Personalities of the Big Three:
Woodrow Wilson, Georges Clemenceau and David Lloyd George

Woodrow Wilson, as described in the introductory section of the text, was the leader of the immediate post-war period and was the architect of an internationalist vision for a new world order.  Yet, as discussed in the paragraphs below, he was not able to persuade the other Allied leaders at the peace settlement negotiations in Paris to embrace his vision.  But it was not just the opposition of Clemenceau and Lloyd George to some of his ideas that moved the conference away from Wilson's vision.  Wilson became so blindingly caught up in his vision, thinking that everything he advocated was what democracy and justice wanted, that he completely alienated the other negotiators in Paris, and they stopped listening to him.[1]  Another historian points to a different problem, that Wilson himself stopped listening to his earlier vision, having become convinced that a harsh peace was justified and desirable.[2]  Even if that historical view is accurate, Wilson was probably still more moderate in his conception of a harsh peace than were Clemenceau and Lloyd George.  But as the conference dragged on and the departure from Wilsonianism became more and more pronounced, Wilson clung to his proposal for the League of Nations.  In fact, he seemed to place all his faith in his pet project, believing it would solve all the evils the negotiators were unable to solve during the conference.[3]  Unfortunately, Wilson made it clear that the League was his primary objective, and it came to be his only bargaining chip.[4]  He then compromised on numerous issues that had no corollary in his vision in order to maintain the support for the creation of the League.  Thus, though full of good intentions and a vision for a just and peaceful future, Wilson's arrogance and ineffective negotiating skills largely contibuted to the downfall of his vision.  Finally, it must be mentioned that Wilson's inability to negotiate with the Senate in its discussion of the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles caused the Senate to reject the Treaty, leaving the United States noticeably absent from the newly created League of Nations, which greatly undermined the effectiveness and importance of Wilson's principal goal.[5]  Nonetheless, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to secure a lasting peace and the success in the creation of the League of Nations.

Historians generally portray French Premier Georges Clemenceau as the man who was still fighting the war months after the signing of the armistice.  He had always been deeply affected by the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71, which France had lost and as a result had been forced to sacrifice the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to the hated Germans.  This time on the side of the victors, he was determined to do what he could to keep Germany down, both as a measure of revenge and in the interests of France's peaceful future.  Since France had suffered the greatest economic losses of any of the warring countries, he insisted upon reparations from Germany to allow France to begin to rebuild itself.  He also fought for and obtained a fifteen-year buffer between France and Germany via Allied occupation of the Rhineland and bilateral treaties with Britain and the U.S. guaranteeing France's territorial integrity. Clemenceau was working for the best interests of France, to allow her to pick up the pieces after the terrible war without needing to worry about a belligerent neighbor, and to try to ensure that France would never again have to suffer the enormous losses World War I had caused the French people.  But Clemenceau resisted the idea, popular among many French politicians at the time, to dismember the German state into its subparts, and that resistance may have caused his defeat in the presidential election shortly after the Paris peace conference ended.[6]

David Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, entered the negotiations in Paris with the clear support of the British people, as evidenced by his convincing win in the so-called khaki election of December 1918.[7]  During the weeks leading up to the election, though, he had publicly committed himself to work for a harsh peace against Germany, including obtaining payments for war damages committed against the British.  These campaign promises went against Lloyd George's personal convictions.  Knowing that Germany had been Britain's best pre-war trading partner, he thought that Britain's best chance to return to its former prosperity was to restore Germany to a financially stable situation, which would have required a fairly generous peace with respect to the vanquished enemy.[8]  Nonetheless, his campaign statements showed Lloyd George's understanding that the public did not hold the same convictions as he did, and that, on the contrary, the public wanted to extract as much as possible out of the Germans to compensate them for their losses during the war.  So Lloyd George and Clemenceau were in agreement on many points, each one seeming to support the other in their nationalist objectives, and thereby scratching each other's back as the "game of grab" of Germany's power played itself out.  But most historians do not attribute to Lloyd George a significant role in the Treaty negotiations.

     In their defense, Clemenceau and Lloyd George were only following popular sentiment back home when they fought for harsh terms against Germany.  It is clear from historical accounts of the time that after seeing so many young men not return from the trenches on the Western front, the French and British wanted to exact revenge against the Germans through the peace settlement, to ensure that their families would never again be destroyed by German aggression.  In that respect, democracy was clearly functioning as it is intended in a representative democracy.  In fact, Lloyd George is the quintessential example of an elected leader serving the interests of his people, putting his personal convictions second to British public opinion.  Yet it was that same public opinion (in France and Britain) that Wilson had believed would support his internationalist agenda, placing Germany in the context of a new and more peaceful world order which would prevent future aggression.  Wilson's miscalculation was one of the single greatest factors leading to the compromise of his principles and the resulting harsh and, in the eyes of many, unjust treatment of Germany within the Treaty of Versailles.

    [See also the biographies of the Big Three listed on the Links page.]

First Page
Author's Personal Conclusions


1.    James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of World War I, 1981, p. 309.

2.    Manfred F. Boemeke, "Woodrow Wilson's Image of Germany, the War-Guilt Question, and the Treaty of Versailles,"inThe Treaty of Versailles:  A Reassessment After 75 Years, Ch. 25, Boemeke, Feldman & Glaser, eds., 1998, pp. 603-614.

3.    Robert H. Ferrell, Woodrow Wilson and World War I:  1917-1921, 1985, p. 146.

4.    Lawrence E. Gelfand, "The American Mission to Negotiate Peace:  An Historian Looks Back," in The Treaty of Versailles:  A Reassessment After 75 Years, Ch. 8, Boemeke, Feldman & Glaser, eds., 1998, p. 191.

5.    See Ferrell, supra note 3, Ch. 10, "The Senate and the Treaty."

6.    Information from this paragraph is taken from Ferrell, supra note 3, at 142, 144, 151.

7.    Id. at 151.

8.    Stokesbury, supra note 1, at 311-312.