President Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points (1918)
In this January 8, 1918, speech on War Aims and Peace Terms, President Wilson set down 14 points as a blueprint for world peace that was to be used for peace negotiations after World War I. The details of the speech were based on reports generated by “The Inquiry,” a group of about 150 political and social scientists organized by Wilson’s adviser and long-time friend, Col. Edward M House. Their job was to study Allied and American policy in virtually every region of the globe and analyze economic, social, and political facts likely to come up in discussions during the peace conference. The team began its work in secret and in the end produced and collected nearly 2,000 separate reports and documents plus at least 1,200 maps.
In the speech, Wilson directly addressed what he perceived as the causes for the world war by calling for the abolition of secret treaties, a reduction in armaments, an adjustment in colonial claims in the interests of both native peoples and colonists, and freedom of the seas. Wilson also made proposals that would ensure world peace in the future. For example, he proposed the removal of economic barriers between nations, the promise of “self-determination” for those oppressed minorities, and a world organization that would provide a system of collective security for all nations. Wilson’s 14 Points were designed to undermine the Central Powers’ will to continue and to inspire the Allies to victory. The 14 Points were broadcast throughout the world and were showered from rockets and shells behind the enemy’s lines.
When the Allies met in Versailles to formulate the treaty to end World War I with Germany and Austria-Hungary, most of Wilson’s 14 Points were scuttled by the leaders of England and France. To his dismay, Wilson discovered that England, France, and Italy were mostly interested in regaining what they had lost and gaining more by punishing Germany. Germany quickly found out that Wilson’s blueprint for world peace would not apply to them. However, Wilson’s capstone point calling for a world organization that would provide some system of collective security was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles. This organization would later be known as the League of Nations. Though Wilson launched a tireless missionary campaign to overcome opposition in the U.S. Senate to the adoption of the treaty and membership in the League, the treaty was never adopted by the Senate, and the United States never joined the League of Nations. Wilson would later suggest that without American participation in the League, there would be another world war within a generation.