Year
1918
Month Day
January 08

President Wilson delivers "Fourteen Points" speech

The Fourteen Points speech of President Woodrow Wilson was an address delivered before a joint meeting of Congress on January 8, 1918, during which Wilson outlined his vision for a stable, long-lasting peace in Europe, the Americas and the rest of the world following World War I.

Wilson’s proposal called for the victorious Allies to set unselfish peace terms with the vanquished Central Powers of World War I, including freedom of the seas, the restoration of territories conquered during the war and the right to national self-determination in such contentious regions as the Balkans.

The devastation and carnage of the First World War grimly illustrated to Wilson the unavoidable relationship between international stability and American national security.

At the same time, he sought to placate American isolationists by stating that the world must “be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.”

What Were the Fourteen Points?

In his speech, Wilson itemized 14 strategies to ensure national security and world peace. Several points addressed specific territorial issues in Europe, but the most significant sections set the tone for postwar American diplomacy and the ideals that would form the backbone of U.S. foreign policy as the nation achieved superpower status in the early 20th century.

Wilson could foresee that international relations would only become more important to American security and global commerce. He advocated equal trade conditions, arms reduction and national sovereignty for former colonies of Europe’s weakening empires.

One of Wilson’s purposes in delivering the Fourteen Points speech was to present a practical alternative to the traditional notion of an international balance of power preserved by alliances among nations—belief in the viability of which had been shattered by World War I—and to the Bolshevik-inspired dreams of world revolution that at the time were gaining ground both within and outside of Russia.

Wilson hoped also to keep a conflict-ridden Russia in the war on the Allied side. This effort met with failure, as the Bolsheviks sought peace with the Central Powers at the end of 1917, shortly after taking power following the Russian Revolution.

In other ways, however, Wilson’s Fourteen Points played an essential role in world politics over the next several years. The speech was translated and distributed to the soldiers and citizens of Germany and Austria-Hungary and contributed to their decision to agree to an armistice in November 1918.

Treaty of Versailles

Like the man himself, Wilson’s Fourteen Points were liberal, democratic and idealistic. He spoke in grand and inspiring terms, but was less certain of the specifics of how his aims would be achieved.

At the Paris Peace Conference, Wilson had to contend with the leaders of the other victorious Allied nations, who disagreed with many of the Fourteen Points and demanded stiff penalties for Germany in the Treaty of Versailles.

Importantly, Wilson urged the establishment of an international governing body of united nations for the purpose of guaranteeing political independence and territorial integrity to great and small countries alike. His idea gave birth to the short-lived League of Nations. The more viable United Nations would come into existence only after the conclusion of another devastating global conflict: World War II.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Fidel Castro arrives in Havana after deposing Batista's regime

On January 8, 1959, a triumphant Fidel Castro enters Havana, having deposed the American-backed regime of General Fulgencio Batista. Castro's arrival in the Cuban capital marked a definitive victory for his 26th of July Movement and the beginning of Castro's decades-long rule ...read more

President George W. Bush signs No Child Left Behind Act into law

On January 8, 2002, President George W. Bush signs the No Child Left Behind Act into law. The sweeping update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 created new standards and goals for the nation’s public schools and implemented tough corrective measures for ...read more

African American men gain the right to vote in Washington, D.C.

On January 8, 1867, African American men gain the right to vote in the District of Columbia despite the veto of its most powerful resident, President Andrew Johnson. The Republican-controlled senate overrode Johnson by a vote of 29-10 three years before a constitutional amendment ...read more

The U.S. national debt reaches $0 for the first time

On January 8, 1835, President Andrew Jackson achieves his goal of entirely paying off the United States’ national debt. It was the only time in U.S. history that the national debt stood at zero, and it precipitated one of the worst financial crises in American history. The ...read more

Infamous drug lord "El Chapo" is captured by Mexican authorities

In the early hours of January 8, 2016, Mexican authorities apprehend the drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán. It was the third time that the law caught up to El Chapo, a figure whose crimes, influence and mystique rival those of Pablo Escobar. Guzmán became involved in the drug ...read more

President George H.W. Bush vomits on the Prime Minister of Japan

One of the most widely ridiculed and memorable gaffes in the history of the United States Presidency occurred in Japan on the evening of January 8, 1992, when President George H.W. Bush vomits on the Prime Minister of Japan. Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa was hosting a dinner for ...read more

Harvey Milk becomes the first openly gay person elected to public office in California

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, takes his place on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on January 8, 1978. The first and, for years, most visible openly gay politician in America, Milk was a longtime activist and pioneering ...read more

The Battle of New Orleans

Just two weeks after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, U.S. General Andrew Jackson achieves the greatest American victory of the War of 1812 at the Battle of New Orleans. In September 1814, an impressive American naval victory on Lake Champlain forced invading British forces ...read more

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords injured in shooting rampage

On January 8, 2011, Gabrielle Giffords, a U.S. congresswoman from Arizona, is critically injured when a man goes on a shooting spree during a constituents meeting held by the congresswoman outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Six people died in the attack and another 13, including ...read more

"Mona Lisa" exhibited in Washington

At the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, is exhibited for the first time in America. Over 2,000 dignitaries, including President John F. Kennedy, came out that evening to view the famous painting. The next day, the ...read more

Astronomer Galileo dies in Italy

Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei dies in Italy at age 77. Born February 15, 1564, Galileo has been referred to as the “father of modern astronomy,” the “father of modern physics” and the “father of science” due to his revolutionary discoveries. The first person to use a ...read more

Allies retreat from Gallipoli

On January 8, 1916, Allied forces stage a full retreat from the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey, ending a disastrous invasion of the Ottoman Empire. The Gallipoli Campaign resulted in 250,000 Allied casualties and greatly discredited Allied military command. Roughly ...read more

Crazy Horse fights last battle

On January 8, 1877, Oglala Lakota warrior Crazy Horse and his men—outnumbered, low on ammunition and forced to use outdated weapons to defend themselves—fight their final losing battle against the U.S. Cavalry in Montana. Six months earlier, in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, ...read more

Mussolini questions Hitler’s plans

A message from Benito Mussolini is forwarded to Adolf Hitler. In the missive, the Duce cautions the Fuhrer against waging war against Britain. Mussolini asked if it was truly necessary “to risk all-including the regime-and to sacrifice the flower of German generations.” ...read more

Ragtime wins the National Book Critics Circle Award

On January 8, 1976, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow is awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award. The book deals with race relations in the 1920s, mixing fictional characters with real figures from the era. The book was made into a 1981 movie and a ...read more

Elvis Presley receives his first guitar

In competing versions of the story, what Elvis Presley really wanted for his birthday was a rifle or a bicycle—both fairly typical choices for a boy his age growing up on the outskirts of Tupelo, Mississippi. Instead, Elvis’s highly protective mother, Gladys—”She never let me out ...read more

William Randolph Hearst stops Citizen Kane ads

One of Hollywood’s most famous clashes of the titans–an upstart “boy genius” filmmaker versus a furious 76-year-old newspaper tycoon–heats up on January 8, 1941, when William Randolph Hearst forbids any of his newspapers to run advertisements for Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. ...read more

Bugatti brother dies by suicide

On January 8, 1916 Rembrandt Bugatti, a sculptor and younger brother of Italian auto designer and manufacturer Ettore Bugatti, dies by suicide at the age of 31. The Bugatti brothers were born in Milan, Italy; Ettore in 1881 and Rembrandt in 1884. They came from a creative family ...read more