The Paris Peace Conference

On January 18, 1919, a few months after the end of World War I, leaders from the Allied nations began a series of discussions that became known as the Paris Peace Conference to settle issues raised by the war and its aftermath. Preceded by a series of armistices in September, October, and November 1918, that ended World War I, the Paris Peace Conference brought together representatives from the victorious nations. Russia had withdrawn from the fighting and was not invited. Because Allied leaders held Germany responsible for the war, German leaders attended only the conclusion of the discussions.

Portions of Territory Proposed to be taken from Germany by Treaty Delivered May 7, 1919. From The War of the Nations: Portfolio in Rotogravure Etchings: Compiled from the Mid-week Pictorial, 1919. New York: New York Times, Co., 1919. Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1914 to 1919. Serial & Government Publications Division

Preliminary meetings between the leaders began on January 12, 1919, after British Prime Minister David Lloyd George arrived in Paris. Lloyd George, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Premier Georges Clemenceau of France, and Premier Vittorio Orlando of Italy emerged as the leaders of the conference and became known as the Big Four. The conference ended approximately one year later when the League of Nations, an international organization adapted from one of President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points plan for peace, was organized.

The seance that failed. Clifford Kennedy Berryman, artist, [1918 or 1919]. Cartoon Drawings. Prints & Photographs Division
“Big Four”. Edward Jackson, photographer; Bain News Service, publisher, May 1919. Bain Collection. Prints & Photographs Division
At Last!. Clifford Kennedy Berryman, artist, July 10, 1919. Cartoon Drawings. Prints & Photographs Division

Wilson’s idealistic Fourteen Points generated heated opposition, from Clemenceau and Lloyd George in particular, as each disagreed on the details of how to proceed. Eventually, however, the League of Nations was formed in 1919-20 as an alternative to traditional diplomacy. The United States did not join, in part because of opposition and disagreement among a group of powerful U.S. senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Henry Cabot Lodge. The discussions also resulted in the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, the Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria, and the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria.

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