The Paris Peace Conference opened on January 18, 1919. Its task was the writing of five separate peace treaties with the defeated separate powers: Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria, and Hungary (now separate nations). The defeated Central Powers were not allowed to participate in the negotiations. The terms would be dictated to them. Russia was also not allowed to come. The world had been remade. Clemenceau, Lloyd George, and Wilson faced a daunting task. Even as they and all the other delegates sat down to their deliberations, borders and governments were being decided in tumult, anarchy, and armed conflict. Most of the crowned heads of Europe had been deposed. The Czar and his family had been murdered. The Kaiser was in exile in the Netherlands. Bavarian king Ludwig III had given way to a socialist revolt. Austria and Hungary had declared themselves republics, making Charles I an emperor without an empire (he would eventually go into exile in Switzerland, and later Madeira). The states of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland were reemerging from the past. Communist red flags popped up, however briefly, at points in the heart of Europe. German mercenary armies, the Freikorps, fought Bolsheviks in Germany, saving the secular, socialist Weimar Republic—and even tried to annex the Baltic States, in secular emulation of the Teutonic Knights.
- The Paris Peace conference opened on January 18, 1919. Its task was the writing of five separate peace treaties with the defeated separate powers: Germany, Turkey, Bulgaria, Austria, and Hungary (now separate nations).
- 27 nations participated, and 10,000 people attended.
- The defeated Central Powers were not allowed to participate in the negotiations. The terms would be dictated to them. Russia was also not allowed to come.
- The proceedings were dominated by the “Big Four:” France, Britain, the United States, and Italy.
- France was led by PM Clemenceau. He negotiated with a stubborn dedication to defend French interests and to obtain French security for the future.
- Britain was led by PM Lloyd George. He tried to compromise when possible, but he also was determined to primarily defend his nation’s interest.
- Italy was represented by PM Vittorio Orlando. He was frustrated by his fellow Allies’ lack of interest in getting Adriatic ports for Italy, and so he stormed out of the negotiations on April 4. This reduced the Big Four to the Big Three.
- The US was represented primarily by President Wilson. He wanted to bring about a new international order along idealistic lines. He was enthusiastically greeted by Europeans (including 2 million French people). Many Europeans called for a “Wilson Peace.” He promoted his 14 Points and the League of Nations.
Time was crucial. The military situation was changing, and the negotiators were constantly being lobbied by people from many nations, trying to get their demands met.
- The Terms of the Versailles Treaty
The treaty had 440 articles, but here are the most important:
Germany would lose all of its colonies and about 13% of its prewar European territory (with 10% of its population). Lost territories included Alsace and Lorraine, lands near Belgium and Denmark, and eastern territories that were awarded to the new state of Poland. Poland had a “corridor” to the Baltic, resulting in part of Germany (East Prussia) being cut off from the rest.
In addition, Germany’s armed forces were to be limited to 100,000 men, and conscription was forbidden. The Rhineland was to be demilitarized, and the west bank of the Rhine would be occupied by the Allies for 15 years. (France had wanted an independent Rhineland state, but this was denied.
Germany was forced to pay war reparations. The sum was later set at 31 billion dollars in 1921. Wilson was opposed to this idea.
Finally, Germany was given commercial limitations. For example, they could not use the terms “Cognac” and “Champagne” for their products.”
Article 231 (later called the “War Guilt Clause”) required Germany to accept blame for the war.
Germany had to accept the terms before the blockade would be lifted.
German reaction to the treaty was one of shock, followed by outrage. Germans called it a “Dictated Peace.” The war guilt clause was especially offensive. However, the terms were not as tough as the terms that Germany dictated to Russia at Brest-Litovsk.
Germany signed the treaty on June 28, 1919 – exactly 5 years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It was signed in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. (This was where the formation of the German Empire had been declared in 1871).
Clemenceau shouted “Bring the Germans in!” The German representatives brought their own pens so they wouldn’t have to use pens provided by the Allies.
- Other Treaties
- The Treaty of Saint-Germain (Austria, Sept. 10, 1919): ceded territory to neighboring states and also forbade Austria from joining with Germany.
- The Treaty of Trianon (Hungary, June 4, 1920): Hungary gave up great amounts of territory to Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Romania. Hungary’s response was the slogan “No, no, never!”
- Treaty of Neuilly (Bulgaria, Nov 27, 1919) reduced the size of Bulgaria. Bulgaria ceded its Aegean coastline to Greece, ceded nearly all of its Macedonian territory to the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and had to give Dobruja back to Romania. The country had to reduce its army to no more than 22,000 men and pay reparations exceeding $400 million Bulgarians call it the “Second National Catastrophe.”
- Treaty of Sevres (Turkey, August 10, 1920) dismembered the empire. Turkey lost its Middle Eastern territory to Britain and France and lost land to Greece and Italy. This treaty was not ratified by Turkey, but most of its provisions were enforced by the Allies.
- The League of Nations
- Began its existence in Geneva in January of 1920.
- Failed in the end, because it did not have the power to enforce its decisions.
- The US and the Soviet Union did not join. The US rejected the Versailles Treaty. This is partly because Wilson would not compromise on the structure of the League. Also, the Senate was concerned about surrendering US sovereignty.
- Wilson traveled the US, campaigning for the League, wearing himself out and ultimately falling victim to a stroke.
- Now the treaty had to be enforced. France felt it was “holding the tail of the tiger.”
- Wilson, for his idealism, was considered a hero by many in Europe (especially the Czechs).
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