It’s January 1918.  As a new year begins, President Wilson outlines his vision for a postwar world in an address to Congress.  His “Fourteen Points,” which follow Prime Minister Lloyd George’s statement of British war aims by only three days, are based on study and analysis conducted by a group of intellectuals called the “Inquiry,” a precursor of the Council on Foreign Relations.  The Bolsheviks walk away from the talks at Brest-Litovsk, but the reality of Russia’s military situation forces them to return.  Workers demanding an end to the war go on strike in Austria-Hungary and Germany.  The popularly elected Russian Constituent Assembly holds its first and only session before being shut down the next day by the Red Guards.  In the Mediterranean, the Ottoman Navy loses the two German cruisers it gained in the early days of the war.  In the United States, the government curtails manufacturing industries to conserve fuel.  The House of Representatives approves a woman suffrage amendment to the Constitution.  Americans enjoy music by Jerome Kern and George M. Cohan.

President Wilson Outlining His “Fourteen Points” to Congress

When the Senate and the House of Representatives convened Tuesday morning, January 8, they learned that Speaker Clark and Vice President Marshall had just been notified that President Wilson wished to address the two houses in a joint session at noon that day. After a resolution calling a joint session was hastily introduced and adopted, the Senators left their chamber and proceeded through the Capitol to the House wing.  At noon the President entered the House chamber and mounted to the podium to deliver one of the most important statements of his presidency, setting forth America’s objectives in the World War.

The reason for the urgency was that the President considered it important to make a strong warning to the new government of Russia of the serious dangers to which Russia is exposed in the Brest-Litovsk negotiations, and to assure the Russians of American support.  The President began his address, therefore, by aligning the United States firmly behind Russia in its rejection of the Central Powers’ demands.  He referred to the contradictory messages from the German negotiators, saying that although “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,” their “specific program of practical terms” presented at Brest-Litovsk “proposed no concessions at all, either to the sovereignty of Russia or to the preferences of the population 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 . . . as a permanent addition to their territories and their power.”  Therefore “the negotiations have been broken off.  The Russian representatives were sincere and in earnest.  They cannot entertain such proposals of conquest and domination.”

The President asked “for whom are the representatives of the Central Empires speaking?”  Are they speaking for “the majorities of their respective parliaments” or for “that military and imperialistic minority which has so far dominated their whole policy?”  Despite the contradictions in their own statements, the Central Powers “have again challenged their adversaries to say what their objects are and what sort of settlement they would deem just and satisfactory.”  The President said “there is no good reason why that challenge should not be responded to,” although, unlike the Central Powers themselves,”there is no confusion of counsel …, no uncertainty of principle, no vagueness of detail” among their adversaries.  “No statesman who has the least conception of his responsibility,” he declared, “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 does.”

The people of Russia also deserve a clear statement of war aims.  “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.”  The voice of the Russian people is “more thrilling and compelling than any of the many moving voices with which the troubled air of the world is filled.  [They] call us to say what it is that we desire, . . .  and I believe the people of the United States would wish me to respond with utter simplicity and frankness.”  He is able to do so, he said, because “the day of conquest and aggrandizement is gone by [and] so also is the day of secret covenants.”  It is now “possible for every nation whose purposes are consistent with justice and the peace of the world to avow . . . the objects it has in view.”

President Wilson then laid out his “program for the world’s peace,” which he set forth in fourteen numbered points:

“I.  Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at . . ..

“II.  Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas . . ..

“III.  The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions . . ..

“IV.  Adequate guarantees . . . that national armaments will reduce to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.

“V.  Free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims . . . [giving equal weight to] the interests of the populations concerned . . ..

“VI.  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 . . ..

“VII.  Belgium . . . must be evacuated and restored.

“VIII.  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 . . . should be righted . . ..

“IX.  A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognizable lines of nationality.

“X.  The peoples of Austria-Hungary . . . should be accorded the freest opportunity of autonomous development.

“XI.  Rumania, Serbia, and Montenegro should be evacuated . . . and international guarantees of the political and economic independence and territorial integrity of the several Balkan states should be entered into.

“XII.  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 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 . . ..

“XIII.  An independent Polish state should be erected . . . [with] free and secure access to the sea . . ..

“XIV.  A general association of nations must be formed . . . affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.”

The President’s statement, which one official described as “an outline of war aims, not a peace address,” was praised by members of both parties.  The only criticism has come from some Republicans who have expressed concern that the proposed establishment of free trade as a basis for international commerce might commit the United States to allowing other nations, including Germany, to dump their products in American ports in competition with American businesses.

Dr. Sidney Mezes

Walter Lippmann

The fourteen points presented to Congress grew from work done by a group of academics and experts called the “Inquiry.”  The Inquiry was assembled beginning in September by Colonel House at the request of President Wilson to collect and analyze data on geographical, ethnological, historical, economic and political issues in Europe and throughout the world in preparation for the peace conference likely to follow the war.  To direct the Inquiry, House chose his wife’s brother-in-law Dr. Sidney Mezes, the president of the City College of New York and former president of the University of Texas.  Dr. Mezes’s secretary and the Inquiry’s head of research is Walter Lippmann, an assistant to Secretary of War Newton Baker and co-founder of the New Republic Magazine.  After Colonel House returned last month from his conference with the Allied leaders in Europe, in which he tried to persuade them to formulate an agreed statement of war aims, President Wilson decided to make his own statement and requested a memorandum from the Inquiry.   Shortly before Christmas Colonel House delivered a hastily prepared memorandum, which was followed on January 4 by a revised and expanded version.  That day and the next the President discussed the memorandum with House, making notes on it in shorthand; then he sat at his typewriter and condensed the principal themes into fourteen points and asked House to arrange them in the order he thought best.  House placed the general terms first and ended with those dealing with specific territorial questions.  Wilson agreed with one exception: he moved the “general association of nations” point to the end.  On Sunday, January 6, he secluded himself in his study and used the marked-up memorandum to draft the fourteen points address, first in shorthand and then on his typewriter.

Prime Minister David Lloyd George

On Saturday, January 5, while they were reviewing the Inquiry’s memorandum and preparing the President’s address to Congress, President Wilson and Colonel House received word that British Prime Minister David Lloyd George had made a major speech to the Trades Union Congress at Central Hall, Westminster, in which he had laid out Britain’s war aims.  Those aims, he said, did not include the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but did include the achievement of a peace based on “consent of the governed,” which he called “self-determination.”  The President was afraid Lloyd George had pre-empted what he had to say, but Colonel House persuaded him that his own speech, which was more comprehensive, would have far more impact.  When he prepared the final draft of his address the next day, Wilson included an acknowledgement of the Prime Minister’s statement, saying “Within the last week Mr. Lloyd George has spoken with admirable candor and in admirable spirit for the people and government of Great Britain.”

Two days after President Wilson’s “fourteen points” address to Congress, British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour gave a speech in Edinburgh in which he said Britain “never went into the war for selfish objects; we did not stay in the war for selfish objects; and we are not going to fight the war to a finish for selfish objects.” He warned, however, that the horrors of war, tragic as they are, are nothing compared to those of a “German peace.”

Central Powers Delegates at Brest-Litovsk (left to right: General Hoffman, Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Czernin, Grand Vizier Talaat Pasha, German Foreign Minister von Kuhlman)

At Brest-Litovsk, the joint Christmas Day declaration in favor of a peace of “self-determination, no annexations and no indemnities” gave rise to momentary optimism on the part of the Russian negotiators that agreement could be quickly reached.  Revelation of the details of the parties’ understanding of those principles, however, led to a face-off that has continued into the new year.  As President Wilson noted in his address to Congress on January 8, the Russian negotiators withdrew from the talks when it became apparent that the German interpretation of the declaration did not mean it was prepared to agree to a return to the pre-war status quo.  The Russians did not stay away long, however.  Even as President Wilson was congratulating the Russians on their firmness, their lead negotiator Leon Trotsky was returning to the negotiating table, recognizing that Russia would be unable to resist if the German Army mounted a determined offensive.  On January 12, General Max Hoffmann, the leading spokesman for an aggressive German strategy, got into a political argument with Trotsky, accusing the Bolshevik regime of being “based purely on violence, ruthlessly suppressing all who think differently.”  Rather than deny the accusation, Trotsky embraced it, saying “The general is completely right when he says our government is founded on power.  All history has known only such governments.  So long as society consists of warring classes the power of the government will rest on strength and will assert its domination through force.”

While the military situation on the Eastern Front is encouraging for the Central Powers and dire for Russia, that is not the only incentive at work in Brest-Litovsk.  Just as it is in the interest of the Allies to keep Russia in the war, it is in Germany’s interest to get Russia out as quickly as possible so it can concentrate its effort on the Western Front.  The political turmoil in Russia, meanwhile, has opened the door to independence movements throughout the empire.  Many of the provinces of Tsarist Russia, including Poland, Ukraine, and the Baltic provinces of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, have little or no sympathy for the Bolshevik regime, and are moving toward declaring their independence and entering into separate understandings with the Central Powers.

Political unrest is not confined to Russia.  Austria-Hungary is on the brink of starvation.  Reflecting bitter disappointment following collapse of the hopes raised by the Christmas Day declaration, widespread strikes swept Vienna on January 14.  In Germany, strikes began in Berlin on January 28 and spread quickly to other cities.  The political pressure from civilian workers and the Reichstag majority to achieve a peace settlement is matched by the determination of the German military to reap the benefits of their recent military success.

The Bolsheviks now in control in Russia have no reason to help the Allies, but they are unwilling to sacrifice vast territory and population to German control.  Russia’s military situation, however, offers little in the way of leverage.  Trotsky’s strategy at the moment appears to be to keep the talks going while pursuing his Marxist goal of a worldwide revolution of the proletariat.  The strikes in Berlin and Vienna are providing some encouragement for that strategy.

The Constituent Assembly

The Provisional Government that took power in Russia following the Tsar’s abdication in March was so named because it was designed to remain in power only until elections could be held and a permanent government, to be called the Constituent Assembly, could be formed.  Nationwide elections on the basis of universal suffrage were originally scheduled for September but were postponed until November 25, by which time Lenin’s Bolsheviks had driven the Provisional Government from power and gained control of the government buildings and streets of Petrograd.  Because of the popular support for the elections, the first in Russian history, the Bolsheviks allowed them to go ahead, but to the Bolsheviks’ dismay the result was a convincing victory for the Socialist Revolutionaries, with the Bolsheviks coming in a distant second.

Victor Chernov

When it became apparent that the Bolsheviks would not control the Constituent Assembly, Lenin denounced it as a betrayal of the revolution.  Prior to its meeting on January 18, supporters of the Assembly marching toward the Tauride Palace where it was to be held were shot at and driven from the streets by armed Bolsheviks.  Dozens of demonstrators were killed.  During the Assembly, which began at 4:00 P.M., Red Guards trained cannons on the building and the Bolshevik minority inside the hall made raucous attempts to interrupt the proceedings as Lenin watched from the balcony.  The Socialist Revolutionary majority, made up of many of the leaders of the February (O.S.) Revolution that overthrew the tsar, proceeded to conduct business, electing Victor Chernov president.  The Assembly adjourned in the early morning hours after enacting an egalitarian land law and proclaiming the birth of the “Russian Democratic Republic.”  When the delegates returned the following afternoon, they found the doors locked and barricaded by the Bolsheviks.  Russia’s experiment with representative government had lasted less than twenty-four hours.

S.M.S. Goeben Aground at the Dardanelles

Shortly after the outbreak of war between Great Britain and Germany in August 1914, the German cruisers SMS Goeben and SMS Breslau were pursued by Royal Navy forces in the Mediterranean and escaped into the Dardanelles, where they were taken with their officers and crews into the Turkish Navy and renamed Jawus Sultan Selim and Midilli (see the August 1914 installment of this blog).  They remained in the Black Sea until this month, when they ventured back into the Mediterranean to support Ottoman operations in Palestine.  In the ensuing Battle of Imbros, they attacked and sank two British monitors, but as they were attempting to return to the Dardanelles they struck mines that sank the Midilli (Breslau) and forced the Jawus Sultan Selim (Goeben) onto the  beach.

Fuel Administrator Garfield

The Federal Fuel Administration was created by executive order last August to address concerns about shortages of coal and oil caused by the unusually harsh winter, railroad congestion, and the demands of American participation in the World War.  Harry A. Garfield was appointed Administrator.  On January 16, with President Wilson’s approval, Garfield issued an order directing all industries east of the Mississippi River to suspend operation for five days beginning Friday, January 18, and to shut down operations thereafter every Monday from January 28 to March 25.  The order, issued without any advance notice or discussion, took the country by surprise.  In response to widespread protests, the Senate adopted a resolution calling for the Fuel Administrator to postpone the effective date of the order

In a statement issued January 18.  President Wilson said he had been “of course, consulted by Mr. Garfield” and “fully agreed with him.”  He said “sacrifices of the sort called for by this order are infinitely less than sacrifices of life that might otherwise be involved.  It is absolutely necessary to get the ships away, it is absolutely necessary to relieve the congestion at the ports and upon the railways, it is absolutely necessary to move great quantities of food, and it is absolutely necessary that our people should be warmed in their homes, if nowhere else, and halfway measures would not have accomplished the desired ends.”

Suffragists March for Woman Suffrage

During his 1916 campaign for reelection, President Wilson announced his support for woman suffrage but insisted, along with most of his Southern Democrat supporters, that it was an issue to be resolved by individual states.  He voted for woman suffrage in New Jersey, but disagreed with his Republican opponent, Charles Evans Hughes, who advocated a Constitutional amendment granting nationwide woman suffrage.  Despite Wilson’s narrow victory, the issue has not gone away, and a proposed Constitutional amendment, which supporters called “the Susan B. Anthony resolution,” came up for a vote in the House of Representatives on January 10.  The day before the vote the President announced that he had changed his opinion and now supported amending the Constitution.  Many Democrats, however, refused to follow his lead, arguing that it violated the party’s platform.  After a five-hour debate, the House adopted the resolution by a vote of 274-136, meeting the two-thirds requirement with no votes to spare.  Two members, Representative Thetus W. Sims (Dem., Tenn.) and the minority leader James R. Mann (Rep., Ill.), rose from sick beds to vote for the resolution, and the vote in favor cast by Representative Joseph J. Russell (Dem., Mo.) was counted only after a hard fight led by Representative Edward W. Saunders (Dem., Va.), the leader of the opposition, to disqualify it on the ground that Russell had not been present in the chamber when the voting began.  Champ Clark (Dem., Mo.) is known to favor the amendment, but as Speaker of the House did not vote.  The proposed amendment now heads for the Senate, where it faces challenges at least as formidable as those it faced in the House.

Well ahead of woman suffrage in the pipeline is the proposed Constitutional amendment prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors,” which was approved by Congress and submitted to the states last month.  On January 8 Mississippi became the first state to ratify what will be, if adopted, the eighteenth amendment.  By month’s end, four more states had followed suit.

Representative Rankin

During the vote on  the woman suffrage amendment the galleries were filled to capacity with supporters, many of them women, whose increasing concern was palpable as one Democrat after another refused to follow their president’s lead.  In contrast to the galleries, only two women were on the floor of the House chamber.  One was the clerk of the House Suffrage Committee, who sat next to Representative John Raker (Dem., Calif.), the committee’s chairman.  The other was Representative Jeannette Rankin (Rep., Mont.), the only female member of Congress, who led the fight for the Republican supporters of the amendment.  When the resolution was introduced Mr. Raker was standing before the Speaker’s desk ready to begin the debate when Representative Joseph Walsh (Rep., Mass.) stood and asked whether “it would seriously interfere with [Mr. Raker’s] plans if Miss Rankin should open the debate.”  Raker stepped aside and allowed Miss Rankin to deliver what proved to be the longest and most impassioned speech of the day in favor of the resolution.  She told her fellow congressmen “We are facing a question of political evolution,” and although “we are mobilizing all our resources for the ideals of democracy [in the World War], . . . something is still lacking in the completeness of our national effort.”  She declared that “today as never before the nation needs its women — needs the work of their hands and their hearts and their minds.”  Miss Rankin challenged the Congress to live up to its “protestations of democracy,” asking “How can we explain if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?”

One of 1917’s most successful Broadway shows is “Oh, Boy!,” a musical comedy with music by Jerome Kern and lyrics by Guy Bolton and P.G. Wodehouse.  It opened in February and is still being performed in the new year.  The most popular song in the play is “Till the Clouds Roll By,” performed by Anna Wheaton and James Harrod (click to play):

Nora Bayes

January 1918 – Selected Sources and Recommended Reading

Contemporary Periodicals:
American Review of Reviews, February and March 1918
New York Times, January and February 1918

Books and Articles:
Scott Berg, Wilson
Britain at War Magazine, The Fourth Year of the Great War: 1917
Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis 1911-1918
John Milton Cooper, Jr., Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt
John Dos Passos, Mr. Wilson’s War
David Fromkin, A Peace to End All Peace: Creating the Modern Middle East, 1914-1922
Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life
Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History
Martin Gilbert, A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume One: 1900-1933
Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Volume IV: The Stricken World 1916-1922
Ann Hagedorn, Savage Peace, Hope and Fear in America, 1919
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
Godfrey Hodgson, Woodrow Wilson’s Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Biography
John Keegan, The First World War
David M. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society
Ian Kershaw, To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917
Robert K. Massie, Nicholas and Alexandra
G.J. Meyer, A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
G.J. Meyer, The World Remade: America in World War I
Michael S. Neiberg, The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America
Jonathan Schneer, The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict
Lee Thompson, Never Call Retreat: Theodore Roosevelt and the Great War
Adam Tooze, The Deluge: The Great War, America and the Remaking of the Global Order, 1916-1931
Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History
The West Point Atlas of War: World War I

This article is reprinted from the Centennial Countdown to the Great War blog published by Dennis Cross. Read the original post and access an archive of previous posts at:


Dennis Cross is a retired lawyer and amateur historian of World War I. He is a U.S. Navy veteran and a 1962 graduate of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. He graduated from New York University Law School in 1969 and served as Assistant General Counsel of the Federal Trade Commission from 1977 to 1982. Since his retirement from the practice of law in 2007, he has been a volunteer at the National World War One Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, MO. Beginning in September 2011, he has written a monthly blog about the events of the month one hundred years ago.