Words and Deeds in American History: Selected Documents Celebrating the Manuscript Division's First 100 Years
President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) frequently used shorthand to record his first thoughts on topics. Here in 1918 he outlined his famous Fourteen Points, the terms which he believed should be used as the basis for the peace treaty settling the First World War, which the United States had entered in April 1917 on the side of the Allies--Great Britain, France, Italy, and Russia.
Wilson had several aims and audiences in mind when composing his Fourteen Points address, delivered to Congress on 8 January 1918. One goal was to give the American people a clear set of war aims, which both appealed to their idealism and expressed his view that the country had entered the conflict as "a war for freedom and justice and self-government." Wilson's second audience was comprised of the peoples of the Central Powers--the enemy. While America had been in the war less than a year, by 1918 Europe was into the fourth year of what can only be described as a catastrophe. The war had produced military casualties on a scale that had been hitherto unimaginable. By 1918 a significant share of Europe's young men was dead or wounded, and the civilian populations were beginning to experience serious malnutrition, economic privation, and war weariness. Further, the Central Powers were dominated by three multinational empires (German Hohenzollern empire, Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg empire, and Ottoman Turkish empire), and as the war dragged on, many of these empires' subordinate nationalities grew increasingly restive and yearned for independence.
With these factors in mind, Wilson sought to break the will of the Central Powers by promising a just peace and an end to the human slaughter and privations of war. He also exacerbated the growing ethnic unrest of the multinational empires by promising national independence and self-determination for all peoples involved in the conflict. The latter promise of national independence for the peoples of Central Europe helped to mobilize support for the American war effort among immigrant groups in America.
Also contained in Wilson's fourteen points was a response to an initiative by the new Bolshevik regime, which had withdrawn Russia from the Allied war effort and sought peace with the Central Powers. To discredit continued participation in the war, the Bolsheviks had made public various secret agreements between the former Tsarist government and several Allied nations, which suggested that the Allies were chiefly concerned with imperial gain. Wilson's first point promised that peace would not be driven by secret deals.
The Fourteen Points were:
1. Open agreements openly arrived at.
2. Freedom of the seas.
3. The removal of economic barriers and equality of trade conditions among nations.
4. Reduction of national armaments.
5. A readjustment of colonial claims in which the interests of the colonial populations must be given equal weight with the claims of the governing power.
6. The evacuation of Russian territory by non-Russian forces and Russia left to determine its own political destiny.
7. Removal of foreign forces from Belgium and restoration of its national independence.
8. Removal of foreign forces from France and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France.
9. Readjustment of the frontiers of Italy along national lines.
10. Self-determination for the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
11. A redrawing of the boundaries of the Balkan states along historically established lines of nationality.
12. Self-determination of the peoples under rule of the Turkish empire and freedom of navigation of the Dardanells under international guarantees.
13. National independence for Poland and its free access to the sea guaranteed by international treaty.
14. Formation of a league of nations for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.
John E. Haynes, Manuscript Division
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A85 (color slide; pages 1-3); LC-MSS-46029-14 (B&W negative; pages 6-8 on one negative)
Bolsheviks | Congress | Diplomacy | Europe | Fourteen Points | Presidents | Shorthand | Speeches | Treaties | War | Wilson, Woodrow (1856-1924) | World War, 1914-1918