VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945 > B. World War I, 1914–1918 > 14. Peace Negotiations, 1916–1917, and the Intervention of the United States, 1917
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
14. Peace Negotiations, 1916–1917, and the Intervention of the United States, 1917
From the very outbreak of the war, President Wilson appears to have believed that ultimately the opportunity would present itself for the U.S. government to step in as mediator.  1
1916, Jan.–Feb
The president's close friend and intimate adviser Col. Edward M. House visited Europe and consulted with leading statesmen. His conferences with Sir Edward Grey resulted in the so-called House memorandum of Feb. 22, which stated that the president was ready, whenever Britain and France thought the time opportune, to propose a peace conference. If the proposal were accepted by the Allies but rejected by Germany, the U.S. would probably enter the war on the Allied side. The terms on which the U.S. would mediate would include the restoration of Belgium and Serbia, the retrocession of Alsace-Lorraine to France, the acquisition of Constantinople by Russia, and the transfer of the Italian-speaking parts of Austria to Italy. Poland was to be independent. Germany would retain some colonies and perhaps be given more.  2
Public opinion in the U.S. was still distinctly divided, but sentiment for peace was prevalent except in the eastern states, where there was some feeling for intervention on the Allied side (influence of British propaganda, etc.). The president was re-elected (Nov. 7, 1916) very largely on a platform of peace, but he applied himself almost at once to the resumption of his mediatory efforts.  3
Dec. 12
The German government appealed to the U.S. to inform the Entente governments that the Central powers were prepared to negotiate peace. Failure of the Germans to mention any specific terms, and the fact that all the advantages were on their side, made it relatively easy for the Allied governments to reject the German advances (Dec. 30).  4
Dec. 18
President Wilson transmitted his own proposals to the warring powers. He suggested that the belligerents state their terms for peace and for arrangements to guarantee the world against renewal of conflict. The German, Austrian, and Turkish governments replied (Dec. 26) in an appreciative way, but reiterated their opinion that the best method would be to call a meeting for exchange of views. No definite terms were mentioned. The Allied powers in their reply (Jan. 10, 1917) named specific terms. These included the restoration of Belgium, Serbia, and Montenegro; the evacuation of French, Russian, and Romanian territory, with just reparation; the reorganization of Europe on the basis of nationalities; the restoration of territory previously taken from the Allies; the liberation of Italians, Slavs, Romanians, and Czechoslovaks from foreign rule; the freeing of subject nationalities under Turkish rule; and the expulsion of the Turks from Europe.  5
The far-reaching nature of the Allied terms, at a moment when the military situation was by no means in their favor, estranged even Wilson, who still stuck by the idea of “peace without victory” (speech to the Senate, Jan. 22). The first step, however, was to elicit from the Germans a concrete statement of aims. These were confidentially communicated to the president on Jan. 29: restitution of the part of Alsace occupied by the German forces; acquisition of a strategic and economic zone between Germany and Poland on the one hand and Russia on the other; return of colonies and the granting to Germany of colonial territory in accord with its population and economic needs; restoration of occupied France; renunciation of economic obstacles to normal commerce; compensation for German enterprises and civilians damaged by the war; freedom of the seas, and so on.  6
Though this program was anything but hopeful, the president and the German ambassador, Count Johann von Bernstorff, continued to negotiate. But these discussions were cut short by the decision of the Germans to begin unrestricted submarine warfare.  7
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.