Versailles, Treaty of

In World War I

The most important treaty signed at Versailles (in the Hall of Mirrors) was that of 1919. It was the chief among the five peace treaties that terminated World War I. The other four (for which see separate articles) were Saint-Germain, for Austria; Trianon, for Hungary; Neuilly, for Bulgaria; and Sèvres, for Turkey. Signed on June 28, 1919, by Germany on the one hand and by the Allies (save Russia) on the other, the Treaty of Versailles embodied the results of the long and often bitter negotiations of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919.

The outstanding figures in the negotiations leading to the treaty were Woodrow Wilson for the United States, Georges Clemenceau for France, David Lloyd George for England, and Vittorio Emanuele Orlando for Italy—the so-called Big Four. Germany, as the defeated power, was not included in the consultation. Among the chief causes of Allied dissension was Wilson's refusal to recognize the secret agreements reached by the Allies in the course of the war; Italy's refusal to forgo the territorial gains promised (1915) by the secret Treaty of London; and French insistence on the harsh treatment of Germany. Wilson's Fourteen Points were, to a large extent, sacrificed, but his main objectives, the creation of states based on the principle of national self-determination and the formation of the League of Nations, were embodied in the treaty. However, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty, and the United States merely declared the war with Germany at an end in 1921.

The treaty formally placed the responsibility for the war on Germany and its allies and imposed on Germany the burden of the reparations payments. The chief territorial clauses were those restoring Alsace and Lorraine to France; placing the former German colonies under League of Nations mandates; awarding most of West Prussia, including Poznan and the Polish Corridor, to Poland; establishing Danzig (see Gdańsk) as a free city; and providing for plebiscites, which resulted in the transfer of Eupen and Malmédy to Belgium, of N Schleswig to Denmark, and of parts of Upper Silesia to Poland. The Saar Territory (see Saarland) was placed under French administration for 15 years; the Rhineland was to be occupied by the Allies for an equal period; and the right bank of the Rhine was to be permanently demilitarized. The German army was reduced to a maximum of 100,000 soldiers, the German navy was similarly reduced, and Germany was forbidden to build major weapons of aggression. Germany, after futile protests, accepted the treaty, which became effective in Jan., 1920.

Later German dissatisfaction with the terms of the treaty traditionally has been thought to have played an important part in the rise of National Socialism, or the Nazi movement. While Gustav Stresemann was German foreign minister, Germany by a policy of fulfillment succeeded in having some of the treaty terms eased. Reparations payments, the most ruinous part of the treaty, were suspended in 1931 and were never resumed. In 1935 Chancellor Adolf Hitler unilaterally canceled the military clauses of the treaty, which in practice became a dead letter; in 1936 he began the remilitarization of the Rhineland. A vast literature has been written on the Paris Peace Conference and on the Treaty of Versailles, and controversy continues as to whether the treaty was just, too harsh, or not harsh enough.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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