What was the Treaty of Versailes?

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The victorious Allies meet

Think!

The negotiations between the Big Three were far from straightforward – each leader had his own views.

  • Why might they have held different ideas about what the peace should look like?
  • Why do you think that Wilson’s ideas were more conciliatory?

Compare the ideas of the Big Three with the terms of the treaty. 

  • Which country was the most successful in putting their ideas into the treaty?

Reflect!

  • Which parts of the treaty might have been most likely to upset German people?
  • Which parts of the treaty might have caused future economic problems for Germany?

The Paris peace conference

After the fighting stopped, there was a peace conference in Paris to rebuild Europe. It began in January 1919. Britain, France and the USA dominated the conference.

The Germans assumed that the 14 point plan by President Woodrow Wilson of the USA would form the basis of the peace treaty. This plan seemed fair to people across Europe. 

Issues

However, a number of issues affected the outcome of the Paris peace conference: 

  • The Allies had different opinions as to what should be the main aims of the treaty; Britain and more especially France wanted to punish Germany.
  • Woodrow Wilson fell sick at the beginning of the Paris Peace Conference, so was not able to promote his '14 Points for peace'. When he eventually arrived at the conference, France and Britain put pressure on Wilson to accept a treaty that was designed to weaken Germany.
  • The Germans were not invited to contribute to the negotiations; the actual treaty was dictated to them.

Terms of the treaty

Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles dictated by the Allies, Germany had to accept responsibility for the war. This gave the Allies the right to confiscate German land and to make huge cuts in the German army, navy and air force. The Allies also demanded large amounts of money as compensation; this was called ‘Reparations’.

Within Germany the harsh terms of the treaty caused huge unrest. The politicians who signed it were later called the ‘November criminals’. Unfortunately there was no alternative to signing the treaty. Germany had to accept the terms dictated by the victorious Allies.