Paris Peace Conference, 1919

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The Paris Peace Conference, also known as the Versailles Peace Conference, was the meeting in 1919 of the victorious Allied Powers following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers.

Allies of World War I group of countries that fought against the Central Powers in World War I

The Allies of World War I or Entente Powers were the coalition that opposed the Central Powers of Germany, Austria–Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria during the First World War (1914–1918).

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as, "the war to end all wars," it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Central Powers group of countries defeated in World War I

The Central Powers, consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria—hence also known as the Quadruple Alliance —was one of the two main coalitions that fought World War I (1914–18).


The conference involved diplomats from 32 countries and nationalities, and its major decisions were the creation of the League of Nations, as well as the five peace treaties with the defeated states; the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as "mandates", chiefly to Britain and France; the imposition of reparations upon Germany; and the drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect ethnic boundaries.

League of Nations 20th-century intergovernmental organisation, predecessor to the United Nations

The League of Nations, abbreviated as LN or LoN, was an intergovernmental organisation founded on 10 January 1920 as a result of the Paris Peace Conference that ended the First World War. It was the first worldwide intergovernmental organisation whose principal mission was to maintain world peace. Its primary goals, as stated in its Covenant, included preventing wars through collective security and disarmament and settling international disputes through negotiation and arbitration. Other issues in this and related treaties included labour conditions, just treatment of native inhabitants, human and drug trafficking, the arms trade, global health, prisoners of war, and protection of minorities in Europe. At its greatest extent from 28 September 1934 to 23 February 1935, it had 58 members.

League of Nations mandate Territories administered by countries on behalf of the League of Nations

A League of Nations mandate was a legal status for certain territories transferred from the control of one country to another following World War I, or the legal instruments that contained the internationally agreed-upon terms for administering the territory on behalf of the League of Nations. These were of the nature of both a treaty and a constitution, which contained minority rights clauses that provided for the rights of petition and adjudication by the International Court.

World War I reparations were war reparations imposed during the Paris Peace Conference upon the Central Powers following their defeat in the First World War by the Allied and Associate Powers. Each of the defeated powers was required to make payments in either cash or kind. Because of the financial situation Austria, Hungary, and Turkey found themselves in after the war, few to no reparations were paid and the requirements for reparations were cancelled. Bulgaria, having paid only a fraction of what was required, saw its reparation figure reduced and then cancelled. Historians have recognized the German requirement to pay reparations as the "chief battleground of the post-war era" and "the focus of the power struggle between France and Germany over whether the Versailles Treaty was to be enforced or revised".

The main result was the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, which in section 231 laid the guilt for the war on "the aggression of Germany and her allies". This provision proved humiliating for Germany and set the stage for the expensive reparations Germany was intended to pay (it paid only a small portion before reparations ended in 1931). The five major powers (France, Britain, Italy, Japan and the United States) controlled the Conference. The "Big Four" were French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, US President Woodrow Wilson, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando. They met informally 145 times and made all the major decisions, which were then ratified. [1] The conference began on 18 January 1919. With respect to its end date, Professor Michael Neiberg has noted:

Treaty of Versailles one of the treaties that ended the First World War

The Treaty of Versailles was the most important of the peace treaties that brought World War I to an end. The Treaty ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in Versailles, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which had directly led to the war. The other Central Powers on the German side signed separate treaties. Although the armistice, signed on 11 November 1918, ended the actual fighting, it took six months of Allied negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference to conclude the peace treaty. The treaty was registered by the Secretariat of the League of Nations on 21 October 1919.

French Third Republic Nation of France from 1870 to 1940

The French Third Republic was the system of government adopted in France from 1870, when the Second French Empire collapsed during the Franco-Prussian War, until 10 July 1940 after France's defeat by Nazi Germany in World War II led to the formation of the Vichy government in France.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Although the senior statesmen stopped working personally on the conference in June 1919, the formal peace process did not really end until July 1923, when the Treaty of Lausanne was signed. [2]

Johannes Bell of Germany is portrayed signing the peace treaties on 28 June 1919 in The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors by Sir William Orpen. William Orpen - The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles 1919, Ausschnitt.jpg
Johannes Bell of Germany is portrayed signing the peace treaties on 28 June 1919 in The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors by Sir William Orpen.

Overview and direct results

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The location of the signing of the five principal treaties within the Île de France region

The Conference formally opened on 18 January 1919 at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris. [3] [4] This date was symbolic, as it was the anniversary of the proclamation of William I as German Emperor in 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles, shortly before the end of the Siege of Paris [5] - a day itself imbued with significance in its turn in Germany as the anniversary of the establishment of the Kingdom of Prussia in 1701. [6] The Delegates from 27 nations (delegates representing 5 nationalities were for the most part ignored) were assigned to 52 commissions, which held 1,646 sessions to prepare reports, with the help of many experts, on topics ranging from prisoners of war to undersea cables, to international aviation, to responsibility for the war. Key recommendations were folded into the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, which had 15 chapters and 440 clauses, as well as treaties for the other defeated nations.

William I, German Emperor 19th-century German Emperor and King of Prussia

William I, of the House of Hohenzollern, was King of Prussia from 2 January 1861 and the first German Emperor from 18 January 1871 to his death, the first Head of State of a united Germany. Under the leadership of William and his Minister President Otto von Bismarck, Prussia achieved the unification of Germany and the establishment of the German Empire. Despite his long support of Bismarck as Minister President, William held strong reservations about some of Bismarck's more reactionary policies, including his anti-Catholicism and tough handling of subordinates. In contrast to the domineering Bismarck, William was described as polite, gentlemanly and, while staunchly conservative, more open to certain classical liberal ideas than his grandson Wilhelm II.

German Emperor Head of state of Germany 1871–1918

The German Emperor was the official title of the head of state and hereditary ruler of the German Empire. A specifically chosen term, it was introduced with the 1 January 1871 constitution and lasted until the official abdication of Wilhelm II on 28 November 1918. The Holy Roman Emperor is sometimes also called "German Emperor" when the historical context is clear, as derived from the Holy Roman Empire's official name of "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" from 1512.

Hall of Mirrors long gallery

The Hall of Mirrors is the central gallery of the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, France. Within the hall, the German Empire was declared in 1871 and the Treaty of Versailles signed by the victorious powers of World War I in 1919.

The five major powers (France, Britain, Italy, the U.S., and Japan) controlled the Conference. Amongst the "Big Five", in practice Japan only sent a former prime minister and played a small role; and the "Big Four" leaders dominated the conference. [7] The four met together informally 145 times and made all the major decisions, which in turn were ratified by other attendees. [1] The open meetings of all the delegations approved the decisions made by the Big Four. The conference came to an end on 21 January 1920 with the inaugural General Assembly of the League of Nations. [8] [9]

Map of the world with the participants in World War I. The Allies and their colonial possessions are depicted in green, the Central Powers and their colonial possessions in orange, and neutral countries in grey. WWI-re.png
Map of the world with the participants in World War I. The Allies and their colonial possessions are depicted in green, the Central Powers and their colonial possessions in orange, and neutral countries in grey.

Five major peace treaties were prepared at the Paris Peace Conference (with, in parentheses, the affected countries):

The major decisions were the establishment of the League of Nations; the five peace treaties with defeated enemies; the awarding of German and Ottoman overseas possessions as "mandates", chiefly to members of the British Empire and to France; reparations imposed on Germany, and the drawing of new national boundaries (sometimes with plebiscites) to better reflect the forces of nationalism. The main result was the Treaty of Versailles, with Germany, which in section 231 laid the guilt for the war on "the aggression of Germany and her allies". This provision proved humiliating for Germany and set the stage for very high reparations Germany was supposed to pay (it paid only a small portion before reparations ended in 1931).

As the conference's decisions were enacted unilaterally, and largely on the whims of the Big Four, for its duration Paris was effectively the center of a world government, which deliberated over and implemented the sweeping changes to the political geography of Europe. Most famously, the Treaty of Versailles itself weakened Germany's military and placed full blame for the war and costly reparations on Germany's shoulders – the humiliation and resentment in Germany is sometimes considered[ by whom? ] one of the causes of Nazi electoral successes and indirectly a cause of World War II. The League of Nations proved controversial in the United States as critics said it subverted the powers of Congress to declare war; the U.S. Senate did not ratify any of the peace treaties and the U.S. never joined the League – instead, the Harding administration of 1921-1923 concluded new treaties with Germany, Austria, and Hungary. Republican Germany was not invited to attend the conference at Versailles. Representatives of White Russia (but not Communist Russia) were present. Numerous other nations did send delegations in order to appeal for various unsuccessful additions to the treaties; parties lobbied for causes ranging from independence for the countries of the South Caucasus to Japan's unsuccessful demand for racial equality amongst the other Great Powers.


A central issue of the Conference was the disposition of the overseas colonies of Germany. (Austria did not have colonies and the Ottoman Empire presented a separate issue.) [10] [11]

The British dominions wanted their reward for their sacrifice. Australia wanted New Guinea, New Zealand wanted Samoa, and South Africa wanted South West Africa (modern Namibia). Wilson wanted the League of Nations to administer all the German colonies until such time as they were ready for independence. Lloyd George realized he needed to support his dominions, and he proposed a compromise that there be three types of mandates. Mandates for the Turkish provinces were one category; they would be divided up between Britain and France.

The League of Nations mandates Map of league of nations mandate.png
The League of Nations mandates

The second category, comprising New Guinea, Samoa, and South West Africa, were located so close to responsible supervisors that the mandates could hardly be given to anyone except Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Finally, the African colonies would need the careful supervision as "Class B" mandates that could only be provided by experienced colonial powers Britain, France, and Belgium; Italy and Portugal received small bits of territory. Wilson and the others finally went along with the solution. [12] The dominions received "Class C Mandates" to the colonies they wanted. Japan obtained mandates over German possessions north of the equator. [13] [14] [15]

Wilson wanted no mandates for the United States; his top advisor Colonel House was deeply involved in awarding the others. [16] Wilson was especially offended by Australian demands. He and Hughes had some memorable clashes, with the most famous being:

Wilson: "But after all, you speak for only five million people."
Hughes: "I represent sixty thousand dead. [While the much larger United States had suffered fewer deaths – 50,000.] [17] "

British approach

The British Air Section at the Conference British Air Section at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.jpg
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:

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 (with Australia taking particular exception), 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. [19]

Although Britain reluctantly consented to the attendance of separate Dominion delegations, the British did manage 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 answered. [20] Britain had planned to legislate for two Irish Home Rule states (without Dominion status), and did so in 1920. In 1919 Irish nationalists were unpopular with the Allies because of the Conscription Crisis of 1918 [ citation needed ].

David Lloyd George commented that he did "not do badly" at the peace conference, "considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon." This was a reference to the very idealistic views of Wilson on the one hand and the stark realism of Clemenceau, who was determined to see Germany punished. [21]

Dominion representation

The Australian delegation. At the center is Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes. Paris 1919 Australian delegation.jpg
The Australian delegation. At the center is Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes.

The Dominion governments were not originally given separate invitations to the conference, but rather were expected to send representatives as part of the British delegation. [22]

Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, its Prime Minister, Sir Robert Borden, demanded that it have a separate seat at the conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by the United States, which saw a dominion delegation as an extra British vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost nearly 60,000 men, a far larger proportion of its men compared to the 50,000 American losses, at least had the right to the representation of a "minor" power. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to accept the presence of delegations from Canada, India, Australia, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South Africa. They also received their own seats in the League of Nations. [23]

Canada, although it too had sacrificed nearly 60,000 men in the war, asked for neither reparations nor mandates. [24]

The Australian delegation, led by the Australian Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, fought hard for its demands: reparations, the annexation of German New Guinea and rejection of the Japanese Racial Equality Proposal. Hughes said that he had no objection to the equality proposal provided it was stated in unambiguous terms that it did not confer any right to enter Australia. Hughes was concerned by the rise of Japan. Within months of the declaration of the War in 1914, Japan, Australia and New Zealand had seized all German possessions in the Far East and Pacific. Though Japan occupied German possessions with the blessings of the British, Hughes was alarmed by this policy. [25]

French approach

Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd George confer at the Paris Peace Conference (Noel Dorville, 1919) Paris Peace Conference.jpg
Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd George confer at the Paris Peace Conference (Noël Dorville, 1919)

The French Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau, controlled his delegation and his chief goal was to weaken Germany militarily, strategically and economically. [26] [27] 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 won a few points by signing a mutual defense treaty with France, but back in Washington he did not present it to the Senate for ratification and it never took effect. [28]

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. [29] Massigli spoke of the desirability of "practical, verbal discussions" between French and German officials that would lead to a "collaboration Franco-allemande". [29] 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". [30]

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. [30] In the final event it proved to be Lloyd George who pushed for more favourable terms for Germany.

Italian approach

From left to right: Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Clemenceau, Lloyd George and the Italians Vittorio Emanuele Orlando and Sidney Sonnino FochClemenceauLloydGerogeOrlandoSonnino28374v.jpg
From left to right: Marshal Ferdinand Foch, Clemenceau, Lloyd George and the Italians Vittorio Emanuele Orlando and Sidney Sonnino

In 1914 Italy remained neutral despite its alliance with Germany and Austria. In 1915 it joined the Allies. It was motivated by gaining the territories promised by the Allies in the secret Treaty of London: the Trentino, the Tyrol as far as Brenner, Trieste and Istria, most of the Dalmatian coast except Fiume, Valona and a protectorate over Albania, Antalya in Turkey and possibly colonies in Africa or Asia.

The Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando tried, therefore, to get full implementation of the Treaty of London, as agreed by France and Great Britain before the war. He had popular support, for the loss of 700,000 soldiers and a budget deficit of 12,000,000,000 Lire during the war made the Italian government and people feel entitled to all these territories and even more not mentioned in the Treaty of London, in particular the city of Fiume, which many Italians believed should be annexed to Italy because of the Italian population. [31]

In the meetings of the "Big Four", in which Orlando's powers of diplomacy were inhibited by his lack of English, the others were only willing to offer Trentino to the Brenner, the Dalmatian port of Zara and some of the Dalmatian islands. All other territories were promised to other nations and the great powers were worried about Italy's imperial ambitions. Even though Italy did get most of its demands, Orlando was refused Fiume, most of Dalmatia and any colonial gain, so he left the conference in a rage. [32]

There was a general disappointment in Italy, which the nationalist and fascist parties used to build the idea that Italy was betrayed by the Allies and refused what was due (Mutilated victory). This led to the general rise of Italian fascism.

American approach

"The Big Four" made all the major decisions at the Paris Peace Conference (from left to right, David Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, Woodrow Wilson of the U.S.). Council of Four Versailles.jpg
"The Big Four" made all the major decisions at the Paris Peace Conference (from left to right, David Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, Woodrow Wilson of the U.S.).

Prior to Wilson's arrival in Europe in December 1918, no American president had ever visited Europe while in office. [33] 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". [34] 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 or believe that the responsibility for the war that Article 231 placed on Germany was fair or warranted. [35] It would not be until 1921 that 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. [34] Its report, presented to President Wilson, was kept secret from the public until The New York Times broke the story in December 1922. [36] A pro-Zionist joint resolution on Palestine was passed by Congress in September 1922. [37]

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 ratified the Treaty of Versailles nor joined the League of Nations, [38] which President Wilson had helped create, to further peace through diplomacy rather than war and conditions which can breed it.

Under President Warren Harding the United States signed separate treaties with Germany, [39] Austria, [40] and Hungary [41] in 1921.

Japanese approach

Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference 1919.jpg
Japanese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919
Japanese delegation at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, with (seated l-to-r) former Foreign Minister Baron Makino Nobuaki, former Prime Minister Marquis Saionji Kinmochi, and the Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain Viscount Chinda Sutemi Japanese peace delegates in 1919 with Makino Nobuaki.jpg
Japanese delegation at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, with (seated l-to-r) former Foreign Minister Baron Makino Nobuaki, former Prime Minister Marquis Saionji Kinmochi, and the Japanese Ambassador to Great Britain Viscount Chinda Sutemi

Japan sent a large delegation headed by the former Prime Minister, Marquis Saionji Kinmochi. It was originally one of the "big five" but relinquished that role because of its slight interest in European affairs. Instead it focused on two demands: the inclusion of their Racial Equality Proposal in the League's Covenant and Japanese territorial claims with respect to former German colonies, namely Shantung (including Kiaochow) and the Pacific islands north of the Equator (the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Mariana Islands, and the Carolines). The former Foreign Minister Baron Makino Nobuaki was de facto chief while Saionji's role was symbolic and limited by his ill health. The Japanese delegation became unhappy after receiving only one-half of the rights of Germany, and walked out of the conference. [42]

Racial equality proposal

Japan proposed the inclusion of a "racial equality clause" in the Covenant of the League of Nations on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21. [43] It read:

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.

President Wilson knew that Great Britain was critical to the decision and he, as Conference chairman, ruled that a unanimous vote was required. On 11 April 1919, the commission held a final session and the proposal received a majority of votes, but Great Britain and Australia opposed it. The Australians had lobbied the British to defend Australia's White Australia policy. Wilson also knew that domestically he needed the support of the US western states who feared Japanese and Chinese immigration and the southern states who feared the rise of their black citizens. [44] The defeat of the proposal influenced Japan's turn from cooperation with the West toward more nationalistic policies. [45]

Territorial claims

The Japanese claim to Shantung was disputed by the Chinese. In 1914 at the outset of World War I 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 that guaranteed 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 Jiaozhou Bay, China to Japan rather than returning sovereign authority to China. The leader of the Chinese delegation, Lou Tseng-Tsiang, 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. [46]

Greek approach

Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos took part in the Paris Peace Conference as Greece's chief representative. President Woodrow Wilson was said to have placed Venizelos first in point of personal ability among all delegates gathered in Paris to settle the terms of Peace. [47]

Venizelos proposed the Greek expansion on Thrace and Asia Minor (lands of the defeated Kingdom of Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire), Northern Epirus, Imvros and Tenedos, aiming to the realization of the Megali Idea . He also reached an agreement with the Italians on the cession of the Dodecanese (Venizelos–Tittoni agreement). For the Greeks of Pontus he proposed a common Pontic-Armenian State.

As a liberal politician, Venizelos was a strong supporter of the Fourteen Points and of the League of Nations.

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 Germany's concessions on Shandong be returned to China. He further called for an end to imperialist institutions such as extraterritoriality, legation guards, and foreign leaseholds. Despite American support and the ostensible spirit of self-determination, the Western powers refused his claims, transferring the German concessions to Japan instead. This sparked widespread student protests in China on 4 May, later known as the May Fourth Movement, eventually pressuring the government into refusing to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Thus the Chinese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference was the only one not to sign the treaty at the signing ceremony. [48]

Questions about independence

All-Russian Government (Whites)

While Russia was formally excluded from the Conference, [49] despite having fought the Central Powers for three years, the Russian Provincial Council (chaired by Prince Lvov [50] ), the successor to the Russian Constituent Assembly and the political arm of the Russian White movement attended the conference. It was represented by the former Tsarist minister Sergey Sazonov [3] who, if the Tsar had not been overthrown, would most likely have attended the conference anyway. The Council maintained the position of an indivisible Russia, but some were prepared to negotiate over the loss of Poland and Finland. [51] The Council suggested all matters relating to territorial claims, or demands for autonomy within the former Russian Empire, be referred to a new All-Russian Constituent Assembly.


Map of Ukraine presented by Ukrainian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, in a bid that was ultimately rejected, leading to the incorporation of Ukraine into the Soviet Union. Note that the Kuban was majority Ukrainian at the time. Map of Ukraine for Paris Peace Conference.jpg
Map of Ukraine presented by Ukrainian delegation at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, in a bid that was ultimately rejected, leading to the incorporation of Ukraine into the Soviet Union. Note that the Kuban was majority Ukrainian at the time.

Ukraine had its best opportunity to win recognition and support from foreign powers at the Conference of 1919. [52] At a meeting of the Big Five on 16 January, 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. Ukraine was effectively ignored. [53]


A Delegation of the Belarusian Democratic Republic under Prime Minister Anton Łuckievič also participated in the conference, attempting to gain international recognition of the independence of Belarus. On the way to the conference, the delegation was received by Czechoslovak president Tomáš Masaryk in Prague. During the conference, Łuckievič had meetings with the exiled Foreign Minister of admiral Kolchak's Russian government Sergey Sazonov and the Prime Minister of Poland Ignacy Jan Paderewski. [54]

Minority rights in Poland and other European countries

Paris Peace Conference 1919 big four.jpg

At the insistence of President Wilson, the Big Four required Poland to sign a treaty on 28 June 1919 that guaranteed minority rights in the new nation. Poland signed under protest and made little effort to enforce the specified rights for Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, and other minorities. Similar treaties were signed by Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and later by Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. Estonia had already given cultural autonomy to minorities in its declaration of independence. Finland and Germany were not asked to sign a minority rights treaty. [55]

In Poland, the key provisions were to become fundamental laws that overrode any national legal codes or legislation. The new country pledged to assure "full and complete protection of life and liberty to all individuals...without distinction of birth, nationality, language, race, or religion." Freedom of religion was guaranteed to everyone. Most residents were given citizenship, but there was considerable ambiguity on who was covered. The treaty guaranteed basic civil, political, and cultural rights, and required all citizens to be equal before the law and enjoy identical rights of citizens and workers. Polish was of the national language, but the treaty provided that minority languages could be freely used privately, in commerce, religion, the press, at public meetings, and before all courts. Minorities were to be permitted to establish and control at their own expense private charities, churches and social institutions, as well as schools, without interference from the government. The government was required to set up German-language public schools in those districts that had been German territory before the war. All education above the primary level was to be conducted exclusively in the national language. Article 12 was the enforcement clause; it gave the Council of the League of Nations responsibility for monitoring and enforcing each treaty. [56] [57]


European theatre of the Russian Civil War and three South Caucasian republics in summer 1918 Russian civil war in the west.svg
European theatre of the Russian Civil War and three South Caucasian republics in summer 1918

The three South Caucasian republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia as well as the Mountainous Republic of the Northern Caucasus each sent a delegation to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Their attempts to gain protection from threats posed by the ongoing Russian Civil War largely failed as none of the major powers was interested in taking a mandate over the Caucasian territories. After a series of delays, the three South Caucasian countries ultimately gained de facto recognition from the Supreme Council of the Allied powers, but only when all European troops had been withdrawn from the Caucasus except for a British contingent in Batumi. Georgia was recognized de facto on 12 January 1920, followed by Azerbaijan on the same day and Armenia on 19 January 1920. The Allied leaders decided to limit their assistance to the Caucasian republics to arms, munitions, and food supply. [58]

The Armenian delegation was represented by Avetis Aharonyan, Hamo Ohanjanyan, Armen Garo and others. Azerbaijan's mission was headed by Alimardan Topchubashev. The delegation from Georgia included Nikolay Chkheidze, Irakli Tsereteli, Zurab Avalishvili, and others.

Korean Delegation

After a failed attempt by the Korean National Association to send a three-man delegation to Paris, a delegation of Koreans from China and Hawaii did make it there. Included in this delegation, was a representative from the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, Kim Kyu-sik. [59] They were aided by the Chinese, who were eager for the opportunity to embarrass Japan at the international forum. Several top Chinese leaders at the time, including Sun Yat-sen, told U.S. diplomats that the peace conference should take up the question of Korean independence. Beyond that, however, the Chinese, locked in a struggle against the Japanese themselves, could do little for Korea. [60] Apart from China, no nation took the Koreans seriously at the Paris conference because of its status as a Japanese colony. [61] The failure of the Korean nationalists to gain support from the Paris Peace Conference ended the possibility of foreign support. [62]


Following the Conference's decision to separate the former Arab provinces from the Ottoman Empire and to apply the newly conceived mandate-system to them, the Zionist Organization submitted their draft resolutions for consideration by the Peace Conference on 3 February 1919.

Zionist state as claimed at the Paris Peace Conference Palestine claimed by WZO 1919.png
Zionist state as claimed at the Paris Peace Conference
British memorandum on Palestine ahead of the Peace Conference British Memorandum on Palestine 1919.jpg
British memorandum on Palestine ahead of the Peace Conference

The statement included five main points: [63]

  1. Recognition of the Jewish people's historic title to Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home there.
  2. The boundaries of Palestine were to be declared as set out in the attached Schedule
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. The mandate shall be subject also to several noted special conditions, including

However, despite these attempts to influence the conference, the Zionists were instead constrained by Article 7 of the resulting Palestine Mandate to merely having the right of obtaining Palestinian citizenship: "The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine." [64]

Citing the Balfour Declaration, the Zionists suggested that the British had already recognized the historic title of the Jews to Palestine in 1917. [63] The preamble of the British Mandate of 1922, in which the Balfour Declaration was incorporated, stated: "Whereas recognition has thereby been given to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country ...". [65]

Women's approach

An unprecedented aspect of the Paris Peace Conference was concerted pressure brought to bear on delegates by a committee of women seeking to establish and entrench women's fundamental social, economic, and political rights, including but not limited to suffrage, within the Paris peace framework. Although denied seats at the Paris Conference, under the leadership of Marguerite de Witt-Schlumberger, president of the French Union for Women's Suffrage, an Inter-Allied Women's Conference (IAWC) was convened and met from 10 February to 10 April 1919. The IAWC lobbied Woodrow Wilson, and later all delegates of the Paris Conference, to admit women to its committees, and was successful in achieving a hearing from the conference's Commissions for International Labour Legislation, and, later, from the League of Nations Commission. One key and concrete outcome of the work of the IAWC was Article 7 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which states that "All positions under or in connection with the League, including the Secretariat, shall be open equally to men and women." More generally, the IAWC placed the issue of women's rights at the centre of the new world order established in Paris. [66] [67]

Historical assessments

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. [68] The British historian Eric Hobsbawm claimed:

[N]o equally systematic attempt has been made before or since, in Europe or anywhere else, to redraw the political map on national lines. [...] The logical implication of trying to create a continent neatly divided into coherent territorial states each inhabited by separate ethnically and linguistically homogeneous population, was the mass expulsion or extermination of minorities. Such was and is the reductio ad absurdum of nationalism in its territorial version, although this was not fully demonstrated until the 1940s. [69]

Historians on the left have argued that Wilson's Fourteen Points, in particular, the principle of national self-determination, were primarily anti-Left measures, designed to tame the revolutionary fever sweeping across Europe in the wake of the October Revolution and the end of the war by playing the nationalist card. [70]

British Historian Antony Lentin evaluates Lloyd George's role in Paris as a major success:

Unrivaled as a negotiator, he had powerful combative instincts and indomitable determinism, and succeeded through charm, insight, resourcefulness, and simple pugnacity. Although sympathetic to France's desires to keep Germany under control, he did much to prevent the French from gaining power, attempted to extract Britain from the Anglo-French entente, inserted the war-guilt clause, and maintained a liberal and realist view of the postwar world. By doing so, he managed to consolidate power over the House [of Commons], secured his power base, expanded the empire, and sought a European balance of power. [71] [ failed verification ]

Cultural references

See also

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See also: 1918 in Italy, other events of 1919, 1920 in Italy.


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  70. Hobsbawm 1994 , p. 67: "[T]he first Western reaction to the Bolsheviks' appeal to the peoples to make peace—and their publication of the secret treaties in which the Allies had carved up Europe among themselves—had been President Wilson's Fourteen Points, which played the nationalist card against Lenin's international appeal. A zone of small nation-states was to form a sort of quarantine belt against the Red virus. ... [T]he establishment of new small nation-states along Wilsonian lines, though far from eliminating national conflicts in the zone of revolutions, ... diminished the scope for Bolshevik revolution. That, indeed, had been the intention of the Allied peacemakers."

    From the other side of the political spectrum, John Lewis Gaddis likewise writes: "When Woodrow Wilson made the principle of self-determination one of this Fourteen Points his intent had been to undercut the appeal of Bolshevism" (Gaddis 2005 , p. 121).

    This view has a long history, and can be summarised by Ray Stannard Baker's famous remark that "Paris cannot be understood without Moscow." See McFadden 1993 , p.  191.

  71. Antony Lentin, "Several types of ambiguity: Lloyd George at the Paris peace conference." Diplomacy and Statecraft 6.1 (1995): 223-251.

Further reading