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Paris Peace Conference, 1919
Council of Four Versailles.jpg
"The Big Four" during the Paris Peace Conference (from left to right, David Lloyd George, Vittorio Orlando, Georges Clemenceau, Woodrow Wilson)
Map of the World with the Participants in World War I. The Allies are depicted in green, the Central Powers in orange, and neutral countries in grey.
Paris Peace Conference, Greek and French proposals
December 4, 1918, the proposed Armenian state to Paris Peace Conference, 1919[1]

The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for Germany and other defeated nations, and to deal with the empires of the defeated powers following the Armistice of 1918. It took place in Paris in 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 30 countries. They met, discussed and came up with a series of treaties (Peace of Paris Treaties) that reshaped the map of Europe and the world, and imposed guilt and stiff financial penalties on Germany. At its center were the leaders of the three "Great Powers": President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain , and Georges Clemenceau of France. Germany and Russia were not invited to attend, but numerous other nations did send delegations, each with a different agenda. Kings, prime ministers and foreign ministers with their crowds of advisers rubbed shoulders with journalists and lobbyists for a hundred causes, ranging from independence for the countries of the South Caucasus to women's rights. For six months Paris was effectively the center of a world government, as the peacemakers wound up bankrupt empires and created new countries. The most important results included a punitive peace treaty that declared Germany guilty, weakened it militarily, and required it to pay all the costs of the war to the winners. This was known as the War Guilt Clause that was included in the final Treaty of Versailles. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had ceased to exist as its disparate peoples created new states. The Conference also created the League of Nations.

Historians debate whether or not the terms imposed on Germany helped the rise of the Nazis and cause World War II, or whether the terms were the best that could be expected, given the mood of the victors.



The conference opened on 18 January 1919.[2] It came to a close on 21 January 1920 with the inaugural General Assembly of the League of Nations.

The following treaties were prepared at the Paris Peace Conference (with, in parentheses, the affected countries):

The disposition of the lands of the former Ottoman Empire were also considered. These discussions included competing European and American aims generally, and competing nationalist Zionist and Arab claims in Palestine. The latter were conditionally agreed to previously by the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement on 3 January 1919. On 30 January the Conference decided that the Arab provinces should be wholly separated from the Ottoman Empire and the newly conceived mandate-system applied to them. This decision clashed with the expectation of Faisal's Arab delegation that his state would include Palestine, and the conditional understandings reached in the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement.

On 3 February Chaim Weizmann, the leader of the Zionist delegation, presented its case in a Statement, together with a map of the proposed country. The statement supported the creation of a mandate entrusted to Britain, it detailed this affinity and stated the Jewish historical connection with the area. It also declared the Zionist’s proposed borders and resources “essential for the necessary economic foundation of the country” including “the control of its rivers and their headwaters”. It included statements by others.[3] On 6 February, Faysal addressing the Conference noted previous Allied promises, demanded independence of the whole of Arab Asia, and suggested the establishment of a confederation. He stated that the Arabs needed help but not at the price of their independence. Subsequently a dispute between Great Britain and France concerning the geographical area of Syria and the previously secret Sykes-Picot Agreement delayed decision on various claims.[4]

The Paris peace treaties, together with the accords of the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922, laid the foundations for the so-called Versailles-Washington system of international relations. The remaking of the world map at these conferences gave birth to a number of critical conflict-prone international contradictions, which would become one of the causes of World War II.[5]

The decision to create the League of Nations and the approval of its Charter both took place during the conference.

The "Big Four" — Georges Clemenceau, Prime Minister of France; David Lloyd George, Prime Minister of Great Britain; Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States; and Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, Prime Minister of Italy — were the dominant diplomatic figures at the conference. The conclusions of their talks were imposed on the defeated countries.

British approach

The British Air Section at the Conference

Maintenance of the British Empire's unity, holdings and interests were an overarching concern for the British delegates to the conference, but it entered the conference with the more specific goals of:

  • Ensuring the security of France
  • Removing the threat of the German High Seas Fleet
  • Settling territorial contentions
  • Supporting the Wilsonian League of Nations

with that order of priority.

The Racial Equality Proposal put forth by the Japanese did not directly conflict with any of these core British interests. However, as the conference progressed the full implications of the Racial Equality Proposal, regarding immigration to the British Dominions (specifically Australia), would become a major point of contention within the delegation.

Ultimately, Britain did not see the Racial Equality proposal as being one of the fundamental aims of the conference. The delegation was therefore willing to sacrifice this proposal in order to placate the Australian delegation and thus help satisfy its overarching aim of preserving the unity of the British Empire.[6]

Britain also managed to rebuff attempts by the envoys of the newly-proclaimed Irish Republic to put its case to the Conference for self-determination, diplomatic recognition and membership of the proposed League of Nations. The Irish envoys' final "Demand for Recognition" in a letter to Clemenceau, the Chairman, was not replied to.[7] Britain had planned to legislate for two Irish Home Rule states, and did so in 1920.



The Australian delegation. The center is Prime Minister of Australia Billy Hughes

The Australian delegation, led by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, wanted war reparations, annexation of German New Guinea and rejection of the Japanese racial equality proposal. Hughes obtained a class C mandate for New Guinea.

President Wilson asked Hughes if Australia really wanted to flout world opinion by profiting from Germany's defeat and extending its sovereignty as far north as the equator; Hughes famously replied: "That's about the size of it, Mr. President".[8]

Chinese approach

The Chinese delegation was led by Lou Tseng-Tsiang, accompanied by Wellington Koo and Cao Rulin.

Before the Western powers, Koo demanded that Japan return Shandong to China. He further called for an end to imperialist institutions such as extraterritoriality, legation guards, and foreign lease holds. Despite American support and the ostensible spirit of self-determination, the Western powers refused his claims. Thus the Chinese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference was the only one not to sign the Treaty of Versailles at the signing ceremony.

French approach

The French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau's chief goal was to weaken Germany militarily, strategically and economically. Having personally witnessed two German attacks on French soil in the last forty years, he was adamant that Germany should not be permitted to attack France again. In particular, Clemenceau sought an American and British guarantee of French security in the event of another German attack. Clemenceau also expressed skepticism and frustration with Wilson's Fourteen Points: "Mr. Wilson bores me with his fourteen points," complained Clemenceau. "Why, God Almighty has only ten!" Wilson did sign a mutual defense treaty with France, but back in Washington the Senate refused to ratify it.[9]

Another alternative French policy was to seek a rapprochement with Germany. In May 1919 the diplomat René Massigli was sent on several secret missions to Berlin. During his visits Massigli offered on behalf of his government to revise the territorial and economic clauses of the upcoming peace treaty.[10] Massigli spoke of the desirability of “practical, verbal discussions” between French and German officials that would lead to a “collaboration franco-allemand”.[11] Furthermore, Massagli told the Germans that the French thought of the “Anglo-Saxon powers”, namely the United States and British Empire, to be the major threat to France in the post-war world. He argued that both France and Germany had a joint interest in opposing “Anglo-Saxon domination” of the world and warned that the “deepening of opposition” between the French and the Germans “would lead to the ruin of both countries, to the advantage of the Anglo-Saxon powers”.[12] The Germans rejected the French offers because they considered the French overtures to be a trap to trick them into accepting the Versailles treaty “as is” and because the German foreign minister, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau thought that the United States was more likely to reduce the severity of the peace terms than France.[13] In the final event it proved to be Lloyd George who pushed for more favourable terms for Germany.

Italian approach

Italy had been persuaded first to join the Triple Alliance and then to join the Allies in order to gain land. In the Treaty of London, they had been offered the Trentino and the Tyrol as far as Brenner, Trieste and Istria, all the Dalmatian coast except Fiume, full ownership of Albanian Valona and a protectorate over Albania, Antalya in Turkey and a share of Turkish and German Empires in Africa.

Vittorio Orlando was sent as the Italian representative with the aim of gaining these and as much other territory as possible. The loss of 700,000 Italians and a budget deficit of 12,000,000,000 Lire during the war made the Italian government and people feel entitled to these territories. There was an especially strong opinion for control of Fiume, which they believed was rightly Italian due to the Italian population.

Nevertheless, by the end of the war the allies had made contradictory agreements with other nations, especially in Central Europe and the Middle-East. In the meetings of the "Big Four," in which Orlando's powers of diplomacy were inhibited by his lack of English, the Great powers were only willing to offer Trentino to the Brenner, the Dalmatian port of Zara, the Island of Lagosta and a couple of small German colonies. All other territories were promised to other nations and the great powers were worried about Italy's imperial ambitions. As a result of this, Orlando left the conference in a rage (Jackson, 1938).

Japanese approach

The Japanese delegation was headed by Prince Saionji Kinmochi (former Prime Minister), with Baron Makino Nobuaki (fomer Foreign Minister), Viscount Chinda Sutemi (ambassador in London), Matsui Keishiro (ambassador in Paris) and Ijuin Hikokichi (ja)(ambassador in Rome) and others making a total of 64. Neither Hara Takashi (Prime Minister) nor Yasuya Uchida (Foreign Minister) prioritised travelling so far away from Japan so shortly after their election. The delegation focused on two demands: (a) the inclusion of their racial equality proposal and (b) territorial claims for the former German colonies; Shandong (including Jiaozhou Bay) and the Pacific islands north of the Equator i.e., the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Mariana Islands, and the Carolines. Makino was de facto chief as Saionji's role was symbolic, limited by ill health. The Japanese delegation became unhappy after receiving only one-half of the rights of Germany, and walked out of the conference.

The racial equality proposal

Japan proposed a "racial equality clause" in the Covenant of the League of Nations on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21:

The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.

On April 11, 1919, the commission held a final session and the proposal received a majority vote, with Britain opposition. [14]

The chairman, President Wilson, overturned it saying that although the proposal had been approved by a clear majority, that in this particular matter, strong opposition had manifested itself, and that on this issue a unanimous vote would be required. This strong opposition came from the British delegation because it contradicted Australia's White Australia Policy. The Australians had lobbied successfully for Britain to block the proposal. The defeat helped turn Japan away from cooperation with West and toward nationalistic policies.[15]

Territorial claims

The Japanese claim to Shandong was disputed by the Chinese. In 1914 at the outset of First World War Japan had seized the territory granted to Germany in 1897. They also seized the German islands in the Pacific north of the equator. In 1917, Japan had made secret agreements with Britain, France and Italy as regards their annexation of these territories. With Britain, there was a mutual agreement, Japan also agreeing to support British annexation of the Pacific islands south of the equator. Despite a generally pro-Chinese view on behalf of the American delegation, Article 156 of the Treaty of Versailles transferred German concessions in Shandong, China to Japan rather than returning sovereign authority to China. The leader of the Chinese delegation, Lu Zhengxiang, demanded that a reservation be inserted before he would sign the treaty. The reservation was denied, and the treaty was signed by all the delegations except that of China. Chinese outrage over this provision led to demonstrations known as the May Fourth Movement. The Pacific islands north of the equator became a class C mandate administered by Japan.

American approach

Prior to Wilson's arrival in Europe, no American President had ever visited Europe while in office.[16] Wilson's Fourteen Points, of a year earlier, had helped win the hearts and minds of many as the war ended; these included Americans and Europeans generally, as well as Germany, its allies and the former subjects of the Ottoman Empire specifically. Wilson's diplomacy and his Fourteen Points had essentially established the conditions for the armistices that had brought an end to World War I. Wilson felt it was his duty and obligation to the people of the world to be a prominent figure at the peace negotiations. High hopes and expectations were placed on him to deliver what he had promised for the post-war era. In doing so, Wilson ultimately began to lead the foreign policy of the United States toward interventionism, a move strongly resisted in some domestic circles.

Once Wilson arrived, however, he found “rivalries, and conflicting claims previously submerged.”[4] He worked mostly trying to sway the direction that the French (Georges Clemenceau) and British (Lloyd George) delegations were taking towards Germany and its allies in Europe, as well as the former Ottoman lands in the Middle East. Wilson's attempts to gain acceptance of his Fourteen Points ultimately failed, after France and Britain refused to adopt some specific points and its core principles.

In Europe, several of his Fourteen Points conflicted with the other powers. The United States did not encourage nor believe that the Article 231 placed on Germany was fair or warranted.[17] It would not be until 1921, when the United States finally signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary.

In the Middle East, negotiations were complicated by competing aims, claims, and the new mandate system. The United States hoped to establish a more liberal and diplomatic world, as stated in the Fourteen Points, where democracy, sovereignty, liberty and self-determination would be respected. France and Britain, on the other hand, already controlled empires, wielded power over their subjects around the world, and still aspired to be dominant colonial powers.

In light of the previously secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, and following the adoption of the mandate system on the Arab province of the former Ottoman lands, the conference heard statements from competing Zionist and Arab claimants. President Woodrow Wilson then recommended an international commission of inquiry to ascertain the wishes of the local inhabitants. The Commission idea, first accepted by Great Britain and France, was later rejected. Eventually it became the purely American King-Crane Commission, which toured all Syria and Palestine during the summer of 1919, taking statements and sampling opinion.[4] Its report, presented to President Wilson, was kept secret from the public until the New York Times broke the story in December 1922.[18] A pro-Zionist joint resolution on Palestine was passed by Congress in September 1922.[19]

France and Britain tried to appease the American President by consenting to the establishment of his League of Nations. However, because isolationist sentiment was strong and some of the articles in the League's charter conflicted with the United States Constitution, the United States never did ratify the Treaty of Versailles nor join the League of Nations,[20] which President Wilson had helped create, to further peace through diplomacy rather than war and conditions which can breed it.

Under President Warren Harding in 1921 the United States signed separate treaties with Germany,[21] Austria,[22] and Hungary[23] in 1921.

Other issues


Ukraine had its best opportunity to win recognition and support from foreign powers at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. At a meeting of the Big Five on 16 January, British prime minister David Lloyd George called Ukrainian leader Symon Petliura (1874-1926) an adventurer and dismissed Ukraine as an anti-Bolshevik stronghold. Sir Eyre Crowe, British undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, spoke against a union of East Galicia and Poland. The British cabinet never decided whether to support a united or dismembered Russia. The United States was sympathetic to a strong, united Russia as a counterpoise to Japan, but Britain feared a threat to India. Petliura appointed Count Tyshkevich his representative to the Vatican, and Pope Benedict XV recognized Ukrainian independence.[24]


The Zionist Organization submitted their draft resolutions for consideration by the Peace Conference on February 3, 1919. This shortly followed the Conference's decision that the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire should be separated from it and the newly conceived mandate-system applied to them.

The statement included five main points:[25]

  • Recognition of the Jewish people's historic title to Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home in Palestine.
  • The boundaries of Palestine were to be declared as set out in an attached Schedule.
  • The sovereign possession of Palestine would be vested in the League of Nations and the Government entrusted to Great Britain as Mandatory of the League.
  • Other provisions to be inserted by the High Contracting Parties relating to the application of any general conditions attached to mandates, which are suitable to the case in Palestine.
  • The mandate shall be subject also to several noted special conditions, including the provision relating to the control of the Holy Places.

See also


  1. ^ "Asia: Journal of the American Asiatic Association" ,1919, Published by Asia Pub. Co., Volume.19 page 327
  2. ^ Kaufman, Will; Macpherson, Heidi Slettedahl (2007). Britain and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History. ABC-CLIO. pp. 696. ISBN 1851094318. 
  3. ^ Zionist Organization Statement on Palestine, Paris Peace Conference, (3 February 1919)
  4. ^ a b c US Dept of State; International Boundary Study, Jordan – Syria Boundary, No. 94 – December 30, 1969, p.10
  5. ^ First World War - Willmott, H. P., Dorling Kindersley, 2003, pp. 292-307.
  6. ^ Shimazu (1998), pp. 14-15, 117.
  7. ^ "Ireland's Demand for Recognition" text, June 1919
  8. ^ Jan Morris Farewell the Trumpets (Penguin, London 1978) p.209.
  9. ^ Lloyd E. Ambrosius, "Wilson, the Republicans, and French Security after World War I," Journal of American History, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Sep., 1972), pp. 341-352 in JSTOR
  10. ^ Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 42.
  11. ^ Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 42.
  12. ^ Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 43.
  13. ^ Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979 page 43.
  14. ^ Paul Gordon Lauren (1988), Power And Prejudice: The Politics And Diplomacy Of Racial Discrimination Westview Press ISBN 0-8133-0678-7 p.90
  15. ^ MacMillan, Margaret (2003). Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. Random House. p. 321. ISBN 0375760520. 
  16. ^ MacMillan (2001), p. 3.
  17. ^ MacMillan (2001), p. 6.
  18. ^ King and Cranes Long-Hid Report on the Near East
  19. ^ Rubenberg, Cheryl (1986). Israel and the American National Interest: A Critical Examination. University of Illinois Press. pp. 27. ISBN 0-252-06074-1. 
  20. ^ MacMillan (2001), p. 83.
  21. ^ Wikisource
  22. ^ []
  23. ^ []
  24. ^ Natalya Yakovenko, "Ukraine in British Strategies and Concepts of Foreign Policy, 1917-1922 and after," East European Quarterly 2002 36(4): 465-479
  25. ^ Statement of the Zionist Organization regarding Palestine

Further reading

  • Albrecht-Carrie, Rene. Italy at the Paris Peace Conference (1938) online edition
  • Ambrosius, Lloyd E. Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition: The Treaty Fight in Perspective (1990) excerpt and text search
  • Andelman, David A. A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today (2007) popular history that stresses multiple long-term disasters caused by Treaty. excerpt and text search
  • Bailey; Thomas A. Wilson and the Peacemakers: Combining Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace and Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (1947) online edition
  • Birdsall, Paul. Versailles twenty years after (1941) well balanced older account
  • Boemeke, Manfred F., et al, eds. The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years (1998). major collection of important papers by scholars excerpt and text search
  • Clements, Kendrick, A. Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman (1999) excerpt and text search
  • Cooper, John Milton. Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations (2001) 454pp excerpt and text search
  • Dillon, Emile Joseph. The Inside Story of the Peace Conference, (1920)
  • Henig, Ruth. Versailles and After: 1919-1933 (2nd ed. 1995), 100 pages; brief introduction by scholar excerpt and text search
  • Keynes, John Maynard, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1920) famous criticism by leading economist full text online
  • Knock, Thomas J. To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Lederer, Ivo J. The Versailles Settlement--Was It Foredoomed to Failure? (1960) excerpts from scholars online edition
  • Lentin, Antony. Lloyd George and the Lost Peace: From Versailles to Hitler, 1919-1940 (2004)
  • Lentin, Antony. Guilt at Versailles: Lloyd George and the Pre-history of Appeasement (1985)
  • Macmillan, Margaret. Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War (2002), also published as Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (2003); highly influential study excerpt and text search
  • Marks, Sally. The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe 1918-1933 (2nd ed. 2003)
  • Mayer, Arno J., Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking: Containment and Counter-revolution at Versailles, 1918-1919 (1967), leftist
  • Newton, Douglas. British Policy and the Weimar Republic, 1918-1919 (1997). 484 pgs.
  • Schwabe, Klaus. Woodrow Wilson, Revolutionary Germany, and Peacemaking, 1918-1919: Missionary Diplomacy and the Realities of Power (1985) online edition
  • Sharp, Alan. The Versailles Settlement: Peacemaking after the First World War, 1919-1923 (2nd ed. 2008)
  • Sharp, Alan. "The Enforcement Of The Treaty Of Versailles, 1919-1923," Diplomacy and Statecraft 2005 16(3): 423-438
  • Naoko Shimazu (1998), Japan, Race and Equality, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-17207-1
  • Steiner, Zara. The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919-1933 (Oxford History of Modern Europe) (2007), major scholarly work excerpt and text search
  • Trachtenberg, Marc “Reparations at the Paris Peace Conference” pages 24-55 from The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979.
  • Walworth, Arthur. Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 (1986) 618pp online edition
  • Watson, David Robin. Georges Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1976) 463 pgs. online edition

External links


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