Gentlemen of the Congress:
Once more, as repeatedly before, the spokesmen of the Central Empires
have indicated their desire to discuss the objects of the war and the possible
basis of a general peace. Parleys have been in progress at Brest-Litovsk
between Russian representatives and representatives of the Central Powers
to which the attention of all the belligerents has been invited for the
purpose of ascertaining whether it may be possible to extend these parleys
into a general conference with regard to terms of peace and settlement.
The Russian representatives presented not only a perfectly definite
statement of the principles upon which they would be willing to conclude
peace, but also an equally definite program of the concrete application
of those principles. The representatives of the Central Powers, on their
part, presented an outline of settlement which, if much less definite,
seemed susceptible of liberal interpretation until their specific program
of practical terms was added. That program proposed no concessions at all,
either to the sovereignty of Russia or to the preferences of the populations
with whose fortunes it dealt, but meant, in a word, that the Central Empires
were to keep every foot of territory their armed forces had occupied--every
province, every city, every point of vantage as a permanent addition to
their territories and their power.
It is a reasonable conjecture that the general principles of settlement
which they at first suggested originated with the more liberal statesmen
of Germany and Austria, the men who have begun to feel the force of their
own peoples' thought and purpose, while the concrete terms of actual settlement
came from the military leaders who have no thought but to keep what they
have got. The negotiations have been broken off. The Russian representatives
were sincere and in earnest. They cannot entertain such proposals of conquest
The whole incident is full of significance. It is also full of perplexity.
With whom are the Russian representatives dealing? For whom are the representatives
of the Central Empires speaking? Are they speaking for the majorities of
their respective parliaments or for the minority parties, that military
and imperialistic minority which has so far dominated their whole policy
and controlled the affairs of Turkey and of the Balkan States which have
felt obliged to become their associates in this war?
The Russian representatives have insisted, very justly, very wisely,
and in the true spirit of modern democracy, that the conferences they have
been holding with the Teutonic and Turkish statesmen should be held within
open, not closed, doors, and all the world lies been audience, as was desired.
To whom have we been listening, then? To those who speak the spirit and
intention of the resolutions of the German Reichstag of the 9th of July
last, the spirit and intention of the liberal leaders and parties of Germany,
or to those who resist and defy that spirit and intention and insist upon
conquest and subjugation? Or are we listening, in fact, to both, unreconciled
and in open and hopeless contradiction? These are very serious and pregnant
questions. Upon the answer to them depends the peace of the world.
But whatever the results of the parleys at Brest-Litovsk, whatever
the confusions of counsel and of purpose in the utterances of the spokesmen
of the Central Empires, they have again attempted to acquaint the world
with their objects in the war and have again challenged their adversaries
to say what their objects are and what sort of settlement they would deem
just and satisfactory. There is no good reason why that challenge should
not be responded to, and responded to with the utmost candor. We did not
wait for it. Not once, but again and again we have laid our whole thought
and purpose before the world, not in general terms only, but each time
with sufficient definition to make it clear what sort of definite terms
of settlement must necessarily spring out of them. Within the last week
Mr. Lloyd George has spoken with admirable candor and in admirable spirit
for the people and Government of Great Britain.
There is no confusion of counsel among the adversaries of the Central
Powers, no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail. The only secrecy
of counsel, the only lack of fearless frankness, the only failure to make
definite statement of the objects of the war, lies with Germany and her
allies. The issues of life and death hang upon these definitions. No statesman
who has the least conception of his responsibility ought for a moment to
permit himself to continue this tragical and appalling outpouring of blood
and treasure unless he is sure beyond a peradventure that the objects of
the vital sacrifice are part and parcel of the very life of society and
that the people for whom he speaks think them right and imperative as he
There is, moreover, a voice calling for these definitions of principle
and of purpose which is, it seems to me, more thrilling and more compelling
than any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world
is filled. It is the voice of the Russian people. They are prostrate and
all but helpless, it would seem, before the grim power of Germany, which
has hitherto known no relenting and no pity. Their power, apparently, is
shattered. And yet their soul is not subservient. They will not yield either
in principle or in action. Their conception of what is right, of what is
humane and honorable for them to accept, has been stated with a frankness,
a largeness of view, a generosity of spirit, and a universal human sympathy
which must challenge the admiration of every friend of mankind; and they
have refused to compound their ideals or desert others that they themselves
may be safe.
They call to us to say what it is that we desire, in what, if in
anything, our purpose and our spirit differ from theirs; and I believe
that the people of the United States would wish me to respond, with utter
simplicity and frankness. Whether their present leaders believe it or not,
it is our heartfelt desire and hope that some way may be opened whereby
we may be privileged to assist the people of Russia to attain their utmost
hope of liberty and ordered peace.
It will be our wish and purpose that the processes of peace, when
they are begun, shall be absolutely open and that they shall involve and
permit henceforth no secret understandings of any kind. The day of conquest
and aggrandizement is gone by; so is also the day of secret covenants entered
into in the interest of particular governments and likely at some unlooked-for
moment to upset the peace of the world. It is this happy fact, now clear
to the view of every public man whose thoughts do not still linger in an
age that is dead and gone, which makes it possible for every nation whose
purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow
now or at any other time the objects it has in view.
We entered this war because violations of right had occurred which
touched us to the quick and made the life of our own people impossible
unless they were corrected and the world secured once for all against their
What we demand in this war, therefore, is nothing peculiar to ourselves.
It is that the world be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly
that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own,
wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured
of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world, as against
force and selfish aggression.
All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest,
and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to
others it will not be done to us.
The program of the world's peace, therefore, is our program; and
that program, the only possible program, all we see it, is this:
1. Open covenants of peace must be arrived at, after which there
will surely be no private international action or rulings of any kind,
but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial
waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in
whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international
3. 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.
4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will
be reduced to the lowest points consistent with domestic safety.
5. 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 population
concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government
whose title is to be determined.
6. 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 and national policy, and assure her of a sincere
welcome into the society of free nations under institutions of her own
choosing; and, more than a welcome, assistance also of every kind that
she may need and may herself desire. The treatment accorded Russia by her
sister nations in the months to come will be the acid test of their good
will, of their comprehension of her needs as distinguished from their own
interests, and of their intelligent and unselfish sympathy.
7. 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. No other single act will serve as this will
serve to restore confidence among the nations in the laws which they have
themselves set and determined for the government of their relations with
one another. Without this healing act the whole structure and validity
of international law is forever impaired.
8. 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.
9. A re-adjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along
clearly recognizable lines of nationality.
10. The peoples of Austria-Hungary, whose place among the nations
we wish to see safeguarded and assured, should be accorded the freest opportunity
of autonomous development.
11. Romania, 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.
12. The Turkish portions 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, and the
Dardanelles should be permanently opened as a free passage to the ships
and commerce of all nations under international guarantees.
13. 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, and whose political and
economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by
14. 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.
In regard to these essential rectifications of wrong and assertions
of right, we feel ourselves to be intimate partners of all the governments
and peoples associated together against the imperialists. We cannot be
separated in interest or divided in purpose. We stand together until the
For such arrangements and covenants we are willing to fight and to
continue to fight until they are achieved; but only because we wish the
right to prevail and desire a just and stable peace such as can be secured
only by removing the chief provocations to war, which this program does
We have no jealousy of German greatness, and there is nothing in
this program that impairs it. We grudge her no achievement or distinction
of learning or of pacific enterprise such as have made her record very
bright and very enviable. We do not wish to injure her or to block in any
way her legitimate influence or power. We do not wish to fight her either
with arms or with hostile arrangements of trade, if she is willing to associate
herself with us and the other peace-loving nations of the world in covenants
of justice and law and fair dealing.
We wish her only to accept a place of equality among the peoples
of the world--the new world in which we now live--instead of a place of
Neither do we presume to suggest to her any alteration or modification
of her institutions. But it is necessary, we must frankly say, and necessary
as a preliminary to any intelligent dealings with her on our part, that
we should know whom her spokesmen speak for when they speak to us, whether
for the Reichstag majority or for the military party and the men whose
creed is imperial domination.
We have spoken now, surely, in terms too concrete to admit of any
further doubt or question. An evident principle runs through the whole
program I have outlined. It is the principle of justice to all peoples
and nationalities, and their right to live on equal terms of liberty and
safety with one another, whether they be strong or weak.
Unless this principle be made its foundation, no part of the structure
of international justice can stand. The people of the United States could
act upon no other principle, and to the vindication of this principle they
are ready to devote their lives, their honor, and everything that they
possess. The moral climax of this, the culminating and final war for human
liberty has come, and they are ready to put their own strength, their own
highest purpose, their own integrity and devotion to the test.
President Woodrow Wilson - January 8, 1918