Wednesday, December 05, 2007

December 4, 1918:

Wilson Sails for Europe

President Wilson and a large entourage sailed from New York this day in 1918 aboard the SS George Washington, escorted by warships under command of Admiral Henry Thomas Mayo, to attend the Peace Conference at Paris. After nine days at sea, Wilson arrived at Brest, and then traveled by land to Versailles, where he headed the US delegation to the conference, the purpose of which was to seek an official end to the hostilities that had ceased with the armistice of November 11.

Two days before he left, the president had told Congress in his State of the Union address, "I welcome this occasion to announce to the Congress my purpose to join in Paris the representatives of the governments with which we have been associated in the war against the Central Empires for the purpose of discussing with them the main features of the treaty of peace. I realize the great inconveniences that will attend my leaving the country, particularly at this time, but the conclusion that it was my paramount duty to go has been forced upon me by considerations which I hope will seem as conclusive to you as they have seemed to me.

"The Allied governments have accepted the bases of peace which I outlined to the Congress on the eighth of January last [known to history as the Fourteen Points], as the Central Empires also have, and very reasonably desire my personal counsel in their interpretation and application, and it is highly desirable that I should give it in order that the sincere desire of our Government to contribute without selfish purpose of any kind to settlements that will be of common benefit to all the nations concerned may be made fully manifest. The peace settlements which are now to be agreed upon are of transcendent importance both to us and to the rest of the world, and I know of no business or interest which should take precedence of them.

"The gallant men of our armed forces on land and sea have consciously fought for the ideals which they knew to be the ideals of their country; I have sought to express those ideals; they have accepted my statements of them as the substance of their own thought and purpose, as the associated governments have accepted them; I owe it to them to see to it, so far as in me lies, that no false or mistaken interpretation is put upon them, and no possible effort omitted to realize them. It is now my duty to play my full part in making good what they offered their life's blood to obtain. I can think of no call to service which could transcend this."

Wilson received a hero's welcome in France, at least along his route from Brest to Versailles, but Britain and France -- which is say, Lloyd George and Clemenceau -- were considerably less enthusiastic about Wilson's ideas about the settlement of the war. Wilson pushed hard for the creation of the ill-starred League of Nations and succeeded in having that put in the treaty, but most of the other points died on the vine.

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