On this day in 1920, the Nobel Prize for Peace is awarded to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson for his work in ending the First World War and creating the League of Nations. Although Wilson could not attend the award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, the U.S. Ambassador to Norway, Albert Schmedeman, delivered a telegram from Wilson to the Nobel Committee.
Wilson’s involvement in devising a plan to prevent future international conflict began in January 1918 when he laid out his “Fourteen Points.” The plan addressed specific territorial issues in Europe, equal trade conditions, arms reduction and national sovereignty for former colonies of Europe’s weakening empires, but the primary thrust of his policy was to create an international organization that would arbitrate peaceful solutions to conflicts between nations. Wilson’s Fourteen Points not only laid the foundation for the peace agreement signed by France, Britain and Germany at the end of World War I, but also formed the basis for American foreign policy in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Although the League of Nations never materialized, largely due to the fact that it was never ratified by the U.S. Congress, it formed the blueprint for the United Nations, which was established after the Second World War.
When Wilson learned of his win, he was a lame-duck president battling the residual effects of a paralyzing stroke he suffered in October 1919; he was therefore unable to accept his award in person. (The stroke occurred in the midst of an arduous cross-country tour to ask the American electorate to pressure a reluctant Congress to ratify the Versailles peace treaty and the League of Nations.) In his telegram to the Nobel Committee, Wilson said he was grateful and “moved” by the recognition of his work for the cause of peace but emphasized the need for further efforts to “rid [mankind] of the unspeakable horror of war.” Wilson did not live to see the United Nations take shape in place of his League of Nations. He died at age 68 in February 1924.