Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/108


Notes of a Meeting Held at President Wilson’s House in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris, on Saturday, April 19, 1919, at 11 a.m.

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
      • Sir Maurice Hankey, K. C. B.
    • Italy
      • M. Orlando.
      • Baron Sonnino.
      • Count Aldrovandi.

Interpreter—Prof. P. J. Mantoux.

Italian Claims

1. Principles Underlying Italian Claims M. Orlando said that he would consider the whole question of Italian claims from the point of view of the resolutions taken by the Supreme Council on other questions. He recognised that there was one Power represented there to-day, namely, the United States of America, which had not taken any part in the Treaty concluded with Italy by France and Great Britain.1 Consequently, he proposed at the moment to deal with the subject on the hypothesis that no engagements existed. Italy had formulated three definite and distinct claims. He believed these to be in conformity with the general principles which had been adopted by the Supreme Council in dealing with the Peace Treaty. Consequently, he proposed to make a comparison between the principles underlying Italian claims and the general principles on which the Treaty of Peace was being based.

2. Claims Within Alpine Boundary Italy’s first claim related to her desire for union with the territories on the Italian side of the natural frontiers of Italy. Italy shared with Spain and Scandinavia the distinction of having boundaries more clearly defined by nature than almost any other country on the continent. More than almost any other country Italy possessed a geographical unity being bounded by the sea and the mighty chain of mountains which encircled her [Page 81] northern limits. Consequently, the natural boundary was the watershed of the mountains and Italy claimed this line as her natural frontier. It was recognised that peoples not of Italian races were included in this territory. This was not an occasion on which to begin a discussion on the precise numbers and he had not the material with him. He would remind his colleagues, however, that everyone, without exception, who had appeared before them to discuss Austrian statistics had agreed that they were untrustworthy. No one had been more vehement on this subject than the Jugo-Slav delegates. Material could be produced to prove that the Austrians had falsified the figures against Italy. He did not know whether the incorporation of these territories in Italy would bring a hundred thousand, more or less, Slavs under Italian rule. Every time, however, that the Peace Conference had had to determine frontiers, or to fix limits of a new state, it had been recognised that the inclusion of different races was not a reason for overriding strong strategic and economic reasons. He asked that that same principle might be applied to the Italian claims. Pointing to the map, he explained that if the line showing the natural boundary of Istria were adopted, it would be impossible for Trieste, from a strategic point of view, since it would bring Trieste within the range of gun-fire. Even if Italy secured the whole of its claims it would embrace a total population of foreign origin which would be small in comparison with that of other nations. Under the approved scheme, for example, the population [of Poland?] would include from 18 hundred thousand to 2 million Germans as compared with a total population of some 25 million Poles, whereas Italy would only have a foreign population of some 6 hundred thousand as compared with a total of nearly 40 million. The same applied in the case of Roumania, which would include a large Hungarian population, and in the case of Czecho-Slovakia, which would include more than 2 million Germans compared with a total of 10 million Czechs. Hence, Italy considered it within her right to demand the natural frontiers fixed for her by God and the inclusion of certain population of other races should not be a bar. Supposing there had only been 4 or 5 hundred thousand Germans between France and the Rhine, would this, he asked, have been a reason for denying the historical strategic claims of France to the Rhine as a frontier?

3. Fiume The second point, M. Orlando continued, related to Fiume. Italy considered that the question of Fiume depended on general frontiers fixed for her. The historic frontier line of Italy passed along the water-shed of the mountains and came down to the sea on the Gulf of Quarnero and would embrace Fiume. For Fiume Italy appealed to the principle of self determination of the people. He referred to a historical fact that was insufficiently remembered, that Fiume itself had, before [Page 82] the conclusion of the Armistice, expressed a desire for incorporation in Italy. On the 18th October, 1918, the deputies of Fiume had in the Hungarian Chamber stated that as the Austro-Hungarian Empire was in a state of dissolution, Fiume being a free city demanded union with Italy. Hence Italy was in the presence of a question that had not been raised in the first instance by Italians, and there was a general demand that the declaration by Fiume should be supported. One objection that might be raised was that the principle of self determination was not applicable to a small community. It might be urged, also, that Fiume was not a part of Italy. Nevertheless, Fiume could not be considered as an isolated unit. The principle of self determination ought to apply just as much to little peoples as to great nations, particularly where there was a historical claim. Fiume had a history relating to liberty over its own destinies dating back many centuries. It constituted a small people which might be compared to the State of San Marino which, if the need arose, ought to have the same right of self determination as the peoples of Russia.

Another objection that had been raised to the inclusion of Fiume in Italy was the economic factor. The precedent he would quote here was that of Dantzig. In the case of Dantzig, the demand for annexation by Poland had not been accepted. It had been decided that the rights of the majority of the population of Germany must be respected. In the case of Dantzig, therefore, economic considerations had not been allowed to prevail over national desires. If it were decided that Fiume was to be constituted as a free state like Dantzig, the Italians would say that a procedure had been adopted which was more favourable to the Germans than to the Italians. In the case of Dantzig it could be argued that it was the sole outlet to Poland. This did not apply in the case of Jugo-Slavia which had several other outlets. It could be shown not only that there were several natural harbours left to Jugo-Slavia, but in addition that that country would have a very long coast line. There were some several ports more accessible to Jugo Slavia than Fiume. Hence he maintained that the concession made to Poland in the case of Dantzig did not apply to Fiume.

Another difference between the two cases was that Dantzig could only serve Poland, whereas only 7% of the capacity of Fiume was used to serve Jugo-Slavia. In fact Jugo-Slavia was only a secondary consideration commercially to Fiume. He had read in the papers that M. Trumbitch2 had stated before the Supreme Council that 50% of the port of Fiume was devoted to Jugo-Slavia. He had at once telegraphed [Page 83] to the Chamber of Commerce of Fiume which had telegraphed back detailed figures to show that 7% was the correct figure. Supposing, however, that it was 12% or 15%, the fact would not be altered that Fiume was mainly concerned in serving other territories such as Hungary, Galicia and Bohemia. For the above reasons he supposed that if Fiume were treated on the same lines as Dantzig, public opinion would be justified in saying that Italy was being treated worse than the enemy. There was one point of detail which he would mention, not as a serious argument, but as an interesting illustration of the historical independence of Fiume. It was a point of heraldry which could have no value among the Allied and Associated Powers, but which was of some importance in a country like Austria, which had preserved its aristocratic influences. This point was that the various states forming parts of Austria possessed historic escutcheons and among these Fiume was included with its own coat of arms.

4. Dalmatia and the Islands Italy’s third claim, M. Orlando continued related to Dalmatia and the Islands off the coast—and he would mention here that the case of the Islands applied also to Istria with which must be considered the large Islands of Cherso and Lussin which were largely Italian in character.

Italy’s claims here were of a strategic order. It was not necessary to be a Naval Expert to understand them although they were a question of great interest to Naval Experts. The eastern shores of the Adriatic with their covering Islands and high coast commanding the Adriatic; even if the Naval Forces on the Italian side were reduced to the lowest limits necessary for policing the seas, there would always be the possibility of ships setting out from these recesses reaching and bombarding the Italian coast and then returning with little or no damage behind the screen of Islands. He did not wish to enter into too much detail but if the matter were examined analytically it would be found that ships could come from the North or the South to bombard the coast of Italy in the middle Adriatic and return in safety. The recent war had demonstrated this danger. The bombardments on the Italian coast made the greater impression because while the Entente was absolutely mistress of the seas, it was not mistress of the Adriatic. The Austrians it is true were not able to navigate the Adriatic, neither was Italy. Reinforced by British and French warships, the Italian Fleet had double the force of the Austrians, but nevertheless they were never able to stop these bombardments. The enemy had escaped every time. Italy would never be secure until she had a defensive basis in the middle of the opposite coast.

The strategic argument however, was not the only one on which Italy based her claims. There was a national question as well. In the course of those conversations it had been stated that historical claims [Page 84] must not be allowed to possess a decisive influence. He, himself, recognized that. There were, however, cases where history must exercise a deep influence. Since historic days right down to the Treaty of Campo Formio3 Dalmatia had been connected with Italy—first as part of the Roman Empire, subsequently as part of Venice. One factor of the case resulted from the dispositions of nature. The mountains divided the coast from the interior. For this reason the whole culture of Dalmatia gravitated inevitably towards Italy. As he had stated, Dalmatia had been connected with Italy until the Treaty of Campo Formio but Italian influence had lasted much longer than this. He could not state the exact date as he had not the documents with him but he believed that it was until 1881 that the majority in the Diet of Dalmatia had been Italian. Hence it could not be said that Italy was dating her historical arguments too far in the past. He had in his possession a document copy of which he had communicated to President Wilson, which had been found at Zara and which was dated 1887, and which purported to determine the official language (Dienst Sprache) of the different communes of Dalmatia. This official document ordered that out of 84 communes, nineteen were entitled to speak exclusively Italian; twenty-five were entitled to speak both Italian and Serbo-Croat. This he would point out was information derived not from Italian but from Austrian sources. Some places still preserved an Italian minority, notably Zara, Trau and perhaps Spalato. There still remained in Dalmatia a flourishing Italianism. Was it possible, he asked, after all the sacrifices of the war for Italy to see this Italianism devoted to destruction. What Italy demanded was only a small part of Dalmatia leaving to Yugo-Slavia Spalato, Ragusa and Cattaro. He considered that this was a very modest demand, and he only asked that the existing agreement in regard to Dalmatia should be adhered to.

5. The Application of Italian Claims of the General Principles of the Peace Settlement
President Wilson’s Views
President Wilson recalled that it had been agreed that he should confer with M. Orlando and through him with his colleagues and he would now state the substance of what he had said. His Italian friends would bear witness that through-out the conversations he had insisted on the same point of view. It had been his privilege as the spokesman of the Associated Powers to initiate the negotiations for peace. The bases of the Peace with Germany had then been clearly laid down. It was not reasonable—and he thought his Italian friends would admit this—to have one basis of Peace with Germany and another set of principles for the Peace with Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey. He must assume that the principles [Page 85] in each case would be the same. The whole question resolved itself into this: we were trying to make peace on an entirely new basis and to establish a new order of international relations. At every point the question had to be asked whether the lines of the settlement would square with the new order. No greater question had ever been asked in any negotiations. No body of statesmen had ever before undertaken to make such a settlement. There was a certain claim of argument which must be brushed aside, namely, the economic and strategic argument. Within certain limits he agreed that natural boundaries such as existed in the cases of Spain or Scandinavia (which M. Orlando had referred to) must be taken into consideration. The whole course of life in these regions was determined by such natural boundaries. The slope of the mountains not only threw the rivers in a certain direction but tended to throw the life of the people in the same direction. These, however, were not strategic nor economic arguments. On these grounds he felt no difficulty in assenting to that part of the Italian claims included in M. Orlando’s first point. Nature had swung a great boundary round the north of Italy. It included Trieste and most of the Istrian Peninsula on which Pola lies. He had no great difficulty there in meeting the Italian views.

Outside of these, however, further to the South all the arguments seemed to him to lead the other way. A different watershed was reached. Different racial units were encountered. There were natural associations between the peoples and this brought him to the question of Fiume.

6. President Wilson’s views on Fiume From the first it had seemed to him plain that on the side of the Alps on which Fiume lay there was not only a difficult but an entirely new problem. Hitherto Fiume had been linked up with the policy or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. That Empire had been governed by men who were in spirit very similar to the former rulers of Germany and who had been more or less under their domination. In fact they had become their instruments. If the Austro-Hungarian Empire had not gone to pieces the question could not have been difficult to deal with. Now, however, it had disappeared. Hence part of the wisdom of the present situation seemed to build up new States linked in their interest for the future with the new order. These States must indeed become partners in the new order and not be regarded as States under suspicion but as linked in the new international relationship. M. Orlando would remember that at the time that we were trying to detach the Jugo-Slavs from Austria we spoke of them as friends. We could not now speak of them as enemies. By separating from Austria-Hungary they had become connected with the new and disconnected from the old policy and order. M. Orlando had argued the case of Fiume as though it were purely an Italian and Jugo-Slav interest. [Page 86] Fiume was undoubtedly important to Jugo-Slavia whatever the proportion of the Jugo-Slav trade to the whole might be. But above all its importance was that of an international port serving Roumania, Hungary, and Czecho-Slovakia. In the past Hungary had had the principal interest in Fiume. Hence, it had been the policy of Hungary to encourage the Italian element and to use it to check the Slav population round about Fiume. He conjectured that Hungary had encouraged the idea of the autonomy of Fiume as a check to the surrounding Slovak population. This did not lead to the natural conclusion that Fiuine should be joined to Italy.

Neither did the analogies mentioned by M. Orlando in their application to Fiume lead to such a conclusion. It had been decided to separate Dantzig from Germany. Yet M. Orlando proposed to extend Italian sovereignty to Fiume where it had never existed. If we followed the precedent of Dantzig, therefore, we could not give what Italy desired. All the economic and strategic arguments had been in favour of uniting Dantzig with Poland, yet, in order to give effect to the general principles on which the peace was being based an unscientific method had been adopted and a rough line had been drawn and the principle of plebiscite had been accepted which would probably result in a line of railway connecting Dantzig with Poland traversing German territory. The strategic and economic reasons had therefore been ignored. M. Orlando would recall M. Jules Cambon’s powerful arguments in defending the conclusion of the Polish Commission.4 He would also recall M. Hyman’s demand for the inclusion of a strategic railway in Belgium involving a slight modification of the frontier.5 Both these claims had been rejected because it would have involved the inclusion of Germans in Polish and German [Belgian] territory respectively. To put Fiume inside Italy would be absolutely inconsistent with the new order of international relations. What should be done was a totally different question. The essential point to be borne in mind was that Fiume served the commerce of Czecho-Slovakia, Hungary, Roumania as well as Jugo-Slavia. Hence, it was necessary to establish its free use as an international port. The Italian population at Fiume was not connected with Italy by intervening Italian population. Hence, to unite it with Italy would be an arbitrary act, so inconsistent with the principles on which we were acting that he for one could not concur in it.

7. Dalmatia
President Wilson’s views on Italian Claims in Dalmatia
In regard to Dalmatia, President Wilson continued, the argument most dwelt upon, the argument which Baron Sonnino had most [Page 87] forcibly expressed to him when he first arrived was mainly strategic, that is to say the necessity, from the point of view of naval defence, of giving Italy control of part of the eastern shores. In this case also the new order must either be accepted or not. Under the new order of international relations we united influence with policy to protect territory and to give independence of life. He could not imagine that a Jugo-Slav navy,—under the regime of the League of Nations, could ever be a menace to Italy. The only possible risk was an alliance between Jugo-Slavia and some other state and its only possible motive would be to attack Italy.

In his view, one of the essentials of the new order was that the control of the Great Powers should be withdrawn from the Balkans. In the past this had furnished the seeds of war. Germany had sought to plant out sovereigns in the Balkans to be used, as occasion required, for her own purposes. Most of the intrigues against the peace of the world in the Balkans had arisen from this cause. There had been no real independence in the Balkans for these states had been under constant pressure from the Great Powers, and especially from Berlin. Consequently, he was opposed to the lodgment of any great Power in the Balkans. Our rule must be not to interfere in the internal affairs of these states and one of his primary objects was to withdraw the hand of the Great Powers from the Balkans. He regarded this as of capital importance. Hence the strategic argument must be rejected. Military men with their strategic, military, economic arguments had been responsible for the Treaty of 1815.6 Similarly, military men had been responsible for Alsace-Lorraine. It was military men who had led Europe to one blunder after another. It would be quite detrimental to the peace of the world if Italy insisted on a lodgment on the east coast of the Adriatic. We were now engaged in setting up an international association and Italy would have a part of the leadership therein. If this did not suffice, then two orders would exist—the old and the new. In the right hand would be the new order and in the left hand the old order. We could not drive two horses at once. The people of the United States of America would repudiate it. They were disgusted with the old order. Not only the American people but the people of the whole world were tired of the old system and they would not put up with Governments that supported it. We sometimes spoke in those conversations as though we were masters of Europe. We were not so in reality. If the new order of ideas was not correctly interpreted a most tragical disservice would be done to the world. Hence, he urged his Italian colleagues to remember that they were in the hands of true friends. He would not be serving their interests [Page 88] if he consented to their claims to Fiume and Dalmatia. He was prepared to leave it to history to judge whether he or they were serving Italian interests best. He had been brought up in America, 3,000 miles away, and had passed most of his life there. There had been a time when he had not cared a snap of the fingers what happened in Europe. Now, however, it was his privilege to assist Europe to create a new order. If he should succeed, he could bring all the resources of his people to assist in the task. The claim for Fiume was a recent one put forward only within the last few months. As far as self-determination was concerned, Fiume was only an island of Italian population. If such a principle were adopted generally, we should get spots all over the map. In the case of Bohemia and the Polish frontiers, there was a preservation of historical frontiers; but this was not so in the case of Fiume. There was no analogy here that attached Fiume to Italy.

He could not conclude his remarks without stating the profound solemnity with which he approached the question. He fully recognised its gravity for the Italians. He tried to approach the subject in the most friendly spirit. His conclusion was that of one who wished to serve Italian interests and not of one who wished to oppose them.

8. Dalmatia
Baron Sonnino’s Views
Baron Sonnino reverted to President Wilson’s remarks on the strategic reasons that he, himself, had given to the President for the incorporation of Dalmatia with Italy. The President had said that he could not admit the claim of strategic advantage in establishing the new order. He must point out that Italy had never asked for any strategic advantage from an offensive point of view. All that they had demanded was the necessary and indispensable conditions of defence. He had never even thought of obtaining any possible advantage for offence in the Balkans. All he wished to avoid was the continuance of the tragic history of Italy as open to attack from across the Adriatic. Without this the east coast of Italy was helpless. The League of Nations could not intervene in time. Any fleet established behind the island could defy the fleets of the League of Nations when they arrived, just as in the late war the Austrians defied the fleets of the Entente, which were two or three times their size. The Allied fleets would have destroyed the Austrian fleet, if they could have reached them, but they were unable to. The present situation provided a temptation to war, or at least, to the menace of war. It was perhaps a temptation even to Italy to profit by any favourable situation that might arise to get rid of the danger. The League of Nations might be compared to any civilised community which possessed a police force, but in every town people had to shut their door at nights. Italy could not do without this.

Referring to President Wilson’s remarks on the Balkans, Baron Sonnino said that Italy had no desire to mix herself there. Dalmatia, [Page 89] and especially its Northern part, was entirely outside the Balkans. All its economic and commercial relations were on the Italian side of the Adriatic. This was why, in spite of every effort by the Austrians to prevent it, the Italian interest had survived and was still maintained in Zara, Sebenico and Spalato. Until 1859 or 1860 the Italian element in Austria had been numerous enough for Austria to have an interest not to smash it. After the loss of Lombardy, however, and later on in 1866, after the loss of Venetia, all the parliamentary interests in Austria had been Slavonic.

In spite of all sorts of adverse influences, falsification of statistics, etc., Italianism had maintained itself.

After a successful war, in which Italy had lost 500,000 killed and some 900,000 badly wounded; to revert to a worse situation—for Austria had offered Italy the Adige and the islands—would not be explainable to the Italian people. They would not understand why Italy had entered the war. It would be a crime against the Italian people, and he himself would feel remorse towards his people, for whom he was ready to give up everything.

He fully recognised the importance of the League of Nations and the general sentiment that was maturing towards a better state of things, but the League of Nations was a new institution and had many difficulties to face. He would like to know how tomorrow the League of Nations was going to adjust the Russian situation for example? How could it be relied on until it was fully established? In the present state of affairs it would be a crime for Italy to give this up, and it could not be done. Italy was asked to assume great responsibilities in guaranteeing the position of others, and received nothing herself.

President Wilson pointed out that Italy herself received these guarantees.

M. Sonnino said they were not sufficient. On the other side of the Adriatic they were close to the Balkanic races who were excitable peoples, much given to intrigue and falsification of documents, etc.

Moreover, the League of Nations had no forces under its direct control.

President Wilson said Baron Sonnino was speaking of a time when the Balkan states were being used by the Great Powers for their own purposes.

M. Sonnino said he mistrusted the Balkan peoples most. Who would say that economic relations would not again link up the Balkans with Central Europe? He was very sorry, and deeply pained with the attitude he had to take. If Italian claims were not satisfied he, who had always sought completely to do his duty, would feel that he had done something contrary to the interests of his people.

[Page 90]

(9) M. Clemenceau’s Views on the Italian Claims M. Clemenceau said that, in listening to President Wilson’s speech, he felt we were embarking on a most hazardous enterprise, but with a very noble purpose. We were seeking to detach Europe and the whole world from the old order which had led in the past to conflicts and finally to the recent War which had been the greatest and most horrible of all. It was not possible to change the whole policy of the world at one stroke. This applied to France just as much as to Italy. He would be ready to make concessions to his Allies. They were a people which has merited well of humanity and of civilisation and he felt it right to recall it in this tragic hour. To the powerful arguments given by President Wilson he would add one other. Great Britain and France were bound in advance. The Treaty with Italy had not been signed by him, but it bore the signature of France. In that Treaty Dalmatia had been given to Italy, and this was a fact he could not forget. In the same Treaty, however, Fiume was allotted to Croatia. Italy had at that time no pretentions to Fiume. They had granted it as a gift to the Croats. M. Barzilai had told him that since that time Austria had disappeared, which altered the situation. This was true, but, nevertheless, Italy had signed a document allotting Fiume to Croatia. He was astonished that Italy, while claiming Dalmatia under the Treaty, also claimed Fiume, which had been given to the Croats. Signatures counted no longer. It was impossible for Italy to claim one clause of the Treaty and to cancel another clause. It would be deplorable if his Italian friends on such a pretext should break away from their Allies.

He believed they were making a great mistake. It would serve neither their own use nor the cause of civilisation. We French, as he had often said, had had to deplore the treatment given to the Italians in the Adriatic. But these moments were past. Now it will be necessary to traverse another critical period. He hoped his Italian friends were not counting too much on the first enthusiasm which would greet this action. Later on the cold and inevitable results would appear when Italy was alienated from her friends. He could not speak of such a matter without the gravest emotion. He could not think of one of the nations who helped to win this War separating from their Allies. We should suffer much, but Italy would suffer even more from such action. (M. Orlando interjected “without doubt”). If the Italian plenipotentiaries should leave, he hoped that after consulting their people the forces of reason would bring them back. He hoped they would make one last effort to come to an agreement. His heart was always with Italy with its great and noble history and its immense services to civilisation. Nevertheless, he must listen to the voice of duty. We could not abandon the principles we had worked for for [Page 91] the good of civilisation. It was impossible for France to adhere to one clause of the Treaty and to denounce another.

M. Orlando recalled that the [at] the beginning of his statement he had declared that, since he was discussing the demands of Italy in the presence of a Power which was not bound by the Treaty, he would examine them on the hypothesis that the Treaty did not exist. If he were only asking his Allies to carry out their engagements, he would not ask for Fiume. In regard to what M. Clemenceau had said, he must express profound anguish in his heart at the suggestion that he was animated by any consideration of popularity or enthusiasm among the people of Italy at the course he was taking. He fully understood the tragic solemnity of the moment. Italy had to choose between two methods of death according as they limited their demands solely to the Treaty or separated themselves from their friends and became isolated from the world. If he had to choose he would prefer death with honour. He recalled that when Henry III had been assassinated the Duke of Guise looked at the body of his friend and said he had not believed he was so tall.7 He anticipated that Italy would prove so great a corpse that [he only hoped] there would not arise a poison which would threaten the whole world.

(10) Mr. Lloyd George’s Views on the Italian Claims Mr. Lloyd George said that as the representative of a Power which had signed the Treaty of London, he must express his views. He had not much to add to what M. Clemenceau had said, but in the present grave situation he must express the British point of view, since Great Britain had also been a signatory of the Treaty. His personal position was much the same as M. Clemenceau’s, since he had not been a signatory to the Treaty. He realised the strength of President Wilson’s arguments, but he thought he was entitled to say that if we felt scruples about the Italian claims they should have been expressed before Italy had lost half a million gallant lives. He did not think we were entitled to express these doubts after Italy had taken part in the war. He wished to say that Great Britain stood by the Treaty, but that she stood by the whole of the Treaty. The map which he had in his hand attached to the Treaty showed Fiume in Croatia. This was known to Serbia. We could not break one part of the Treaty while standing by the other. On merits he did not understand how the principle of self-determination could be applied. If it was applied at all, it must be applied to the whole area. There must be a plebiscite [Page 92] from Trieste to Spalato. This, however, was not the proposal, which was merely to take the views of the inhabitants of Fiume. It was only proposed to apply it to the ancient town of Fiume itself. If the suburb across the river—a narrow river as he was informed—were included, his information was that the majority would be Jugo-Slav. (Baron Sonnino interjected that the majority would still be Italian) If M. Orlando’s argument in regard to the strategic position of Trieste and its danger from the guns in the hills were applied to Fiume, the Jugo-Slav majority would be overwhelming. The population of the valley was some 100,000 people, of whom only 25,000 were Italians. He could not see that any principle could be established for giving Fiume to Italy. If Fiume were included in Istria, exactly the same would apply. The Italian claim was only valid if applied to a little ancient town where an Italian population had grown to a majority of some 8,000. To give Fiume to Italy would break faith with the Serbs, would break the Treaty on which Italy entered the war, and would break every principle on which the Treaty of Peace was being based. He admitted that the Italian losses had been very heavy, and even appalling. But the French losses had also been very heavy. M. Clemenceau could no doubt evoke a great demonstration by announcing that the French frontier was to rest on the Rhine. Moreover, this was a strategic frontier, and would fulfil long-standing ambitions of France. There were very powerful elements in France which favoured this solution, and M. Clemenceau had to force [face?] these. They would urge that France had lost 1,500,000 dead in support of the justice of the claim. As regards the strategic arguments, British towns had also been bombarded. Like the Italians, the British Fleet had not been able to catch the enemy. The Germans, however, had not been able to transport troops across the North Sea. Neither could the Austrians transport them across the Adriatic. In France, however, with the exception of the Rhine, which was merely a military obstacle, there was land all the way between their boundaries and Germany. If our principles were to be extended we should have to re-cast the whole of the principles on which the Treaty of Peace was based and to begin with France. (President Wilson interjected that France had foregone the principle). How could we apply a different principle to Italy to what we had applied to France and Poland?

M. Clemenceau had spoken of Italy going out of the Conference. This was a very grave decision which he had not been made aware of. What was the reason for it? It was that a population of 25,000 people in a single town had an Italian majority; it was a case where the majority was doubtful if the suburbs were taken into consideration, and where, if the surrounding country were taken into [Page 93] consideration, the population was overwhelmingly against Italy. He asked his Italian friends to consider the position they would create by such action. What would their population do? What would our position be? We thought Italy was in the wrong and was making an indefensible claim. If war and bloodshed should result, what would the position be? Surely, there must be some sanity among statesmen! To break an Alliance over a matter of this kind was inconceivable. If Italy should do so, however, the responsibility would not be ours. We stood by our Treaty and the responsibility would rest with those who broke the Treaty.

Baron Sonnino pointed out that President Wilson did not accept the Treaty.

Mr. Lloyd George said he was speaking for Great Britain only. He recalled that some time ago he had told M. Orlando that the British Cabinet had decided that they would stand by the Pact.

M. Orlando again recalled that at the outset of the meeting he had stated that he would discuss the question as though the Treaty did not exist. If what Mr. Lloyd George said meant that the Conference would take its decision on the basis of the Treaty of London, leaving Fiume to be settled as the Conference might think fit, then a new situation would be created, and he would be prepared to discuss it with his colleagues on the Italian Delegation and return to give his reply.

President Wilson said that this solution would place a burden on him that was quite unfair. He did not know and did not feel at liberty to ask whether France and Great Britain considered the Treaty as consistent with the principles on which the Peace Treaty was being based. He was at liberty to say, however, that he himself did not. To discuss the matter on the basis of the Pact of London would be to adopt as a basis a secret treaty. Yet he would be bound to say to the world that we were establishing a new order in which secret treaties were precluded. He could not see his way to make peace with Germany on one principle and with Austria-Hungary on another. The Pact of London was inconsistent with the general principles of the settlement. He knew perfectly well that the Pact of London had been entered into in quite different circumstances, and he did not wish to criticise what had been done. But to suggest that the decision should be taken on the basis of the Treaty of London would draw the United States of America into an impossible situation.

Baron Sonnino said he only asked the Supreme Council to accept the merits of the Pact of London.

President Wilson said he was willing to state, and might have to state, to the world the grounds of his objections. He could not draw the United States into principles contrary to those which now animated them and which had brought them into the War.

[Page 94]

Baron Sonnino drew attention to President Wilson’s statement of the 21st [23d] May, 1918, in which he had admitted the principle of security for Italy.8

President Wilson said he did not admit that Dalmatia was essential to the security of Italy. Great Britain was in exactly the same position as Italy. He could not allow the argument, and he had said so frankly at his first interview with Baron Sonnino. It was inconceivable to him that Italy should draw apart from her friends, and he begged that the Italian plenipotentiaries would not decide the question in a hurry. He asked them to take every element into consideration and not tear the country apart from the sacred associations of the present Conference and of the past. He appealed to them with confidence to reconsider the question, and not to think of action which would be one of the most tragic results of the War.

Mr. Lloyd George asked that the Italians would remember one factor. If they were not present on Friday when the German delegates arrived, the Allies would have no right to put forward a claim for compensation for Italy. This was a matter that they ought to take into consideration.

M. Orlando said that this was a matter that could be corrected at the last moment if Italy did not separate herself.

President Wilson concluded by a final appeal to Italy to take time to consider.

M. Orlando undertook to do so, but said that he was most anxious to have the question settled before he returned to Italy.

(The Meeting was adjourned until Sunday, April 20, 1919, at 10 a.m.)

Villa Majestic, Paris, April 19, 1919.

  1. Great Britain, Cmd. 671, Misc. No. 7 (1920): Agreement Between France, Russia, Great Britain and Italy, Signed at London, April 26, 1915. A translation from the Izvestia which was transmitted to the Department by the Ambassador in Russia on December 5, 1917, is printed in Foreign Relations, 1917, supp. 2, vol. i, p. 497.
  2. Ante Trumbitch, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
  3. Treaty between France and Austria, October 17, 1797, G. F. de Martens, Recueil des Principaux Traités d’Alliance, de Paix, de Tréve, de Neutralité, de Commerce, de Limites, d’Echange, etc. (2d edition), vol. vi, p. 420.
  4. See BC–53, vol. iv, p. 404.
  5. The request for such a frontier adjustment was discussed by the Commission on Belgian and Danish Affairs at meetings on April 4 and 5, 1919 (Paris Peace Conf. 181.21801/12, 13).
  6. Treaty of Vienna, June 9, 1815, British and Foreign State Papers, vol. ii, p. 3.
  7. The report of Orlando’s remarks given in the minutes at this point appears to be incorrect. It was the Duke of Guise who was assassinated by order of King Henry III. The remark as reported in Count Aldrovandi’s diary was “Non credevo egli fosse si grande,” involving a play upon the two meanings of grande, “tall” and “great” (See L. Aldrovandi Marescotti, Guerra diplomatica (Milan, 1937), p. 235.)
  8. Ray Stannard Baker and William E. Dodd (eds.), The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson: War and Peace, vol. i, p. 211.