SEEKING A VOICE
The members of the Belgian delegation had innocently assumed that the Declaration of Sainte-Adresse and their three seats at the conference table would insure that Belgium's voice would be heard. They soon learned otherwise, for it quickly became evident that three seats at plenary sessions were quite meaningless, because decisions were made elsewhere. Within a week of the formal opening of the conference, events obliged them to recognize that the battle for representation and influence had barely begun. The first plenary session in the Salle de la Paix at the Quai d'Orsay on 18 January 1919 consisted of little more than oratory and ceremony. The only action of significance was Wilson's nomination of Clemenceau to be president of the peace conference. He was elected by acclamation and thus the presiding chair passed from Poincaré, who had formally opened the conference on behalf of the host country, to the firm-minded first French plenipotentiary, who had no thought of submitting great-power decisions to any democratic vote.1 This became evident when the second plenary session on 25 January revealed in part how the conference was to be organized. It was immediately obvious that Hymans's successful fight for three Belgian plenipotentiaries had solved nothing except an awkward problem in domestic politics, and so, with his customary energy and forth- rightness, he returned to the fray. At this juncture, the idealist in Hymans was dominant over the realist and, though he won the battle, he inevitably lost the war, for the great powers had no intention of delegating or diluting their own authority.
Their intentions became evident on 25 January when Clemenceau announced from the presiding chair to the plenipotentiaries assembled the creation of five commissions to investigate various issues of the conference. His scheme, which represented a compromise between____________________