Lloyd George at the Conference
Lloyd George was brilliant at the Conference.
Politically, he completely dominated and outmanoeuvred both Wilson (the schoolteacher visionary), and Clemenceau (the bitter old soldier).
He had got almost everything he wanted out of the peace by the end of February month, and he was able to spend the last months of the Conference brokering a compromise between Wilson and Clemenceau.
In the ultimate, Lloyd George saved the peace, and the Treaty of Versailles was his handiwork.
Whether or not he was happy with it when it was finished, however, is open to question.
Articles on the negotiations are very difficult, but the most able students will be interested in:
• An A-level essay - clear
• Lloyd George and the Treaty of Versailles (difficult essay)
In his desire to create a diplomatic new world, Wilson was adamant about two issues:
● There had to be a League of Nations, a kind of parliament of the nations (Clemenceau did not think that it would be strong enough to protect France from attack by Germany – he wanted to set up a Council of victorious countries to enforce the peace).
● There had to be self-determination (nations had to rule themselves).
In his hatred of Germany, Clemenceau wanted to do two things:
● To make France safe from future attack by wrecking and dismembering Germany – by making the Rhineland into an independent country, giving large areas over eastern Germany to Poland, and giving France the ‘natural frontier’ of the River Rhine.
● To charge Germany huge ‘reparations’ to pay for the war and to rebuild the areas of France destroyed in the fighting (Wilson did not agree – he wanted much smaller reparations.)
To some degree, Lloyd George was unhappy about ALL these things.
He did not want Britain being told what to do by a League of Nations, and he certainly did not want the countries of the British Empire deciding that they wanted to rule themselves.
At the same time, he did not want to ruin or dismember Germany. Britain needed Germany as a trading partner, and Lloyd George wanted a strong Germany as a buffer against the threat from Communist Russia.
In Britain –
‘Appeasers’ and ‘Realists’
Back in Britain, Lloyd George was head of a coalition government with both Liberals and Conservatives in it. He knew he would have to keep them happy as well. But where most Liberals were internationalist and wanted the mild peace proposed by Wilson (the ‘Appeasers’ – eg Nicolson, Cecil and Keynes), the Conservatives were anti-German and wanted a harsh peace along Clemenceau’s lines (eg Cunliffe, Sumner and Balfour – the ‘Realists’).
Lloyd George knew that he had to keep Parliament happy. Indeed, on 8 April 1919, over 200 MPs – fearing that he was going to set a low figure on reparations – sent him a telegram reminding him of his election promise to ‘make Germany pay’.
Lloyd George’s Strategy
At first, in everything he said, Lloyd George was careful not to commit himself. He talked of a ‘stern but just’ peace, a ‘harsh but not vengeful’ peace, and a ‘righteous peace’. Who knows what these phrases might mean?
In the meantime, he sent from his delegation Cecil (an appeaser) to negotiate the League of Nations, but he sent two hardliners (Sumner and Cunliffe) to negotiate the reparations.
● In the matter of the League, therefore, Wilson saw Lloyd George as a friend. And by supporting Wilson against Clemenceau, Lloyd George was able to get as concessions some of the things he wanted – Canada, South Africa and Australia were allowed to join the League as full members; also many German colonies, taken over by the League as ‘mandates’ were to be governed by Britain (which was as good as making them part of the British Empire). As soon as the League Covenant was agreed, however, Lloyd George appointed Balfour (a Conservative who opposed the League) to be the British representative on the Council – and Balfour saw to it that the League never interfered with British freedom of action.
● In the matter of reparations, however, it was Clemenceau who saw the British as his ally. Sumner and Cunliffe proposed that reparations should be set at £21 billions – a figure that even Lloyd George felt was ridiculously high, but which kept the Conservative politicians at home happy. What Lloyd George was able to do, therefore, was to negotiate a suggestion with Wilson whereby reparations would be reduced, but Britain would get a larger share of them – for British war pensioners.
In this way, by March, Lloyd George had – as Clemenceau acknowledged – won. He had got out of the peace everything he had wanted for Britain.
Lloyd George the Peacemaker
In the meantime, however, Wilson could not accept France’s proposals to dismember Germany, and he would not accept the massive figure suggested for reparations. In late March, the peace negotiations ground to a halt, and there was deadlock between Wilson and Clemenceau.
Suddenly, Lloyd George moved decisively (some historians wrongly interpret this as a change of mind).
● On 25
March, he issued the Fontainbleau memorandum, giving full support for
the League of Nations and a reasonable peace which would not alienate
the Germans. Two
days later, he went with Wilson to meet Clemenceau and pressed on him
the need for ‘moderation’.
Lloyd George was putting intense pressure on Clemenceau to
at Lloyd George’s suggestion, Britain and America offered France an
alliance, promising to guarantee French security in the event of
attack. In return,
Clemenceau not only dropped his claims for a Rhine frontier and an
independent Rhineland, but he agreed to the League of Nations, and
agreed that Danzig should be – not given to Poland – but made a
‘free city’ under League of Nations control.
● On 29 March 1919, the War Guilt Commission reported, stating formally that Germany was guilty of starting the war. The next day, Lloyd George sent Jan Smuts, the Prime Minister of South Africa and a firm appeaser, to talk to Wilson about the war guilt clause. Now it was Wilson who came under pressure from Lloyd George and, on 5 April, Wilson agreed to a German ‘War Guilt’ clause stating that Germany was responsible for causing ‘all the loss and damage of the war’. Lloyd George and Clemenceau realised what the War Guilt clause meant: since he accepted that Germany was responsible for all the damage, Wilson would also have to accept that Germany ought to pay for it. How much could be left till later, and the matter was quickly referred to a Committee of the League of Nations.
With the two main sticking points thus cleared up, negotiations got going again, and on 7 May the finished draft was sent to the Germans. There is no doubt that Lloyd George’s intervention at the turn of March–April 1919 saved the Peace Treaty. On 15 April he then went home and faced down his critics in the House of Commons.
Asked how he
felt he had done at the Conference, Lloyd George answered: ‘Not badly,
considering I was seated between Jesus Christ and Napoleon’.