Paris Peace Conf. 180.03101/5

[BC–2 and BC–2+]

Notes on the Conversations Held in the Office of M. Pichon at the Quai d’Orsay on January 15, 1919


United States of America: President Wilson
Mr. Lansing
Mr. Frazier
Mr. Harrison
British Empire: Mr. Lloyd George
Mr. Balfour
Lt. Col. Hankey
Major Abraham
France: M. Clemenceau
M. Pichon
M. Dutasta
M. Berthelot
Prince de Bearn
Italy: M. Sonnino
Count Aldrovandi
Capt. Jones
Japan: Viscount Chinda
M. Matsui.

Interpreter: M. Mantoux.


Mr. Lloyd George referred to the agreement that no information regarding what took place at the meetings should be given out other than that issued by the Secretariat. He wished to point out that he had noticed that the French Press had published the clause regarding the proposed demands on the German Government to deliver its gold reserve, etc.

M. Pichon explained that while it was true that it had been published here, this was due to the fact that the French journalist[s] knew that it was known to British and American journalists, and that it would appear in their papers, as there was no British or American censorship of the Press.

Mr. Lloyd George remarked that if this were true, their whole system was faulty. He referred to the fact that the British Delegation had a man in Paris especially for the purpose of handling the Press, and stated that he was quite certain that the information had not been obtained from this representative.

M. Pichon agreed that it was quite possible that the information had not been communicated officially to the British Press.

[Page 567]

M. Clemenceau observed that it did not really matter how the leak had occurred. The question to be decided was whether there should be a censorship, and whether information should be suppressed. M. Clemenceau asked if the American Delegation had a man to handle the Press, as the British had.

Mr. Wilson answered in the affirmative and stated this official’s name to be Ray Stannard Baker.

M. Pichon proposed that the same Secretariat that met yesterday should meet every day and decide on what should be given to the Press and that all else should be censored.

M. Sonnino understood that nothing should be given out regarding the respective views of the Delegates.

Mr. Lloyd George laid stress on the importance of not having the Press give prominence to views of the representatives of any power which should not be in accord with the others. He called attention to the fact that the French Press were arguing the publication in L’Humanité, as if there were a difference between Great Britain and France. This was very bad. He thought it desirable that insofar as possible every effort should be made to influence the Press against discussing matters of supposed or actual controversy between one government and another.


Mr. Lloyd George referred to the wording of the clause providing for the representation of the Dominions and India at the Conference and suggested that the word “may” be substituted for the word “shall”.

The proposal was accepted.

M. Pichon informed the delegates that complaints had been received from the representatives of small powers like Belgium, China and Greece, that they had only two representatives, while Brazil had three.

He proposed, therefore, that the representations of small powers who have taken an active part in the War be raised to three.

Mr. Balfour, in this connection, spoke on behalf of Portugal, who had sent 60,000 troops to the war, had supplied the field guns they had just obtained from the French, and had furnished a certain number of troops in her Colonies. If Siam has two representatives and Brazil, which is a daughter country of Portugal, has three, he thought Portugal should be allowed two. …

Mr. Wilson proposed that Portugal be given two delegates.

Mr. Lansing called attention to the fact that China had furnished 200,000 men.

[Page 568]

Mr. Lloyd George admitted this, but observed that they were all laborers.

M. Pichon stated that China has been very insistent for five delegates, basing her argument on the size of her population, her wealth, and the extent of her territory.

Mr. Lloyd George remarked that India had 300,000,000, if China has 400,000,000.

M. Pichon inquired whether his proposition was accepted.

M. Sonnino suggested that no exception be made in the case of Portugal, and that she be permitted the same representation as the other small powers.

M. Pichon proposed that an exception be made in the cases of Belgium and Serbia, that they be given three delegates each, and that two delegates each be allowed to Portugal and Greece.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that some sense of proportion should be shown. He remarked that there was no point in giving Belgium three when the Great Powers had only five.

Mr. Wilson inquired whether it would not be wise to have some statement issued to remove the apparent misapprehension regarding this question of the number of delegates. He remarked that we were now speaking only of votes, whereas the question was one of delegates, and not the number of votes; and he pointed out that each power was at liberty to use the Panel System, and could change its representatives.

It was decided to give Portugal two delegates instead of one.

Continuation of the Consideration of the Proposed Procedure

(See Section VI of the plan for the first conversations between the Allied Ministers submitted by the French Government, pages 12, et seq.)1


M. Pichon proposed, and it was agreed, that precedence of the Great Powers should be in the following French alphabetical order:

  • United States of America
  • British Empire
  • France
  • Italy
  • Japan.

  • Section 4 was approved.
  • Section 5 was approved.
  • Section 6 was approved. M. Pichon suggested a Joint Secretariat composed of the representatives of the Great Powers then present.
  • Section 7. Mr. Lloyd George considered this section very important. The Press had asked him whether they were entitled to go to the other delegates for information, and he had replied in the negative.

    Mr. Wilson asked whether there would be any objection, owing to the likelihood of leaks, to having the representatives of the Press present at the Peace Conferences, as practically nothing would be discussed in the large sessions, at which any statement would be little more than a public statement of what had been decided beforehand. For his part, he would prefer complete publicity, rather than publicity by leak.

    Mr. Balfour observed that the suggestion that the Press should be present at the Conferences was open to this prima facie objection, viz.: that if this were carried out, the meeting would become purely formal. Moreover, should the Press be present at the large conferences, it would then be necessary to bring the other powers, say the Czecho-Slovaks, into the small conferences.

    Mr. Wilson assumed that it would hardly be possible to discuss cases such as this in the large conferences. Moreover, the Czechoslovak representatives could hardly do more than repeat at the large conferences what they have already given to the World. The determination as to what would be proposed by the Great Powers at the large conferences would be decided by the Great Powers beforehand.

    M. Pichon remarked that should the Press be admitted to the conferences, there would be no end of speaking.

    Mr. Lloyd George expressed the hope that President Wilson would not press the suggestion. He feared that there would be no end to the conferences if reporters were present. Small nations would want to speak at great length. Moreover, as Mr. Balfour had pointed out, this might result in very unpleasant incidents, for instance, between Serbia and Montenegro.

    M. Pichon observed that in the study of the preliminaries of Peace, it would be dangerous to give the enemy too much information on the points on which there was any difficulty or particular discussion between the Great Powers. The enemy would immediately make use of that information to endeavor to sow discord among those present.

    M. Clemenceau spoke at some length on this point, saying among other things: “We must be unanimous; there will be much that I will accept to maintain our unanimity. I will make sacrifices. If I go to the Conference I will say nothing that might tend to divide it, [Page 570] but if one small power that has not been here in our conversation, asks how France has come to accept a certain provision, I will have to reply, and do not forget that this will then be made before the public.”

    M. Sonnino observed that the small powers would be obliged to make great speeches.

    Mr. Wilson thought that the gentlemen present seemed to be more hopeful than he was that long arguments could be avoided at the Conference.

    M. Sonnino submitted the following supposititious case: “Suppose a great and a small power agree to compromise. The small power is not obliged to give all the information to the public, but if the Conferences are open, then the small power will be forced to ventilate all her case.”

    Mr. Wilson observed that he had raised the point for discussion, but that he did not press it.

    M. Clemenceau insisted that the Great Powers go before the public as a block. He suggested that this matter be brought up again.

  • Section 8. M. Pichon pointed out that French has invariably been used as the language for the standard texts of treaties. The proposal that French be the official language, did not mean that delegates should not have the right to use their own language. The particular reason for having one language as the official language is that there may be assured but one document containing the standard text. There has been no exception to the use of French for that purpose. M. Pichon referred particularly to the last Conference at The Hague. Moreover, this requirement would not affect the right of delegates to use their own language such as English, which has the widest circulation in the world.

    Mr. Lloyd George observed that he was very sorry not to be able to accept the text proposed for this section. -He wished to say that it was not a matter of prejudice, but for the first time we now had the case of the United States taking part in a European Peace and this made with the British Empire a majority of the Associated Governments having English as their official language. He thought M. Pichon’s point about a single document a good one, but it was interesting to recall that both English and Dutch are used side by side in South Africa, and English and French in Canada. In both countries all documents are published in both languages, and both hold. This is more important than in the case of treaties, where differences arise on questions of principle, rather than shades of meaning. In these instances, questions come up in connection with the interpretation of legal documents, and he knew of no case where any difficulty had arisen. Consequently, inasmuch as the majority of the [Page 571] Alliance use the English language, he proposed an amendment to Section VIII, making English as well as French an official language of the Conference.

    M. Sonnino stated that he preferred that one language be used, for if two languages were chosen, the Italian language would appear to be placed in an inferior position.

    Mr. Wilson observed that all recognized the historical claim for French to be made the official language, but there were some circumstances which he believed should not be overlooked. For instance, the official language of the East is English, and diplomatic documents are in that language. This is not a matter of discrimination, as M. Sonnino has said, but a matter of generality of use. It seemed to him that a language which is the official language of the greater part of the world should be the official language of the Conference. He did not, however, propose that French be excluded. He only asked that it be considered in a preferential manner, as compared with Italian.

    M. Pichon referred to the fact that the resolutions of the Versailles Conference were in French.

    M. Clemenceau admitted that he was considerably embarrassed. He saw the justice of the claim that the English language was the language most commonly spoken throughout the world, and that it has carried civilization and liberal institutions wherever it has penetrated, but he would point out that French has taken the place of Latin, which, in its time, was the official language of the world, and moreover, it has the advantage of extreme precision. Nevertheless, he had the greatest desire to give each language its full right. Consequently, if English is admitted, it would not be right to exclude Italian.

    He therefore proposed that there should be three official languages, and if a question of interpretation should ever arise, the French text would rule.

    Mr. Lloyd George observed that this would make French the official language, or as Mr. Wilson suggested, the standard language.

    Mr. Wilson inquired whether the official minutes would then be kept in all three languages.

    Mr. Balfour requested that M. Clemenceau be good enough to submit his proposal in writing, so that he might see the actual wording of the clause, and that this should be presented for consideration at the afternoon meeting.

    The conversations were resumed at 2:30 p.m.

    M. Pichon submitted a new text for Article VIII, proposed by M. Clemenceau: (English, French and Italian to be the official languages—French the standard text).

    [Page 572]

    Mr. Wilson asked permission to present the following aspects of the matter: French has been the language of European diplomacy, but we have now reached the beginning of a new era, and enter upon world diplomacy. It is hardly decisive to follow European precedence which gives the French language this position. The language of the other side of the Globe is English, and this is a congress of the world. Moreover, the greater part of the people represented in this congress use the English language. He sincerely doubted whether any American when looking at this document in French would be satisfied that it was an exact expression of the decision of the Conference.

    As regards the arguments for the Italian language, he would venture to point out that it was spoken by a limited part of what might be called the constituency of the Conference.

    If English and French were placed on a parity there would be a perfect concurrence of mind of those who understood the French version with those who used the English version.

    Mr. Wilson also pointed out that it was proposed to have a permanent Secretariat for the Conference, and this was one more reason why the documents of this Secretariat should be in both languages. Moreover, should another minority language be admitted, others would have to be included also.

    He ventured again to lay stress upon the fact that a new element has been introduced in the diplomacy of the world by the entrance of a new power speaking English. For these reasons, he urged that both English and French be made the official languages of the Conference.

    Mr. Lloyd George submitted a proposal providing for the use of French and English as the official languages of the Conference, and for the reference to the League of Nations for decision of any question of interpretation that may arise.

    M. Pichon remarked that this was not the first time that the United States and other states of both North and South America had adopted French as the official language. He referred to the conferences at The Hague where according to precedent, French had been adopted as the official language by all those present.

    In answer to the contention that The Hague Conferences had served no purpose and had been disregarded, M. Pichon replied that it was not the fault of France that this had occurred.

    In conclusion he referred to President Wilson’s statement that France in this matter had an historical privilege. He believed that President Wilson would be the last not to recognize that privilege. In view of what France had gone through, and in view of all her [Page 573] sufferings, he thought it strange that the first act of this Conference should be to withdraw from her that right. He pointed out that M. Clemenceau had suggested a formula which seemed to meet the desires of the President, and still left France her privilege.

    M. Sonnino pointed out that while it was true that Italy had not a majority of population, nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that she had contributed her full share to the War, and had put into the Field from four to five million soldiers. He repeated that if an exception were to be made to the historical rule, and Italy were left out, it would be a distinct slight against her. He wished to support M. Clemenceau’s proposal. Mr. Wilson spoke as follows:

    “My sentiments would respond at once to M. Pichon’s appeal, not only my own, but also those of all the people of the United States, but I felt obliged to leave sentiment out, by views of practical effects. The look of this Conference is to the future. We are trying to draw now together to do away with contest. These documents which we are to draw up and sign will be the basis and life of government all over the world. The interpretation of them will affect situations which are to come, and in such interpretations a preponderance of the peoples of the world will use the English text. I cannot refrain from reminding myself that we are engaged in a practical business, and I am bound to lay matters of conscience aside. What will be the languages in time to come, which will be easiest to interpret? French and English. The world will find it easier to interpret French and English texts, far easier than any other. Let me say that it is not in my heart to show disrespect. Let us so act that the future generations will say: ‘These men had hard common sense, and put practical interests to the front.’”

    After some general discussion the Chairman read the text of Article VIII, and put the question as to whether it was approved. He referred to the fact that French had been the official language of the Versailles Conferences of the Inter-Allied High Commission.

    Mr. Lloyd George observed that when the Commission sat in London, English had been the official text. He reverted again to his former argument that English was the official language of a great section of the world. He laid stress on the point that the forthcoming Conference was to lay out a new era, and inasmuch as it was now necessary to deal with realities, he gave his support to President Wilson’s appeal, although he found it most difficult to resist the appeal of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

    M. Clemenceau believed that those present were more in accord than it appeared. Mr. Wilson had mentioned the part taken in the War by English-speaking people[s]. This is true. He frankly recognized the debt which France owed to the men who speak English. Like Mr. Wilson, he was ready to face new problems. It was [Page 574] not only necessary to try, but also to succeed. This War, however, took place in France. It should not be forgotten that his proposal was that the official text shall be English, French and Italian, and he, a Frenchman, had proposed it. If it was now argued that the English speaking people must be able to read the text, he admitted it, and has proposed English, French and Italian. The mere fact that a small text is hidden away in the archives at The Hague, will not make any difference if it is in the French language. As regards Italian I believe that not only now, but in the future, it will be necessary to have many more officially stamped texts, but from the merely practical point of view there should be but one text in the hands of the judge. There should be but one standard to refer to.

    Mr. Lloyd George observed that the question now under consideration was whether there shall be but one text, not two or three. If the French text is the standard for scrutinization, the British Delegate would have to examine it very carefully. Why would it not be well to have two or three official languages, and if there is a dispute, instead of referring it to a text, why not leave it to the League to decide? In Canada if the judge says that the texts are different, the matter is referred to Parliament. Such cases will undoubtedly arise, and it would be appropriate and preferable to have the matter referred to the League rather than to a text. Why could not the French language, so to speak, serve for all Latin peoples, and the English text represent the others? He suggested, therefore, that it would be better to proceed to the consideration of the amendment first proposed, that is to say, that there be two official texts, English and French. If that be accepted Baron Sonnino’s proposal might then be taken into consideration.

    Mr. Wilson thought it of interest to remind those present that in treaties between the United States and France the text is in English and French. The Senate of the United States approves the English text. Therefore, so far as the United States is concerned, the English text would rule. Should there be a disagreement, the matter would be discussed, and an agreement reached between the two governments.

    M. Clemenceau observed that the Versailles Treaty2 was in French alone. Mr. Wilson thought that this treaty had lapsed.

    M. Pichon repeated that in all international agreements the French text ruled. Even at the Congress of Berlin, French was used. Mr. Wilson pointed out that he did not dispute the fact that French has been the standard, but as to the Congress of Berlin, he would observe that America was not represented. M. Clemenceau stated that he could not go further than the amendment he had proposed.

    [Page 575]

    Mr. Lloyd George suggested that if that were to be the case it would be better to have no official text, and each country would only understand the text which its representatives signed.

    M. Clemenceau observed that if so much importance were attached to such small matters, it was truly a bad beginning for the society of the League of Nations.

    Mr. Wilson observed that he was extremely sorry that this aspect had been given to the question. He did not like to leave a question of this sort where it then rested, and suggested that the delegates think the matter over, sleep on it, and take it up at the next meeting.

  • Section 9. Mr. Wilson proposed that the provisions of the first sentence should be changed as follows: “And shall be presented in writing by the Plenipotentiaries who have brought them forward,” instead of “read by the Plenipotentiaries, etc.” Also that the second sentence should be stricken out. This proposal was accepted.
  • Section 10. Mr. Wilson proposed that the words “or twenty-four hours beforehand” be inserted after the words “at the preceding session.” This proposal was accepted.
  • Section 11. M. Sonnino suggested that the documents presented to the Conference should go to all the delegates but that the papers and minutes presented at the small meetings should not be circulated. He also proposed the addition of the words “to the Conference” after the word “presented” in the first line. His proposals were accepted.
  • Section 12 was accepted.
  • Section 13 was accepted.
  • Section 14. Mr. Wilson inquired whether those present were ready to adopt such a rule. Would it not enable a small minority to hold up the proceedings? He also pointed out that this would be a body of sovereign powers, and as they could not be bound by such a regulation, why not omit the whole section? His proposal was accepted.
  • Section 15 was accepted.
  • Section 16. Instead of a drafting committee, Mr. Wilson suggested that the formulation of action should be taken by the Secretariat, and that the Article be changed accordingly. This was accepted.


M. Pichon referred to the decision taken at the morning session to the effect that communications to the Press would be made by the Secretariat only. To make this effective, it would be necessary to stop any communications by cable, and he suggested that each Government appoint a representative to discuss this matter, and take the necessary steps.

[Page 576]

Mr. Wilson referred to the taking over of the cables by the United States Government. This action on his part had furnished an opportunity to his political opponents to criticize him, claiming that he had taken this action for the purpose of censorship of information regarding his actions in Europe. He had, of course, repudiated the idea. Therefore, should he now try to put a censorship in force, it would afford an opportunity to his opponents to further embarrass him. He felt confident that if those present were thoughtful regarding what they stated to the Press, censorship would be unnecessary.

M. Clemenceau observed that if there were no censorship in the United States, and censorship in Europe, half the world would know what was going on, and the other half would be left in ignorance.

Mr. Lloyd George thought that the British people would have something to say if all the news came from America.

Mr. Wilson thought that what had transpired so far in these private sessions, would not set the world on fire, even if it became public. He suggested that it might be advisable to have the representative of each delegation in charge of the Press, assemble his journalists, and inform them that those present had entered into a gentlemen’s agreement not to discuss on the outside what was said during the conversation.

It was agreed that all those present place themselves under bond not to say to any journalist anything not contained in the official communiqué.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that the daily official communiqué should be issued on the responsibility of the Secretariat, and would not be referred to the delegates unless there was a disagreement on some point between the secretaries. In that case the matter would be referred to the head of the delegation or his representative.


M. Pichon inquired whether he was expected to send invitations to those countries which had broken diplomatic relations with Germany.

It was agreed that invitations should be sent to the representatives of those Governments in Paris.


Mr. Wilson reverted again to the question of having the Press present at the opening Conference. It seemed to be the consensus of opinion that the Press would not be present.

[Page 577]


Mr. Lloyd George proposed that the question of Russia be considered at the next meeting, and suggested that each delegation be prepared to submit a brief memorandum containing the information in its possession regarding the existing condition of affairs in Russia, with special reference to the Bolsheviki.

Mr. Lloyd George thought it very important that no intimation should be given the Press that this subject was to be taken up at the next meeting.

The next meeting was fixed for 10:30 a.m., January 16th, 1919.

  1. Vol. i, p. 392.
  2. See footnote 1, p. 561.