Negotiating a Treaty to Secure World Peace

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Negotiating a Treaty to Secure World Peace
In this Social Studies Skill Builder students assume the roles of President Woodrow Wilson and the European powers and negotiate a treaty to secure world peace to understand how the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were reached. First, working in pairs, students read information about and become “experts” on Wilson or the European powers, and prioritize 12 treaty terms in order of importance. Then, students assume the roles of Wilson or the European powers and work in groups of four to negotiate a treaty. Next, students compare the Treaty of Versailles to the treaty they negotiated. Finally, students read information about the U.S. rejection of the Treaty of Versailles.
Procedures at a Glance
Before class, make copies of and cut apart Student Handout 4.4A. Place students in mixed-ability pairs. Tell students that in this activity they will assume the roles of President Woodrow Wilson and the European powers and negotiate a treaty to secure world peace to understand the terms of the World War I Treaty of Versailles. Give each pair copies of Student Handout 4.4B and a set of cards from Student Handout 4.4A. Have pairs read the information about their leader, rank the treaty terms, and record their reasons on their handout. Then have students arrange their desks into groups of four, with pairs of students facing each other. Pass out Student Handout 4.4C, and have groups negotiate and sign a treaty. Have several groups share their answers, and lead a class discussion. Next, pass out Student Handout 4.4D, and have groups compare their treaties to the Treaty of Versailles. Finally, pass out and have students read Student Handout 4.4E.
Procedures in Detail

  1. Before class, make 18 copies of Student Handout 4.4A: Treaty Terms, and cut apart the terms along the dashed lines to create 18 sets of cards. (Note: You may want to place each set of cards into a separate envelope, or have students cut apart the terms in Step 2.) Place students in mixed-ability pairs. Prepare an overhead transparency that shows students who their partners are and where to sit. Project the transparency, and ask students to move into their correct places.

Idea for Student Response: To preview this activity, have students write a one- or two-paragraph response on the left side of their notebooks to the following prompt: To ensure that war does not break out again, which of the following should be the priority after a war has ended: (1) punish the losers of the war, or (2) address issues that caused the war? Explain. Have several students share their answers with the class.

  1. Tell students that in this activity they will assume the roles of President Woodrow Wilson and the European powers and negotiate a treaty to end World War I to understand how the terms of the Treaty of Versailles were reached. Use the following information to introduce students to the negotiations following World War I:

From January to June 1918, U.S. president Woodrow Wilson and the European powers met at the Palace of Versailles, outside of Paris, to decide the peace terms for the treaty with Germany to end World War I. Representatives from the European powers included President Georges Clemenceau from France, Prime Minister David Lloyd George from Great Britain, and President Vittorio Orlando from Italy. They were joined by representatives from over 30 countries. However, it was these four men, collectively known as the “Big Four,” who ultimately negotiated the most important provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
(Note: For the sake of simplicity, the interests of the European Allies at Versailles—Italy, France, and England—are represented singularly and more generally.)

  1. Once students have been introduced to the negotiations following World War I, explain that pairs will read information about and become “experts” on either Wilson or the European powers. Divide the class into two groups—one representing Wilson and one representing the European powers. Give pairs in each group a copy of the corresponding Student Handout 4.4B: Objectives of [leader] and one set of cards from Student Handout 4.4A. Have pairs carefully read and discuss the information on Student Handout 4.4B. Then, have them rank the treaty terms, organizing them in order of importance on their desks. Have students record their top six terms and the reasons they chose them on Student Handout 4.4B. On the back of their handout, have them also record why they placed the other six reasons at the bottom of their lists.

  1. Once pairs have ranked the treaty terms, tell them they will now meet with students representing other leaders and negotiate a treaty to secure world peace. Place students in groups of four with two pairs facing each other—one pair representing Wilson and one pair representing the European powers. Give each group a copy of Student Handout 4.4C: Blank Peace Treaty. Tell them they must agree on, write, and sign a treaty that includes at least six terms in order of importance. Have the pairs representing Wilson lay out their terms in order on their desks, and briefly explain their reasons for ranking the terms as they did. Then, have the pairs representing the European powers lay out their terms in order on their desks, and briefly explain their reasons. After both pairs have presented their chose terms, have them begin negotiating.

  1. Give students adequate time to negotiate their treaties. Remind them that as they negotiate they should keep in mind two objectives: ensuring world peace and protecting the interests of the leader(s) they represent. Remind them that the treaty should have six terms and must be signed by both parties. Tell them that they are not restricted to the peace terms on Student Handout 4.4A and that they can write their own terms. The terms must, however, correspond to the interests of Wilson or the European powers. (Option: To encourage students to fight for their interests, you may want to reward pairs who negotiate a treaty to benefit the interests of the leader(s) they are representing, or tell students they will lose points if the interests of the leader(s) they are representing are hurt by the treaty.)

  1. After students have signed their treaties, ask several groups to share their treaties with the class. Then, hold a class discussion about the objectives of Wilson and the European powers, centering on these questions:

  • How did it feel to negotiate the treaty?

  • What made negotiating the treaty difficult?

  • What were Wilson’s objectives at Versailles?

  • How did Wilson’s objectives differ from those of the European powers?

  • Why did the two sides have such different objectives at the peace conference?

  • Which side’s goals have a better chance of achieving world peace and European security? Explain.

  1. After the class has discussed the objectives of Wilson and the European powers, give each group a copy of Student Handout 4.4D: Major Provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. Have groups compare their treaties with the Treating of Versailles and discuss how the treaties are similar and different. Have several students share their answers with the class. Then, hold a class discussion centering on these questions:

  • What provisions were passed?

  • Whose objectives were more fully met—Wilson’s or the European powers’?

  • How do you think Wilson felt about the final peace terms? The European powers? Germany? The international community?

  • How do you think the treaty terms might have affected international relations in the 1920s and 1930s? Why?

Wrap Up
After the class has discussed the Treaty of Versailles, pass out and have students carefully read Student Handout 4.4E: The U.S. Rejection of the Treaty of Versailles. Review with students the salient points from Student Handout 4.4E.

Student Handout


Treaty Terms

Reduce the armaments in all nations.

Force Germany to pay reparations

(repayment for war damages) for the

total cost of the war

Keep all German troops out of their

border areas and put them under

control of the Allied powers.

Remove trade barriers, thus allowing

free trade among all nations.

Open the treaty-making process so

that any nation can be present

during proceedings.

Grant independence to Germany’s


Establish the League of Nations as

an international peacekeeping body.

Grant independence to Polish people

in Eastern Germany so that they can

form their own nation.

Force Germany to admit blame for

the war.

Redistribute land from the losing

countries to the winning powers.

Enforce absolute freedom of

navigation on the seas.

Grant independence to all

nationalistic movements in the

Austro-Hungarian empire so that

they can form their own nations.

Student Handout


Objectives of President Wilson
U.S. president Woodrow Wilson was a proponent of “Moral Diplomacy.” He was an idealist who believed that international disputes should be resolved through negotiation and compromise, not war. At the end of World War I, he called for “peace without victory” and urged the Allies to create a treaty that would ensure world peace and not punish Germany too harshly. He outlined his goals for peace in 1918, in his “Fourteen Points” speech to Congress. He called for the end of secret diplomacy; freedom of the seas for all nations in peace and war; a reduction of tariffs and other economic barriers to free trade; a reduction of armaments; the impartial handling of border disputes and colonies, which included the readjustment of the borders of Italy and the creation of an independent Polish state; German evacuation of occupied territory in Russia, Belgium, and France; and self-determination for all peoples. Most importantly, in his fourteenth point, Wilson called for the establishment of an association of nations to guarantee world peace. This League of Nations, Wilson hoped, would protect weak countries and resolve disputes among strong countries. He envisioned a new world order, one devoted to justice and rule by law.



Treaty Term

Reasons for Priority of Term







Student Handout


Objectives of European Powers
Prior to World War I, hostilities among the European nations went back centuries. During the war, France, Great Britain, and Italy all suffered directly from German aggression. The European powers held Germany responsible for the countless deaths and destruction caused by the war, and called for revenge and punishment. The Europeans wanted a treaty in which Germany was held accountable for all acts of war. In particular, the European powers wanted to be sure Germany would not be able to take aggressive action against them in the future. The French, for example, wanted to establish a buffer zone between France and Germany to increase French security against future German attacks. All the European powers hoped to create a treaty that would protect their national interests, extend their power, and allow them to gain further wealth. They hoped to do this by establishing control over Germany’s colonies and claiming land lost to Germany prior to and during the war.



Treaty Term

Reasons for Priority of Term







Student Handout


Blank Peace Treaty

Directions: In your group, negotiate a peace treaty to end World War I. First, have group members take turns explaining their top six terms and reasons for ranking them. Then discuss and decide on six terms for your treaty. You may modify the terms from Student Handout 4.4A, or write your own terms. Record the final treaty terms and sign the treaty in the appropriate spaces below.

Term number 1 is ____________________________________________________________
Term number 2 is ____________________________________________________________
Term number 3 is ____________________________________________________________
Term number 4 is ____________________________________________________________
Term number 5 is ____________________________________________________________
Term number 6 is ____________________________________________________________



President Woodrow Wilson


European Powers

Student Handout


Major Provisions of the Treaty of Versailles
The Punishment of Germany

  • Germany was required to admit total blame for starting World War I.

  • Germany was required to pay for the total cost of World War I, including homes and factories destroyed; ammunition; uniforms; and pensions for Allied soldiers. Allied leaders could not agree on a total amount or a timeline for payment. When the treaty was signed, estimates for reparations (repayment for war damages) were as high as $300 billion.

  • Germany’s armies were limited in size, and the German naval fleet was turned over to the Allies.

  • Germany’s colonial possessions were divided among the Allies. France gained control of the German border region of Alsace-Lorraine, mining rights in the Saar, occupation right in the Rhineland for 15 years, and supervisory control over some German territories in the Middle East. Britain was granted a mandate—control but not possession—over some German-controlled territory in the Middle East. Italy gained control over the southern Tyrol, a region in the Alps inhabited by 200,000 Germans. Japan was granted a mandate over German colonies in the Pacific and Asia, including China’s Shandong province.

Other Territorial Changes

  • Austria-Hungary, Germany’s chief ally in World War I, was divided into four independent nations: Austria, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia.

  • Five other independent nations were established along Germany’s border with the Soviet Union to prevent the spread of communism: Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

An International Organization Established
Two international peacekeeping bodies were established by the treaty: the League of Nations and the World Court. League member countries were obligated to assist one another in stopping international aggression. The World Court was set up to mediate disputes between countries.
Issues Not Covered by the Treaty of Versailles

  • Wilson wanted open negotiations and the elimination of secret treaties. The Treaty of Versailles was mostly negotiated behind closed doors by representatives of four nations: the Untied States, Great Britain, France, and Italy.

  • There is no mention of the rights of neutrals at sea or freedom of the seas in the treaty.

  • Free trade was largely ignored by the treaty. Tariffs were left intact. The exception was German colonies, in which free trade was required.

  • No country besides Germany was required to reduce the size of its armies or armaments.

Student Handout


The U.S. Rejection of the Treaty of Versailles
At the close of the Paris Peace Conference that ended World War I, President Woodrow Wilson focused on the charter for the League of Nations. Although he believed the final Treaty of Versailles was flawed and harsher toward Germany than he would have liked, he was certain the League of Nation would ultimately help moderate the treaty’s harshness and discourage acts of aggression. Thus, when Wilson headed home in July 1919, he was euphoric and ready to face the greatest challenge of his career: to win U.S. ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.
Most Americans approved of the main provisions of the Treaty of Versailles. However, many questioned the part on which Wilson had set his heart: the Covenant establishing the League of Nations. The Covenant called for strong efforts to prevent future wars and provided for collective action against states that went to war in violation of the treaty. In addition, Article 10 of the treaty guaranteed the political independence of League of Nations member states and their protection against external aggression. These provisions, especially Article 10, prompted great concern among Americans about whether joining the League would entail participation in foreign wars without the approval of Congress.
Wilson, a Democrat, met with opposition in the Senate, where the treaty was vigorously debated in March 1919. Republicans had won control of Congress in 1918, and the Senate majority leader was Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, a bitter personal rival of Wilson’s. Many felt Wilson had made an irreversible mistake by not having taken a Republican with him to Versailles in the first place. Now, a group of 16 die-hard isolationists, mostly Republicans, opposed the treaty as long as it contained the Covenant. Dubbed the “Irreconcilables”—because they were determined to defeat any treaty—they signed a petition stating that the League would not adequately protect American interests. Other critics, like Senator Lodge and Senator William E. Borah of Idaho, claimed the treaty would limit U.S. freedom in foreign policy, curtail its expansion, and interfere with domestic issues. In a speech outlining why the Senate should reject the League, Lodge concluded, “We would not have our country’s vigor exhausted, or her moral force abated, by everlasting meddling and muddling in every quarrel, great and small, which afflicts the world.” Despite such opposition, Wilson could count on the support of 43 of the Senate’s 47 Democrats, and he was sure the majority of republicans would vote for the treaty with certain reservations. The president’s challenge was to secure a two-thirds majority vote in support of the treaty.
After a prolonged series of hearings on the treaty, compromise seemed possible in August. Seven leading Republicans offered their support as long as some reservations were attached to the articles of ratification. At first, Wilson was inclined to accept their reservations, but then changed his mind. Wilson made it clear that he did not want to modify Article 10 in any way. He believed it was the heart of the League and that the League was the heart of the whole treaty. Therefore, instead of accepting changes to the treaty, Wilson decided to appeal directly to the American people to win unqualified support for the League.
The president set off on a speaking tour of the country in early September 1919. Wilson traveled 8,000 miles, visiting 29 cities and delivering 40 speeches in just 22 days. The tour began well. In city after city, he explained the treaty, making his case for the importance of the League. In one speech, he exclaimed, “if we do not go in [to the League], my fellow citizens, think of the tragedy of that result—the only sufficient guaranty to the peace of the world withheld!” As the tour progressed, Wilson’s health deteriorated, and his speeches were less lucid. During his speech in Pueblo, Colorado, on September 19, he broke down. Wilson’s doctor convinced him to cut the trip short and return to Washington. A few days later, he suffered a massive stroke and was paralyzed on the left side. For nearly eight months, Wilson was incapacitated and could not even meet with his cabinet. Edith Wilson, his wife, took messages back and forth to the president.
Wilson’s appeal to the American public had failed to turn the tide in the Senate. Then, shortly before the election of 1920, Wilson damaged all hope of having the treaty ratified. Senator Lodge, head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, presented a resolution of consent to ratification along with 11 reservations to the League. The reservation to Article 10 said that the United States assumed no obligation to go to war unless congress explicitly approved of such action. Wilson, however, maintained that any reservation to Article 10 was a rejection of the moral commitments he had made in Paris.
Rather than salvage the possibility of U.S. membership in the League, Wilson became even more uncompromising. Some scholars attribute Wilson’s increasing combativeness and extremism to the mental impairment caused by this stroke. He argued that the United States could save the League only if they went into it without any reservation. Further, he claimed he would refuse to put the treaty into effect if the Senate approved it with reservations to Article 10.
Fearing the treaty would never be ratified without reservations, Wilson declared that the election of 1920 would be a national referendum on the League of Nations. When Warren G. Harding, a Republican and an opponent of the League, was resoundingly voted into office, U.S. entry into the League was officially doomed. In March 1920 a final attempt in the Senate to win approval for the treaty again fell short of the necessary votes. Unwilling to compromise, Wilson had destroyed his own dream. The United States never joined the League, and Wilson remained sad that Americans had chosen a “barren independence” over membership in the international body.
The United States ultimately signed a separate treaty with Germany during the Harding administration.

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