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The Fourteen Points: 1918

On 8 January 1918 President Wilson addresses a joint session of the Congress in Washington. He uses the occasion to outline his concept of a future European peace, presented as a group of Fourteen Points. Some are general, some very specific (in particular nos. 6-13, which deal with the requirements of individual nations).

The general points (shortened and paraphrased) are as follows: 1, peace treaties must be fully transparent, with no secret clauses 2, there must be freedom of navigation on the seas, in war and peace alike 3, freedom of trade for all 4, disarmament by all to the lowest level compatible with national safety 5, impartial settlement of colonial claims, with the interests of the local people bearing equal weight with those of the colonial powers.

The specific points are: 6, the need for socialist Russia to be welcomed into the community of nations 7, protection for Belgium 8, Alsace-Lorraine to be restored to France 9, Italy's borders to be drawn according to the national links of the inhabitants 10, autonomy for the separate peoples within the Austro-Hungarian empire 11, international help to adjust and safeguard borders within the Balkans, and access to the sea for Serbia 12, development towards autonomy for the peoples within the Ottoman empire, secure sovereignty for the Turkish people themselves, and guaranteed free passage for all through the Dardanelles; 13, an independent Poland, internationally guaranteed, for all Polish people.

The 14th and final point is central to Wilson's personal idealism. In it he envisages a 'general association of nations' to guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of all nations. In his 'Four Ends' speech on 4 July 1918 he enlarges upon this, calling for the establishment of an 'organization of peace' to ensure that the 'combined power of free nations' will guarantee international justice for all.

The Fourteen Points are widely discussed during 1918. When Germany asks Wilson for an armistice, in October, it is on the basis of this document.

Not all the clauses are met (Britain and France immediately reject freedom of the seas in wartime), but much of the resulting peace follows Wilson's blueprint - though the vindictive attitude towards Germany is far from the spirit of his proposals.

Wilson insists that his fourteenth point be high on the agenda of the Paris conference, and it brings an early result. Within weeks the delegates agree to the establishment of the League of Nations. It is subsequently Wilson's personal tragedy that the USA fails to join.

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