Questions about the Versailles Treaty

I haven’t been be able to find any information about the drafters of the Versailles Treaty. Were they a team of French and English authors”? Was the document inspired by other treaties? Do we know anything about the drafting process before it was signed? I was hoping for some colourful characters to emerge from researching this question but I haven’t turned up anything.

Really? Are we talking about the same Treaty of Versailles? The Big Four were the main drafters. We know quite a lot about the process, but essentially it was those 4 guys telling everyone else how things would go, some of it based off the 14 points Wilson had earlier proposed.

Yeah, the history of the Versailles Treaty is pretty extensively documented. Paris 1919 is a well-written book specifically about the negotiations that produced the treaty.

Thanks flurb. I wasn’t aware of the book “1919”. I haven’t waded into the actual negotiations of treaty. Most history books I’ve read deal with the end-product , its provisions and ramifications. Lloyd George of Britain, Vittorio Emanuele Orlando of Italy, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the U.S. were of course the Big Four overseeing the drafting of the treaty. What other specific people stand out in terms of the final language used in the document? Was the first draft in a bilingual format: English and French? Those are the questions I’m interested in.

I can’t remember if Margaret McMillan goes into much detail about that, but each delegation would have squads of diplomats swapping drafts on all the different points until they agreed.

Except the Germans, of course. They were just brought in at the end to be told the Allied terms and text, and to sign or face renewed hostilities.

I followed this online course and found it very informative and thought-provoking:

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/ww1-new-world-order

The reparations they were called upon to pay were, in large measure, inspired by similar conditions the Prussians had imposed on France after the War of 1870.

And the terms the Germans had imposed on the Russians in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk a year earlier.

My understanding is that the original plan was that the western powers only regarded their meetings as a preliminary event. Their intent was to get together before the official negotiations with Germany to work out a common set of goals for the real meeting.

But they had a hard time creating a single set of objectives and the negotiations for this ended up taking months. When the winning powers had finally worked out an agreement among themselves, they had no desire to start a second longer set of negotiations with the losing powers. So what had been intended as a preliminary document became the final version and Germany and the other losing powers were told to sign it as is.

Thanks Little_Nemo. That is what I was after. The answer to my other question which I think I have read somewhere is that the original treaty was written in French and English. But I could be mistaken.

Not really, at least there is an important difference between Versailles and Brest-Litovsk as far as the financial provisions are concerned. A follow-up agreement to the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk provided for massive payments from Russia to Germany, but those payments were intended as compensation for the expropriation of German-owned assets in Russia. The reparation provisions of the Versailles Treaty were intended to compensate for damages caused by the war itself; Brest-Litovsk explicitly stipulated that no compensation was owed by either party to the other for those. Now you may say that it boils down to the same thing as far as practical consequences are concerned, or that the treaty merely cloaked war reparations as expropriation compensation to make it look less like blackmail, but as far as the treaty text is concerned it is a difference.

That is often overlooked. The damage caused by German scorched earth tactics in northern France was considerable. By contrast, the reparations the Germans demanded in 1870 were strictly punitive and intended to cripple France long-term (the French paid up within a few years and set to rebuilding the country).

One can only imagine how severe the terms of a German victory would have been after WWI.

The terms of the 1940 armistice give a clue… :slight_smile:

As I noted, the Germans did show how severe they wanted to be in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. If they had also been the winners on the western front, they would have imposed equally harsh terms on France and Britain.

It would have been difficult for the Germans to try to put a war guilt clause in Brest-Litovsk. The Soviet government they were negotiating with in 1918 hadn’t existed in 1914.

One could equally well say the Weimer Republic government the Allies were negotiating with in 1919 hadn’t existed in 1914. And yet…

Doesn’t matter. A state as an international actor has a continuing identity and character, regardless of changes of government or of government structures.

But the Weimar Republic recognized itself as the successor state to the German Reich. The Soviet Union had officially repudiated any connection with the Russian Empire.

Yes, but this was not a position accepted by many other states.

A state can’t escape its international legal obligations simply by declaring “this are not our obligations any more”.

The Soviet Union’s repudiation of its succession to the Russian Empire would not have prevented Germany from seeking to include a treaty clause providing for the Soviets to pay reparations on account of some act of the Russian Empire. It might have prevented the Soviets from agreeing to the clause, but they wouldn’t have had a lot of choice.

Russia finally did pay off some of the Imperial Russian debts that the USSR repudiated. See for example,

Lots of emphasis on reparations. Not much ado about war crimes tribunals.