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President Woodrow Wilson’s Joint Session Regarding the Central Powers’ Response to His Fourteen Points Peace Plan

February 11, 1918
President Woodrow Wilson’s Joint Session Regarding the Central Powers’ Response to His Fourteen Points Peace Plan Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
A twelve-term Member from North Carolina, Claude Kitchin served as chairman of the Ways and Means Committee as well as Majority and Minority Leader.
On this date, President Woodrow Wilson addressed a Joint Session of Congress in the House Chamber regarding the Central Powers’ response to his outline of the Fourteen Points peace plan (which Wilson had delivered to Congress a month earlier). German Chancellor Georg Friedrich von Hertling and the foreign minister of Austria, Count Ottokar Czernin, had divergent responses to Wilson’s peace plan. Chancellor von Hertling, then engaged in wringing damaging concessions from Russia at the Brest-Litovsk conference, ignored Wilson’s demands that the great powers not aggrandize themselves during the peace process by trying to secure territorial acquisitions. Count Czernin, seeking to detach his nation from its constraining alliance with Germany and to find a way to the peace table, struck a much more receptive tone to the Fourteen Points’ central principles of national self-determination and collective security. Seeking to divide the Central Powers, Wilson praised Czernin before the assembled Members of Congress for seeing “the fundamental elements of peace with clear eyes,” while describing von Hertling’s approach as “vague,” “confusing,” and “equivocal.” Wilson dismissed a peace settlement negotiated only with the interests of the great powers in mind. “What we are striving for is a new international order based upon broad and universal principles of right and justice—no mere peace of shreds and patches…,” he declared. “Without that new order the world will be without peace and human life will lack tolerable conditions of existence and development.” Members from both major political parties rallied around the wartime President. House Majority Leader, Democrat Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, called it “a splendid message.” Republicans echoed Representative Simeon Fess of Ohio, who noted that the speech was “wise” and would “have the effect of widening the breach between Austria and Germany.”

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