The Treaty of Versailles

The Treaty of Versailles was an agreement between Germany and the Allied forces to end World War I. Known as the Big Four, there were four leaders of major Allied nations at the Treaty of Versailles. Initiated in January 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was crafted to settle the populace and maintain peace. The Treaty of Versailles marked the end of World War I, and the beginning of the economic depression in Germany.

  • Treaty of Versailles: The inside story of the Treaty of Versailles. Detailed and reliable information on each aspect of the Treaty from the leaders present to the reactions people had to the treaty.
  • Background of the Treaty: Many countries suffered heavy casualties during the war, and many months of debating was done before the Big Three were happy enough with the Treaty to sign it.
  • Impact of World War I: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum shares its perspective on the Treaty of Versailles.

Who were the Leaders and what did they want?

When World War I came to an end, Allied representatives met at the Palace of Versailles in Paris, France during the Paris Peace Conference to discuss and to create peace treaties between the central powers. Of the representatives present, American president Woodrow Wilson was especially concerned with creating one treaty to replace all the smaller secret treaties that came about during the war. Italy, who only joined the Allied forces because of promises made saying that land would be given to Italy if they joined the war, and Japan had both already established treaties among themselves dividing up Germany, Turkey, and other areas. The Big Four present during the discussions were President Woodrow Wilson, Prime Minister of Great Britain David Lloyd George, Premier of France Georges Clemenceau, and Prime Minister of Italy Vittorio Orlando.

President Woodrow Wilson represented the United States. His motive for attending the settlement agreement was to attempt to reduce the devastation brought during war through his “Fourteen Points.” He wanted to establish the League of Nations so countries could talk through their political disagreements rather than going to war.

David Lloyd George represented England as the prime minister of Great Britain. He aimed to limit the spread of communism. In order to continue to garner public support, he took a hard public stance against Germany although privately he supported only minimal penalties for Germany.

Georges Clemenceau was the premier of France. His main goal was to assure that Germany lost all war capabilities. His country took the brunt of Germany’s aggression during World War I, and he did not want Germany to have the opportunity to invade France again. He also wanted Germany to pay for France’s losses during the war.

Vittorio Orlando, the prime minister of Italy, wanted to make sure Italy received land that was promised to it in the Treaty of London. He did not achieve his goal, and he was often left out of important settlement talks at the Peace Conference. He resigned his post before signing the Treaty of Versailles. His leaving changed the Big Four into the Big Three.

  • The Fourteen Points: President Woodrow Wilson's fourteen points are outlined on this page along with additional valuable information on the Treaty signing and the proceedings that took place up to that point.
  • The Aims of the Big Three: This website contains information on each of the big three representatives and the aims and goals of each.
  • Who Wrote the Treaty of Versailles: The BBC outlines information on the Big Four in an easily understood manner suitable for all ages.
  • Personalities of the Big Three: Researched student paper from the University of Virginia on the Big Three.

What happened at the Peace Conference?

The Treaty of Versailles impacted Europe physically as well as politically and financially. German leaders were forced to accept the terms of the agreement since Allied forces defeated the German military. In the Treaty, World War I is blamed entirely on Germany and therefore much of what the Treaty establishes is directly related to Germany itself. The Treaty established areas of land that would be taken from Germany and returned to their original governments or given to other Allied governments, as well as areas of land that were made into entirely new countries. Countries were created to parallel the ethnic make-up of the land. The land that was taken away from Germany was not only located in Europe but included all overseas German colonies as well.

Germany conceded approximately a million square miles of land. Among other terms in the agreement, Germany was also forced to pay reparations to the Allied forces and cut its military to 100,000 men and six warships. Politically the Treaty impacted German's government especially. All German leaders having refused to sign were forced to give up their positions, which were then given to new leaders who signed the Treaty. Many Germans were upset by this and believed the new politicians to be traitors which led to uprisings.

  • Impacts of the Treaty of Versailles: The signing of the Treaty impacted Germany more than any other country. This webpage outlines the physical, political, and financial impacts of the Treaty.
  • Terms and Information: The Spartacus Educational website outlines the main terms of the Versailles Treaty and brief but easily understood terms, and follows this with speeches and diary entries by the leaders present at the peace conference.

What did people in Germany think about the Treaty and why?

Having been the most impacted by the Treaty, the Germans did not like the results because they felt it dealt too harshly with Germany and they had expected leniency thanks to Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points. The treaty forced them to give up some of their most valued land resources, people, and money. Since German leaders were not allowed to participate in the treaty conference, and because they refused to sign and new leaders were put into place that would sign the treaty, Germans felt as if the treaty was imposed upon them. There were also many German's who refused to believe that the German military had actually been defeated. They saw no sign of an invasion of Germany so in turn believed that Germany had not lost the war. German's also thought it was unfair that Germany was stated as being entirely to blame for the war when the first shot was a Serbian shooting an Austrian.

The results of all this unrest among Germans were violent and unpleasant. Armed street gangs comprised of returning soldiers roamed the streets and eventually attempted to seize power, in 1919 communists attempted a revolution known as the Spartacist Revolt, government officials were murdered, and extremist political parties were formed, including the German Workers Party, the party which in 1921 was taken over by Adolf Hitler.

What did people in Italy think about the Treaty and why?

Italians felt bitter after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Italy suffered the deaths of approximately 460,000 soldiers in the war, and Italy owed money to other countries due to wartime expenses. To add to the human and monetary losses, Italy did not receive the land promised in the secret Treaty of London. All this led to much unrest and unemployment throughout Italy which in turn led to greater support of the leader of the Fascist Part, Benito Mussolini who promised to recreate the great Roman Empire.

  • Italy and WWI: This web page includes detailed information on the Treaty and it's consequences to Italy and the Italian people.

Additional Information

The Treaty of Versailles represents the end of World War I, but it also represents the beginning of an era of economic depression. The depression becomes a global factor in subsequent military skirmishes and in World War II. History points to the fact that Adolf Hitler’s rise to power grew out of German resentment of the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty of Versailles changed the landscape of Europe and altered the course of Germany’s political future.

  • Key Clauses: The Modern History Sourcebook provides a selection of the key clauses in the Treaty of Versailles.
  • Evaluating the Great War: This lesson plan provides helpful information on the Treaty with guiding questions, key objectives of the lesson, and suggested activities.
  • The Treaty: A brief discussion of the Treaty of Versailles as well as clauses and articles from the treaty itself.
  • The Versaille Treaty: Researched paper from a political science student at the University of California, Santa Barbara including information on the Guilt clause that names Germany responsible.
  • The Versailles Treaty, June 28th 1919: The Yale Law School provides the treaty in it's entirety.