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Woodrow Wilson: Fourteen Points

Woodrow Wilson: Fourteen Points

By the end of the nineteenth century, U.S. presidents had begun to relax the traditional isolationism of U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, when World War I began in 1914, the United States remained aloof from the conflict. President Woodrow Wilson was reelected to a second term in 1916 on the slogan "He kept us out of war." Wilson and U.S. public opinion shifted, however, when Germany announced that it would engage in unrestricted submarine warfare beginning on February 1, 1917. On April 6, 1917, Wilson signed the congressional declaration of war against Germany.

Wilson, who had attempted to negotiate a peace among the belligerents in 1916, renewed his efforts by proposing a new framework for negotiations. On January 8, 1918, he delivered an address to Congress that named fourteen points to be used as the guide for a peace settlement. The speech became known as the Fourteen Points and served as a distillation of Wilson's vision of a postwar world. In the address Wilson said that the secret alliances that triggered the war must be replaced with "open covenants of peace, openly arrived at." He proclaimed the need to demilitarize the ocean and reduce military armaments. He also articulated the desire to end European colonialism and allow the various nationalities of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires to create their own states. The most important point was the last, which called for a general association of nations that would guarantee political independence and territorial integrity for all countries.

Following the armistice that ended the war on November 9, 1918, President Wilson led the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference. Wilson was the only representative of the great powers (which also included Great Britain, France, and Italy) who truly wanted an international organization. His influence was instrumental in persuading the delegates to establish the League of Nations. At home, however, he was unable to secure Senate ratification of the peace treaty that included the league. He was opposed both by Republicans who did not want to commit the United States to supporting the league with financial resources and by isolationists from both major political parties who argued that the United States should not interfere in European affairs.

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