The Treaty of Versailles was a peace treaty made following the events of the First World War. The Treaty was made to determine what should become of Germany after the War, as one of the conditions of the Treaty was that Germany was to take full blame for causing the war, and all the damage done during it. Another part of the treaty was devoted to establishing the League of Nations, a global peacekeeping organisation. The Treaty was signed by most of the allied powers and by Germany on the 28th of June 1919. There were three prominent people who had the biggest effect upon the Treaty: David Lloyd George from Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France and Woodrow Wilson from America. These three individuals all had differing agendas and wanted different things out of the Treaty. Due to this, all of the “Big Three” had wildly differing levels of satisfaction from the outcomes of the Treaty. The outcomes of the Treaty were highly detrimental to Germany, and many critics regarded it as excessive, such as John Maynard Keynes, who regarded it a “Carthaginian peace” (Keynes, 1919), referring how Germany had essentially been brought to peace by being almost completely destroyed by the terms of the treaty. The outcomes of the treaty were grouped into four categories: financial, territorial, military, and general, with the most visible effects coming from the financial and territorial terms.
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The financial and territorial terms of the Treaty of Versailles were likely those which had the largest effect on the physical and economic layout of Europe. In practical terms, Alsace-Lorraine was given to France from Germany, several other parts of Germany were given to other countries or were made into countries and Germany’s overseas colonies were given to the League of Nations. What this meant for Germany was that many of its best regions for farming and production, were now gone. For example, West Prussia and Upper Silesia, which was some of the country’s best farmland and most abundant coal fields, respectively, were both given to Poland which meant that Germany would struggle even more to regain any of its former economic footing (HistoryLearningSite, 2015). In terms of financial reparations, Germany had to pay a sum of “£6.6 billion – in instalments, until 1984” (Clare, 2014), a vast some of money for a country just defeated in a war and robbed of some of its best land to pay. The other two categories of terms, military and general were had perhaps less obvious consequences, but still followed the trend of Germany being punished for starting the war.
The military and general terms of the Treaty of Versailles both concerned weakening Germany as a country, and the establishing of the League of Nations. Germany’s army was to be no more than 100,000 soldiers serving at any one time. Germany was also not allowed an air force and her navy was limited to six warships (Godfrey, 2013). The most significant of the general terms of the Treaty was clause 231, which stated “Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected” (Facing History, 2014). Most of the other general terms of the Treaty regarded the formation of the League of Nations. Of the “Big Three” the one member who was the happiest with these terms was Georges Clemenceau of France.
Georges Clemenceau and the French people in General, were on the whole very happy with the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles. Clemenceau is known for having remarked “It is a beautiful day” (Godfrey, 2013) after the signing. The reason for this joy was that Clemenceau believed that Germany deserved to be completely decimated for what they did to France, so much that it would become nothing more than a minor country with no hope for ever being a strong nation again. Clemenceau believed that the terms of the treaty had accomplished this, and the fact that Germany was made to pay reparations for all damage caused during the War sweetened the deal as it meant that France would be as economically viable after the repayments had been made. Clemenceau was certainly the happiest of the Big Three with the outcome of the deal, and perhaps the only one truly happy with it, as even David Lloyd George of Britain was secretly not satisfied with the outcome of the deal.
David Lloyd George was apprehensive of the results of the formation of the Treaty of Versailles. He publically said he would “make Germany pay” (Clare, 2014), as it was required for him to win the British election in 1918 because this is what the majority of British people wanted from the treaty. Despite this, he believed that being too harsh on Germany would not be beneficial to Britain, as he knew that Britain’s biggest trading partner before the War was Germany. He was also wary of the spread of communism to Europe, believed that the worse state Germany was in because of the Treaty, the more likely it would become communist. Lloyd George was forced to advocate the British popular opinion for the Treaty, as not doing so would be a terrible political move; Woodrow Wilson of America did the opposite and perhaps proved Lloyd George’s point of why he conformed to popular opinion.
Woodrow Wilson felt the Treaty of Versailles did not fulfil his vision for a better world. This can be seen in Wilson’s 14 Points regarding world peace. Some of his points were fulfilled in the treaty, such as “8. France should be fully liberated and allowed to recover Alsace-Lorraine” (History Learning Site, 2015). However, many of his points, such as an end to secret diplomacy and free navigation of the seas were given no consideration what so ever in the treaty, which was made to mainly deal with Germany, rather than establish world peace. One of Wilson’s most important points was the establishment of a League of Nations to preserve equality and peace between nations. This was approved in the Treaty and came into being, however even this did not go fully to Wilson’s advantage, as when Wilson presented the Treaty to the American Senate it was met with stiff opposition and was not approved, therefore making America unable to ratify the deal and being eligible for membership of the League of nations.
The Treaty of Versailles initially made as a peace treaty between the allies and Germany. It ended up essentially being three individuals with radically differing agendas all trying to put what they wanted onto this treaty which ended up satisfying only one, Clemenceau of France. Clemenceau’s only aim with the Treaty was to ensure Germany would never be strong enough to ever have a war again, which is what it seemed the Treaty had accomplished, as the terms of the treaty were so harsh on Germany that it seemed the country would never again do anything near a major war. Wilson and Lloyd George, of America and Britain were both more wary of punishing Germany too harshly, as for various reasons they believed it would not lead to complete peace.
Keynes, JM 1919, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, John Maynard Keynes, Cambridge
Clare, John 2014, What were ‘reparations’, and what changes were made to the Treaty of Versailles over this issue in the period 1919–1932?, viewed28 February 2015, http://www.johndclare.net/EA7.htm
Facing History and Ourselves 2014, Treaty of Versailles, text of Article 231, the “War Guilt Clause” (Politics – Treaty of Versailles), Viewed 27 February 2014, https://www.facinghistory.org/weimar-republic-fragility-democracy/politics/treaty-versailles-text-article-231-war-guilt-clause-politics
History Learning Site 2015, The Treaty of Versailles, viewed 27 February 2015, http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/treaty_of_versailles.htm
Godfrey, T 2013, The Big Three: The Treaty of Versailles, viewed 28 February 2015, https://prezi.com/qhelmsflm2rz/untitled-prezi/
University of Virginia 2015, Personalities of the Big Three: Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd George, viewed 2 March 2015, http://faculty.virginia.edu/setear/students/sandytov/Big_Three.htm