Original E1 writeup:

(A) harsh treaty ending World War I, imposed on Germany by the Allies in the summer of 1919. Featured heavy reparations, severely limited the German armed forces and imposed the loss of all German colonies.

Also created the League of Nations, precursor to the United Nations.

Additional info, added April 16, 2001:

Actually, several different treaties are known as the Treaty of Versailles.

The Treaty of Versailles (1783), sometimes called the Treaty of Paris¹, acknowledged the independence of the 13 colonies of the United States in the aftermath of the American Revolution.

It also set the boundary between those United States and the British colonies that were to become Canada. The border ran from the Bay of Fundy, up the river St. Croix; then north to the heights between the St. Lawrence seaway and the Atlantic ocean. The border ran from there along the heights to the Connecticut river, and then down the Connecticut to 45° latitude. From there it ran due west to the St. Lawrence, and then through the Great Lakes and their connecting rivers (Lake Michigan excepted) to the west shore of Lake Superior, and then by a series of small lakes and rivers to the Lake of the Woods.

From the Lake of the Woods the border ran to the headwaters of the Mississippi (then undiscovered), which formed the western boundary of the United States.

Additionally the treaty confirmed Great Britain's rights to the island of Newfoundland and the adjacent islands, as per the Treaty of Utrecht, while ceding the islands of Saint Pierre and Miquelon to France. It also adjusted each nation's fishing rights in the colonies.

The next change in the makeup and borders of the future Canada came as a result of the Constitutional Act in 1791.

1. Of which there are also several. I suppose it's a French thing.

In a since-deleted writeup on this subject, jbird said, "Ratified on June 28th, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was a peace agreement between Germany and the Western allies (England, France, America and Italy)." If US President Woodrow Wilson had had his way, that statement would have been true. But the United States of America never ratified the Treaty of Versailles.

This makes little sense; as the deciding player in the war and the dominant power in the world, the US should have been and indeed was the leader in the treaty negotiations. Wilson, however, chose to negotiate more or less alone, along with only a few fellow Democrats. The Republicans in Congress, who had loyally supported Wilson during the war, were in fact spurned twice, as Wilson made a call for all Americans to vote Democratic to "show their patriotism."

This high-and-mighty attitude might have been a footnote to history had the Republicans not won a landslide victory in the midterm election of 1918 and gained control of the Senate. Those opposed to the treaty now had a group of disgruntled, betrayed Republicans to support them. The Senate was essentially divided in three for the treaty debate. There were the Democrats, who mostly supported Wilson and the treaty. A moderate group was led by Henry Cabot Lodge; they would accept a modified treaty and made up the majority of the Senate. Then there were the "irreconcilables," a group opposed to the basic grounds of the treaty which was led by William Borah, Hiram Johnson, and Robert La Follete.

The irreconcilables had various reasons to oppose the Treaty of Versailles, but the most notable are the major problems mentioned in the above writeups (most of which have since been deleted—Oh well, that's life. –Ed.). Their position can be seen as somewhat prophetic in that they believed that harsh sanctions would only lead to more unrest. Lodge and the moderates, however, only disliked one facet of the treaty: Article X, the clause that created the League of Nations.

The horrors of the first World War had created an extremely isolationist feeling in most of America; the average person felt that we should leave the Old World and its problems alone and thus opposed the League. Lodge built on this and also on the fear that the League of Nations would have the ability to supersede the US on military matters and therefore violated the US Constitution. When Wilson refused to compromise, clutching to his precious League, Lodge threw his support to the irreconcilables. In a last-ditch effort to push the treaty through, Wilson went on a nationwide stumping campaign. He was stopped in his tracks by a stroke on September 25, 1919, and the treaty was killed.

As a consequence of the treaty fight, the United States never joined the League of Nations, which is perhaps the greatest failure and embarrassment of Wilson's presidency. The failure of the League had dire consequences for the world, because there was no one to curb the rise of fascism in the 1930's. It also led the US to formally end the war with Germany separately, through the Treaty of Berlin.

Sources: (in addition to my own memory)
Purvis, Thomas L. A Dictionary of American History. 1997, Blackwell Publishers, Inc.
Faragher, John Mack, et al. Out of Many: A History of the American People. 2000, Prentice-Hall, Inc.

On October 24, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson addressed the people through a press release devoted entirely to the Congressional elections less than two weeks away. He asked for the election of Democratic majorities in both House of Congress, not because “any political party is paramount in matters of patriotism,” but because the times demand a “unified leadership, and that a Republican Congress would divide the leadership….. The return of a Republican majority to either House of Congress would, moreover, be interpreted on the other side of the water as a repudiation of my leadership…. It is well understood there as well as here that Republican leaders desire not so much to support the President to control him.” This was a most unfortunate and impolitic message. Unfortunate because the opportunity for successful compromise with the Republicans on plans for the peace should have been obvious to the President. There was no need to picture a successful treaty as something only Democrats could achieve. Whatever the outcome of the Congressional elections, bipartisan participation in the task of building the peace held the greatest compromise. Impolitic because Wilson must have known that his message to the people might be resented by them as an attempt to wield undue influence in state affairs. His appeal for Democratic congress backfired. The Republicans won the House by 50 seats and the Senate by 2. According to his own words the President had been “repudiated” in the eyes of the governments of the Allies. Two weeks after the election he announced that he was going to Paris for the Peace Conference. A substantial objection to his trip was that, among the four advisors he had selected to go with him, only one was a Republican and none were Senators. If he came back with a treaty it would be the Senate that would either ratify it, or refuse to! Famous African-American writer W.E.B. Du Bois commented on Wilson’s greed. “Because of the idiotic way in which the stubbornness of Woodrow Wilson and the political fortunes of the Republicans became involved, the United States was not represented. But despite its tumult and shouting this nation must join and join on the terms which the World lays down. The idea that we single-handed can dictate terms to the World or stay out of the World, is an idea born of the folly of fools.” But of course, Wilson took no heed to the strong words. (See my w/u on Woodrow Wilson).

Wilson negotiated with Clemenceau of France, Lloyd George of Great Britain, and Orlando of Italy. These men, the Big Four, made most of the decisions. In order to get the League of Nations written into the treaty, Wilson gave in on some terms neither he nor the United States approved. He made the point that some inequities and mistakes, as we saw them, could be corrected later through the League of Nations as time proved them to be unwise. Wilson was a tough bargainer. He prevented France from annexing the Saar, kept Italy from getting Fiume, kept the Poles from getting East Prussia, stopped France from annexing the German Rhineland, and agreed to give Shantung to Japan only with a pledge it would be soon given to China- as it was in 1921. There was nothing wrong with Wilson as a strong representative of the United States at the peace table: the trouble was that he did not have at least two Republican Senators with him.

The bulk of the Versailles Treaty was the Covenant of the League of Nations. Other terms included the forced admission guilt by Germany for the war, the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, the Saar Basin (rich in iron and coal) was put under the League of Nations for 15 years, after which the people could vote, to go with either France or Germany; Danzig was made a Free City (To give Poland a seaport); the German Rhineland was demilitarized; and German colonies were mandated under the League of Nations. The ratification of this treaty, with the Covenant of the League of Nations as the heart of it, became the great debate of the campaign of 1920.

Here's something I wrote (edited somewhat) a while back while investigating the idea that the Treaty of Versailles wasn't such a good thing as it first appeared:

On the 28th June 1919 the Versailles peace treaty was signed. It could be considered a remarkable occurrence when the different desires and plans of the planning nations are taken into account. However, while solving many issues and creating a temporary peace the treaty was not successful in the long term.

War broke out again with Germany 20 years after the treaty. Undoubtedly all the nations who constructed the treaty wanted a long lasting peace with Germany. In this sense it is therefore possible to say that the treaty was a failure, and that peace was not truly established.

The factors that caused the treaty to be one of compromise and placation rather than stability were the same factors that could have prevented the treaty being signed in the first place. While each of the peacemakers desired peace for as long as possible they also had to contend with the problems of maintaining popularity in their nations. Maintaining this popularity meant being “greedy” and attempting to get the most for their nation, even if this would reduce the durability of the peace.

For Clemenceau this didn’t take the form of pressure, since he was already fiercely patriotic and wanted the most for France. Woodrow Wilson had a particular problem in that he could not sign any peace treaty without the approval of the Senate. His idealism, while not suited for the realities of European politics anyway had to be twisted so that America would enjoy trade with Europe in the future, and its economy would prosper even more in the years to come.

Arguments were bound to arise due to the different perceived inputs into the war and the losses experienced by each of the victors. It is fairly remarkable that America was fairly treated in the discussions considering that Wilson could have been isolated for not entering the war until late, and using far less resources than the other two. Instead he was able to think about issues without the bias that years spent in Europe give, and attempt to give an impartial altruistic viewpoint. His presence in this role would have minimised land grabbing by Clemenceau.

In this respect Woodrow Wilson and Lloyd-George would have had fundamentally different aims to Clemenceau for the division of the land in Europe. France was the strongest enemy of the Germans, and wanted to do whatever possible to prevent Germany becoming powerful again. The French wanted Germany to be put into such a state that it would never be able to approach the power level of France and her allies. They wanted land to be given to France, particularly along the river Rhine so that a strong defensive position might be created for France’s protection from Germany. They also wanted Germany to have territory stripped away, to further weaken it. Wilson believed in national self-determination, the right of a people to have their own country. He therefore believed that it was wrong to take land from Germany that contained mostly German speakers, as it would only cause resentment and uprising. It was this belief that caused the establishment of several new nations in central and Eastern Europe. These nations would not prove stable in the same way that established nations were and it may be thus that the American involvement made the peace less absolute, whilst helping it to occur.

War reparations were bound to be an issue that caused argument. Discussion of these could easily have gone on for a long time, and led to no piece at all. France wanted Germany to pay the full cost of the war. This was a ridiculous sum of money that the Germans could not afford. The Americans and, the British could see that this would cripple Germany. Whilst Germany was not supposed to have the power to start another was it was not intended that the citizens should starve, and Germany should become a backwards nation. It can be considered fairly remarkable that this issue was solved without the need for excessive compromise on the part of any one nation.

When all these issues are considered it seems remarkable that a peace was formed, but it should not be considered at all remarkable because of the fragility of the peace, and the short length of time which it lasted.

Historical background

In World War I, facing the British sea blockade which resulted in the big famine in winter 1916/1917, softening the country's power of resistance, German naval warfare administration saw the sole solution in an illegal counter blockade via U-boat war. The sinking of the British ship "Lusitania" (containing tonnes of ammunition), killing 120 US citizens, lead to the ending of the U-boat war as well as to a strong tension between Germany and the USA. German military administration's optimism regarding the possibilty of finally overthrowing the British fleet resulted in a renewal of uncontrolled U-boat war on February 1, 1917 and caused the US declaration of war towards Germany. Thus, the superiority of the Allied forces was clear, World War I almost determined.

A peace resolution, demanding a "peace of consent and ronconciliation", passed German Reichstag, staying just as unsuccessful as a diplomatic initiative by pope Benedict XV.

Soon after this, weakened Russia agreed to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on February 9, 1918, for being able to concentrate on interior October Revolution. On the one hand, this made US president Wilson stress his 14 Points peace program. His most important matter of concern was the founding of a League of Nations, written down in point 14. Thus, the policy of power, dictated by national egoisms, should find an end. On the other hand, the peace of Brest-Litovsk was useful for reinforcing the German West Front, a major offensive being planned by general Ludendorff in spring 1918, thus further hardening the attitude of the Allies during Versailles.

In fact, August 8, 1918, the day of the battle of Amiens, became the "black day" for Germany. When Germany's allies collapsed, too, Ludendorff finally admitted defeat. On October 4, the German government asked for an armistice, basing on Wilson's 14 Points, and negotiations began. On November 11, the German delegation, leaded by Erzberger, signed the peace treaty of Compiègne, basing on the 14 Points. Thus, the peace of Brest-Litovsk was annulled, the sea blockade still valid; the political and military basis for a future freedom was set.

The attitude of The Big Three, negotiations concering Germany

On January 1919, the Paris Peace Conference, lead by Georges Clémenceau, started, heading towards creating a new order in territorially and politically smashed Europe, 32 nations taking part in total; Germany, Russia and the other defeated states were allowed to communicate with these via telegram. Major decisions were made by The Big Three, president Woodrow Wilson (USA), prime minister Georges Clémenceau (France) and prime minister Lloyd George (GB).

Wilson mostly aimed at creating a global peace order via a consentual peace, basing on his 14 Points and, as a major creditor of many West Allies, suggested a mild treatment of Germany, avoiding to ruin its economy for enabling it to pay reparations.

Lloyd George demanded a strong cutdown of German trade (handing over a big part of its trade fleet, annexation of all German colonies, but no major restrictions on the mainland), and, suffering from war debts, too, sufficient reparations. On the other hand, Germany was supposed to be reincluded in the association of states as well as isolated from Bolshevik Russia, creating a bulwark in Central Europe.

Clémenceau, though, not showing much intent to consent, pursued a policy of revanchism and security, particularly concerning territorial regulations (if possible, annexation of the Saar, separation of Rhineland, giving in to Poland’s wide-range territorial demands). Germany should never again become a hegemonial power in Europe. Thus, according to Clémenceau, peace should go hand in hand with creating French superiority on the continent, while banning Germany from the international society ("Germans have slaves' souls, the only argument they understand is violence" -Clémenceau).

Therefore, the actual treaty of peace was created as a compromise, highly disapproved of by German politicians such as Brockdorf-Rantzau, Secretary of State. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Versailles was, along with an ultimatum, handed over on June 16, 1919, followed by mass protests, particularly in Rhineland. Not long after this, the government under chancellor Philipp Scheidemann (SPD) resigned, unable to find any consent whether to sign or not. New chancellor Gustav Bauer (SPD) finally found a pro-signing majority, mostly for fear of endangering German unity as well as causing any harsher treatment than already written down in the treaty. Finally, Hermann Müller (Secretary of State, SPD) and Johannes Bell (Zentrum) signed the treaty on June, 28 in the Versailles Hall Of Mirrors, the same place the German Reich was proclaimed in 1871.


The Treaty of Versailles consisted of 15 parts, the first dealing with the founding of the Leage of Nations, although Germany itself was not supposed to join in, but non-members also had to follow the League's orders. (As said in a writeup by El Senor T before, the USA themselves refused to join in and, mostly therefore, never ratified the Treaty of Versailles and instead had their own peace treaty with Germany signed in August, 1921.)

Regarding territorial regulations, Germany was supposed to lose all rights concerning foreign countries and colonies, which from this point on were agreed to be administrated by the League of Nations. Alsace-Lorraine was to be handed over to France, Posen and West Prussia to Poland, "Hultschiner Ländchen" to Czechoslovakia, the Memel region to Luthuania, and Danzig was made a Free City.
The nationality of other European regions was to be decided via plebiscite, and thus Eupen-Malmedy handed over to Belgium, parts of Nordschleswig to Denmark, parts of East Prussia and Upper Silesia to Poland.
The Saar region was to be administrated by the League as well, the coal mines given to France, while a plebiscite, performed 15 years later, resulted in its staying German.

German land forces were to be reduced to 100.000, naval forces to 15.000, universal compulsory military service as well as several sorts of weapons were to be abolished, and a professional army created, observed by an Allies' commission.

The German Rhineland was demilitarized and divided into three parts which were supposed to be evacuated after 5, 10 and 15 years.

Concerning economical conditions, Germany’s status as a super power should be determined by taking most parts of its trade fleet, confiscation of German assets abroad, closing of export markets, and obligatory supply of the Allies with any kind of economical good.

As for war reparations, they should be handed over as gold, commodity, ships, bonds or otherwise to the value of 20 billions of Reichsmark until 1920, afterwards being replaced by long-term payments, thus meaning to force the German government to agree to signing a blank cheque.

The probably most debated articles, 227-231, also called War Guilt Clause, declared Germany and its allies as wholly and solely guilty of World War I, indicating emperor Wilhelm II as war criminal in article 227.

Ratification date was set January 1, 1920.

Results of the Treaty of Versailles

In Weimar Republic, this treaty was, especially because of the War Guilt Clause, regarded as "Schanddiktat" (meaning the Allies should be ashamed to force the German people into this), resulting in an increasing distrust between Germany and the West Allies, France's obvious resentments causing aggressions, which were, as the progressively politicalized war reparations issue, used by extreme rightists, later by the NSDAP, for their own purposes. Due to the general disapproval in public, Weimar Republic governments, leftist or rightist, from 1920 on ever tried to achieve revision, some way or the other.

As Germany was forbidden to join the League of Nations, and as the USA refused to join themselves, it was never estimated capable of encouraging and saving peace.

The territorial regulations resulted in many Germans living outside German borders, causing minority problems particularly in Czechoslovakia (Böhmen, Mähren, Sudetenland) and Poland (Upper Silesia).

Weimar Republic being isolated internationally just as Russia, they formed the Treaty of Rapallo on April 16, 1922, containing regulations about post-war payments, economical and military regulations, thus further complicating Germany's role in the West.

The war reparations, finally settled after the London Ultimatum of Mai 5, 1921, being 132 billions Reichsmark, 2 billions a year, plus 25 percent of all exports, burdened Weimar Republic's economy for a long time, causing 1923's Ruhrkampf, and weakening European economy as well.

Thus, German politics after the Treaty of Versailles oscillated between revisionism and fulfillment, causing national crises (e.g., fulfillment politician Matthias Erzberger was assassinated by a rightist in 1921) as well as international tensions, and, finally, after 1929's worldwide economic crisis, giving in to Hitler in 1933.

Informations taken from "Die Weimarer Republik, Band 1, 1919-1923", Bayerische Landeszentrale für politische Bildungsarbeit, Munich, Germany, 1994.

Thanks to eliserh!

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