President Wilson, on January 8, 1918, addressed Congress in a speech which was designed to set forth the war aims and peace terms of the United States. Every American should be familiar with the terms of this “fourteen-point speech.” Each one of the terms advocated by the President is given below in the President’s own words, and a short explanatory paragraph is added to each.
1. Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind, but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.
The President here speaks against the underhand diplomacy and secret alliances which have been a feature of European history in the past. By this practice a few diplomats and monarchs made whatever treaties they wished, not presenting them for ratification to the people’s representatives, and yet binding every individual citizen to abide by the terms adopted. Such secret provisions have often been agreed to simply upon the whim or the ambition or the likes and dislikes of the rulers. They have sometimes been opposed to the true interests of the nations involved. They are undemocratic, and are not in accord with American ideas.
2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war, except as the seas may be closed in whole or in part by international action for the enforcement of international covenants.
Since 1793 the United States has stood for the freedom of the seas and the right of neutrals to carry on their trade in time of war as well as in time of peace. Germany’s violation of our rights as a neutral by her submarine warfare was one of the causes of our taking up arms against her. By territorial waters the President here means the waters within three miles from shore, which are universally held to be under the complete control of the adjoining state. By international covenants are probably meant such covenants and guarantees as those mentioned in points 14, 1, 4, 11, 12, and 13.
3. The removal, so far as possible, of all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions among all the nations consenting to the peace and associating themselves for its maintenance.
Economic barriers are mainly restrictions upon trade and commerce. These restrictions take various forms; they may be prohibitive customs duties, or excessive port, tonnage, and harbor charges; they may be trade agreements granting favors to the citizens of one country and not to those of another. The President urges the establishment of an equality of such trade conditions.
4. Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety.