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Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points

President Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech in 1918 set a new vision for global peace during World War I. He proposed open diplomacy, free trade, disarmament, and self-determination of nations. His ideas influenced the Treaty of Versailles and inspired the formation of the League of Nations. Created by Sal Khan.

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  • leaf green style avatar for user 福龍丸
    What does the idiom 'touch to the quick' mean?
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  • female robot grace style avatar for user Jazz
    Why didn't the Treaty of Versailles get ratified in America? Sal mentioned this several times ( ), but I'm still confused about the reasoning behind America not ratifying the Treaty of Versailles.
    (35 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Aneirin (Nye) Rhys Potter
    How is "Brest Lotovich" supposed to be pronounced (I get the impression that Sal isn't saying it right)?
    (22 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Anna H.
    How do historians deal with the cognitive dissonance between Wilson's 14 points"idealism" and his support of violence against African Americans in his home country? He showed "Birth of a Nation", a film which has Klan members as heroes, in his White House and calls it "history written with lightning", but also says in his 14 points "What we demand is that....the world be made fit and safe to live in"? He obviously did not believe that African American's deserved a fit and safe world to live in. Can a historian justly say that Wilson's 14 points were "ideal" without the context that Wilson's "ideals" only applied to some people, while inhumanly ignoring others?
    (23 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      We are all, Anna, bundles of contradictions. Wilson turns out to have been both an idealist and a monster at the same time.
      There are men in this world who cry out for equal treatment of all people, yet who cruelly oppress their own wives and daughters.

      There are women in this world who cry for everyone to be liberated, yet who oppress their subordinates in organizations.

      We, you and I, ALL of us, are bundles of contradictions.

      This is sad, but it is all too true all too often.

      Your question, by the way, merits many upvotes, of which I've given one.
      (14 votes)
  • leaf blue style avatar for user Jerry
    So the Fourteen Points was made before WWI ended?
    (15 votes)
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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Christopher Lanning
    If Austria-Hungary kicked off WWI by declaring war on Serbia, why did the Treaty of Versailles exact revenge on Germany only?
    (9 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user Nancy MJ
    Point 5 seems quite ironic to me! If the US really believed this concept, wouldn't they then return the American colonies back to the Native Americans?
    (9 votes)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      You make an excellent point. I think the difference, though, was that the "colonies" of other nations were governed as "colonies", but those of the US were "territories" or already parts of the 48 states constituting the nation's homeland. The distinction is political, linguistic, and legalistic. I suppose a case might have been made for the decolonization of US territories where residents didn't have a vote in national affairs (Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Philippines, Guam, American Samoa, Virgin Islands, Canal Zone), but the Native American reservation lands (no less colonized, but part of the 48 states) are less likely to be considered for decolonization since residents could vote in national affairs.

      Nonetheless, I'm on your side.
      (10 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Hung
    , did the American public share Woodrow Wilson's ideas of anti-colonialism? At that time, what were public opinions on the Philippines as a US colony.
    (8 votes)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Randy
      Good question. U.S. Imperialism (territories, colonies, protectorates) has always been a subject that divided American people. One side tends to favor U.S. isolationism while the other sees it as an expansion of Manifest Destiny. There are also those who see it as important for the defense of the country. As for the Philippines, the U.S. sold the idea to the public that we were helping the Philippines by ending Spanish rule and putting them on the road to independence. What the public is told and what is the "truth" are often two different things.
      (10 votes)
  • purple pi teal style avatar for user Marta Siemczonek
    At where did this no.3 about free trade come from? All other points concern military, diplomacy, land/self-governance claims, etc. - that is, issues closely associated with the war. But here out of the blue they talk about free trade. Was trade or tariffs an issue during WWI? Or was it perhaps some American agenda that Wilson tried to sneak in to the peace treaty?
    (7 votes)
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    • piceratops seed style avatar for user sam.pinkelman
      Before WWI, the U.S. was trading military supplies with France. The German U-boats sunk all ships. This was an underlying cause of WWI and the main reason that the U.S. joined WWI. In a way, it concerns the military forces, but it is basically an add on to the point regarding free travel of international waters during war and peace.
      (7 votes)
  • primosaur ultimate style avatar for user Cowboy Andy
    What was happening with Austria-Hungary? I'm mainly hearing about Germany on the Western front. I find it somewhat hard to believe that a large empire such as AH is completely absorbed on the Eastern front with Italy. Is that the case, or was it just not talked about much?
    (7 votes)
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Video transcript

As we go into January of 1918, let's remind ourselves of the context, the background that's going on, especially relative to World War I. First of all in April of 1917, a lot of the context is what happened in 1917, you have the U.S. declares war on Germany. The main argument they give is this unrestricted submarine warfare that the Germans are undertaking. You also have the fall of the Russian Empire. ... Fall of Russian Empire... You have the revolution that overthrows the Czar in February, March of 1917, and then in October, you have the Bolsheviks take over in a coup. This essentially, the Bolsheviks, once they take over, they have no interest in terms of continuing the war with Germany. So you have an armistice declared and the Russians are in the process of negotiating the terms of a treaty with the Central Powers. They're kind of negotiating the Brest-Litovsk Treaty as we speak. On top of that, you have, because the central powers don't have to focus on Russia on the eastern front anymore, they're trying to bring their, especially Germany, is trying to bring its troops back to the western front, and they want to do it before the U.S. can mobilize in any significant way. So, race on western front ... western front ... Between, essentially, can Germany get its troops and do an offensive that can put probably France out of the war before the U.S. has a chance to significantly reinforce the western front? This is essentially between German, redeploy troops from the eastern front, German troops ... troops from eastern, from eastern front versus new American troops ... versus new Americans. This is the backdrop. No one really knew what exactly was going to happen on the western front. Certain military analysts will say Germany was able to prosecute this two front war against a major empire and Russia, now they're going to be able to focus completely on the western front, Germany might be able to deal the decisive blow. Others would say the U.S. it's this emerging power, it's bringing fresh troops in, it has a major industrial capacity. The U.S. could, especially if the war were to last a good bit, the U.S. might be the decisive element for the allies. So that's the background in which President Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson on January of 1918, January 8th, gives a speech to the joint sessions of congress. This is part of the text of the speech, I'm just going to read through it, I'm not going to read the entire speech. He talks about many things, essentially; why are we in World War I, what is the moral causes of World War I, and his speech is most famous for his articulation of the "Fourteen Points". Let's just read into it because it really informs a lot of what happened in the Treaty of Versailles, which is essentially the peace treaty with Germany, which the U.S. ironically did not ratify, but it also lays out the tension in the Paris Peace Conferences after World War I between those who were more idealistic like Woodrow Wilson, and those who might have been a little bit more vengeful, especially against the Central Powers. Here we go, this is part of the speech: "We enter this war because violations of right had occurred which touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible unless they were corrected and the world secured once for all against their recurrence. What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves. it is that the world be made fit and safe to live in ..." This is very idealistic. Remember, all these others, especially these European powers are all about who gets what land, who gets what empire, who gets to take advantage of whatever colony. "... and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine is own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression. All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part, we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us. The program of the world's peace, therefore, is our program; and that program, the only possible program, all we see it, is this:" These are his Fourteen Points and I'll try to kind of give some context for each of them. The first is: "Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view." The context here is actually after the Bolsheviks took over, they started releasing all these secret covenants and understandings that the Russian Empire had been getting into. We've already talked about all the entanglements and the alliances that led to World War I, so this is Wilson's attempt to say, "Hey, let's just do everything out in the open. That'll let everyone kind of know, give more transparency, what may or may not occur, based on their actions." Number 2, "Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants." So no more of these British blockades, no more of this unrestricted submarine warfare, the only time we can dictate what happens in open waters is if the international community trying to decide that it wants to enforce international covenants. Number 3, "The removal of all economic barriers and the establishment of equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance." So essentially, it's free trade. ... free trade ... Number 4, "Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety." So he's trying to undo some of this militarism, this buildup of arms that essentially allowed World War I to happen with the ferocity that it did and with the quickness with which it did. Number 5, "A free,open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance ot the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined." This is a big deal that probably did not make the British or the French happy. This is essentially saying self-determination, the people who are in those nations, in those states, their interests matter just as much. "A free open-minded absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims." This is a pretty big deal. Remember, we're kind of exiting this period of empires, most of the European powers still think that these international empires are essentially part of their prestige. Number 6, "The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development and national policy and assure her of a sincere welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own choosing ..." This is still one sentence and then you put period there, semi-colon ... And I guess he had to read that himself, " ... And, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her sister nations in the months to come ..." Remember, they're negotiating with the Central Powers on Brest-Litovsk, " ... to come will be the acid test of their good will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy." So it's saying look, Wilson doesn't know whether the allies or the Central Powers are going to win on the western front, but they know that the Central Powers are dictating terms to Russia with Brest-Litovsk. It's like, this is going to be a test of your good will, of your comprehension of the need of this newly-emerging of state now that the Bolsheviks have taken over. Obviously at this point, you don't have the antagonism between the U.S. and the future Soviet Union that is going to emerge. They're saying give Russia a chance to be herself. Number 7, "Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations." This is kind of obvious. When the Germans rolled through Belgium, that's how they got to France. It was a justification that Great Britain used for entering the war, so get out of Belgium. Number 8, "All French territories should be freed and invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all." Alsace-Lorraine, we've touched on it several times. That's this region right over here. It was taken by Germany, essentially the unification of Germany during the Franco-Prussian War, which was a [unintelligible] region. This was one of the justifications, this was why France might have gone into a war with Germany, and what Germany almost wanted to be preemptive against France because they said France might want to take some of that territory back. 9, "A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality." Hey, where do people speak Italian? 10, "The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development." This is another big deal. It's another breaking up of an empire. It's another self-determination point of the "Fourteen Points". Austria-Hungary, we've already said it was an empire. It included many, many, many nationalities. You have the Czechs right around there. You have the Slovacs right around there. You have the Austrians, German-speaking people, right over there. You have the Hungarians, roughly over there. You have the Slovenians roughly over there. You have the Croatians roughly over there. You have the Bosnians roughly over there. You have many, many other nationalities especially as you get close to the border with Romania and the border with the Ukraine. It's like, let these people determine, let them determine their own fate to some degree. There are all these nationalities. That was number 10. "The freest opportunity to autonomous development." He's not saying that they necessarily need their own states, but that they should have the opportunity to self-govern in some way. Number 11, "Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into." This is kind of laying the groundwork for the future state of Yugoslavia, which is going to be roughly over there. It's kind of the state of the southern Slavs, which is what the whole motivation [unintelligible] for assassinating Archduke Ferdinand which some would argue was kind of the spark that lit World War I. "The Turkish portions of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of an autonomous development ..." Once again, self-determination. "... and the Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships and commerce of all nations under international guarantees." So the Dardanelles, we've talked about it before, that is, that's this right over here, so that you have access between the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea. And we are almost there. So then you have, "An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant." Poland did not exist as its own state prior to World War I. Now you have Woodrow Wilson is advocating it. It will be carved out roughly of this area right over there. Then finally, point 14, "A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." This is essentially, this is the point, that leads to the formation of the League of Nations. When we talk about big ideas, this is a big idea, especially back then. You have Europe who keeps getting into wars with each other. Hey, why don't we all cooperate at this middle level and we have this club of all of the nations to resolve disputes and make sure that we don't have another World War I. So, very, very, very big idealistic idea, it gets formed as an outcome of the Treaty of Versailles, which is drafted during the Paris Peace Conferences after World War I. The unfortunate thing of the League of Nations is that even though this was kind of, the idea was coming from Woodrow Wilson, the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations was not ratified by the U.S. The U.S. never entered the League of Nations, which kind of made it a little bit hollow, and the League of Nations did not have the power to stop World War II from happening only a few decades later, and would later be replaced by the United Nations. This is a really, really, really, really big idea. Because of these big ideas, Woodrow Wilson, these very idealistic ideas, everyone in Europe is talking about territory and imperialism and how do they take control of other people, take control of their resources, and now you have the American President saying it's all about self-determination. It's about making the world safe for democracy, safe for commerce, about open agreements. It's a very powerful idea. This would kind of form the basis, the more idealistic side of American Foreign Policy over the 20th Century. Some would say that there's another very cynical side that takes into account self-interest, but this is the idealistic side of American Foreign Policy, especially through the 20th Century. For this, for his work in this in this area, Woodrow Wilson wins the Nobel Prize a few years later. This right here is a picture of the Nobel Prize looks like, both sides of it. Now, just to kind of foreshadow some of the tension as we get into the Paris Peace Conference, not everyone was as idealistic. You obviously these European powers who bled much harder than the Americans did, although the Americans did contribute significant cost, or troops, to the effort and they lost many, many folks. Obviously if you're French, you had these Germans on your territory. You lost a significant fraction of your population, a huge fraction of your male population. You might be a little bit angrier. So of course, you have Georges Clemenceau who was the Prime Minister of France. He was a little bit more skeptical of the "Fourteen Points". This is a quote from him, he actually has many slightly entertaining quotes, "Mr. Wilson bores me with his "Fourteen Points" while God Almighty has only ten." This will kind of foreshadow some of the tension between Clemenceau and the British, and European allies on one side, and the Americans as we go to the Paris Peace Conference. They were a little bit looking out more for revenge, especially against the Germans while the Americans, especially Woodrow Wilson, was a lot more idealistic.