December 13, 1918: Wilson Arrives in France

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President Wilson arrived in France a century ago to participate in the Paris Peace Conference.  He received a rapturous reception from the citizens of France but a cooler reception from Clemenceau and the other Allied leaders.  British economist John Maynard Keynes, an acerbic critic of the Treaty of Versailles, summed up the high expectations for Wilson in the minds of many Europeans:

When President Wilson left Washington he enjoyed a prestige and a moral influence throughout the world unequalled in history. His bold and measured words carried to the peoples of Europe above and beyond the voices of their own politicians. The enemy peoples trusted him to carry out the compact he had made with them; and the Allied peoples acknowledged him not as a victor only but almost as a prophet. In addition to this moral influence the realities of power were in his hands. The American armies were at the height of their numbers, discipline, and equipment. Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at their mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more than she could pay; but only a large measure of further assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy. Never had a philosopher held such weapons wherewith to bind the princes of this world. How the crowds of the European capitals pressed about the carriage of the President! With what curiosity, anxiety, and hope we sought a glimpse of the features and bearing of the man of destiny who, coming from the West, was to bring healing to the wounds of the ancient parent of his civilisation and lay for us the foundations of the future.

No mortal could have possibly lived up to such high hopes, and President Wilson certainly did not, as future posts will explore.

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