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TREATY OF VERSAILLES (1871)
TREATY AT A GLANCE
CompletedFebruary 26, 1871, at Versailles, France
SignatoriesGermany and France
OverviewThe Treaty of Versailles was the preliminary peace treaty endingthe Franco-Prussian War and marking the creation of a unifiedGerman empire, which had been proclaimed on January 18, 1871,in the very place at which the present treaty was signed, the Hallof Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles.
Historical BackgroundThe Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 was momentousfor European civilization, bringing about the fall of theSecond French Empire, providing the impetus to thecreation of the German Empire, and figuring as thefirst modern European war, in which both combatantnations used railroads, the telegraph, modern rifles,and modern rifled, breech-loading artillery.
The nominal cause of the war was neither morenor less trivial than the causes of most Europeanwars-in this case, the candidacy of a Hohenzollernprince for the Spanish throne. The deeper issue, how-ever, was Prussia's growing power in Germany, whichEmperor Napoleon III correctly saw as a threat toFrench security. For his part, Prussia's extraordinarilyastute prime minister, Otto von Bismarck, deliberatelyexploited the issue of the Spanish succession to goadFrance into an act of war designed to frighten thesouth German states into joining the North GermanConfederation, organized in 1867 with Prussia thedominant member. On July 13, 1870, the Prussianking, who would become Kaiser Wilhelm I, sent a mes-sage to apoleon III reporting a quite innocuous meet-ins with the French ambassador. Bismarck, edited this,othe so-called Ems Telegram, to imply that the meetinghad been an exchange of insults. In receipt of thetelegram, the French course seemed either to accept adiplomatic defeat or to go to war.
With his government's prestige faltering at home,Napoleon III judged that he could ill afford to suffer aninsult at the hands of Prussia, and he declared war onJuly 19, 1870. Unfortunately, Napoleon III had failedto consider that a military defeat was far worse than a
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diplomatic one. His armies were badly outnumberedand, even worse, outgeneraled. They quickly with-drew from the frontier-one army to Metz, where itwas held under siege, and the other to Sedan, where itwas quickly crushed. apoleon III surrendered thearmy of Sedan as well as himself to Bismarck onSeptember 2, 1870.
The humiliation of Sedan reached Paris two dayslater, and the Third Republic was proclaimed. In itsname the Government of National Defense carried onthe w~r, o~ attempted to. From September 23 to Janu-ary 28, Paris was besieged and then bombarded byGerman artillery. On January 28 the new governmentsued for peace, concluding an armistice that allowedFrance three weeks in which to elect a national assem-bly with authority to negotiate a peace in the name ofFrance.
When the elections created an assembly over-whelmingly in favor of peace, the Treaty of Versailleswas concluded.
TermsThe Versailles document was characterized by the leg-endary Prussia passion for efficiency. Without pream-ble, it began:
ARTICLE IFrance renounces in favor of the German Empire allher Rights and Titles over the Territories situated onthe East of the Frontier hereafter described.
The Line of Demarcation begins at the NorthwestFrontier of the Canton of Cattenom, towards theGrand Duchy of Luxembourg, follows on the South
the Western Frontiers of the Cantons of Cattenom andThionville, passes by the Canton of Briey, along theWestern Frontiers of the Communes of Montjois-la-Montagne and Roncourt, as well as the Eastern Fron-tiers of the Communes of Marie-aux-Chenes, Sr. Ail,Habonville, reaches the Frontier of the Canton deGooze (which it crosses along the Communal Fron-tiers of Vionville, Bouxieres, and Orrville}, follows theSouthwest Frontier, south of the District of Metz, theWestern Frontier of the District of Chateau-Satins, asfar as the Commune of Pettoncourt, taking in theWestern and Southern Frontiers thereof to follow theCrest of the Mountains between Seille and Moncel, asfar as the Frontier of the District of Sarreburg, to theSouth of Garde. The demarcation afterwards coincideswith the Frontier of that District as far as the Com-mune of Tanconville, reaching the Frontier to the
orth thereof, from thence it follows the Crest of theMountains between the Sources of the White Sarreand Vezouze, as far as the Frontier of the Canton ofSchirmeck, skirts the Western Frontier of that Canton,includes the Communes of Saales, Bourg-Bruche, Col-roy-la-Rochet Plaine, Ranruptt-Saulxures, and St.Blaise-la-Roche of the Canton of Saales, and coincideswith the Western Frontier of the Departments of theLower Rhine and the Upper Rhine as far as the Cantonof Belfort. The Southern Frontier of which it leavesnot far from Vourvenans, to cross the Canton of Delleat the Southern Limits of the Communes of Bourogneand Froide Fontaine, and to reach the Swiss Frontierskirting the Eastern Frontiers of the Communes ofJonchery and Delle.
The German Empire shall possess these Territoriesin perpetuity in all Sovereignty and Property. An Inter-national Commission, composed of an equal numberof Representatives of the two High Contracting Par-ties, shall be appointed immediately after theexchange of the Ratifications of the present Treaty, totrace on the spot the new Frontier, in conformity withthe preceding stipulations.
This Commission shall preside over the Division ofthe Lands and Funds, which have hitherto belonged toDistricts or Communes divided by the new Frontiers;in case of disagreement in the tracing and the meas-ures of execution, the Members of the Commissionshall refer to their respective Governments.
The Frontier, such as it has just been described, ismarked in green on two identical copies of the Map ofthe Territory forming the Government of Alsace, pub-lished at Berlin in September 1870, by the Geographi-cal and Statistical Division of the Staff, and a copy ofwhich shall be annexed to both copies of the presentTreaty.
evertheless, the alteration of the above tracinghas been agreed to by the two Contracting Parties. Inthe former Department of the Moselle, the Villages ofMarie-aux-Chenes near St. Privat-la-Montagne, andVionville to the west of Rezonville, shall be ceded toGermany In exchange thereof, France shall retain theTown and Fortifications .of Belfort, with a Radiuswhich shall be hereafter determined upon.
In addition to ceding Alsace and much of Lorraineto Germany, France agreed to pay an indemnity ofunprecedented proportions: 5 billion francs (Article 2).Article 7 provided for negotiations toward a "DefinitiveTreaty of Peace," which resulted in the TREATY OFFRA KFURT:
ARTICLE VIIThe opening of negotiations for the Definitive Treatyof Peace to be concluded on the Basis of the presentPreliminaries shall take place at Brussels, immediatelyafter the Ratification of the latter by the NationalAssembly and by His Majesty the Emperor of Ger-many.
ConsequencesThe treaty marked the coming to prominence of one ofthe greatest diplomats in European history, Otto vonBismarck, who would go on over the course of the next20 years virtually to create modern Europe. Moreimmediately, having succeeded by the war in persuad-ing all the German rulers to join together in forming anew German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm I, Bismarckdeclared the new empire from the Hall of Mirrors inthe Palace of Versailles on January 18, 1871. Theempire would thrive and expand until Germany'sdefeat in World War 1.