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Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points, 1918

Use this primary source text to explore key historical events.

Suggested Sequencing

  • Use this Primary Source with America Enters World War I Narrative to further analyze President Wilson’s vision for the end of World War I.


President Woodrow Wilson wrote the Fourteen Points as a program to preserve peace after World War I. Wilson first presented the Fourteen Points in a speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, in what would be the final year of the war. Wilson hoped the end of the war would be an opportunity to not only establish a peace treaty but also create a just and cooperative international order to prevent future wars in Europe and the rest of the world. American allies viewed the Fourteen Points positively and even the Central Powers began to see it as a reasonable basis for peace when they realized the war was unwinnable. Although all sides initially supported the ideas presented in the Fourteen Points, demands for German reparations and other punishments made the idealism of the Fourteen Points difficult to implement at the Peace of Paris.

Sourcing Questions

  1. Who wrote this document? What is his relationship to the peace of World War I?
  2. When was this speech delivered? Consider the specific date but also the larger historical context and surrounding events.
  3. Who is the author’s intended audience? How might this influence what he says?
  4. What is the author’s purpose for writing the document?

Vocabulary Text
Points I–V (peaceful relations)

armament(n): military weapons and equipment
I. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
II. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war. . . .
III. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.

IV. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.
V. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined.
Points VI–VIII (conquered territory returned)
During World War I, the Central powers occupied vast territory belonging to a number of neighboring countries.

sovereignty(n): supreme power or authority; the authority of a state to govern itself or another state
VI. The evacuation of all Russian territory and such a settlement of all questions affecting Russia as will secure the best and freest cooperation of the other nations of the world in obtaining for her an unhampered and unembarrassed opportunity for the independent determination of her own political development. . . .
VII. Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and restored, without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she enjoys in common with all other free nations. . . .
VIII. All French territory should be freed and the invaded portions restored, and the wrong done to France by Prussia in 1871 in the matter of Alsace-Lorraine, which has unsettled the peace of the world for nearly fifty years, should be righted, in order that peace may once more be made secure in the interest of all.
Points IX–XIII (self-determination)

nationality(n): an ethnic group forming a part of one or more political nations

autonomous(adj.): having the freedom to act independently or to have self-government
IX. A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
X. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity to autonomous development.
XI. Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated; occupied territories restored; Serbia accorded free and secure access to the sea; and the relations of the several Balkan states to one another determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality; and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.
XII. The Turkish portion of the present Ottoman Empire should be assured a secure sovereignty, but the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development. . . .
XIII. An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea.. . .
Point XIV (League of Nations)

covenant(n): an agreement
XIV. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.

Comprehension Questions

  1. What diplomatic or military restrictions did Wilson call for?
  2. What economic recommendations did Wilson make to ensure international peace?
  3. How should colonial questions be resolved in the future?
  4. What countries had territory that was occupied or conquered by Germany during the war?
  5. What recommendation did Wilson make for German-occupied territory once the war was over?
  6. According to this part of the Fourteen Points, what countries should be established or have territorial changes?
  7. What was meant by autonomous development and political and economic independence for these territories?
  8. How should nationality influence the creation and borders of countries?
  9. What was the purpose of forming a “general association of nations?”

Historical Reasoning Questions

  1. Explain how Wilson’s Fourteen Points respond to the major causes of World War I.
  2. Explain how Wilson’s Fourteen Points attempt to secure a lasting international peace.

President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points