THE TREATY OF VERSAILLES - 1919
HOME     BACKGROUND     PARIS PEACE CONFERENCE     FRAMING     PURPOSE     CONSEQUENCES     COLLAPSE     SOURCES

 

The Hall of Mirrors, in the Palace of Versailles, where the Treaty was signed.

(www.historyplace.com)

 

The Paris Peace Conference:

The Birth of a Peace Treaty

 

                In the spring of 1919, the Council of Four began the Paris Peace Conference. Meeting almost twice daily,                 they were determined to leave the conference with a treaty that was both suitable and effective for ending                 the First World War. There had been previous discussions with the Council of Ten, but the official                 discussions between the Council of Four began on March 24, with the inclusion of Vittorio Orlando into                 the Council of Three (which consisted of France, Great Britain and the United States). The council met over                 200 times within those three months. Orlando participated in the talks, but was not as vocal, mainly                 because he understood English, but he could not speak the language (Sharp 29). Orlando was also                 skeptical about what reparations Italy would receive. After the Three did not comply with Italy’s demands                 for Fuime, she withdrew from the discussions between April 21st and May 7th (Sharp 29). He would later                 return and then leave the conference for good, as Italy’s government collapsed on June 19th, only 9 days                 before the treaty was signed.


                During the time of Italy’s absence, the Three still held meetings, but those with the Council of Ten were                 few and short. The treaty was beginning to form by the end of April. Lloyd George was very cautious as to                 how severe the treaty was to be. He was concerned with some of the punishments that were being handed                 to Germany, stating that the treaty’s purpose should be to remain fair; “We cannot both cripple her and                 expect her to pay” (Sharp 32). Great Britain was extremely wary of how Germany would respond to the                 treaty and the threat of Bolshevism, “The British prime minister did not favor taking any action that might                 induce Germany to put ‘her vast organizing power at the disposal of the revolutionary fanatics” (Kleine-                 Ahlbrandt 24-25). France, on the other hand, did not share Britain’s reservations.

 

The Council of Four at the Paris Peace Conference. From left to right: Lloyd George, Orlando, Clemenceau and Wilson.

(www.web.jjay.cuny.edu)

 

                With anger still lingering from the Franco-Prussian war, the French set their eyes on what they considered                 to be “rightful revenge”. Clemenceau especially was not shy about his feelings towards Germany and its                 people, “Clemenceau despaired that the German and the French people could never live in harmony. Since                 the end of the Franco-Prussian war, he had visited Germany almost every year and had come away                 convinced that the German character was essentially flawed, deficient in a basic sense of justice” (Kleine-                 Ahlbrandt 24). The United States found themselves in the middle, their main objective being the safety and                 security of a liberal and democratic world. These mixed feelings came to a head with the discussion of                 reparations for Germany. Questions arose about how much she would have to pay, and to whom she                 would pay. Also, they discussed how long she would have to pay for and how she would pay (Sharp 34).


                The Three worked diligently, announcing to Germany on May 4th that the treaty was going to printers.                 Wilson was quoted as saying “I hope that during the rest of my life I will have enough time to read this                 whole volume. We have completed in the least time possible the greatest work that four men have ever                 done” (MacMillan 469). On June 1st the British government was called together to discuss changes that                 they would like to be made in the treaty, including the borders of Poland and revisions of the reparations.                 Word of these discussions reached the ears of Clemenceau and Wilson, both of whom were shocked and                 disdainful about having to revise the work that had taken them months to create. After two weeks of                 meetings between the Three, the treaty was left alone and on June 16th Germany was told that they had                 three days (which later became the 23rd of June) to accept the treaty or there would be force taken by the                 Allied Powers. On that day, the German government at the Reichstag were given the treaty and had to vote                 on it. The president of the assembly, Konstantin Fehrenbach “said the legislators would rather die like                 Roman senators than submit to such disgrace” (Kleine-Ahlbrandt 29). But, there were 237 who voted for                 ratification of the treaty and 138 who were opposed (5 abstained). They came to a conclusion only three                 hours before the Allied forces were to invade Germany.


                The German reaction to the treaty was one of contempt; “The German public was strongly against signing,                 although it was not clear if it was prepared to fight” (MacMillan 481). It was widely believed that Germany                 would not accept the treaty. British and French troops prepared themselves to use force if the treaty was                 rejected. On June 21st, Germany, understanding it had no choice but to accept the treaty, sank “400,000                 tons of expensive shipping” (MacMillan 482) from their navy as a last message to the Allies that they were                 not going down without a fight.

                On June 28th in the Hall of Mirrors, at the Palace of Versailles, Germany and the Allied countries signed the                 Treaty of Versailles, officially ending the First World War. Clemenceau left the palace feeling a sense of                 retribution both because of what France had lost in WWI and the fact that a half century earlier, France                 had signed a treaty of defeat to Prussia in that very hall. While exiting he was quoted as stating with tears                 in his eyes “Yes, it’s a fine day” (Kleine-Ahlbrandt 31).