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11-08-2015, 16:19

Woodrow Wilson and the Fourteen Points

The year began with an important step in the political course of the war. On January 8, President Woodrow Wilson issued his Fourteen Points in an address to a joint session of Congress. Without consulting the British, French, or Italian governments, the American leader set down the principles for a future peace settlement. He pointed to such goals as freedom of the seas and a postwar international organization of the world's countries. The speech likely reflected Wilson's belief that only a peace of reconciliation could be a lasting one. More immediately, however, his views countered the call by the new Communist government of Russia for an end to the war on radical terms; and Wilson may have hoped his speech could persuade Russia to remain in the war. It also served a purpose in domestic politics, providing Wilson's liberal supporters with an idealistic goal to justify the political repressions and other pains the government was inflicting on the nation in order to fight the war effectively. The speech was equally important for what it did not include. There was no mention of placing severe penalties on the Central Powers. Thus, the Fourteen Points aimed—successfully, it turned out—at undermining morale and the will to continue the war in the Central Powers. As historian Harvey DeWeerd has argued, the speech served "to prepare the minds of the German people to expect a tolerable peace despite their military defeat."