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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

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The Settlement at Paris

The Peace Conference.—On January 18, 1919, a conference of the Allied and Associated Powers assembled to pronounce judgment upon the German empire and its defeated satellites: Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. It was a moving spectacle. Seventy-two delegates spoke for thirty-two states. The United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan had five delegates each. Belgium, Brazil, and Serbia were each assigned three. Canada, Australia, South Africa, India, China, Greece, Hedjaz, Poland, Portugal, Rumania, Siam, and Czechoslovakia were allotted two apiece. The remaining states of New Zealand, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay each had one delegate. President Wilson spoke in person for the United States. England, France, and Italy were represented by their premiers: David Lloyd George, Georges Clémenceau, and Vittorio Orlando.

Premiers Lloyd George, Orlando and Clémenceau and President Wilson at Paris

The Supreme Council.—The real work of the settlement was first committed to a Supreme Council of ten representing the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan. This was later reduced to five members. Then Japan dropped out and finally Italy, leaving only President Wilson and the Premiers, Lloyd George and Clémenceau, the “Big Three,” who assumed the burden of mighty decisions. On May 6, their work was completed and in a secret session of the full conference the whole treaty of peace was approved, though a few of the powers made reservations or objections. The next day the treaty was presented to the Germans who, after prolonged protests, signed on the last day of grace, June 28. This German treaty was followed by agreements with Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey. Collectively these great documents formed the legal basis of the general European settlement.

The Terms of the Settlement.—The combined treaties make a huge volume. The German treaty alone embraces about 80,000 words. Collectively they cover an immense range of subjects which may be summarized under five heads: (1) The territorial settlement in Europe; (2) the destruction of German military power; (3) reparations for damages done by Germany and her allies; (4) the disposition of German colonies and protectorates; and (5) the League of Nations.

Germany was reduced by the cession of Alsace-Lorraine to France and the loss of several other provinces. Austria-Hungary was dissolved and dismembered. Russia was reduced by the creation of new states on the west. Bulgaria was stripped of her gains in the recent Balkan wars. Turkey was dismembered. Nine new independent states were created: Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Esthonia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Armenia, and Hedjaz. Italy, Greece, Rumania, and Serbia were enlarged by cessions of territory and Serbia was transformed into the great state of Jugoslavia.

The destruction of German military power was thorough. The entire navy, with minor exceptions, was turned over to the Allied and Associated Powers; Germany’s total equipment for the future was limited to six battleships and six light cruisers, with certain small vessels but no submarines. The number of enlisted men and officers for the army was fixed at not more than 100,000; the General Staff was dissolved; and the manufacture of munitions restricted.

Germany was compelled to accept full responsibility for all damages; to pay five billion dollars in cash and goods, and to make certain other payments which might be ordered from time to time by an inter-allied reparations commission. She was also required to deliver to Belgium, France, and Italy, millions of tons of coal every year for ten years; while by way of additional compensation to France the rich coal basin of the Saar was placed under inter-allied control to be exploited under French administration for a period of at least fifteen years. Austria and the other associates of Germany were also laid under heavy obligations to the victors. Damages done to shipping by submarines and other vessels were to be paid for on the basis of ton for ton.

The disposition of the German colonies and the old Ottoman empire presented knotty problems. It was finally agreed that the German colonies and Turkish provinces which were in a backward stage of development should be placed under the tutelage of certain powers acting as “mandatories” holding them in “a sacred trust of civilization.” An exception to the mandatory principle arose in the case of German rights in Shantung, all of which were transferred directly to Japan. It was this arrangement that led the Chinese delegation to withhold their signatures from the treaty.

The League of Nations.—High among the purposes which he had in mind in summoning the nation to arms, President Wilson placed the desire to put an end to war. All through the United States the people spoke of the “war to end war.” No slogan called forth a deeper response from the public. The President himself repeatedly declared that a general association of nations must be formed to guard the peace and protect all against the ambitions of the few. “As I see it,” he said in his address on opening the Fourth Liberty Loan campaign, “the constitution of the League of Nations and the clear definition of its objects must be a part, in a sense the most essential part, of the peace settlement itself.”

Nothing was more natural, therefore, than Wilson’s insistence at Paris upon the formation of an international association. Indeed he had gone to Europe in person largely to accomplish that end. Part One of the treaty with Germany, the Covenant of the League of Nations, was due to his labors more than to any other influence. Within the League thus created were to be embraced all the Allied and Associated Powers and nearly all the neutrals. By a two-thirds vote of the League Assembly the excluded nations might be admitted.

The agencies of the League of Nations were to be three in number: (1) a permanent secretariat located at Geneva; (2) an Assembly consisting of one delegate from each country, dominion, or self-governing colony (including Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, and India); (3) and a Council consisting of representatives of the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy, and Japan, and four other representatives selected by the Assembly from time to time.

The duties imposed on the League and the obligations accepted by its members were numerous and important. The Council was to take steps to formulate a scheme for the reduction of armaments and to submit a plan for the establishment of a permanent Court of International Justice. The members of the League (Article X) were to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all the associated nations. They were to submit to arbitration or inquiry by the Council all disputes which could not be adjusted by diplomacy and in no case to resort to war until three months after the award. Should any member disregard its covenants, its action would be considered an act of war against the League, which would accordingly cut off the trade and business of the hostile member and recommend through the Council to the several associated governments the military measures to be taken. In case the decision in any arbitration of a dispute was unanimous, the members of the League affected by it were to abide by it.

Such was the settlement at Paris and such was the association of nations formed to promote the peace of the world. They were quickly approved by most of the powers, and the first Assembly of the League of Nations met at Geneva late in 1920.

The Treaty in the United States.—When the treaty was presented to the United States Senate for approval, a violent opposition appeared. In that chamber the Republicans had a slight majority and a two-thirds vote was necessary for ratification. The sentiment for and against the treaty ran mainly along party lines; but the Republicans were themselves divided. The major portion, known as “reservationists,” favored ratification with certain conditions respecting American rights; while a small though active minority rejected the League of Nations in its entirety, announcing themselves to be “irreconcilables.” The grounds of this Republican opposition lay partly in the terms of peace imposed on Germany and partly in the Covenant of the League of Nations. Exception was taken to the clauses which affected the rights of American citizens in property involved in the adjustment with Germany, but the burden of criticism was directed against the League. Article X guaranteeing against external aggression the political independence and territorial integrity of the members of the League was subjected to a specially heavy fire; while the treatment accorded to China and the sections affecting American internal affairs were likewise attacked as “unjust and dangerous.” As an outcome of their deliberations, the Republicans proposed a long list of reservations which touched upon many of the vital parts of the treaty. These were rejected by President Wilson as amounting in effect to a “nullification of the treaty.” As a deadlock ensued the treaty was definitely rejected, owing to the failure of its sponsors to secure the requisite two-thirds vote.

The League of Nations in the Campaign of 1920.—At this juncture the presidential campaign of 1920 opened. The Republicans, while condemning the terms of the proposed League, endorsed the general idea of an international agreement to prevent war. Their candidate, Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio, maintained a similar position without saying definitely whether the League devised at Paris could be recast in such a manner as to meet his requirements. The Democrats, on the other hand, while not opposing limitations clarifying the obligations of the United States, demanded “the immediate ratification of the treaty without reservations which would impair its essential integrity.” The Democratic candidate, Governor James M. Cox, of Ohio, announced his firm conviction that the United States should “go into the League,” without closing the door to mild reservations; he appealed to the country largely on that issue. The election of Senator Harding, in an extraordinary “landslide,” coupled with the return of a majority of Republicans to the Senate, made uncertain American participation in the League of Nations.

The United States and International Entanglements.—Whether America entered the League or not, it could not close its doors to the world and escape perplexing international complications. It had ever-increasing financial and commercial connections with all other countries. Our associates in the recent war were heavily indebted to our government. The prosperity of American industries depended to a considerable extent upon the recovery of the impoverished and battle-torn countries of Europe.

There were other complications no less specific. The United States was compelled by force of circumstances to adopt a Russian policy. The government of the Czar had been overthrown by a liberal revolution, which in turn had been succeeded by an extreme, communist “dictatorship.” The Bolsheviki, or majority faction of the socialists, had obtained control of the national council of peasants, workingmen, and soldiers, called the soviet, and inaugurated a radical régime. They had made peace with Germany in March, 1918. Thereupon the United States joined England, France, and Japan in an unofficial war upon them. After the general settlement at Paris in 1919, our government, while withdrawing troops from Siberia and Archangel, continued in its refusal to recognize the Bolshevists or to permit unhampered trade with them. President Wilson repeatedly denounced them as the enemies of civilization and undertook to lay down for all countries the principles which should govern intercourse with Russia.

Further international complications were created in connection with the World War, wholly apart from the terms of peace or the League of Nations. The United States had participated in a general European conflict which changed the boundaries of countries, called into being new nations, and reduced the power and territories of the vanquished. Accordingly, it was bound to face the problem of how far it was prepared to coöperate with the victors in any settlement of Europe’s difficulties. By no conceivable process, therefore, could America be disentangled from the web of world affairs. Isolation, if desirable, had become impossible. Within three hundred years from the founding of the tiny settlements at Jamestown and Plymouth, America, by virtue of its institutions, its population, its wealth, and its commerce, had become first among the nations of the earth. By moral obligations and by practical interests its fate was thus linked with the destiny of all mankind.

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