Describe Wilsons Fourteen points, Why did Congress fail to ratify the Peace Settlement?

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Henry Eshel 1ES2

a) What is meant by the term ‘Wilson’s Fourteen points’?
b) Why did Congress fail to ratify the Peace Settlement?
c) How and why did the USA follow an isolationist policy in 1920s and 30s?

a) The term ‘Wilson’s Fourteen points’ refers to the ideas enunciated by the USA’s president of 1917 Woodrow Wilson (often described as an idealist). These points were to serve as the framework for the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson started working on his Fourteen Points soon after America joined the First World War in April 1917, and he published them in January 1918. In his speeches that followed the publication, he developed his ideas, which were based off of four main principles, mentioned mostly in his first five points. He wanted no more secret treaties leading to deals, rash promises and entangling alliances. He called for no retribution, unjust claims or huge fines that could cause future wars. He called for more stringent arms control and even went so far as to suggest disarmament to lower the risk of war. Finally, he wanted to create a League of Nations to provide collective security. It was to act somewhat as an international government with laws, courts and police, and could intervene in disputes and even outlaw offending nations.

One of the main notions found in Wilson’s Fourteen Points is the idea of ‘self-determination’, but this expression has remained unclear. It is hard to judge just what was meant by it. Wilson could have meant an extension of democratic self-government, or he could have meant that any people who called themselves a nation had a right to have their own state (less likely, as Wilson did not sympathize with the Irish Nationalists, rationalizing that they should work it out democratically). But this term certainly encouraged some nationalist movements.

The Fourteen Points were also popular with liberals and among Europe’s political and diplomatic elites. They provided a moral background at the peace talks, and inspired Arabs, Koreans, Poles and Chinese students. Even Germany had the wisdom to see that the Fourteen Points were their best chance for moderate peace terms and called for an armistice based off the points. But the victorious powers would regrettably not accept this and made a few modifications – the French demanded compensation for the damage done, and the British would never accept giving up their control of the seas.

When the Peace Treaty was signed, the Germans protested saying that the treaty didn’t respect the points. Popular historians would later blame the treaty for everything that went wrong in the 20s and 30s, but they forgot the accomplishments. One can perhaps say that the Fourteen Points probably prevented the terms from being far worse than they could have been. They served perhaps as a moral scale for the delegations at the peace conference.

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b) When Wilson returned in late 1919, the country had changed. He had spent over 6 months abroad in Europe and was ‘out of touch’ with his country. He returned with the Peace Settlement and high expectations after battling hard to make sure the Fourteen Points were followed as much as possible. But he had made a fatal mistake when he left for the Peace Conference. Wilson was a deeply religious and moral man, but was ruthless with those who crossed him. He was stubborn once he had made a decision. Those who opposed him were not simply wrong, they ...

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