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The Versailles Treaty


A picture of Lloyd George, Clemenceau, and Wilson heading to the Versailles Peace Conference.

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George (left), French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (center), and American President Woodrow Wilson (right) on their way to the Versailles Peace Conference.

(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
The Versailles Treaty, signed on June 28, 1919, was the peace settlement between Germany and the Allied Powers that officially ended World War I. However, the conditions in the treaty were so punitive upon Germany that many believe the Versailles Treaty laid the groundwork for the eventual rise of Nazis in Germany and the eruption of World War II.

Debated at the Paris Peace Conference

The details of the Versailles Treaty had been debated and finalized at the Paris Peace Conference, which opened on January 18, 1919 - just over two months after the fighting on the Western Front ended. Although many diplomats from the Allied Powers participated, Germany was not invited to the conference. The "big three" who were the most influential in the debates were Prime Minister David Lloyd George of the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau of France, and President Woodrow Wilson of the United States.

On May 7, 1919, the Versailles Treaty was handed over to Germany with the express instructions that they had only three weeks in which to accept the Treaty. Considering that in many ways the Versailles Treaty was meant to punish Germany, Germany of course found much fault with the Versailles Treaty. Although Germany sent back a list of complaints over the Treaty, the Allied Powers ignored most of them.

The Versailles Treaty: A Very Long Document

The Versailles Treaty itself is very long and extensive document, made up of 440 Articles (plus Annexes) which have been divided into 15 parts. The first part of the Versailles Treaty established the League of Nations. Other parts included the terms of military limitations, prisoners of war, finances, access to ports and waterways, and reparations.

Versailles Treaty Terms Spark Controversy

The most controversial aspects of the Versailles Treaty were that Germany was to take full responsibility for the damage caused during World War I (known as the "war guilt" clause, Article 231), the major land concessions forced upon Germany (including the loss of all her colonies), the limitation of the German army to 100,000 men, and the extremely large sum in reparations Germany was to pay to the Allied Powers.

The terms of the Versailles Treaty were so seemingly hostile to Germany that German Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann resigned rather than sign it. However, Germany realized they had to sign it for they no longer had any military power left to resist.

Versailles Treaty Signed

On June 28, 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, Germany's representatives Hermann Müller and Johannes Bell signed the Versailles Treaty in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles near Paris, France.

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