Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919

By Arthur Walworth | Go to book overview
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The Treaty of Versailles

AT the end of April the threat of general social revolution put constant pressure upon the peacemakers to hasten their work. On the last day of the month the Soviet Republic of Bavaria was destroyed violently and its leaders shot or imprisoned. In Paris, on May Day, demonstrators marched to the very doors of the Peace Conference. Soldiers of the United States were ordered off the streets, and mounted French troops, which Clemenceau had brought into the city as a precaution, charged a riotous crowd beneath the windows of the Crillon.

The tension made the peacemakers the more intent upon haste in producing a draft treaty to be presented to the Germans. They had made the most of the expedient of referring difficult matters to small ad hoc committees, who reported their decisions to the Council of Four, sometimes with dissenting opinions. In this inner council the chiefs spoke with the utmost frankness and with no American secretary present. This all-powerful body, occasionally aided by the Council of Foreign Ministers, considered and acted upon the many reports that came in. The most perplexing of the questions demanding attention were considered only in secrecy. However, delegates were so active in the corridors and at social occasions that Balfour was moved to remark: "All important business is transacted in the intervals of other business." 1.

The machinery that was improvised had wheels within wheels and gears that did not always mesh. As the delegates met in various groups day after day, each man enjoyed freedom to assert his own weight as well as the virtue of his nation's cause. Imprecise thinking and faulty translation often stood in the way of the understanding and reconciliation of conflicting views. Often too much attention was given to small points and not enough to the fundamental issues.

The day-by-day encounters of the American delegates with their European associates were a challenge to ingenuity as well as to patience. One of the financial advisers, Thomas W. Lamont, unschooled in diplomacy and accustomed to the ways of business in New York, described the "Tower of Babel" in which he lived for several months in Paris. He wrote:

We started out on the principle that all the nations should have liberty of action and freedom of expression.... Every nation wanted representatives on every commission.... To deny

Eustace Percy, Some Memories, pp. 60-61.


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Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919
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