The Fourteen Points was a speech given by United States President Woodrow Wilson to a joint session of Congress on January 8, 1918. The address was intended to assure the country that the Great War was being fought for a moral cause and for postwar peace in Europe. People in Europe generally welcomed Wilson's intervention, but his Allied colleagues (Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George and Vittorio Emanuele Orlando) were skeptical of the applicability of Wilsonian idealism.
The speech was delivered 10 months before the Armistice with Germany and became the basis for the terms of the German surrender, as negotiated at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The Treaty of Versailles had little to do with the Fourteen Points and was never ratified by the U.S. Senate.
"Colonel" Edward M. House worked to secure the acceptance of the Fourteen Points by Entente Leaders. Sir William Wiseman was the Chief of British Intelligence in 1915. On October 16, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson and William Wiseman sat down for an interview. This interview was one reason why the German government accepted the Fourteen Points and the stated principles for peace negotiations.
The report made as negotiation points, and later the Fourteen Points was accepted by France and Italy on November 1, 1918. Britain later signed off on all of the points except the freedom of the seas. The United Kingdom also wanted Germany to make reparation payments for the war, and thought that that should be added to the Fourteen Points.
The U.S. joined the Allies in fighting the Central Powers on April 6, 1917. The Fourteen Points in the speech were based on the research of the Inquiry, a team of about 150 advisors led by foreign-policy advisor Edward M. House into the topics likely to arise in the anticipated peace conference. Wilson's speech on January 8, 1918, took many of the principles of progressivism that had produced domestic reform in the U.S. and translated them into foreign policy (free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination). The Fourteen Points speech was the only explicit statement of war aims by any of the nations fighting in World War I. Some belligerents gave general indications of their aims, but most kept their post-war goals private.
The speech also responded to Vladimir Lenin's Decree on Peace of October 1917, which proposed an immediate withdrawal of Russia from the war, calling for a just and democratic peace that was not compromised by territorial annexations, and led to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918.
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The speech was widely disseminated as an instrument of propaganda to encourage the Allies to victory. Copies were also dropped behind German lines, to encourage the Central Powers to surrender in the expectation of a just settlement. Indeed, a note sent to Wilson by Prince Maximilian of Baden, the German imperial chancellor, in October 1918 requested an immediate armistice and peace negotiations on the basis of the Fourteen Points.
The speech was made without prior coordination or consultation with Wilson's counterparts in Europe. As the only public statement of war aims, it became the basis for the terms of the German surrender at the end of the First World War.
President Wilson became sick at the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference, giving way to French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau to advance demands substantially different from Wilson's Fourteen Points. Clemenceau viewed Germany as having unfairly attained an economic victory over France, due to the heavy damage German forces dealt to France's industries even during the German retreat, and expressed dissatisfaction with France's allies at the peace conference.
Notably, Article 231 of the Treaty of Versailles, which would become known as the War Guilt Clause, assigned full responsibility for the war and its damages to Germany. The allies would initially assess 269 billion German gold marks in reparations, the equivalent of nearly 100,000 metric tonnes of gold. Germany's ability and willingness to pay that sum continue to be a topic of debate among historians.
Germany was also denied an air force, and the German army was not to exceed 100,000 men.
The differences between the Fourteen Points, which had been widely distributed in Germany as propaganda prior to the end of the war, and the final Treaty of Versailles, led to great anger in Germany. German outrage over reparations and the War Guilt Clause is viewed as a likely contributing factor to the rise of national socialism.
As of the last day of World War I (November 11 at 11:00 am), there had only been a single battle on German soil (maps of 1914), and this was in late August 1914, when two Russian armies had failed to conquer East Prussia. This made the final treaty even more suspect for many Germans.
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