On January 18, 1919 the Paris Peace Conference convened, eventually resulting in the construction of the Treaty of Versailles. The intent of the conference was to agree on an international settlement with the axis powers after World War I. Delegates David Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, Vittorio Orlando of Italy, and Woodrow Wilson, had the most control over the decisions being made at the convention. Of these four, Wilson was the highest ranking governmental official because of his determination to lead the American delegation himself.

"The Big four"  David Lloyd George of Britain, Georges Clemenceau of
France, Woodrow Wilson of the United States, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy.

In June 1919, the "Big Four", tired with the struggle involved in implementing self-determination, "because...[it] could not be readily made to fit the actual distribution of populations and partly because it came into collision with power politics" (Heater, pp. 64), put together and signed, with Germany and the associated powers, the Treaty of Versailles.

Was the Treaty of Versailles a document that promoted national self-determination?

The Paris Peace Conference opened with the President of France's welcome:
        "If you are to remake the map of the world it is in the name of the peoples and on condition that you shall faithfully
        interpret their thoughts and respect the right of nations, small and great, to dispose of themselves...." (11)

Woodrow Wilson remained committed to the principles of self-determinaton, but the Big Four did not share his resolve. The European allies were determined to seek heavy punitive concessions from Germany and were annoyed with Wilson's idealistic philosophy. In March 1919, Clemenceau "told a member of the British delegation, '[that Wilson] thought himself another Jesus Christ come upon the earth to reform men.'" (12)

In his book, National Self-Determination: Woodrow Wilson and his Legacy, Derek Heater breaks down the self-determination issues that Wilson had the greatest vested interest in accomplishing, into four categories:

1) Wilson sought to incorporate the concept of national self-determination into the Covenant of the League of Nations. Wilson drafted an article for the Covenant which had to be abandoned because it was too ambitious (Heater, 71):

          "it is understood between (the Contracting Powers) that such territorial readjustments, if any, as may in the future become necessary by reason of changes in present racial conditions and aspirations or present social and political relationships, pursuant to the principle of self-determination... may be effected, if agreeable to those peoples... The Contracting Powers accept without reservation the principle that the peace of the world is superior in importance to every question of political jurisdiction or boundary." (13)

2) Wilson repeatedly attempted to influence decisions "when small minorities were in danger of transference to an alien government." He failed in this objective when "the Bulgars of the southern Dobruja [were incorporated] into Romania and the Germans along the railway link between Eupen and Malmedy into Belgium" (Heater, 71).

3) Wilson was very concerned with the greed of the more powerful countries. One example of this was the struggle between Wilson and Orlando and Italy's desire for more land. Orlando refused to accept the ninth of the Fourteen Points, "A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality" and would not 'budge' from his demand for the port city of Fiume. Wilson, drawing from the ethnographical information he received that Fiume "contained in 1910 a population of 82,248 of whom 24,870 were Italians and 48,886 Jugo-Slavs. The whole surrounding hinterland was solidly Jugo-Slav" (14), would not allow Italy to claim Fiume. Wilson addressed the Italian people on April 23, 1919:

            "The war was ended... by proposing to Germany an armistice and peace which should be founded on certain clearly defined principles which should set up a new order of right and justice.... If those principles are to be adhered to, Fiume must serve as the outlet and inlet of the commerce, not of Italy, but of the lands to the north and northeast of that port: Hungary, Bohemia, Roumania, and the states of the new Jugo-Slavic group. To assign Fiume to Italy would be to create the feeling that we had deliberately put the port upon which all these countries chiefly depend for their access to the Mediterranean in the hands of a power of which it did not form an integral part and whose sovereignty, if set up there, must inevitably seem foreign...." (15)

4) Finally, Wilson, during the Peace Conference ran into problems with Clemenceau's desire to annex the Left Bank of the Rhine and the Saar, in order to guarantee French security by weakening Germany.

            "The matter is this: the French want the whole left bank of the Rhine. I told M. Clemenceau that I could not consent to such a solution to the problem. He became very excited and then demanded ownership of the Saar Basin. I told him I could not agree to that either because it would mean giving 300,000 Germans to France...." (16)

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