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Fourteen Points

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson

The Fourteen Points was a statement of principles for peace that was to be used for peace negotiations in order to end World War I. The principles were outlined in a January 8, 1918, speech on war aims and peace terms to the United States Congress by President Woodrow Wilson. But his main Allied colleagues (Georges Clemenceau of France, David Lloyd George of the United Kingdom, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy) were skeptical of the applicability of Wilsonian idealism.[1]

The United States had joined the Allied Powers in fighting the Central Powers on April 6, 1917. Its entry into the war had in part been due to Germany's resumption of submarine warfare against merchant ships trading with France and Britain and also the interception of the Zimmermann Telegram. However, Wilson wanted to avoid the United States' involvement in the long-standing European tensions between the great powers; if America was going to fight, he wanted to try to separate that participation in the war from nationalistic disputes or ambitions. The need for moral aims was made more important, when after the fall of the Russian government, the Bolsheviks disclosed secret treaties made between the Allies. Wilson's speech also responded to Vladimir Lenin's Decree on Peace of November 1917, immediately after the October Revolution in 1917.[2]

The speech made by Wilson took many domestic progressive ideas and translated them into foreign policy (free trade, open agreements, democracy and self-determination). Three days earlier United Kingdom Prime Minister Lloyd George had made a speech setting out Britain's war aims which bore some similarity to Wilson's speech but which proposed reparations be paid by the Central Powers and which was more vague in its promises to the non-Turkish subjects of the Ottoman Empire. The Fourteen Points in the speech were based on the research of the Inquiry, a team of about 150 advisers led by foreign-policy adviser Edward M. House, into the topics likely to arise in the anticipated peace conference.

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  • ✪ Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points I THE GREAT WAR WEEK 181
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  • ✪ Wilson's 14 Points & League of Nations Explained


1917 is over but the war is not. But even as nations plan huge new offensives in the field to hopefully make such an end a reality, one man alone is putting into words his specific hopes for a postwar world, Woodrow Wilson I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week, the Italians pushed the Austrians back at the Piave River, and the British advanced from Jerusalem in the Middle East. Russia had left the war and was negotiating peace with the Central Powers, but Civil War had broken out in the former Russian Empire, with many regions declaring independence, and the Soviet army occupying Kharkov. Here’s what followed. There were developments in the ongoing Russian peace process. On the 7th, Leon Trotsky and other Russian delegates return to Brest-Litovsk for more negotiating after a holiday break. Trotsky was now there to hopefully prevent Central powers demands for huge chunks of Russian territory with the threat of world revolution and specifically revolution within Germany. On the 5th, the Ottomans communicated their peace terms to Russia - these include total Russian demobilization and disarmament, and the annulment of treaties relating to Persia. The Ottomans would remain armed and mobilized and were intent on recovering lands in eastern Anatolia lost to Russia in 1878. That sort of clashed with something that was going on in the US this week. President Woodrow Wilson made a speech to Congress outlining his 14 points for peace on the 8th. This was a statement of principles that would hopefully guide peace negotiations to end the war. The points were: 1. open diplomacy with no private international understandings 2. freedom of the seas 3. removal of economic barriers and equality of trade 4. reduction of armaments to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety 5. colonial claims to be adjusted and “the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.” 6. evacuation of Russian territory and development assistance there 7. evacuation and restoration of Belgium 8. French territory evacuated and the “wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871” over Alsace-Lorraine be righted 9. Italian border readjusted by nationality, giving Italy the Austrian South Tyrol. 10. Austro-Hungarian peoples’ allowed autonomous development 11. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro evacuated and Serbia given access to the sea. 12. Non-Ottoman nationalities in the Ottoman Empire to have autonomous development, and the Dardanelles permanently opened for free commercial passage 13. formation of an Independent Poland with access to the sea 14. a General Association of Nations with mutual guarantees of independence and integrity must be formed. A lot of this doesn’t go as far as you might think on the surface. For example, the peoples of Austria-Hungary would not be given independence, but rather “the freest of autonomous development”. There was no encouragement for a state for the Southern Slavs. Austria-Hungary would have to evacuate Serbia and Montenegro, sure, but there’s no mention at all of Croats and Slovenes. It was pretty well received in Europe, but Wilson’s allies were somewhat skeptical of what they saw as Wilson’s idealism. But there was a real race for national patronage going on, and new nations were emerging all the time. Latvia declared its separation from Russia January 9th, and on the 13th, in revolutionary decree number 13, Lenin and Stalin announced support for Armenian self-determination. Let’s look at the Caucasus Front and those Armenians for a minute. The stability of that front had pretty much disappeared after the October Russian revolution. The Russian General Headquarters there was still functional in Erzurum, but General Przevalski was pretty worried about a possible Ottoman offensive in the area. The Baku oilfields were a tempting target. The Russian staff couldn’t really organize a true defense with large parts of the army just leaving and going home, so they would have to rely on national formations. A Transcaucasian Federation was set up and had the nucleus of three states that would one day be independent, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Now, this federation did not recognize the Soviet government in Russia, but had yet to officially secede from Russia. But the three national groups had different interests. The Tartars of Azerbaijan were happy to base future hopes on Turkish friendship, the Georgians were hesitant about that, and the Armenians weren’t down with that at all and were seriously dismayed. They were Christian, strongly pro-Ally, pro-Russia and tried to develop a national army with the help of Russian Caucasus HQ. By now, it was two divisions of Armenian rifles, three brigades of volunteers, a cavalry brigade, and some militia. Each division was four regiments strong and each regiment was three battalions. The volunteer brigades were four battalions each, and the cavalry was two regiments. The rifle divisions were made up of men from the Armenian Druzhiny battalions, who had seen serious action from 1914-1916. They were bolstered by Armenians from different units of General Nikolai Yudenich’s former army - he had retired before the October revolution - who had decided to join their compatriots. The volunteers, though, were natives of Ottoman Armenia who joined the national army on the spot in places like Erzurum and Van. The army had plenty of good equipment, scavenged from the rear of Yudenich’s disintegrating army, and the infantry was well-stocked with machine guns. The artillery could have been stronger, though some of that was down to a lack of trained gunners. The Armenian national army numbered around 16,000 infantry, 1,000 cavalry, and 4,000 militia. Ottoman Minister of War Enver Pasha saw the Russian revolution as a sign for the realization of his ambitions to the east and expansion here might make up for the loss or impending loss of Ottoman Arab provinces to the British. That’s why the Third Army under Vehip Pasha had been reserved and despite the need for reinforcements against the British, had been earmarked for a Caucasus adventure. It held the front between Tirebolu on the Black Sea and Kemah, on a branch of the Euphrates River. Including auxiliary troops, Vehip had nearly 50,000 men and 160 guns, including Austrian and German howitzers. He began to plan his offensive, which would soon begin. He wasn’t the only one making plans for an offensive, though. His ally Germany was doing the same. German Quartermaster General Erich Ludendorff wrote to Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg on the 7th (Keegan), “The proposed new offensive should... lead to the decisive success for which we hope... we shall (then) be in a position to lay down such conditions for peace with the Western Powers as are required by the security of our frontiers, our economic interests, and our international position after the war.” Some of these conditions may well be the control of Belgian industrial economy and incorporating France’s coal and iron belt into the Ruhr. For the Germans, time was of the essence. They had a window of opportunity between bringing men from eastern front to western, now that Russia had left the war, and the arrival of the Americans in force in Europe by the summer. Peter Hart wrote, “They had six months to change the course of the war. This would be the narrative that drove events in 1918. Nothing else would matter. All the specious dreams woven by the “Easterners”, the campaigns in Mesopotamia, Salonika, Palestine, and East Africa were now being seen for what they were- a waste of military resources. The war would after all be decided on the Western Front.” Ludendorff had his gang making plans for possible offensives all along the front, with names like GEORG, MARS, and MICHAEL. But wherever the attack would come, it would begin with short, violent, surprise artillery preparations of the type advocated by expert Georg Bruchmuller. It would also feature the infiltration tactics refined by Oskar von Hutier. In fact, a few weeks ago, Hutier’s 18th Army had been inserted into the line from St. Quentin to the Oise River, and Bruchmuller and his staff had been assigned to that 18th army. And the first full week of 1918 comes to an end, and as it does comes the results of the second Australian referendum on conscription, with a majority voting against it of 165,000. The Ottomans and the Germans are making plans for new offensive action, even as they continue to make peace with Russia. And Woodrow Wilson makes one of the most famous speeches of the early 20th century. Let’s not forget that. Which took a bunch of domestic progressive ideas like free trade and open agreements, and applied them on an international level. Was it idealistic, as Allied Prime Ministers claimed? I suppose so, but so what? I mean, other warring nations had given general notice of their postwar goals, but this was the only explicit statement of war aims by any allied nation. And they were, in fact, aims of a moral nature, as opposed to the nationalistic ambitions that had started the war in the first place. So as 1918 begins, after three and a half years of blood and carnage, maybe some good old fashioned moral idealism is just what the world needs. If you want to learn more about Woodrow Wilson - definitely a controversial and complex figure, you can click right here for our bio episode. Our Patreon supporter is Timo Tahvanainen - because of your Patreon support, 2017 was a great year for our show and if you decide to support us in 2018, we will make it even better. Don’t forget to subscribe, see you next time.



Original Fourteen Points speech, January 8, 1918.

The immediate cause of the United States' entry into World War I in April 1917 was the German announcement of renewed unrestricted submarine warfare and the subsequent sinking of ships with Americans on board. But President Wilson's war aims went beyond the defense of maritime interests. In his War Message to Congress, Wilson declared that the United States' objective was "to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world." In several speeches earlier in the year, Wilson sketched out his vision of an end to the war that would bring a "just and secure peace," not merely "a new balance of power."[3]

President Wilson subsequently initiated a secret series of studies named the Inquiry, primarily focused on Europe, and carried out by a group in New York which included geographers, historians and political scientists; the group was directed by Colonel House.[4] Their job was to study Allied and American policy in virtually every region of the globe and analyze economic, social, and political facts likely to come up in discussions during the peace conference.[5] The group produced and collected nearly 2,000 separate reports and documents plus at least 1,200 maps.[5] The studies culminated in a speech by Wilson to Congress on January 8, 1918, wherein he articulated America's long-term war objectives. The speech was the clearest expression of intention made by any of the belligerent nations, and it projected Wilson's progressive domestic policies into the international arena.[4]


The speech, known as the Fourteen Points, was developed from a set of diplomatic points by Wilson[6] and territorial points drafted by the Inquiry's general secretary, Walter Lippmann, and his colleagues, Isaiah Bowman, Sidney Mezes, and David Hunter Miller.[7] Lippmann's draft territorial points were a direct response to the secret treaties of the European Allies, which Lippmann had been shown by Secretary of War Newton D. Baker.[7] Lippmann's task according to House was "to take the secret treaties, analyze the parts which were tolerable, and separate them from those which we regarded as intolerable, and then develop a position which conceded as much to the Allies as it could, but took away the poison. ... It was all keyed upon the secret treaties."[7]

In the speech, Wilson directly addressed what he perceived as the causes for the world war by calling for the abolition of secret treaties, a reduction in armaments, an adjustment in colonial claims in the interests of both native peoples and colonists, and freedom of the seas.[5] Wilson also made proposals that would ensure world peace in the future. For example, he proposed the removal of economic barriers between nations, the promise of self-determination for national minorities,[5] and a world organization that would guarantee the "political independence and territorial integrity [of] great and small states alike"—a League of Nations.[3]

Though Wilson's idealism pervades the Fourteen Points, he also had more practical objectives in mind. He hoped to keep Russia in the war by convincing the Bolsheviks that they would receive a better peace from the Allies, to bolster Allied morale, and to undermine German war support. The address was well received in the United States and Allied nations, and even by Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, as a landmark of enlightenment in international relations. Wilson subsequently used the Fourteen Points as the basis for negotiating the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war.[3]

The Fourteen Points

Wilson's Fourteen Points as the only way to peace for German government, American political cartoon, 1918.
Wilson's Fourteen Points as the only way to peace for German government, American political cartoon, 1918.

In his speech to Congress, President Wilson declared fourteen points which he regarded as the only possible basis of an enduring peace. They were according to him:[8]

I. 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.

II. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.

III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.

IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.

V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable government whose title is to be determined.

Territorial issues

Map of Wilsonian Armenia. The borders decision was made by Wilson
Map of Wilsonian Armenia. The borders decision was made by Wilson

VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.

VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of international law is forever impaired.

VIII. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.

IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

X. The people of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.

XI. Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.

XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development, and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.

XIII. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.

League of Nations

XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.


Reaction by the Allied Powers

Wilson with his 14 points choosing between competing claims. Babies represent claims of the British, French, Italians, Polish, Russians, and enemy. American political cartoon, 1919.
Wilson with his 14 points choosing between competing claims. Babies represent claims of the British, French, Italians, Polish, Russians, and enemy. American political cartoon, 1919.

President Wilson at first considered abandoning his speech after Lloyd George delivered a speech outlining British war aims, many of which were similar to Wilson's aspirations, at Caxton Hall on January 5, 1918. Lloyd George stated that he had consulted leaders of "the Great Dominions overseas" before making his speech, so it would appear Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Newfoundland were in broad agreement.[9] Wilson was persuaded by his adviser Colonel House to go ahead, and his speech overshadowed Lloyd George's, and is better remembered by posterity.[10]

The speech was made without prior coordination or consultation with Wilson's counterparts in Europe. Clemenceau, upon hearing of the Fourteen Points, was said to have sarcastically proclaimed The good Lord only had ten! (Le bon Dieu n'en avait que dix !). As a major public statement of war aims, it became the basis for the terms of the German surrender at the end of the First World War. After the speech, Colonel House worked to secure the acceptance of the Fourteen Points by Entente leaders. On October 16, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson and Sir William Wiseman, the head of British intelligence in America, had an interview. This interview was one reason why the German government accepted the Fourteen Points and the stated principles for peace negotiations.[citation needed]

The report was made as negotiation points, and later the Fourteen Points were accepted by France and Italy on November 1, 1918. Britain later signed off on all of the points except the freedom of the seas.[11] The United Kingdom also wanted Germany to make reparation payments for the war, and thought that should be added to the Fourteen Points. 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.[12]

Reaction by the Central Powers

The speech was widely disseminated as an instrument of Allied propaganda and was translated into many languages for global dissemination.[13] Copies were also dropped behind German lines, to encourage the Central Powers to surrender in the expectation of a just settlement.[5] Indeed, in 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.[14]

Reaction in America

Theodore Roosevelt, in an article "The League of Nations" published by Metropolitan Magazine (January 1919), warned: "If the League of Nations is built on a document as high-sounding and as meaningless as the speech in which Mr. Wilson laid down his fourteen points, it will simply add one more scrap to the diplomatic waste paper basket. Most of these fourteen points ... would be interpreted ... to mean anything or nothing."[15]

Senator William Borah after 1918 wished "this treacherous and treasonable scheme" of the League of Nations to be "buried in hell" and promised that if he had his way it would be "20,000 leagues under the sea".[16]

Wilson's speech vs. Treaty of Versailles

President Wilson became physically ill 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, was seen by the Germans as assigning full responsibility for the war and its damages on Germany; however, the same clause was included in all peace treaties and historian Sally Marks has noted that only German diplomats saw it as assigning responsibility for the war. The Allies would initially assess 269 billion marks in reparations. In 1921, this figure was established at 192 billion marks. However, only a fraction of this total had to be paid. The figure was designed to look imposing and show the public that Germany was being punished, while it also recognized what Germany could not realistically pay. Germany's ability and willingness to pay that sum continues to be a topic of debate among historians.[17][18] Germany was also denied an air force, and the German army was not to exceed 100,000 men.

The text of the Fourteen Points had been widely distributed in Germany as propaganda prior to the end of the war, and was well known by the Germans. The differences between this document and the final Treaty of Versailles fueled great anger in Germany.[19] German outrage over reparations and the War Guilt Clause is viewed as a likely contributing factor to the rise of National Socialism. At the end of World War I, foreign armies had only entered Germany's prewar borders twice: the advance of Russian troops into the Eastern border of Prussia, and following the Battle of Mulhouse the settlement of the French army in the Thann valley. This lack of any important Allied incursions contributed to the popularization of the stab-in-the-back myth in Germany after the war.

Nobel Peace Prize

Woodrow Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his peace-making efforts.


  1. ^ Irwin Unger, These United States (2007) 561.
  2. ^ Hannigan, Robert E. (2016-11-11). The Great War and American Foreign Policy, 1914-24. University of Pennsylvania Press. pp. 125–129. ISBN 9780812248593.
  3. ^ a b c "Wilson's Fourteen Points, 1918 - 1914–1920 - Milestones - Office of the Historian". Retrieved 2016-01-02.
  4. ^ a b Heckscher, p. 470.
  5. ^ a b c d e "President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points". Retrieved 2015-12-20.
  6. ^ Grief, Howard (2008-01-01). The Legal Foundation and Borders of Israel Under International Law: A Treatise on Jewish Sovereignty Over the Land of Israel. Mazo Publishers. p. 297. ISBN 9789657344521.
  7. ^ a b c Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House (Yale University Press, 2006), pp. 160-63.
  8. ^ "Avalon Project - President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points". Retrieved 2015-12-20.
  9. ^ "Prime Minister Lloyd George on the British War Aims". The World War I Document Archive. Retrieved 8 January 2018.
  10. ^ Grigg 2002, pp.383-5
  11. ^ Grigg 2002, pp.384
  12. ^ Hakim, Joy (2005). War, Peace, and All That Jazz. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 16–20. ISBN 0195327233.
  13. ^ Heckscher, p. 471.
  14. ^ Heckscher, pp. 479-88.
  15. ^ Cited in Newer Roosevelt Messages, (ed. Griffith, William, New York: The Current Literature Publishing Company 1919). vol III, p 1047.
  16. ^ Cited in Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (Washington: Brookings Institution Press, 2003), p 7.
  17. ^ Markwell, Donald (2006). John Maynard Keynes and International Relations: Economic Paths to War and Peace. Oxford University Press.
  18. ^ Hantke, Max; Spoerer, Mark (2010). "The imposed gift of Versailles: the fiscal effects of restricting the size of Germany's armed forces, 1924–9" (PDF). Economic History Review. 63 (4): 849–864. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0289.2009.00512.x. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-27.
  19. ^ The Concise Encyclopedia of World History (edited by John Bowle), publisher: Hutchinson of London (Great Portland Street) printed by Taylor, Garnett, Evans & co. in 1958, chapter 20 by John Plamenatz (no ISBN available)


External links

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