominated by (l-r) Lloyd George of Great Britain, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS
Most of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were set at the Paris Peace Conference, which was dominated by (l-r) Lloyd George of Great Britain, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States.

The Treaty of Versailles was the agreement negotiated during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that ended World War I and imposed disarmament, reparations, and territorial changes on the defeated Germany. The treaty also established the League of Nations, an international organization dedicated to resolving world conflicts peacefully. The treaty has been criticized for its harsh treatment of Germany, which many historians believe contributed to the rise of Nazism and Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

President woodrow wilson played an important role in ending the hostilities and convening a peace conference. When the United States entered the war in January 1917, Wilson intended to use U.S. influence to end the long cycle of peace and war in Europe and create an international peace organization. On January 8, 1918, he delivered an address to Congress that named Fourteen Points to be used as the guide for a peace settlement. Nine of the points covered new territorial consignments, while the other five were of a general nature. In October 1918 Germany asked Wilson to arrange both a general Armistice based on the Fourteen Points and a conference to begin peace negotiations. On November 11 the armistice was concluded.

The Paris Peace Conference began in January 1919. The conference was dominated by David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Wilson of the United States, with Vittorio Orlando of Italy playing a lesser role. These leaders agreed that Germany and its allies would have no role in negotiating the treaty.

The first of Wilson's Fourteen Points stated that it was essential for a postwar settlement to have "open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." Wilson's lofty vision, however, was undercut in Paris by secret treaties that Great Britain, France, and Italy had made during the war with Greece, Romania, and each other.

In addition, the European Allies demanded compensation from Germany for the damage their civilian populations had suffered and for German aggression in general. Wilson's loftier ideas gave way to the stern demands of the Allies.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. The terms dictated to Germany included a war guilt clause, in which Germany accepted responsibility as the aggressor in the war. Based on this clause, the Allies imposed reparations for war damage. Though the treaty did not specify an exact amount, a commission established in 1921 assessed $33 billion of reparations.

The boundaries of Germany and other parts of Europe were changed. Germany was required to return the territories of Alsace and Lorraine to France and to place the Saarland under the supervision of the League of Nations until 1935. Several territories were given to Belgium and Holland, and the nation of Poland was created from portions of German Silesia and Prussia. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled, and the countries of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania were recognized. All German overseas colonies in China, the Pacific, and Africa were taken over by Great Britain, France, Japan, and other Allied nations.

France, which had been invaded by Germany in 1871 and 1914, was adamant about disarming Germany. The treaty reduced the German army to 100,000 troops, eliminated the general staff, and prohibited Germany from manufacturing armored cars, tanks, submarines, airplanes, and poison gas. In addition, all German territory west of the Rhine River (Rhineland), was established as a demilitarized zone.

The Treaty of Versailles also created the League of Nations, which was to enforce the treaty and encourage the peaceful resolution of international conflicts. Many Americans were opposed to joining the League of Nations, however, and despite Wilson's efforts, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the treaty. Hence, instead of signing the Treaty of Versailles, the United States signed a separate peace treaty with Germany, the Treaty of Berlin, on July 2, 1921. This treaty conformed to the Versailles agreement except for the omission of the League of Nations provisions.

The Treaty of Versailles has been criticized as a vindictive agreement that violated the spirit of Wilson's Fourteen Points. The harsh terms hurt the German economy in the 1920s and contributed to the popularity of leaders such as Hitler who argued for the restoration of German honor through remilitarization.

Further readings

Boemeke, Manfred F., Gerald D. Feldman, and Elisabeth Glaser, eds. 1998. The Treaty of Versailles: 75 Years After. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Marks, Sally. 2003. The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe, 1918–1933. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
There was great opposition to the labour provisions of the Versailles Treaty and the ILO charter in the US labour movement.
The 14 points of the Versailles treaty were, in fact, thought of as so poisonous that Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, leader of the German delegation, said in 1919: "Those who sign this treaty, will sign the death sentence of many millions of German men, women and children."
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1935: Hitler renounced the Versailles Treaty and |reintroduced conscription.
By the time Wilson presented the Versailles Treaty for Senate ratification, the political climate at home had changed.
Germany was called upon to carry out its military and reparation obligations under the Versailles Treaty, and a resolution was adopted in favour of restoring trade with Russia.
Back home, Wilson probably could have won ratification of the Versailles Treaty if only he had compromised with moderate senators.
But this is not the answer, and like Lincoln, who urged leniency towards the Confederate states or John Maynard Keynes in his "Economic Consequences of the Peace" (1919), in which he argued for a less usurious settlement than the Versailles Treaty, the solution, both economically and morally, is never vengeance.
Twenty-nine chapters examine such topics as the role of the Versailles Treaty that ended the First World War, the failure of the League of Nations, the ideology of Japanese imperial militarism, Italian foreign policy before the war, German-French relations, German military traditions, the policies of the British Foreign Secretaries of the 1930s, the policies of the European neutral powers, international dimensions of the Spanish Civil War, developments in the Middle East, the "Jewish Question" and its impact on international affairs, the Sudeten Crisis of 1938, the policies of Joseph Stalin, and economic explanations for the origins of war.
As the peace conference ended, Baker deemed its product, the Versailles Treaty, "a terrible document" that was animated by a spirit of "retribution to the verge of revenge" against the Germans--a judgment shared by many subsequent historians.
Because of that the delegation of Romania and the one of the Serb-Croat-Slovenian Kingdom could not express their point of view regarding the Treaty with Germany, being obliged to sign the Versailles Treaty (on the 28th of June 1919) without being able to study it and formulate observations (20).