Versailles, Treaty of

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VERSAILLES, TREATY OF. The Treaty of Versailles, which formed the core of the peace settlement after World War I, was signed on 28 June 1919. Outside the German delegation, it was signed by two countries of the initial Triple Entente that had gone to war against Germany in August 1914, France and the United Kingdom (the third one, Russia, having already signed a separate treaty at Brest-Litovsk on 3 March 1918), and by a number of nations that had joined them at later stages in the war, the major ones being Italy, Japan, and the United States (1917). This widely different experience of the war explains why unity of purpose was so difficult to achieve among the Allies during the peace conference that opened in Paris on 18 January 1919.

The League of Nations

Whereas British and French official policy followed traditional lines of territorial and colonial ambitions, combined with guarantees of military security and reparations from the defeated, American peace aims were expressed in President Woodrow Wilson's ideal of self-determination and his Fourteen Points, first put forward before Congress in January 1918 as the foundation of a just, durable peace. These included the novel concept of "A general association of nations … for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." The Fourteen Points had been seen by Germany as an honorable way out of the war, and they were therefore central to the Allied negotiations in Paris, which finally led to the treaty as presented to the Germans, who had been excluded from the conference. The American president, who headed the U.S. delegation in person, played a leading role in getting his allies to agree on a common text. He often acted as an arbiter between their rival claims and as a moderator of their territorial and financial demands from Germany and its allies, though the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, maintained that it was he who acted as the conciliator between Wilson, the naive idealist, and French premier Georges Clemenceau, the wily realist.

Wilson's greatest personal achievement in this respect was the early acceptance of his association of nations by Britain and France, which had been reluctant to relinquish any parcel of their sovereignty to an international organization, and its elaboration into the Covenant of the League of Nations, which formed Part I of the treaty. An article in it effectively ruled out the possibility of a long war between the signatories, let alone a world war, if the European great powers, Japan, and the United States adhered to it: "Should any Member of the League resort to war in disregard of its covenants … it shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all Members of the League.…It shall be the duty of the Council in such case to recommend to the several Governments concerned what effective military, naval, or air force the Members of the League shall severally contribute to the armed forces to be used to protect the covenants of the League." The French were still unconvinced that this protected them forever against renewed attack by a demographically and economically stronger Germany, and they insisted on further guarantees of military security from Britain and the United States, which they verbally obtained in April. Since the vexed question of "making Germany pay" was to be decided later by a Reparations Commission, the way was now clear for a settlement ostensibly based on Wilson's conceptions of a "peace between equals." Indeed, contrary to general belief, derived from very effective German propaganda, there was no mention of war guilt as such in the wording (by Americans Norman Davis and John Foster Dulles) of Article 231, which was couched in purely legal terms so as to give a justification to the reparations already provided for in the clauses of the armistice.

Territorial and Financial Provisions

The territorial losses in Europe were defined in Part II: Alsace-Lorraine went to France, the Eupen-Malmédy area to Belgium, and western Prussia and the province of Posen (now Pozna[UN]) to Poland, with the creation of a "Polish corridor" to the sea around Danzig (now Gda[UN]sk). Memel (now Klaipe˙da) went to Lithuania, and plebiscites were to be held in North Schleswig, Upper Silesia, and the Saar (whose mines were given to the French as compensation for the flooding of their mines by German troops). The loss of territory amounted to 25,000 square miles with a population of 6 million, but most of the loss had already been envisaged in the Fourteen Points and accepted in the armistice.

Overseas possessions (mostly carved up between the British and French empires) were examined in Part IV. Other parts defined German obligations in Europe, including the prohibition of an Anschluss with Austria; the demilitarization of the Rhineland and a band extending fifty kilometers deep on the right bank of the Rhine; a ban on conscription, all air forces, and combat gasses; the severe limitation of the navy, army, and munitions industry; the right of aerial navigation over Germany for the Allies; and international control of German ports, waterways, and railways to guarantee Central European countries unobstructed access to the sea. The financial provisions were defined in Parts VII to X (with the guarantees stipulated in Part XIV): Germany had to pay an immediate sum of $5 billion in cash or in kind before the Reparations Commission published the final amount in 1921. "Voluntary default" by Germany was covered by clauses that gave the Allies power to take measures in Germany and to seize German private property abroad.

U.S. Rejection of the Treaty

The central question remains whether the treaty was "too gentle for the harshness it contained"—in other words, whether it was enforceable as it stood, and if yes, why it was never really enforced. The decisive blow probably came from the U.S. Senate's refusal, on 19 March 1920, to ratify the treaty, a refusal that included rejection of U.S. membership in the League of Nations. The League was bitterly opposed by Republican senator Henry Cabot Lodge, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations, on the same grounds of sacred national sovereignty as invoked in 1918–1919 by the British and French premiers. The United States signed a separate peace treaty at Berlin on 2 July 1921. Then President Wilson did not push the Treaty of Guarantee to France promised in April 1919 (wherein the United States would declare war on any country that challenged the existing French frontiers), and Britain indicated that its own commitment fell. Collective security guaranteed by the major powers, the outstanding innovation of the treaty, thus remained a pious hope.

It was clear that by 1920 Great Britain, France, and the United States had no common German policy left—if they had ever had one—and their increasing disagreements over the amount of reparations and how to get Germany to pay them drew a constant wedge between them, gradually eroding whatever credibility the peace terms might have had in the first place. The exclusion of Soviet Russia from the settlement and the specter of Bolshevik revolution also explain why many moderates believed that nothing should be done to destabilize the German Republic, and with it central and eastern Europe, which was slowly adapting to the postwar order. There is no consensus on the relative weight to be given to these considerations, but the most recent historiography at least agrees on one thing: the popular image of Versailles as a punitive "diktat" leading to the ruin of Germany and the inevitable advent of Hitler rests on manipulation rather than fact.


Allied and Associated Powers. Treaty of Peace with Germany, June 28,1919. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1919. The text of the Treaty of Versailles, with U.S. Senate reservations.

Boemeke, Manfred M., et al., eds. The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment After Seventy-five Years. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Dockrill, Michael, and John Fisher, eds. The Paris Peace Conference, 1919: Peace Without Victory? New York: Palgrave, 2001.

Keylor, William R., ed. The Legacy of the Great War: The Peace Settlement of 1919 and Its Consequences. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997.

Temperley, H. W. V., ed. History of the Peace Conference of Paris. 6 vols. London: H. Frowde and Hodder & Stoughton, 1920–1924. Reprint, London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1969.

United States Department of State. The Paris Peace Conference, 1919. In Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States. 13 vols. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1942–1947. The final volume was also published separately in 1947 as The Treaty of Versailles and After: Annotations of the Text of the Treaty.


See alsoWorld War I andvol. 9:The Fourteen Points .

Versailles, Treaty of (1920)

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Treaty ending World War I; it established the mandate system for the governance and eventual independence of the Central Powers' former colonies.

The armistices of October and November 1918 ending hostilities in World War I were followed by the Conference of Paris at which World War I victors and associated powers determined the terms for dealing with Germany and her allies during the war. The conference, which officially began on 18 January 1919, resulted in five treaties. The Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June at Versailles, France, and ratified on 20 January 1920, addressed the terms of peace with Germany. The treaties of Sèvres, Neuilly, St. Germain, and Trianon dealt with the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Austria, and Hungary, respectively. Besides setting forth the terms for dealing with Germany after World War I, the Treaty of Versailles established the League of Nations and the mandate system for governing territories surrendered by Germany. This treaty included the Covenant of the League of Nations as Part I, with Article 22 giving the league the power to supervise mandated territories consisting of former German colonies. The other treaties included the covenant in their texts.

The armistice with Germany and the Conference of Paris were both predicated on U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points for peace enunciated in his address to Congress on 8 January 1918. In addition to his vision of a League of Nations, these included an adjustment of all colonial claims giving equal weight to the interests of colonial populations and to those of countries with colonial claims. This led many to believe that the peace conference would lead to the independence of the Arab portions of the Ottoman Empire. Based on this, Prince Faisal I ibn Hussein arrived in Paris in January 1919 as head of the Hijaz delegation and with the objective of securing an independent Arab state. At first the French opposed recognition of the Hijaz delegation based on the fact that the Hijaz was not one of the Allied belligerent states. The British, however, intervened, and the Hijaz delegation was recognized. On 29 January Faisal submitted a statement to the conference defining Arab claims. He requested recognition as "independent sovereign peoples" for those Arab-speaking peoples of Asia from the AlexandrettaDiyarbekir line south to the Indian Ocean. Essentially, this included what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, and Iraq. Faisal exempted the Hijaz as already independent, as well as British Aden. The prince addressed the conference on 6 February, stressing the principle of the consent of the governed. He then proposed a commission to visit Syria and Palestine and ascertain the wishes of the populace. The French were not inclined to support this, but pressure by Wilson resulted, on 25 March, in the approval of a commission, later known as the KingCrane Commission.

Despite the sincere desires of Wilson to forge a new world in which all peoples would be the ultimate determiners of their national destinies and the eloquent arguments of Faisal and others on behalf of the Arabs, the Conference of Paris yielded to the imperial interests of Britain and France and, to a lesser extent, to those of Italy and Japan. The colonial territories of Germany and the Arab portions of the Ottoman Empire were assigned to members of the League of Nations under the mandate system established in the covenant. In the case of the Middle East, agreements made during World War I played a large role in distribution of mandates. The secret AngloFrancoRussian agreement of 16 May 1916, commonly known as the SykesPicot Agreement, divided the Arab dominions of the Ottoman Empire between Britain and France. Britain received the areas that are now Iraq, Jordan, and Israel; France got what is now Syria and Lebanon. The Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, also played a role in the disposition of Arab territories by the Conference of Paris. This was a letter from Lord Balfour, British foreign secretary, to Lord (Edmond de) Rothschild, a prominent British Zionist, that supported the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. These two documents, more than anything else, shaped the fate of the Middle East in the postWorld War I era. The San Remo Conference of April 1920 awarded Syria, including Lebanon, as a Class A mandate to France; Iraq and Palestine, including Transjordan, became Class A mandates under British supervision. The mandate for Palestine endorsed the provisions of the Balfour Declaration. In 1921 Britain separated Transjordan from Palestine, exempting it from the provisions of the Balfour Declaration. As Class A mandates, all three were to be given independence when it was determined that they were able to stand on their own. In the case of Iraq and Transjordan, Arab dignitaries were given royal status in preparation for the eventual independence of these areas. Prince Faisal became the king of Iraq, and Prince Abdullah I ibn Hussein became the amir of Transjordan. The League of Nations confirmed these mandates in 1922, some of which outlived the international organization under which they were formed. The first mandate to obtain independence was Iraq, in 1932, followed by Syria and Lebanon in 1941. Transjordan, now Jordan, gained its independence in 1946. Palestine, much of which is now Israel, gained independence in 1948.

see also abdullah i ibn hussein; alexandretta; balfour declaration (1917); diyarbakir; faisal i ibn hussein; hijaz; kingcrane commission (1919); rothschild, edmond de; san remo conference (1920); sèvres, treaty of (1920); sykespicot agreement (1916); wilson, woodrow; world war i.


Antonius, George. The Arab Awakening: The Story of the Arab National Movement. London: H. Hamilton, 1938.

Sontag, Raymond J. A Broken World, 19191939. New York: Harper and Row, 1971.

daniel e. spector

Versailles, Treaty of

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Versailles, Treaty of (1919).The Treaty of Versailles ended World War I between Germany and the Allied nations. On 6 October 1918, Prince Max von Baden, the Reich Chancellor, appealed to President Woodrow Wilson to take steps leading to an armistice based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. The Allies had never endorsed this progressive peace program; they acceded to most of it, however, because in the armistice negotiations Wilson had managed the confiscation or internment of virtually all Germany's machines of war.

At the Paris Peace Conference, the president's priority was the inclusion of the Covenant of the League of Nations as an integral part of the treaty. Despite grave reservations, the British, French, and Italian leaders bowed to the massive public support Wilson's proposal enjoyed throughout Europe. But the peacemakers used their acceptance as a lever to gain concessions from him on other vital issues. For example, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa coveted the captured colonies of (respectively) New Guinea, Samoa, and German Southwest Africa. These claims defied the idea of “mandates,” the League's arrangement for guiding incipient states along the path to self‐government. In this, as in other quarrels, Wilson found himself in a minority of one. The territories were designated as mandatories but were ultimately assigned on the basis of military occupation.

At another juncture, Georges Clemenceau, implying that he might withdraw his endorsement of the League, demanded for France the coal‐rich Saar basin and military occupation of the Rhineland. Vittorio Orlando claimed for Italy the Yugoslav port city of Fiume and left when Wilson refused to indulge him. Japan, too, threatened to bolt as it insisted on retaining economic control over Shantung. Wilson was able to moderate some of these demands, albeit in less than satisfactory compromises. From Japan, he wrung a pledge (honored in 1922) to restore Chinese sovereignty in Shantung through mediation by the League. In the case of France, he and Clemenceau settled on a fifteen‐year occupation of the Rhineland. The crisis over Fiume, alas, was never resolved at Paris.

The acrimony came to a head when British prime minister David Lloyd George added military pensions to the already astronomical reparations bill that France had presented against Germany. On the verge of physical collapse, Wilson at last capitulated. Then came Article 231—a declaration saddling Germany with the moral responsibility for allegedly having started the war. The reparations section and the “war‐guilt” clause would spark unending controversy. In all of this, Wilson anticipated that, once wartime passions had cooled, the League could redress the injustices.

Because he had so many difficulties in keeping faith with the spirit of the Fourteen Points, and because (largely for other reasons) the Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson, in his own time and in history, would bear the main burden for its shortcomings. Yet many scholars today contend that the territorial provisions were not nearly as bad as disillusioned contemporaries and revisionist historians believed them to be; and that, without the president's intermittent heroic exertions, some of the settlement's 440 conditions would have been far more severe. Nevertheless, this remains the most controversial peace treaty of the twentieth century.
[See also World War I.]


Thomas A. Bailey , Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace, 1944.
Arno J. Mayer , Politics and Diplomacy of the Peacemaking: Containment and Counterrevolution at Versailles, 1918–1919, 1967.
Arthur Walworth , Wilson and His Peacemakers, 1986.
Manfred F. Boemeke, Gerald D. Feldman, and Elizabeth Glaser, eds., The Treaty of Versailles: A Reassessment after 75 Years, 1998.

Thomas J. Knock

Treaty of Versailles

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The Treaty of Versailles was the agreement negotiated during the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 that ended world war i and imposed disarmament, reparations, and territorial changes on the defeated Germany. The treaty also established the league of nations, an international organization dedicated to resolving world conflicts peacefully. The treaty has been criticized for its harsh treatment of Germany, which many historians believe contributed to the rise of Nazism and adolf hitler in the 1930s.

President woodrow wilson played an important role in ending the hostilities and convening a peace conference. When the United States entered the war in January 1917, Wilson intended to use U.S. influence to end the long cycle of peace and war in Europe and create an international peace organization. On January 8, 1918, he delivered an address to Congress that named Fourteen Points to be used as the guide for a peace settlement. Nine of the points covered new territorial consignments, while the other five were of a general nature. In October 1918 Germany asked Wilson to arrange both a general armistice based on the Fourteen Points and a conference to begin peace negotiations. On November 11 the armistice was concluded.

The Paris Peace Conference began in January 1919. The conference was dominated by David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Wilson of the United States, with Vittorio Orlando of Italy playing a lesser role. These leaders agreed that Germany and its allies would have no role in negotiating the treaty.

The first of Wilson's Fourteen Points stated that it was essential for a postwar settlement to have "open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." Wilson's lofty vision, however, was undercut in Paris by secret treaties that Great Britain, France, and Italy had made during the war with Greece, Romania, and each other.

In addition, the European Allies demanded compensation from Germany for the damage their civilian populations had suffered and for German aggression in general. Wilson's loftier ideas gave way to the stern demands of the Allies.

The Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles. The terms dictated to Germany included a war guilt clause, in which Germany accepted responsibility as the aggressor in the war. Based on this clause, the Allies imposed reparations for war damage. Though the treaty did not specify an exact amount, a commission established in 1921 assessed $33 billion of reparations.

The boundaries of Germany and other parts of Europe were changed. Germany was required to return the territories of Alsace and Lorraine to France and to place the Saarland under the supervision of the League of Nations until 1935. Several territories were given to Belgium and Holland, and the nation of Poland was created from portions of German Silesia and Prussia. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled, and the countries of Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania were recognized. All German overseas colonies in China, the Pacific, and Africa were taken over by Great Britain, France, Japan, and other Allied nations.

France, which had been invaded by Germany in 1871 and 1914, was adamant about disarming Germany. The treaty reduced the German army to 100,000 troops, eliminated the general staff, and prohibited Germany from manufacturing armored cars, tanks, submarines, airplanes, and poison gas. In addition, all German territory west of the Rhine River (Rhineland), was established as a demilitarized zone.

The Treaty of Versailles also created the League of Nations, which was to enforce the treaty and encourage the peaceful resolution of international conflicts. Many Americans were opposed to joining the League of Nations, however, and despite Wilson's efforts, the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the treaty. Hence, instead of signing the Treaty of Versailles, the United States signed a separate peace treaty with Germany, the Treaty of Berlin, on July 2, 1921. This treaty conformed to the Versailles agreement except for the omission of the League of Nations provisions.

The Treaty of Versailles has been criticized as a vindictive agreement that violated the spirit of Wilson's Fourteen Points. The harsh terms hurt the German economy in the 1920s and contributed to the popularity of leaders such as Hitler who argued for the restoration of German honor through remilitarization.

further readings

Boemeke, Manfred F., Gerald D. Feldman, and Elisabeth Glaser, eds. 1998. The Treaty of Versailles: 75 Years After. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Marks, Sally. 2003. The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe, 1918–1933. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Treaty of Versailles

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Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles, signed June 28, 1919, was the peace agreement between Germany and the Allies (France, Russia, Britain, and beginning in 1917, the United States) of World War I (1914–18). Germany was not included in determining the terms of the treaty. It was not pleased with the final conditions of the document, which it signed under protest and the threat of invasion.

Signed near Paris

Signed at the former royal palace at Versailles, a suburb of Paris, the Treaty of Versailles was the result of the Paris Peace Conference, which lasted from January 12 to January 20, 1919. Leaders of thirty-two countries, representing about 75 percent of the world's population, attended the meetings. Negotiations, however, were conducted among the five most powerful countries: United States, France, Britain, Japan, and Italy.

The Treaty of Versailles assigned responsibility for World War I to Germany, and demanded that Germany accept guilt. Among other things, the treaty limited Germany's military and took much of its land (more than one million square miles). This land came not only from Germany's European territories, but its overseas colonies, all of which were given to the Allies.

Punished Germany

Because Germany was deemed responsible for the war, it was ordered to pay the cost of the war as well as compensate the Allies. This money was called reparations, and it was difficult for Germany to come up with the monthly payment. Much of its ability to reestablish its own economy lay in the overseas colonies and other lands given to the Allies.

The Treaty of Versailles had great political impact on Germany. One of the conditions of the agreement was that Germany's former kaiser (ruler) be formally tried. That proved impossible because the Dutch government refused to surrender him. While this was good news for the former kaiser, it hurt Germany by making it impossible to restore the monarchy (government led by one ruler who inherited his position). This isolated the formerly powerful country and made it an outcast in international politics. It eventually formed close economic ties with the Soviet Union, but most other countries distrusted Germany.

The Versailles agreement also called for the formation of a League of Nations , an international peacekeeping organization.

Versailles, treaty of

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Versailles, treaty of, 1783. The treaty of Versailles, at the end of the American War of Independence, was less disadvantageous to Britain than had seemed likely, partly because of Rodney's naval victory at the Saints in April 1782 and partly because of the failure of de Bussy's expedition to India. The independence of the thirteen American colonies had to be recognized, but that had been inevitable after the surrender at Yorktown in 1781. The Americans retained their fishing rights off Newfoundland and Congress promised ‘earnestly to recommend’ the restitution of estates to the loyalists. In the West Indies, France restored her conquests, save for Tobago, and in India Britain restored France's conquered possessions. Britain gave up Florida to Spain, retained Gibraltar, for which Spain had pressed strongly, but ceded Minorca. In Africa, France ceded the Gambia but gained Senegal. The Fox–North coalition succeeded in bringing down Shelburne's government on the peace preliminaries, mainly by deploring the treatment of the American loyalists, but after taking office was unable to obtain much modification of the original terms.

J. A. Cannon

Versailles, Treaty of

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Versailles, Treaty of (1919) Peace agreement concluding World War I, signed at Versailles. The treaty represented a compromise between US President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points and the demands of the European allies for heavy penalties against Germany. German territorial concessions included Alsace-Lorraine to France, and smaller areas to other neighbouring states, as well as the loss of its colonies. The Rhineland was demilitarized, strict limits were placed on German armed forces, and extensive reparations for war damage were imposed. The treaty also established the League of Nations. The USA never ratified it, and signed a separate treaty with Germany in 1921.

Versailles, treaty of

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Versailles, treaty of, 1919. The peace treaty between Germany and the victorious allies at the end of the First World War. It was signed on 28 June 1919 in the hall of mirrors of the palace of Versailles, where the German empire had been proclaimed in 1871. The allies tried to combine the British and, especially, the French desire for security against Germany with the USA's determination to see international relations based on new and more moral principles. Germany had to surrender Alsace and Lorraine to France and considerable territory to the reconstituted Poland. She was not to be allowed to rearm. The Germans particularly resented the fact that they had to accept liability for all war damage and pay ‘reparations’ to the allies. The treaty also established the new League of Nations.

Muriel Evelyn Chamberlain

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