One century ago, on January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson stood before a joint session of Congress to outline his "Fourteen Points" for a postwar peace. Nine months before, the United States had entered World War I, despite the president's great efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict. In his address, Wilson presented a vision of a new world order based on law, equality and what became the League of Nations. At just over twelve hundred words, it was short by presidential standards, but it changed the world. Eight of Wilson's points addressed territorial issues; the six others spoke to the conduct of international relations: the end to secret treaties, freedom of the seas, reciprocal and free trade, limits on national armaments, impartial adjudication of competing colonial claims, and the creation of “a general association of nations” to guarantee the “political independence and territorial integrity of great and small states alike.”
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 rejected 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. And Germany learned that Wilson’s blueprint for world peace would not apply to them. However, Wilson’s last point calling for a world organization was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles. The organization would become known as the League of Nations. Though Wilson tirelessly campaigned to overcome opposition in the United States, 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.
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