Fourteen Points

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Fourteen Points

Fourteen Points, formulation of a peace program, presented at the end of World War I by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in an address before both houses of Congress on Jan. 8, 1918. The message, though intensely idealistic in tone and primarily a peace program, had certain very practical uses as an instrument for propaganda. It was intended to reach the people and the liberal leaders of the Central Powers as a seductive appeal for peace, in which purpose it was successful. It was intended also to make it plain to the Allies that the United States would not be a party to a selfish peace, and it was planned to appeal for the support of the liberal elements in Allied countries in achieving an unselfish settlement. It was intended to stimulate moral fervor at home. Finally it was hoped that the points would provide a framework for peace discussions. The message immediately gave Wilson the position of moral leadership of the Allies and furnished him with a tremendous diplomatic weapon as long as the war persisted. In this period few stopped to analyze the practical implications of its far-reaching principles or realized that it cut across the secret treaties of the Allies. After the armistice, opposition to the points quickly crystallized, and the actual treaty (see Versailles, Treaty of) represented a compromise or defeat of many of them. The first five points were general in nature and may be summarized as follows: (1) "open covenants openly arrived at" ; (2) freedom of the seas in peace and war; (3) removal of economic barriers between nations as far as possible; (4) reduction of armaments to needs for domestic safety; (5) adjustment of colonial claims with concern for the wishes and interests of the inhabitants as well as for the titles of rival claimants. The next eight points referred to specific questions: (6) evacuation and general restoration of conquered territories in Russia; (7) preservation of Belgian sovereignty; (8) settlement of the Alsace-Lorraine question; (9) redrawing of Italian frontiers according to nationalities; (10) the division of Austria-Hungary in conformance to its nationalities; (11) the redrawing of Balkan boundaries with reference to historically established allegiance and nationalities; (12) Turkish control only of their own peoples and freedom of navigation through the Dardanelles; (13) the establishment of an independent Poland with access to the sea. The last point (14) was a provision for "a general association of nations … under specific covenants." The League of Nations grew out of the last point.

See R. S. Baker, Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement (1923, repr. 1960); T. A. Bailey, Wilson and the Peacemakers (2 vol., 1947, repr. 1963); K. Schwabe, Woodrow Wilson, Revolutionary Germany, and Peacemaking, 1918–1919 (1985).

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