On this day in 1918, President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech to the United States Congress, outlining “Fourteen Points” that he believed would lead to lasting peace between nations. Like FDR’s Four Freedoms speech, Wilson’s Fourteen Points speech concerns global security and reflects the ideology of an American president during a World War.
At the time of Wilson’s speech, America was currently involved in World War I, fighting on the side of the Entente Powers, or Allies (namely Britain and France), against the Central Powers (namely Germany).
I won’t go through all of his fourteen points, but here are the highlights:
- No more secret agreements- If you study the causes of the First World War, you will see how many secret agreements and alliances there were. It is one of the (many) reasons why so many countries became involved in the war.
- Freedom of the seas– America declared war on Germany (even though Wilson really really did not want to get involved in the war) mainly because of Germany’s unrestricted submarine warfare.
- Equal trade between countries– Wilson is saying that a country could impose tariffs on other countries, but this tariff would have to apply to all countries; it could not discriminate among countries.
- Reduction of armaments– Wilson’s allies were not too happy about this one. It was easy for the United States- a rising world power isolated from Europe- to ask countries to reduce armaments. But what about France, who shared a border with Germany and kept getting invaded by them?
- Objective adjustment of colonial claims– Again, this was easy for the United States to say. They had less of a stake in colonies than their Allied counterparts.
- Various specific suggestions for certain disputed states and territories– Including the self-determination of Belgium, Austria-Hungary, and the Balkan states, among others. Also, he said France should be liberated and given Alsace-Lorraine back. Wilson asked for the creation of an independent Polish state.
And here is Wilson’s crowning glory:
- A League of Nations should be established for the purpose of maintaining peace between all states, big and small– You can think of the League of Nations-which was eventually created- as an early, ineffective United Nations.
Later in November 1918, the war ended with the Armistice with Germany. The Fourteen Points could have even influenced the Germans to surrender, expecting just treatment. However, the Treaty of Versailles, against Wilson’s wishes, was very vindictive, forcing Germany to take responsibility for starting the war and to pay gross reparations.
Some parts of Wilson’s Fourteen Points were included in the Versailles Treaty, including the creation of a League of Nations. However, the Treaty of Versailles was not ratified by the US Senate, and the United States never joined Wilson’s own League of Nations.
Regardless, President Wilson received the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts.