Paris Peace Conference, 1919
The Paris Peace Conference was the meeting of the Allied victors following the end of World War I to set the peace terms for the defeated Central Powers following the armistices of 1918. It took place in Paris during 1919 and involved diplomats from more than 32 countries and nationalities. They met, discussed various options and developed a series of treaties ("Paris Peace Treaties") for the post-war world. These treaties reshaped the map of Europe with new borders and countries. The defeated Central Powers' colonial empires in Africa, southwest Asia, and the Pacific, would be parceled between and mandated to the victorious colonial empires, based on the different levels of previous development and the creation of the League of Nations.
At the center of the proceedings were the leaders of the four "Great Powers": President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Great Britain, George Clemenceau of France, and, of least importance, Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Orlando; Orlando eventually pulled out of the conference and did not play a role in constructing the final draft of the Treaty of Versailles. Germany and Communist Russia were not invited to attend, but numerous other nations did send delegations, each with a different agenda. Kings, prime ministers and foreign ministers with their crowds of advisers rubbed shoulders with journalists and lobbyists for a hundred causes, ranging from independence for the countries of the South Caucasus to racial equality.
For six months Paris was effectively the center of a world government, as the peacemakers wound up bankrupt empires and created new countries. The most contentious results included the Treaty of Versailles that weakened Germany's military, and required her to pay reparations. The treaty included Article 231 that German diplomats interpreted as a "war guilt" clause, however historians have noted that the same clause was included in all treaties the defeated powers signed and the other powers, with the exception of Germany, saw this clause as imposing guilt upon them. The Austrian-Hungarian Empire had ceased to exist as its disparate peoples created new states. Unsatisfied with these results and conflicted with their Constitution, the United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, never joined the League of Nations, and signed separate peace treaties with the three countries it had declared war against. Historians have declared the reparations imposed by the treaty, and a subsequent 1921 review, to have been designed to look imposing when they were contrary to that and the overall Treaty of Versailles to have been lenient even if it was not viewed as such at the time.
The conference opened on 18 January 1919. The opening date was deliberately chosen by the French so as to ensure the conference would commence on the anniversary of the Unification of Germany which had been proclaimed at Versailles 48 years earlier.  The conference came to an end on 21 January 1920 with the inaugural General Assembly of the League of Nations.
The following treaties were prepared at the Paris Peace Conference (with, in parentheses, the affected countries):
- the Treaty of Versailles, 1919, 28 June 1919, (the German Empire in Weimar Republic form)
- the Treaty of Saint-Germain, 10 September 1919, (Austria)
- the Treaty of Neuilly, 27 November 1919, (Bulgaria)
- the Treaty of Trianon, 4 June 1920, (Hungary)
- the Treaty of Sèvres, 10 August 1920; subsequently revised by the Treaty of Lausanne, 24 June 1923, (Ottoman Empire/Republic of Turkey).
The so-called "Paris Peace Treaties", together with the accords of the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922, laid the foundations for the so-called Versailles-Washington system of international relations.
The decision to create the League of Nations and the approval of its charter both took place during the conference.
The "Big Four" were the dominant diplomatic figures at the conference. The conclusions of their talks were imposed on the defeated countries.
Prior to Wilson's arrival in Europe, no American President had ever visited Europe while in office. Wilson's Fourteen Points, of a year earlier, had helped win the hearts and minds of many as the war ended; these included Americans and Europeans generally, as well as Germany, its allies and the former subjects of the Ottoman Empire specifically. Wilson's diplomacy and his Fourteen Points had essentially established the conditions for the armistices that had brought an end to World War I. Wilson felt it was his duty and obligation to the people of the world to be a prominent figure at the peace negotiations. High hopes and expectations were placed on him to deliver what he had promised for the post-war era. In doing so, Wilson ultimately began to lead the foreign policy of the United States toward interventionism, a move strongly resisted in some domestic circles.
Once Wilson arrived, however, he found "rivalries, and conflicting claims previously submerged". He worked mostly trying to sway the direction that the French (George Clemenceau) and British (Lloyd George) delegations were taking towards Germany and its allies in Europe, as well as the former Ottoman lands in the Middle East. Wilson's attempts to gain acceptance of his Fourteen Points ultimately failed, after France and Britain refused to adopt some specific points and its core principles.
In Europe, several of his Fourteen Points conflicted with the other powers. The United States did not encourage nor believe that the responsibility for the war that Article 231 placed on Germany was fair or warranted. It would not be until 1921 that the United States finally signed separate peace treaties with Germany, Austria and Hungary.
In the Middle East, negotiations were complicated by competing aims, claims, and the new mandate system. The United States hoped to establish a more liberal and diplomatic world, as stated in the Fourteen Points, where democracy, sovereignty, liberty and self-determination would be respected. France and Britain, on the other hand, already controlled empires, wielded power over their subjects around the world, and still aspired to be dominant colonial powers.
In light of the previously secret Sykes-Picot Agreement, and following the adoption of the mandate system on the Arab province of the former Ottoman lands, the conference heard statements from competing Zionist and Arab claimants. President Woodrow Wilson then recommended an international commission of inquiry to ascertain the wishes of the local inhabitants. The Commission idea, first accepted by Great Britain and France, was later rejected. Eventually it became the purely American King-Crane Commission, which toured all Syria and Palestine during the summer of 1919, taking statements and sampling opinion. Its report, presented to President Wilson, was kept secret from the public until The New York Times broke the story in December 1922. A pro-Zionist joint resolution on Palestine was passed by Congress in September 1922.
France and Britain tried to appease the American President by consenting to the establishment of his League of Nations. However, because isolationist sentiment was strong and some of the articles in the League's charter conflicted with the United States Constitution, the United States never did ratify the Treaty of Versailles nor join the League of Nations, which President Wilson had helped create, to further peace through diplomacy rather than war and conditions which can breed it.
Maintenance of the British Empire's unity, holdings and interests were an overarching concern for the British delegates to the conference, but it entered the conference with the more specific goals of:
- Ensuring the security of France
- Removing the threat of the German High Seas Fleet
- Settling territorial contentions
- Supporting the Wilsonian League of Nations
with that order of priority.
The Racial Equality Proposal put forth by the Japanese did not directly conflict with any of these core British interests. However, as the conference progressed the full implications of the Racial Equality Proposal, regarding immigration to the British Dominions (with Australia taking particular exception), would become a major point of contention within the delegation.
Ultimately, Britain did not see the Racial Equality proposal as being one of the fundamental aims of the conference. The delegation was therefore willing to sacrifice this proposal in order to placate the Australian delegation and thus help satisfy its overarching aim of preserving the unity of the British Empire.
Although Britain reluctantly consented to the attendance of separate Dominion delegations, the British did manage to rebuff attempts by the envoys of the newly proclaimed Irish Republic to put its case to the Conference for self-determination, diplomatic recognition and membership of the proposed League of Nations. The Irish envoys' final "Demand for Recognition" in a letter to Clemenceau, the Chairman, was not replied to. Britain had planned to legislate for two Irish Home Rule states (without Dominion status), and did so in 1920. In 1919 Irish nationalists were unpopular with the Allies because of the Conscription Crisis of 1918.
David Lloyd George the Prime Minister claimed that he did "not do badly" at the peace conference, "considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon." This was a reference to the very idealistic views of Woodrow Wilson (US President) and George Clemenceau (France), who was determined to see Germany punished.
The Australian delegation, led by Prime Minister Billy Hughes, wanted war reparations, annexation of German New Guinea and rejection of the Japanese racial equality proposal. Hughes obtained a class C mandate for New Guinea.
President Wilson was especially offended by Australian demands and asked Hughes if Australia really wanted to flout world opinion by profiting from Germany's defeat and extending its sovereignty as far north as the equator; Hughes famously replied: "That's about the size of it, Mr. President".
The British Dominion governments were not originally granted separate invitations to the conference, but rather were expected to send representatives as part of the British Empire delegation.
Convinced that Canada had become a nation on the battlefields of Europe, its Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden demanded that it have a separate seat at the conference. This was initially opposed not only by Britain but also by the United States, who perceived such a delegation as an extra British vote. Borden responded by pointing out that since Canada had lost a far larger proportion of its men compared to the U.S. in the war (although fewer in absolute numbers), Canada at least had the right to the representation of a "minor" power. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George eventually relented, and convinced the reluctant Americans to accept the presence of separate Canadian, Indian, Australian, Newfoundland, New Zealand and South African delegations.
Before the Western powers, Koo demanded that Germany's concessions on Shandong to be returned to China. He further called for an end to imperialist institutions such as extraterritoriality, legation guards, and foreign lease holds. Despite American support and the ostensible spirit of self-determination, the Western powers refused his claims, transferring the German concessions to Japan instead. This sparked widespread student protests in China on May 4, later known as the May Fourth Movement, eventually pressuring the government into refusing to sign the Treaty of Versailles. Thus the Chinese delegation at the Paris Peace Conference was the only one not to sign the treaty at the signing ceremony.
The French Prime Minister George Clemenceau's chief goal was to weaken Germany militarily, strategically and economically. Having personally witnessed two German attacks on French soil in the last forty years, he was adamant that Germany should not be permitted to attack France again. In particular, Clemenceau sought an American and British guarantee of French security in the event of another German attack. Clemenceau also expressed skepticism and frustration with Wilson's Fourteen Points: "Mr. Wilson bores me with his fourteen points", complained Clemenceau. "Why, God Almighty has only ten!" Wilson did sign a mutual defense treaty with France, but back in Washington the Senate refused to ratify it.
Another alternative French policy was to seek a rapprochement with Germany. In May 1919 the diplomat René Massigli was sent on several secret missions to Berlin. During his visits Massigli offered on behalf of his government to revise the territorial and economic clauses of the upcoming peace treaty. Massigli spoke of the desirability of “practical, verbal discussions” between French and German officials that would lead to a “collaboration Franco-allemande”. Furthermore, Massagli told the Germans that the French thought of the "Anglo-Saxon powers", namely the United States and British Empire, to be the major threat to France in the post-war world. He argued that both France and Germany had a joint interest in opposing "Anglo-Saxon domination" of the world and warned that the "deepening of opposition" between the French and the Germans "would lead to the ruin of both countries, to the advantage of the Anglo-Saxon powers". The Germans rejected the French offers because they considered the French overtures to be a trap to trick them into accepting the Versailles treaty "as is" and because the German foreign minister, Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau thought that the United States was more likely to reduce the severity of the peace terms than France. In the final event it proved to be Lloyd George who pushed for more favourable terms for Germany.
In 1882 Italy joined the German Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire forming the Triple Alliance. During World War I Italy aligned with the Allies, instead of joining its allies in the Triple alliance. In the Treaty of London, they had been offered the Trentino and the Tyrol as far as Brenner, Trieste and Istria, all the Dalmatian coast except Fiume, full ownership of Albanian Valona and a protectorate over Albania, Antalya in Turkey and a share of Turkish and German Empires in Africa.
Vittorio Orlando was sent as the Italian representative with the aim of gaining these and as much other territory as possible. The loss of 700,000 Italians and a budget deficit of 12,000,000,000 Lire during the war made the Italian government and people feel entitled to these territories. There was an especially strong opinion for control of Fiume, which they believed was rightly Italian due to the Italian population.
Nevertheless, by the end of the war the allies had made contradictory agreements with other nations, especially in Central Europe and the Middle-East. In the meetings of the "Big Four", in which Orlando's powers of diplomacy were inhibited by his lack of English the Great powers were only willing to offer Trentino to the Brenner, the Dalmatian port of Zara, the Island of Lagosta and a couple of small German colonies. All other territories were promised to other nations and the great powers were worried about Italy's imperial ambitions. As a result of this, Orlando left the conference in a rage.
The Japanese delegation was headed by Marquess Saionji Kinmochi (former Prime Minister), with Baron Makino Nobuaki (former Foreign Minister), Viscount Chinda Sutemi (ambassador in London), Matsui Keishiro (ambassador in Paris) and Ijuin Hikokichi (ja) (ambassador in Rome) and others making a total of 64. Neither Hara Takashi (Prime Minister) nor Uchida Yasuya (Foreign Minister) were prepared to travel so far from Japan so shortly after their election. The delegation focused on two demands: the inclusion of their racial equality proposal in the League's Covenant and Japanese territorial claims with respect to former German colonies, namely Shantung (including Kiaochow) and the Pacific islands north of the Equator (the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, the Mariana Islands, and the Carolines). Makino was de facto chief while Saionji's role was symbolic and limited by his ill health. The Japanese delegation became unhappy after receiving only one-half of the rights of Germany, and walked out of the conference.
Racial equality proposal
Japan proposed the inclusion of a "racial equality clause" in the Covenant of the League of Nations on 13 February as an amendment to Article 21:
The equality of nations being a basic principle of the League of Nations, the High Contracting Parties agree to accord as soon as possible to all alien nationals of states, members of the League, equal and just treatment in every respect making no distinction, either in law or in fact, on account of their race or nationality.
Because he knew that Great Britain was critical to the decision, President Wilson, as Conference chairman, ruled that a unanimous vote was required. On 11 April 1919 the commission held a final session and the proposal received a majority of votes, but Great Britain and Australia opposed it. The Australians had lobbied the British to defend Australia's White Australia policy. The defeat of the proposal influenced Japan's turn from cooperation with West toward more nationalistic policies.
The Japanese claim to Shantung was disputed by the Chinese. In 1914 at the outset of World War I Japan had seized the territory granted to Germany in 1897. They also seized the German islands in the Pacific north of the equator. In 1917, Japan had made secret agreements with Britain, France and Italy as regards their annexation of these territories. With Britain, there was a mutual agreement, Japan also agreeing to support British annexation of the Pacific islands south of the equator. Despite a generally pro-Chinese view on behalf of the American delegation, Article 156 of the Treaty of Versailles transferred German concessions in Jiaozhou, China to Japan rather than returning sovereign authority to China. The leader of the Chinese delegation, Lou Tseng-Tsiang, demanded that a reservation be inserted before he would sign the treaty. The reservation was denied, and the treaty was signed by all the delegations except that of China. Chinese outrage over this provision led to demonstrations known as the May Fourth Movement. The Pacific islands north of the equator became a class C mandate administered by Japan.
The Zionist Organization submitted their draft resolutions for consideration by the Peace Conference on 3 February 1919. This shortly followed the Conference's decision that the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire should be separated from it and the newly conceived mandate-system applied to them.
The statement included five main points:
- Recognition of the Jewish people's historic title to Palestine and their right to reconstitute their National Home there.
- The boundaries of Palestine were to be declared as set out in the attached Schedule
- The sovereign possession of Palestine would be vested in the League of Nations and the Government entrusted to Great Britain as Mandatory of the League.
- Other provisions to be inserted by the High Contracting Parties relating to the application of any general conditions attached to mandates, which are suitable to the case in Palestine.
- The mandate shall be subject also to several noted special conditions, including a provision to be inserted relating to the control of the Holy Places.
However, despite these attempts to influence the conference, Zionist were instead constrained by Article 7 of the resulting Palestine Mandate to merely having the right of obtaining Palestinian citizenship: "The Administration of Palestine shall be responsible for enacting a nationality law. There shall be included in this law provisions framed so as to facilitate the acquisition of Palestinian citizenship by Jews who take up their permanent residence in Palestine."
Ukraine had its best opportunity to win recognition and support from foreign powers at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. At a meeting of the Big Five (United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan) on 16 January, British prime minister David Lloyd George called Ukrainian leader Symon Petliura (1874–1926) an adventurer and dismissed Ukraine as an anti-Bolshevik stronghold. Sir Eyre Crowe, British undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, spoke against a union of East Galicia and Poland. The British cabinet never decided whether to support a united or dismembered Russia. The United States was sympathetic to a strong, united Russia as a counterpoise to Japan, but Britain feared a threat to India. Petliura appointed Count Tyshkevich his representative to the Vatican, and Pope Benedict XV recognized Ukrainian independence.
The remaking of the world map at these conferences gave birth to a number of critical conflict-prone international contradictions, which would become one of the causes of World War II. Eric Hobsbawm claimed that "no equally systematic attempt has been made before or since, in Europe or anywhere else, to redraw the political map on national lines. […] The logical implication of trying create a continent neatly divided into coherent territorial states each inhabited by separate ethnically and linguistically homogeneous population, was the mass expulsion or extermination of minorities. Such was and is the reductio ad absurdum of nationalism in its territorial version, although this was not fully demonstrated until the 1940s." He also argued that Wilson's Fourteen Points, in particular the principle of national self-determination, were primarily anti-Left measures, designed to tame the revolutionary fever sweeping across Europe in the wake of the October Revolution and the end of the war by playing the nationalist card.
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- Minority Treaties
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- Prince Lichnowsky
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- MacMillan (2001), p. 83.
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- "Ireland's Demand for Recognition" text, June 1919
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- MacMillan p.71
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- Trachtenberg, Marc (1979). "Reparation at the Paris Peace Conference". Journal of Modern History 51 (1): 24–55 [p. 42]. JSTOR 1877867.
- Trachtenberg (1979), page 43.
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- Paul Gordon Lauren (1988), Power And Prejudice: The Politics And Diplomacy Of Racial Discrimination Westview Press ISBN 0-8133-0678-7, 90
- MacMillan, Margaret (2003). Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World. Random House. p. 321. ISBN 0-375-76052-0.
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- Hobsbawm 1994, p. 67: "[T]he first Western reaction to the Bolsheviks' appeal to the peoples to make peace—and their publication of the secret treaties in which the Allies had carved up Europe among themselves—had been President Wilson's Fourteen Points, which played the nationalist card against Lenin's international appeal. A zone of small nation-states was to form a sort of quarantine belt against the Red virus. . . . [T]he establishment of new small nation-states along Wilsonian lines, though far from eliminating national conflicts in the zone of revolutions, . . . diminished the scope for Bolshevik revolution. That, indeed, had been the intention of the Allied peacemakers."
This view is hardly original with Hobsbawm, for it has a long history, and can be summarised by Ray Stannard Baker's famous remark that "Paris cannot be understood without Moscow." See McFadden 1993, p. 191.
- Hobsbawm, E. J. (1992). Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Programme, Myth, Reality. Canto (2nd ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-43961-9.
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- Birdsall, Paul. Versailles twenty years after (1941) well balanced older account
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- Kitsikis, Dimitri, Propagande et pressions en politique internationale. La Grèce et ses revendications à la Conférence de la Paix, 1919-1920, Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1963.
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- Macmillan, Margaret. Peacemakers: The Paris Peace Conference of 1919 and Its Attempt to End War (2002), also published as Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (2003); highly influential study excerpt and text search
- Marks, Sally. The Illusion of Peace: International Relations in Europe 1918-1933 (2nd ed. 2003)
- Mayer, Arno J., Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking: Containment and Counter-revolution at Versailles, 1918-1919 (1967), leftist
- Newton, Douglas. British Policy and the Weimar Republic, 1918-1919 (1997). 484 pgs.
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- Steiner, Zara. The Lights that Failed: European International History 1919-1933 (Oxford History of Modern Europe) (2007), major scholarly work excerpt and text search
- Trachtenberg, Marc. "Reparations at the Paris Peace Conference," The Journal of Modern History, Volume 51, Issue # 1, March 1979. pp 24-55 in JSTOR
- Walworth, Arthur. Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 (1986) 618pp online edition
- Watson, David Robin. George Clemenceau: A Political Biography (1976) 463 pgs. online edition
- Excerpts from the NFB documentary Paris 1919
- Sampling of maps used by the American delegates held by the American Geographical Society Library, UW Milwaukee