100 Years Later: President Wilson’s Famous Speech in WWI

On January 8, 1918 (100 years ago today), then-US President Woodrow Wilson delivered a speech to the US Congress during World War I. This speech, called Fourteen Points, outlined his vision for long-lasting peace in Europe after the war with fourteen points to consider in the peace negotiations.

Fourteen Points & Wilsonianism

US 26th Division in France, April 1918

Woodrow Wilson served as the 28th US President from 1913 to 1921. Though Wilson ran on the assurance that the US would remain neutral in World War I, German aggression forced the US to join in 1917. It became clear to Wilson that America’s national security was connected (to some extent) to European stability; however, Wilson was an idealistic man who wished freedom and prosperity for all nations. Wilson’s famous speech, a product of his foreign policy outlook deemed “Wilsonianism,” shares a message that promotes economic growth and mutual accountability. Wilson’s Fourteen Points emphasized “self-determination” of peoples, advocated democracy and capitalism, opposed isolationism, and encouraged intervention. He also advocated a League of Nations as a sort of international court. Here is the full text.

Problems & Consequences

The Big Four (main negotiators of Treaty of Versailles): David Lloyd George, Vittorio Orlando, George Clemenceau, and Woodrow Wilson

Regardless of the outcome of the Treaty of Versailles, and regardless of the pros and cons of Wilson’s ideas, it’s important to note that President Wilson sincerely wished for worldwide reconciliation. World leaders like George Clemenceau felt more vengeful (as France suffered so greatly during the war with all the fighting on the Western Front) and were less inclined to a reasonable resolution. In the end, against Wilson’s wishes, Germany was punished immensely. However, it was his idea to redraw border lines around eastern Europe and cause turmoil among the nations in the name of “self-determination.” [Bear in mind that Wilson’s paternalistic attitude here reflects a time when imperialism was ending but not over yet. His desire to extend liberty to colonial peoples–his forcing his vision of self-determination on other nations–can be debated as progressive, ignorant, well-meaning but naive, etc.] Both those results from WWI–one supported by Wilson, one not–began to lay the ground work for World War II. Though we don’t have the League of Nations today, the United Nations is essentially the same thing.


[Most information came from here and the book Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan.]

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