Today in History

Today in History: January 18

The Paris Peace Conference

map of parts of northern Europe
Portions of Territory Proposed to be taken from Germany,
December 31, 1919.
Newspaper Pictorials: World War I Rotogravures, 1913-1919

On January 18, 1919, a few months after the end of World War I, leaders from the Allied nations began a series of discussions that became known as the Paris Peace Conference to settle issues raised by the war and its aftermath. Preceded by a series of armistices in September, October, and November 1918, that ended World War I, the Paris Peace Conference brought together representatives from the victorious nations. Russia had withdrawn from the fighting and was not invited. Because Allied leaders held Germany responsible for the war, German leaders attended only the conclusion of the discussions.

Preliminary meetings between the leaders began on January 12, 1919, after British Prime Minister David Lloyd George arrived in Paris.  Lloyd George, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Premier Georges Clemenceau of France, and Premier Vittorio Orlando of Italy emerged as the leaders of the conference and became known as the Big Four. The conference ended approximately one year later when the League of Nations, an international organization adapted from one of President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points plan for peace, was organized.

political cartoon showing two men, one gesturing towards the other
The seance that failed,
C. K. Berryman, artist,
circa 1918-19.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

group of four men standing outside a building
"Big Four,"
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

political cartoon of a man looking at a large scroll of paper labeled peace treaty
At Last!,
C. K. Berryman,
July 10, 1919.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

Wilson's idealistic Fourteen Points generated heated opposition from Clemenceau and Lloyd George in particular as each disagreed on the details of how to proceed. Eventually, however, the League of Nations was formed in 1919-20 as an alternative to traditional diplomacy. The United States did not join, in part because of opposition and disagreement among a group of powerful U.S. senators led by Foreign Relations Committee Chair Henry Cabot Lodge. The discussions also resulted in the 1919 signing of the Treaty of Versailles with Germany, the Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria, and the Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria.