Short URL for this page:
p64 Eugene Kusielewicz
One hundred years ago the man who above all others was responsible for the rebirth of Poland was born.1 Thirty-seven years ago he appended his name to one of the most significant documents of our time, the Treaty of Versailles, and to the final act towards Polish independence, the Treaty between the Principal Allied and Associated Powers and Poland.2
Despite the ensuing passage of time, Woodrow Wilson's contributions to the rebirth and reconstruction of Poland remain today as ill‑defined as they were thirty-seven years ago.3 Since then a host of confusing, conflicting, and often erroneous accounts have appeared, contenting themselves in the repetition of what had gone before and manifesting little in the way of original research.4 Particularly is this true of Wilson's endeavors in reconstructing Poland at the Peace Conference of Paris. The most recent work in this series, for example, portrays the President as "stubborn"5 and "enthusiastic pro‑Pole" influenced by his "predilections and weaknesses"6 who "continued out of pride to champion the Polish cause to the bitter end."7 Such a tenuous description would lead to the impression that Wilson was showing at the Peace Conference an unfair pro‑Polish bias. Let us, therefore, examine the two major Polish problems in which he actively participated, those of Dantzig and Upper Silesia, in order to ascertain the extent, if any, to which these oft‑repeated charges are warrantable, and to arrive, if possible, at a clearer understanding of the relationship between Woodrow Wilson and the Polish cause at Paris.
The basic manifestation of Woodrow Wilson's friendly attitude toward Poland was indeed the thirteenth of his Fourteen Points: "An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be p65 assured a free and secure access to the sea . . ."8 But Dantzig was not mentioned, save by implication, in such a manner as to warrant the description of a dilemma.9 According to the thirteenth point Poland was to include only such territories as were "indisputably" Polish, thus providing Poland with the bulk of the Vistula system together with a narrow access to the Baltic. At the point of juncture, however, the only port of value was Dantzig, controlling the whole of the Vistula Basin. It soon became apparent that if only "indisputably" Polish regions were linked to the Polish state, Poland would never have her "free and secure" access to the sea. On the other hand, if she were awarded this "free and secure" access, Poland would include the "indisputably" German city of Dantzig.
Though Wilson did not attempt to solve, at first, that contradiction of the thirteenth point, the impression he created by his silence was that of opposition to the cession of Dantzig to Poland. This, at least, is the motive given by Roman Dmowski for his interview with the President on September 13, 1918. "Knowing how Wilson understood 'free access to the sea,' I emphasized this subject during our conversation and explained to him our aspirations and rights to a seacoast."
"But," observed Wilson, "would it not be sufficient for you if the lower Vistula and the free port of Dantzig were neutralized?"
Despite Dmowski's efforts in securing a commitment from the President, none was to be had.
In the interim, a number of American statesmen raised their voices in behalf of the cession of Dantzig to Poland. Defending a resolution introduced into the Senate supporting Wilson's thirteenth point, Senator Lodge declared: "You will observe that the President speaks of access to the sea. That access to the sea can only be at Dantzig at the mouth of the Vistula." Affirming the predominance of Poles along the banks of the entire Vistula, he continued, ". . . I have already seen attempts to say that as a German city they must continue to hold it and give certain rights to the Poles. The access to the sea that the Poles will get if Dantzig is held will not be worth having."11 Secretary of State Lansing, when he submitted his views as to the territorial settlements resultant from the war, included under point four: "An independent Poland, composed of Polish Russia, Prussia, and Austria, and in possession of the p66 port of Dantzig."12 In this the Secretary of State was merely anticipating the soon-to‑be-voiced recommendation of the "Inquiry," prepared to assist the President in the formulation of terms of peace: "If the principle of Poland's access to the sea is acceptable at all, it must inevitably involve the inclusion of Dantzig in that corridor."13 Despite these views, the President refused to commit himself.
It was not until January 29, 1919, that President Wilson announced the interpretation of the thirteenth point to which he would subscribe. On that day the Polish delegation appeared before the Supreme Council of the Allied and Associated Powers, and reviewed the general problems which faced the reborn state: Upper Silesia, Poznan, Eastern Galicia and the delicate situation of her Eastern Frontiers. Stressing the importance of her access to the Baltic, they did not formally lay claim to the city of Dantzig; nevertheless, their description of the situation and the implications contained therein were such as to elicit from the President the statement that he "was henceforth convinced that Dantzig must be Polish, and that in this affair he would be with Poland."14
Several weeks later a joint Anglo-American conference15 accepted a Polish-German frontier proposed by Sir Esme Howard and Dr. Lord and approved the grant of Dantzig to Poland.16 Two days later, on February 23, 1919, Colonel House cabled Wilson, now temporarily returned to America: "Our experts also believe this to be the best solution, and they are joined, I understand, in this belief by the British experts, but the British government disagree on this point."17
The conclusions arrived at by the British and American experts were unanimously accepted by those of France, Italy and Japan, and were incorporated in the report of the Inter-Allied Polish Commission presented to the Council of Ten on March 19, 1919. Here the Dantzig p67 debate is generally considered to have begun. Let us see how it influenced Wilson's attitude in the matter.
When the report of the Polish Commission was presented to the Council of Ten, it met with the vehement opposition of David Lloyd George, not because it returned Dantzig to Poland, rather because it included, according to the exaggerated figures he quoted, 2,132,000 Germans within the boundaries of the Polish State; this the British Prime Minister held "would spell serious trouble for Poland in the future."18 When it was indicated that the report was unanimously accepted by the Polish Commission and the "Committee Set Up To Coordinate Recommendations As To Boundaries," Lloyd George added that "the British delegates had adopted the conclusions reluctantly . . . They regarded them as a departure from the principles of the 'Fourteen Points' which had been adopted by the Allies."19 Agreeing that it was hardly possible to fix a boundary which would not have Germans on both sides of it, he nevertheless held the award of "millions of people to a distasteful allegiance merely because of a railway . . . a mistake."20
In reply President Wilson drew attention to the "very special effort" made by the German government to colonize the region. "The Germans had sought to make a German corridor from Schneidemuhlº to Marienwerder in order to isolate Dantzig from Poland. Hence, this was actually a region of political colonization."21
Lloyd George raised no objection on this point; he could not, however, agree to the cession of regions whose whole history was German.
President Wilson answered that "this could only be justified by reciprocity. Many Poles in areas historically Polish were to be left within Germany."22
The discussion now turned into a sharp debate between Lloyd George, on the one hand, and Cambon and Tardieu, on the other. The latter defended the reports their commissions had unanimously accepted by stressing the economic needs of the Polish State, while Lloyd George rebutted ethnographically: "It was neither fair nor prudent, because of a railway, to hand over large populations to a government they disliked."23
Attempting to mediate between the two, President Wilson said that the discussion had brought out a difficulty which would be met in many instances, the weight to be assigned to historic, economic, and similar arguments. On his own part, "he had not reached a definite conclusion."24 He hoped, however, that the discussion would be carried far enough to bring out all its elements. Acknowledging that the inclusion p68 of two million Germans in Poland would be a violation of one principle, that of self-determination, the President drew attention to the fact that Germany had been notified that free and secure access to the sea for Poland would be insisted upon. "This was one of the things they had fought for,"25 he added. The difficulty, however, was to arrive at a balance between conflicting considerations.
Before adjourning, President Wilson appeared to have decided in favor of economic over ethnographic considerations in the Corridor. He asked the Allies to note that they were creating a ". . . weak state, weak not only because historically it had failed to govern itself, but because it was sure in the future to be divided into factions, more especially as religious differences were an element in the situation";26 and for this reason he thought it necessary to reckon not only the economic but also the strategic needs of the state. Poland ". . . would have to cope with Germany on both sides of it, the Eastern fragment of Germany being the most aggressive in character."27 Nevertheless, President Wilson proposed that some modification might be made, recommending the consideration of the 1772 boundary of East Prussia. "This line," he declared, "was in some cases intermediate between the line recommended by the commission and the ethnographic line advocated by Mr. Lloyd George."28 As Lloyd George appeared hesitant, the President simply suggested that the Polish Committee reconsider its recommendations in the light of the above discussion.
Though the greater number of authorities state the contrary,29 it should be noted that during the whole discussion no criticism was directed against the return of Dantzig to Poland. The closest that Lloyd George came to this was his statement: "In the Dantzig district alone 412,000 Germans were assigned to Poland. Was it necessary to assign so much German territory, together with the port of Dantzig?"30 Nevertheless, the disposition of Dantzig was never challenged. As the British member of the Polish Commission summarized the reception of his Commission's recommendations: "The first criticism of these proposals affected only the question of the Mlawaº railway and assumed the justice of the proposals p69 in regard to Dantzig. Later the question of Dantzig itself was raised . . ."31
When the Polish Commission, including the "reluctant" British delegates, unanimously adopted its original recommendations, it presented these to the Council of Ten which provisionally accepted the recommendations "with the clear understanding that the Council reserved the right of revision when it came to consider the total effect of all these proposals."32 In the debate which preceded this provisional acceptance, President Wilson played no significant part. Lloyd George, however, stressed the fact that, "The Conference must avoid presenting such a Treaty that no Government would dare to sign it or such as would cause the immediate collapse of any Government that undertook the responsibility of accepting it."33 Again the return of Dantzig was not questioned, the Welshman's challenge being directed against the inclusion of too many Germans in Poland for the sake of the Dantzig-Warsaw railway lines.
The next we hear of Dantzig is a meeting between Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd George on March 28, 1919, as recorded in David Hunter Miller's Diary: "Mezes has seen the President, and it appears that Lloyd George was opposed to giving Dantzig to the Poles, and the President agreed to this because he did not want Fiume to go to the Italians. If Dantzig went to the Poles," the Miller account continues, he would have to consent to Fiume being Italian." So in his talk with Mezes, "he said that Dantzig and the area around it was to be either free or international or independent. Mezes said all three words had been used, and when I asked specifically if it was to be connected to East Prussia, he said 'no'." According to Miller, "It appeared that Lloyd George named Sir Eyre Crowe for the British, and the President has named Mezes for the Americans to agree on the Polish Question."34
The above entry, upon which all the significant treatments of the Dantzig problem are based,35 is an error on two points: on that of content, and on that of chronology. On the first count Miller holds that p70 the President made the fate of Dantzig depend on that of Fiume. If this be so, then the award of Dantzig to Poland would have its parallel in the award of Fiume to Yugoslavia, not to Italy as Miller indicates. Dantzig was a predominantly German city controlling the economy of the Polish hinterland. Likewise, Fiume was a predominantly Italian city controlling the economic life of what was to become the Yugoslav interior. The relationship between the two was direct, not inverse as the Miller account would lead us to believe.
The second error, that of chronology, holds that on March 28th the fate of Dantzig was sealed. On that date, the Miller account holds, Wilson and Lloyd George determined that Dantzig was to go neither to Poland nor to Germany, but was to be "either free or international or independent." This decision, not to cede Dantzig to Poland, however, could not have taken place before April 1, and probably did not take place until April 5 as Martel suggests,36 the proof for this assertion being two letters from Dr. Mezes to President Woodrow Wilson. The first of these,37 submitted in the form of a memorandum on March 31, three days after the Miller entry, proposed three solutions to the Dantzig question, the first of which established an independent state of Dantzig, a plan strongly criticize as foredooming Poland to German vassalage; the second was the recommendation of the Polish Commission, "a brave and sound solution of a distressingly knotty problem";38 and the third, though ceding Dantzig to Poland, attempted a compromise by excluding several of the neighboring German areas. If Dantzig were not to go to Poland, then why should Mezes propose this cession? The second letter,39 dated April 1, attempts to avoid the objection originally raised by Lloyd George that the Germans would not sign if Dantzig were returned to Poland, by ceding the port first to the League of Nations, then to the Polish State. "If this moves in the wrong direction," the letter asks, "won't you be good enough to let me know?" Surely if the President told Mezes on March 28th that Dantzig was not to go to Poland, he would not be asking if the cession of Dantzig to Poland moved in the wrong direction on April 1st.
Though in his Miller states: "My Diary was dictated at Paris from day to day,"40 it would appear that at times the pressure of Peace Conference activity was so great that a two or three day lapse took place and that when the entries were finally made, a few of the details were confused.
The charge made by Lloyd George some twenty years later, that "President Wilson was uneasy at the arguments advanced against the conclusions of the Peace Commission; his experts failed to remove his p71 misgivings,"41 likewise appears to be unfounded, or at least based on weak foundations, for nowhere in the official minutes does the President appear to have doubted the wisdom and necessity of the Commission's recommendations. Rather, when the Lloyd George proposals were accepted, the President regarded them as based on unscientific method: "All economic and strategic arguments," the President said, "had been in favor of uniting Dantzig to Poland, yet, in order to give effect to the general principles on which the peace was being based, an unscientific method had been used and a rough line had been drawn."42 Who had drawn this rough line it is difficult to say. Most probably it was the President himself: "Mr. Clemenceau reminded President Wilson that he had undertaken to complete the Articles in regard to Dantzig in accordance with certain alterations that had been agreed."43
It is difficult from this analysis of the Dantzig question to conclude that Woodrow Wilson was a "stubborn" man who "out of pride . . . championed the Polish cause to the bitter end." On the other hand, though he did retreat from his position and disregard the unanimous advice of the American, British, French, Italian and Japanese experts, Wilson's compromise cannot be interpreted as a sign of hostility towards the Polish state. As events were to prove, the solution arrived at posed a serious threat to the very life of the Polish State, yet, at the time it was developed, it seemed to be a fair solution to the question. Though Poland would not be sovereign over the hostile German population, in contradiction to the principle of self-determination, she would possess sufficient economic control to ensure her economic independence, in consonance with the "free and secure" access promised in the Fourteen Points. Disputes were expected to arise, but they were expected to be justly settled before the forum of the world, the League of Nations. The cause of the failure of the Dantzig settlement lies not so much in Wilson's compromise as it does in the failure of the Powers themselves.
Wilson's position will become even more evident in a brief description of the second Polish question in which he played an active part, that of Upper Silesia.
Unlike the problem of Poland's access to the sea, there was no question at the outset of the Conference regarding the award of Upper Silesia to Poland. This industrial heartland of East Central Europe produced 23% of Germany's entire coal supply, 80% of her zinc and a large part of her iron production,44 and was, according to official p72 German statistics, predominantly Polish in character.45 So strong were the peacemakers of this belief that, when the Polish Commission presented its recommendations relative to the award of Upper Silesia to Poland, the Supreme Council unanimously and without modification incorporated them into the draft treaty presented to the Germans on May 7, 1919. When the Germans presented their "Observations" on the treaty, however, the Upper Silesian settlement was singled out for their most vigorous attack on racial, historical and economic grounds. Racially, the Germans challenged the award on the grounds that the Poles of Upper Silesia were not true Poles but "Wasserpolnisch,"46 just as the Poles of West Prussia were not supposed to be Poles but Kashubians, and those of East Prussia Mazourians.47 Historically, the Germans pointed to the fact that Silesia had not been Polish since 1163, creating the impression that since that time it had belonged to Germany, whereas, in actuality, ceded by Poland to Bohemia not before 1335, it became German only as a result of the War of the Austrian Succession. Economically, they assailed the report because of the hypothetic dependence of German industry upon Silesian coal production, whereas, again, in actuality, Silesian coal was used primarily for the support of industry in the Posen area, which, according to the terms of the treaty, was to be returned to Poland. The Germans concluded their observations on Upper Silesia with the claim that: "It is in the self-interest of the Allied and Associated Powers to leave Upper Silesia with Germany, for at the most only with Upper Silesia can Germany fulfill the obligations arising from the war, but without it never."48
Apparently Lloyd George, who arrived at Paris with a mandate from the British people to make the Germans pay,49 was more impressed with that section of the "Observations" which held that" "The abstraction of Upper Silesia would remain for Germany an ever open wound,"50 than with that which linked the German capacity to pay with the retention of Upper Silesia. Such, at least, would appear from the argument he presented before the Supreme Council on June 2, 1919. The British Delegation, he stated, considered that there should be a plebiscite. The advantage was that if Upper Silesia elected to go to Poland, no question of revenge could arise: "If Germany instead of annexing Alsace-Lorraine had held a plebiscite in 1870, the present war would never have taken place. Neither could Prussia nurse a war of revenge in the future if Upper Silesia would vote for Poland."51 His personal view was that "Upper Silesia would vote for Poland."52
p73 When Lloyd George had presented the position of the British Delegation, President Wilson requested the Supreme Council to cancel its meeting scheduled the following morning, for the objections raised were of such an import that it was necessary for him to "be free to consult the American Plenipotentiaries and experts."53
The following morning the President met with the entire American Delegation to whom he complained that "it made him 'sick and tired' to have the same individual who had insisted on irrational and unjust provisions in the treaty now propose modifications because he was in a 'funk' about the Germans signing the treaty";54 however, he agreed to support modifications whenever the circumstances warranted. The result of the discussions which followed was to support the recommendations of the Polish Commission.
When the Supreme Council met at 4 P.M. that afternoon, it was President Wilson who opened the discussions but Lloyd George who raised the issue of the Silesian award. Assuming that a plebiscite had already been agreed to, Lloyd George proposed that one of its conditions should be the removal of the German officials and army. If this were done, he contended, a free and accurate vote would be had. Though the subsequent debates were to prove the assumption unwarranted, the President's immediate reply was, in effect, that military and political forces were not the only forces to be contended with; social and economic pressures were also to be considered. Referring to arguments presented that morning by Dr. Lord, the President pointed out that the region was dominated by a small number of magnates and capitalists. "The people of this district had been practically feudal servants of the magnates from time immemorial. The experts did not believe that a free plebiscite was possible in these conditions."55 As H. J. Paton, the British expert on Poland at the Paris Peace Conference, was later to describe the situation: "The uneducated Polish voter is liable to be affected by German statements that he will lose his industrial insurance, and perhaps his livelihood if he votes for union with Poland. The result might be a vote which did not express the real wishes of the people."56
Lloyd George, however, had faith in the possibility of a free election; he "believed that Upper Silesia would vote Polish," nevertheless, he "strongly advocated a plebiscite on the ground that it would get rid of a German grievance."57 Entering upon a vehement attack against the decision of the American experts, he explained his understanding of self-determination as "that of the people and not that of the experts like Dr. Lord."58 He was simply "standing by President Wilson's Fourteen p74 Points and fighting them through. He could not accept the view that any experts could judge better than the people themselves."59
This criticism, intended for the experts, appeared in its implications to be directed towards the President, for it seemed as if it were Lloyd George who stood beside the Fourteen Points while Wilson stood behind the experts. Taken aback by the Welshman's assault, the President said "he could not allow Mr. Lloyd George to suggest that he himself was not in favor of self-determination. All he wanted to be sure of was that it was genuine self-determination."60
The President now began to weaken before his opponents' persistent attacks. Soon he asked if Lloyd George had considered the time and arrangements of the plebiscite and then began discussing some of the details themselves. When, however, Lloyd George stated that the Germans attached extreme importance to the disposition of Upper Silesia, and that he himself wanted to avoid the necessity of occupying Berlin for fear of repeating the Moscow campaign, "namely an easy march, and on arrival, to find no one with whom to treat,"61 the President sharply answered that "he was less interested with the question of whether Germany would or would not sign than with ensuring that the arrangements in the Treaty were sound and just."62 He added that "he was not moved by the argument that the Germans would not sign unless it could be shown by them that the Allied and Associated Powers had not adhered to principles on which they had agreed to make peace."63 For fear of antagonizing the President, Lloyd George now adopted a less aggressive attitude:
Mr. Lloyd George said that his view of the Peace Treaty was that it was the best we could do on an ex parte hearing . . . He thought that now that the Germans had made their observations, the British Delegation was entitled to see how far it ought to be met. President Wilson himself admitted that the Germans had made out a case in some districts. In regard to Silesia, the Germans said that for 800 years it had been associated with the political organization of which the other States of Germany formed a part. Under these circumstances, the British Delegation merely urged that the people should be allowed to decide it for themselves. They were ready that every possible precaution should be taken to avoid any interference by soldiers or officials. If, after this had been done, the Germans refused to sign, then the British would be ready to march with their Allies as loyally as before . . . He was not in the least influenced by the arguments of pacifists, but by those of men who had supported him staunchly throughout the war, and would support p75 him provided they were satisfied that the Peace was a just one.
President Wilson suggested that perhaps he and Mr. Lloyd George were not very far apart. His position was substantially that of Mr. Lloyd George. It would not be sound to yield merely because the Germans would not sign . . . but . . . if they could show that the present scheme could not be worked or would not operate fairly, it ought to be reconsidered.
Mr. Lloyd George said that he was halfway between the two positions postulated by President Wilson. He was ready to make any concession that was fair, particularly if it would give the Germans an inducement to sign. For example, even though a plebiscite would make no difference in the ultimate designation of Silesia, nevertheless, if it would enable the Germans to sign the Treaty, he would be in favor of it.
President Wilson said he had no objection to doing anything which would help the Germans to sign provided he was doing right.
Mr. Lloyd George said he thought there ought to be a plebiscite taken where any doubt arose. There did seem to be a certain element of doubt in Upper Silesia.
President Wilson suggested that the best plan would be to appoint Commissioners to draw up the safeguards, and to supervise the operations of the plebiscite.64
Three days later, the Prime Minister of Poland, Ignace Paderewski, was invited to appear before the Supreme Council. Though intended for a discussion of the proposed modifications in Germany's eastern frontier, the meeting turned into a heated debate between the Polish and British Premiers over the former's position in Eastern Galicia. Soon, however, President Wilson was able to bring the discussion back to the question of Germany's boundaries and the problem of Upper Silesia. In the course of the following debate, the President attempted to state his own position in the matter. "My own judgment," he said, "is that notwithstanding the fact that the Germans admit that it has an overwhelming Polish population, the very great mineral riches of Silesia are of great concern to them,"65 and for this reason he and the Council were considering the suggestion of a plebiscite.
Paderewski described in detail the hold which the Germans exercised over the Polish people, and for that reason he opposed a plebiscite. Though he held, as did the experts and the Germans themselves, that the region was predominantly Polish, he frankly admitted that if a plebiscite were taken it would be in favor of Germany.66 The social and economic conditions in the area precluded a free plebiscite. At this point the subject of the debate changed, and the meeting ended.
p76 On July 11, the Supreme Council again considered the question of a plebiscite, when, after discussing German reparations, Clemenceau said "that he himself was opposed to the idea of a plebiscite, but to meet his colleagues he had accepted it."67 President Wilson replied that "he also did not think in principle that a plebiscite was necessary," adding that "No. 13 of the 14 points was quite explicit on the point. There might be a part of the area in which a plebiscite ought to be considered and this was why he was willing to agree to the plebiscite."68 When, however, the President stated that Mr. White of the American delegation had informed him of evidence he had received of the influence the German Roman Catholic priests were exercising over the Poles in Upper Silesia, Lloyd George stated that "the Poles like the Irish were especially good at propaganda." The Allies, he said, "were only hearing one side of the case. Wherever Mr. White had obtained his information he was sure he had not heard the German side . . . he had no wish to act on one sided information."69 President Wilson reported that:
Mr. White obtained his information from American citizens who had been in Upper Silesia before and during the war. As a matter of fact the Germans were far more subtle propagandists than the Poles. No one could induce him to believe that the Poles who were in no political position would be better propagandists in Upper Silesia than the Germans, who were. As against the Germans, he was a pro‑Pole with all his heart.
Mr. Lloyd George said he was apprehensive of the troops not being willing to advance simply because a plebiscite had not been taken.
President Wilson pointed out that the reply to the Germans on reparations had been whittled down so that all sacrifice by the Allies had been abandoned. Now it was proposed to place the sacrifice on the Poles.
Mr. Lloyd George said he could not admit either of these statements. The only point in regard to Upper Silesia was that he did not wish to put a population under the Poles against their will . . . He was afraid of prolonging the war for unjustifiable reasons. If we said to the Germans, "You must clear out to make way for the Poles," he was convinced they would refuse. If, however, we said, "Clear out because we want to hold a plebiscite," he did not believe they would refuse.
President Wilson pointed out that the Commission were unanimous in their belief that Allied troops would have to be put into Poland during the period preceedingº the plebiscite. The serious aspect of this was that the Germans would say "your troops would bias the plebiscite."
p77 Mr. Lloyd George said there was a great difference between Polish or German troops and Allied troops.
Mr. Clemenceau said that there were 350,000 Germans at present in Upper Silesia. They were concentrating there even from Dantzig. Probably this was not for the purpose of fighting, but in order to show that they had no intention of evacuating.
President Wilson asked if Mr. Lloyd George thought British troops would fight for a plebiscite.
Mr. Lloyd George thought they would.70
Though Wilson in the heat of the debate had called himself "a pro‑Pole with all his heart," within an hour after the conclusion of the above meeting the President had agreed to Lloyd George's plebiscite. This change of attitude must be briefly explained.
At the opening of the Peace Conference of Paris, few if any of the delegates foresaw the Upper Silesian settlement developing into the controversy it did. This region, according to Polish claim and German statistics, was predominantly Polish in population, and on this ground was awarded to Poland, the necessary provisions being included in the draft treaty presented to the Germans. Suddenly, what had theretofore appeared to be a settled question burst into one of the most heated controversies to face the peacemakers. The arguments presented by the German Delegation, historical, racial and economic alike, were based on weak foundations, but sufficed, together with a strong German propaganda, to shake the British position. Lloyd George had already bled the Germans of their colonies and their navy and now wished to have a treaty guaranteeing these gains signed as quickly as possible. The rumors then current in Europe, however, held that Germany would sign no treaty awarding Upper Silesia to Poland, and in fact would fight if necessary to prevent it. So strong were these rumors that the Supreme Allied Council considered a program to be put into effect it the Germans refused to sign. Britain's share of the booty was therefore tied up to the Upper Silesian award, which if executed could possibly jeopardize the English gains. Lloyd George, therefore, appeared before the Supreme Council and demanded a plebiscite.
President Wilson opposed Lloyd George's proposition on the grounds that the political, social and economic conditions of the region rendered a free plebiscite impossible. The peasantry, in a condition worse than that of the Middle Ages, were completely under the control of the German landlords and clergy, while the industrial workers, though considerably more advanced and independent, stood to lose their livelihood by a pro‑Polish vote. Such was the unanimous opinion of the experts, American, French, Italian, Japanese and British alike, and such was the opinion of the impartial observers who had traveled throughout the area. To add to these arguments, the President also opposed a plebiscite because p78 of the motives he ascribed to Lloyd George's proposal, not justice, but fear; fear that the Germans would not sign the treaty. Under these circumstances, we might ask ourselves, why did the President decide to accept the plebiscite?
First among the reasons to be mentioned is the isolated position of President Wilson. Despite the fact that Lloyd George was the only member of the Supreme Council to suggest and defend the idea of a plebiscite, President Wilson was the only member to actively oppose his stand. Though Clemenceau and Orlando also opposed a plebiscite they played a passive part during the debates, leaving the President to bear the brunt of Lloyd George's skillful opposition, a position from which the President rarely emerged successfully.
Of far greater importance, however, was the threat to hold back British troops if Germany refused to sign the treaty because of Upper Silesia. As Lloyd George repeatedly states, and such was the opinion of the Conference as a whole, if Upper Silesia were ceded to Poland outright, either the Germans would refuse to sign or fight. In either circumstance the occupation of Germany would be necessary, a movement which would require the combined power of all the Allies. If British troops were held back, the movement was expected to fail, or at least to be too costly for consideration. Was it worthwhile to jeopardize the Covenant, and the Treaty of which it was a part, for the sake of a plebiscite, the outcome of which still expected to award Upper Silesia to Poland? Surrounded by these circumstances the President agreed to a plebiscite.
Forced to concede, President Wilson determined to overcome those conditions which were considered to render a plebiscite impossible. On his recommendation an elaborate plan was accepted providing for the removal of German troops and officials, the occupation of Silesia by an Allied army, and the administration of the region by an Inter-Allied Commission empowered with full authority to take any steps "which it thinks proper to ensure the freedom, fairness, and secrecy of the vote,"71 including the right to those who attempted to distort the outcome of the plebiscite. With these and other considerations it was thought that a just solution could still be had, yet, even in these circumstances Colonel House would remark, "I am afraid it cannot be honestly carried out."72
As in the Dantzig award so in the Silesian settlement it is difficult to secure any confirmation of a "stubborn" or biased trait in Wilson's treatment of the Polish Question. It is likewise difficult to find any evidence to prove that he "continued out of pride to champion the Polish cause to the bitter end." If anything, the evidence proves the contrary, that in both instances after defending the Polish camps through objective p79 arguments, he surrendered his position before the concerted attacks of Lloyd George.
It must be admitted, that he could be impressed by Lloyd George's assertion that the award of Dantzig to Polish would be a violation of the principle of self-determination, and that in theory, a plebiscite is the best method of settling a territorial dispute. Though there were dangers in both these solutions, as the experts and the Polish delegation were quick to point out, President Wilson attempted to avoid these in the "Free City" status of Dantzig, and in the conditions attached to the plebiscite in Upper Silesia. If these conditions were incapable of securing a just solution, Wilson provided a court of final appeal, the League of Nations.
In the light of his stand on these problems it is obvious that all that Wilson was looking for was a fair and objective solution. He defended, of course, the Poles against Lloyd George's anti-Polish approach to these and many other problems, but never in a stubborn, prejudiced spirit. And though he did manifest a strong sympathy toward the State he helped to resurrect, his primary consideration was the establishment of a just and enduring peace, or one as just and durable as then was possible.
1 December 28, 1856.
2 Both documents were signed on June 28, 1919.
3 For the problems involved in the treatment of this subject see: Eugene Kusielewicz, "Woodrow Wilson And The Rebirth Of Poland," Polish American Studies, XII (January-June 1955) 1‑10.
5 Louis L. Gerson, Woodrow Wilson And The Rebirth Of Poland, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1953, p139. For a cross reference of some of the many errors, distortions and contradictions in which this work abounds, see its reviews in the July 1954 issue of the Annals Of The American Academy Of Political And Social Sciences and in the October 1954 issue of the American Slavic And East European Review.
6 Ibid., p120. Gerson quotes this phrase from one of its major proponents, David Lloyd George, Memoirs Of The Peace Conference, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1930, I:203.
7 Ibid., p139.
8 Papersº Relating To The Foreign Relations Of The United States 1918, Washington, U. S. Govt. Ptg. Off., 1932, I:16. The Papersº Relating To The Foreign Relations Of The United States will hereafter be cited as For. Rels.
9 For a fuller though sketchy account of this question see: John Mason, The Dantzig Dilemma, A Study in Peacemaking By Compromise, Stanford University Press, 1946.
10 Roman Dmowski, Polityka Polska i odbudowanie Panstwa (Polish Policy and the Restitution of the State), Warsaw, Perszynski, Niklewicz i ska., 1925, pp389‑390. The English translation used is that of Casimir , Poland's Access To The Sea, London, Allen & Unwin, 1934, pp95‑96.
11 H. H. Fisher, America And The New Poland, New York, Macmillan, 1928, p356.
12 Robert Lansing, The Peace Negotiations, A Personal Narrative, New York, Houghton Mifflin, 1921, p194.
13 David Hunter Miller, My Diary At The Conference Of Paris, 21 volumes, privately printed, 1924, VI:49.
14 Dmowski, op. cit., p436. Paul Birdsall, Versailles, Twenty Years After, London, Allen & Unwin, 1941, p178, questions Wilson's statement to the Polish delegates: "That may be, but it seems unlikely that Wilson would depart from his general policy of avoiding all commitments on territorial questions at this stage of the conference, when the territorial commissions were just beginning their studies." It should be noted, however, that the President had determined to support the recommendations of his experts, (on this point see: James T. Shotwell, At The Paris Peace Conference, New York, Macmillan, 1937, p78,) one of which provided for the return of Dantzig to Poland. Generally, as Birdsall rightly points out, President Wilson did not commit himself on territorial questions until a later date, however, the greater number of territorial questions did not appear till a later date, while those of Poland, already actively debated even before the Peace Conference had assembled, warranted the appearance of the Polish Delegates the Supreme Council four days after the opening of the first plenary session, this even before the Allied and Associated Powers had recognized the de facto existence of the Polish state. That the President would formally support the recommendations of his experts when the occasion arose, does not appear inconsistent with his policy. That he committed himself first on the frontiers of Poland resulted from the appearance of Poland's territorial settlements as one of the first subjects of debate before the Conference.
15 Including the Hon. A. Douglas, Lt. Col. Cornwall, Mr. Headlam-Morley, and Mr. Paton for Britain, and Dr. Bowman, Dr. Haskins, Maj. Johnson, Dr. Mezes and Mr. Seymour for the United States.
16 Miller, op. cit., XIX:85. The account of Mason, op. cit., p46, is in error when it holds the discussions between the American and British experts "inconclusive." This is contradicted by the Miller account, cited above, upon which Mason bases his references.
17 Charles Seymour, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, 4 volumes, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1926‑1928, IV:335.
18 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, VI:417.
20 Ibid., p415.
22 Ibid., p416.
24 Ibid., p417.
25 Ibid., p418.
28 Ibid., p419.
29 Birdsall, op. cit., p180; Gerson, op. cit., pp128‑129; Rene Martel, The Eastern Frontiers of Germany, London, Norgate, 1930, p45; Mason, op. cit., pp51‑52. These accounts are based on Isaiah Bowman (who was present at the discussions in the Supreme Council), "Constantinople And The Balkans," What Really Happened At Paris, (eds. Edward Mandell House and Charles Seymour), New York, Scribner's Sons, 1921, pp140‑175, as follows:
"Suddenly Lloyd George changed from a state of bored indifference to one of aggressive participation. From that moment forward, Lloyd George never relaxed his interest or control. Sitting forward in his chair, and speaking in an earnest voice, he proceeded to tear the report to pieces . . . "Gentlemen," he said, "if we give Dantzig to the Poles the Germans will not sign the treaty, and if they do not sign our work here is a failure. I assure you the Germans will not sign such a treaty."
30 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, VI:415.
31 H. J. Paton, "Poland At The Peace Conference," A History Of The Peace Conference Of Paris, (ed. H. W. V. Temperley), 6 volumes, London, Frowde & Hodder & Stoughton, 1924, VI:256. A similar statement is made by Dr. Robert H. Lord, American expert on Poland, likewise present during the discussion, "Poland," What Really Happened At Paris, (eds. Edward Mandell House and Charles Seymour), New York, Scribner's Sons, 1921, p79. Dr. Lord holds: "Soon after the British Prime Minister proposed a second change . . . in the matter of Dantzig." This he distinguishes from Lloyd George's "first intervention" made on March 19th.
That the return of Dantzig was not challenged before the Council of Ten is further illustrated by the defense of its recommendations presented by the Polish Commission on March 20th. This defense, presented in a written form (For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, IV:452‑454), nowhere mentions the award of Dantzig, defending, as it does, only those articles of its report which were questioned in the Supreme Council by the British Prime Minister; those articles which assigned predominantly German populations to Poland as the only means by which she could obtain a secure control over the one direct railroad between Warsaw and Dantzig. If Dantzig were questioned in the Supreme Council, one would expect this reply to deal primarily with its defense, for the disposition of the railway contingent upon the status of the port, was insignificant in regard to the disposition of the port itself. Yet nowhere is Dantzig mentioned.
32 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, IV:449‑450.
33 Ibid., p449.
34 Miller, op. cit., I:208‑209.
35 Smogorzewski, op. cit., p139; Mason, op. cit., p55; Martel, op. cit., pp49‑50; Bowman, op. cit., p1611.
36 Martel, op. cit., pp49‑50.
37 Mezes to Wilson, March 31, 1919, Wilson , Library of Congress.
39 Mezes to Wilson, April 1, 1919, Wilson , Library of Congress.
40 Miller, op. cit., I:1.
41 Lloyd George, op. cit., II:643.
42 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, V:86.
43 Ibid., p114. As yet no explanation of Wilson's sudden reversal has been offered. The events taking place in the first week of April are sparsely recorded. The President, ill and bedridden for the entire week, was so discouraged with the French, with their claims to the Rhineland and their objections to the Monroe Doctrine amendment, that he ordered the George Washington to Brest. In the midst of these heated controversies he agreed to a "Free City" status for Dantzig.
44 Ray Stanard Baker, Woodrow Wilson And World Settlement, New York, Doubleday, 1922, III:483.
45 Lord, op. cit., p81.
46 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, VI:833.
47 Paton, op. cit., VI:264.
48 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, VI:835.
49 J. Hugh Edwards, David Lloyd George, The Man And The Statesman, New York, Sears & Co., 1929, II:559.
50 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, VI:835.
51 Ibid., p140.
52 Ibid., p142.
54 Birdsall, op. cit., pp189‑190.
55 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, VI:142.
56 Paton, op. cit., p265.
57 For. Rels., Paris Peace Conference, VI:149.
58 Ibid., p150.
60 Ibid., p151.
62 Ibid., pp151‑152.
64 Ibid., pp152‑153.
65 Ibid., p191.
66 Ibid., p196.
67 Ibid., p303.
71 Ibid., XIII:219.
72 Seymour, op. cit., IV:482.
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
American History Notes
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one *asterisk. If the URL has two **asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 14 Mar 17