Study Guide

Fourteen Points Main Idea

By Woodrow Wilson

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  • Main Idea

    Wilson's Fourteen Points imagines a postwar world in which nations respect each others' borders, act in good faith, show respect to former enemies—basically, it's a big kumbaya circle without the s'mores and campfire. Sounds nice.

    It was an ambitious and broad vision of the future, a portrait of peace delivered before the world war ever had even ended. No wonder some leaders criticized Wilson for being too idealistic.

    Once a supporter of neutrality and American isolationism, he switched his tone with the Fourteen Points, advocating a unified front of the world's governments. He hoped such an organization, through common agreements, could maintain the hard-won peace.

    Though his message didn't prevent a world war sequel (WWII: Bigger, Longer, and in Two Theaters), this vision of international relations still persists.

    Questions About Main Idea

    1. Why does Woodrow Wilson describe the free world as united against Imperialism—the concept—rather than against Germany—the country?
    2. What characteristics of international relations did the Fourteen Points seek to change?
    3. How might Wilson's imagined "general association of nations" differ from the European military alliances that existed before World War I?
    4. Will there always be a need for military strength to make the world secure?

    Chew on This

    Woodrow Wilson's vision of international unity set a high standard for the postwar world.

    Wilson's speech suggests modernizing international relations and replacing secretive alliances between monarchies with open agreements between free governments.

  • Brief Summary

    The Set-Up

    Wilson recaps why the United States entered the war—to make the world safe and free as a free bird. He then encourages his audience—Congress, but also everybody who read the printed version—to join him in entering a global community of nations.

    Then he sings "Kumbaya."*

    *There are no sources that back up this statement…but we're pretty sure that's what happened.

    The Text

    In fourteen broad strokes, the Fourteen Points lay out a vision for the world. Wilson's idea of a global community of free nations is built on two ideas: transparency and peace. (He omitted a clause about free ice cream sundaes and friendship bracelets, which we think is a massive oversight.)

    He seeks to make international law better suited to both by suggesting a few things, such as:

    • No more secret treaties between nations.
    • No more violations of other nations' sovereignty.
    • Self-determination for colonial territories.

    At the end, Wilson concludes by suggesting the formation of a "general association of nations" (XIV.1). Basically, he meant a huge council where everyone from around the world would get together to discuss defending freedom. Think of the League of Nations as the Council of Elrond from Lord of the Rings—you had some elves, some dwarves, some humans, and even some hobbits.

    Woodrow Wilson was the guy trying to get everyone to work together—kind of like Gandalf, but without the snazzy beard and magical powers.


    The war is about to be over—now let's all kiss and make up new rules.

  • Questions

    1. How would you characterize Woodrow Wilson's attitude toward World War I? Does he speak like a conqueror?
    2. Wilson claims that America entered the war in order to make the world free. Do you believe him? What other motivations might the U.S. have had for entering the war?
    3. During the Paris Peace Conference, European leaders rejected many of the Fourteen Points' ideas in favor of harsh treatment of Germany. Why do you think this happened, and was it the right thing to do?
    4. Do you think that the world's countries should have an international organization like the League of Nations or U.N., or should each country act on its own?
    5. If you were alive in 1917, would you have favored the United States entering World War I?
    6. Imagine you could add to Wilson's Fourteen Points. What suggestions would you make to ensure a long-lasting peace after World War I?

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