1919 Treaty of Versailles

Versaille Conference

On June 29th 1919, the Treaty of Versaille was signed thereby officially ending World War I. Under the Treaty's terms, Germany was forced to cede substantial territories, including Alsace-Lorraine. West Prussian was given to Poland and the Polish "corridor to the sea" was created. The Saar, a coal-rich territory, was put under French control for 15 years, and the Rhineland was to be occupied by the Allies for 15 years and then permanently demilitarized. Germany was to maintain an Army no larger than 100,000 men, with no air force, and a Navy of six ships. German was also forced to pay reparations of 20 billion marks. Lastly, the League of Nations was created.

The peace of Versailles bore little resemblance to Wilson's Fourteen Points. Wilson was committed to a relatively mild agreement, but Britain-- and even more so, France under Clemenseau-- demanded the harsh terms that were imposed on Germany.

The fighting had come to an end. The Germans had accepted an armistice, envisioning a peace treaty that would reflect Wilson's 14 points. The British and French, who suffered much more than the United States, demanded a much harsher peace agreement.

United States President Woodrow Wilson arrived in Europe at the end of December. Wilsons visit was the first visit to Europe by a sitting US President. He was greeted as a conquering hero in Great Britain, which held its first Royal Dinner since the beginning of the war. Wilson went to Scotland to the church that his grandfather had once preached at, and before going to Paris to start the peace talks, he crossed into Italy, where he was wildly cheered by the troops.

The Versaille Peace Conference, which officially opened on January 19, 1919, was attended by representatives of 27 nations, and 70 delegations took part in all. However, most of the crucial decisions were made by the Big Four made up of French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and United States President Woodrow Wilson. They met for the first time on January 12, 1919. They decided not to invite the Germans to participate and instead to eventually present them with an agreement that they would have no choice but to accept. Wilson was not happy with this but agreed to go along.

The Big Four met in 145 closed sessions to negotiate the significant issues in the agreement. Once a week, a plenary session was held in which all the delegates received updates. In addition, the plenary established several sub-committee that made recommendations that made there way into the final document.

At times, the meetings of the Big Four were contentious with the French on whose territory the war on the Western Front was fought. The French wanted to move the Germany border to the Rhine, fearing another war. Clemenceau told Wilson, "America is far away, protected by the ocean. Not even Napoleon himself could touch England. You are both sheltered; we are not".

The others did not accept the French demand, but France was mollified by a British promise of a defense treaty if Germany attacked again. Wilson pledged to try to do the same. French financial demands for reparations were, however, largely accepted.

Under the treaty, Germany gave up all of its overseas territories. It also was forced to transfer Eupen and Malmedy to Belgium. Alsace Lorraine was returned to France; the Saar region would remain under the League of Nations' control until 1935 when a plebiscite would be held. In the meantime, all of the coal production in the region would belong to France. There were to be plebiscites in Northern and Southern Schleswig. The North voted to reunite with Denmark while the South voted to stay apart of Germany. In the East, the Germans were forced to give up the Polish corridor that ran from East Prussia to Pomerania. It also had to give up the province of Posen to Poland. Plebiscites were to be held in Western Upper Silesia, which voted to remain in Germany, and Eastern Upper Silesia, which voted to become part of Poland. Danzig was made a free city under the League of Nations. The sovereignty of part of southern East Prussia was to be decided via plebiscite. Simultaneously, the East Prussian Soldau area, which was astride the rail line between Warsaw and Danzig, was transferred to Poland.

Furthermore , under the terms of the treaty, the Rhineland was to be permanently demilitarized. The German Navy was forbidden from building submarines or having an airforce.

The most controversial part of the treaty was article 234, which became known as the guilt clause. Under it, Germany accepted total responsibility for the start of the war. As a result of the war guilt, the German agreed to pay reparations for all of the civilian populations' resulting damage. The amount of the reparations was to be determined by a commission that Germany would not partake in.

The Germans agreed to all the terms but the war guilt clause. Count Brockdorff-Rantzau, the senior German delegate, stated: "We are required to admit that we alone are war guilty. Such an admission would be a lie." On June 22, the Allies demanded that the Germans sign all the clauses of the treaty. The Germans initially refused and requested 48 hours. The allies gave them 24 hours. The German government resigned, a resignation that the German President, who was told that the German army was powerless to stop the Allies from occupying the country, refused to accept. The German signed the treaty with four hours remaining before the Allied ultimatum sign, or we will occupy you.

Full Text of Agreement