Paris Peace Conf. 180.03401/99


Notes of a Meeting Held in the Foyer of the Senate Chamber of the Chateau at Versailles Shortly After the Signature of the Treaty of Peace With Germany at 5 p.m. on the 28th June, 1919

  • Present
    • United States of America
      • President Wilson.
    • British Empire
      • The Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George, M. P.
    • France
      • M. Clemenceau.
      • M. Simon.
    • Italy
      • M. Sonnino.
    • Japan
      • M. Makino
Lt Col. Sir Maurice Hankey, K C. B. } Secretaries.
Count Aldrovandi
Captain Portier
Professor P. J. Mantoux—Interpreter.

1. M. Mantoux, at M. Clemenceau’s request, read the English translation of a letter from Herr Bethmann Hollweg insisting that any responsibility on the part of the German Government for the events that precipitated the War in August 1914 was his and not the Kaiser’s, since he had been Imperial Chancellor of the German Empire. From this he deduced that the Allied and Associated Powers ought to call him and not the Kaiser to account (Appendix I). Trial of the ex-Kaiser: Letter From Herr Bethmann Hollweg

M. Clemenceau suggested that the reply should be that when the Tribunal was constituted his letter would be put before it.

Mr. Lloyd George pointed out that the Tribunal had nothing to do except try the Kaiser and could not be made responsible for this matter.

M. Clemenceau asked if Bethmann Hollweg was on the list of persons to be tried.

President Wilson said that there were two categories. The Kaiser was in one category alone to be tried, for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of treaties. Those in the second category were to be tried for acts in violation of the laws and customs of war. Bethmann Hollweg did not fall into either category.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that the answer should be he could not be accepted as responsible for the Kaiser who, by the German Constitution, was alone responsible.

[Page 752]

President Wilson said that Bethmann Hollweg was acting on the theory that the German Constitution was similar to that of Great Britain or France, [under] either [of] which the Minister was responsible. The Chancellor of the German Empire, however, was under the direct control of the Kaiser.

M. Sonnino said that the text of the letter would require careful study before a reply was sent.

President Wilson said that the reply should express the recognition of the Allied and Associated Powers of the spirit in which the offer was made, but should state that Bethmann Hollweg’s interpretation of the German Constitution could not be accepted.

M. Makino expressed the view that by constitutional law the Minister would be the responsible party.

(It was agreed that the Commission on Responsibilities, of which Mr. Lansing was Chairman, should be asked to draft a reply to Bethmann Hollweg’s letter, but that a general indication should be given to the Commission of the Council’s view as to the nature of the reply formed without an opportunity for close examination of the facts, namely, that the Allied and Associated Powers, recognised the spirit in which the offer was made but could not accept Bethmann Hollweg’s interpretation of the German Constitution.)

2. President Wilson said that immediately before the Meeting of the Peace Conference for the signature of the Treaty of Peace with Germany, Mr. Hoover had sent him word that two of his relief agents for the distribution of food, had been arrested by the Germans in Libau. Arrest of United States Representatives in Libau

(It was agreed that Marshal Foch should be asked, through the Armistice Commission, to make an immediate demand for the release of these agents, laying special emphasis on the fact that this incident had occurred before an apology had been offered for the recent arrest by the Germans of British Naval Officers in the Baltic Provinces, if the Council are correct in assuming that no such apology has been made to the demand approved by them on June 4th (C. F. 46, Min. 6 [7], and Appendix IV.)1

3. Sir Maurice Hankey said he had been asked by various officials to supply copies of the Notes of the Meetings of the Council of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers and he asked for instructions.

M. Clemenceau said that in his view they ought Powers not to be communicated to anyone and that there should be a general agreement to this effect. Distribution of Copies of the Notes of the Council of the Principal Allied and Associated Powers

M. Sonnino pointed out that the question would arise immediately in connection with the Italian Delegation as to whether those records [Page 753] should be handed by one Government to their successors in Office. In his view this was indispensable. He could not vouch for it that M. Orlando had not already given them to M. Tittoni. It would be very difficult for the new Government to conduct the business if it did not know what had been decided by its predecessors in the Council.

President Wilson expressed a strong view that these documents ought to be treated as purely private conversations. He recalled that it was on his initiative that the meetings of this small group had been held. He had invited his colleagues to meet him for the purpose of private conversations at his own house. For a long time no notes had been kept at all. Later, however, it had been realised that this was not a very convenient procedure and Secretaries had been admitted. If, however, he had thought that these Notes were to be passed on to Government Departments, he would have insisted on adhering to the system under which no secretaries were present. All the decisions had been communicated to the officials who had to carry them out, but he had the strongest objections to the communication of the accounts given in the Notes of the private conversations. All present had spoken their minds with great freedom. Contradictions could, no doubt, be found in the Notes to what had been said at different times and under different circumstances. It was even conceivable that political opponents who came into possession of these documents might misuse them. He did not think that properly speaking the Council could be described as an official body. The only official body was the Conference of Peace. The present group had rightly, as he thought, taken upon itself to formulate the decisions for the Peace Conference, but their conversations ought not to be regarded as official. He saw no objection to the communication of the notes to individuals in the personal confidence of members of the Council, for example, he had instructed Sir Maurice Hankey to communicate a complete set of the documents to Mr. Lansing, who was a minister appointed by himself and in his entire confidence.

M. Clemenceau said that if he had to resign Office, he would find it a great embarrassment not to hand over these documents to his successor in Office. He did not think that they could be regarded as private property.

M. Sonnino said that perhaps these need not be regarded as official reports since they had not been carefully checked and corrected. Nevertheless, they contained important statements which, in some cases, were not recorded as conclusions. He quoted one case for example, where M. Orlando had made an important statement of which the Council had taken formal note, and this, he believed, was merely recorded in the procès-verbal. It might be very important for M. Orlando’s successor in office to have a copy of this.

[Page 754]

M. Clemenceau recalled a similar case where he had insisted on the importance of interpreting certain provisions in the resolutions regarding mandates, so as to enable France to use African soldiers for the defence of her territory, and Mr. Lloyd George had suggested that it would be sufficient to mention it in the procès-verbal.

President Wilson said that certainly such statements should be regarded as official, but nevertheless, he thought the actual conversations which led up to the conclusions reached should be regarded as private.

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that the precedents ought to be looked up. For example, he would like to know whether the procès-verbaux of all conversations which took place in the Treaty of Berlin had been published.

President Wilson said that probably at the Congress of Berlin, there had been recorded formal Conferences and informal conversations which were not recorded.

Mr. Lloyd George said that he had never had time to look at the notes at all.

M. Clemenceau said that he also had never had time. He recalled, however, that Sir Maurice Hankey had several times been called upon to refer to what had occurred at the Council, for example, an important statement by Marshal Foch had been referred to at a recent meeting.

President Wilson said that when such references had been made, he had been much struck with the accuracy of the record. He thought that every action taken and every conclusion reached should be recorded as official and should be available in the appropriate offices, but not the conversations.

M. Sonnino said that they certainly should not be publishable or even presentable to Parliament, but he thought that the successors of the Government in office, if challenged, must be in a position to know what had happened.

President Wilson laid emphasis on the difference between handing on to a successor or to a set of Government officials, and to a confidential and trusted colleague.

M. Sonnino thought it would be very hard on a new Government not to have these documents.

President Wilson said he realised that the United States worked under a different Parliamentary system. There, no one had the right to claim documents of this kind. One adverse comment that might be made was that no Secretary had been present representing the United States of America. His reply would be that he had had complete confidence in the Secretaries who had been present, but the criticism might be made, The net result seemed to be that each Government [Page 755] must take the course traditional in its own country with the clear and distinct understanding that no one should, under any circumstances, make the procès-verbal public.

Mr. Lloyd George said that if an attack were made on the political heads, he might feel bound, in particular cases, to refer to these notes. He gave fair warning that he might have to do this unless someone protested now.

M. Clemenceau said it would not be possible to refuse extracts from the procès-verbal to prove particular facts.

4. With reference to C. F. 97, Minute 6,2 the attached re-draft by Mr. Balfour of a letter to the Turkish Delegation was approved.

(Appendix II.)

The letter was handed to Capt. Portier to prepare a French copy for M. Clemenceau’s signature. Reply to Turkish Delegation

5. With reference to C. F. 92, Minute 4,3 the Council had before them a memorandum by M. Larnaude4 on the suggestion that steps should be taken to make the execution of Clauses 214 to 224 Prisoner and (Repatriation of Prisoners) and Clauses 227 to 230 (Penalties) in the Treaty of Peace with Germany interdependent. Penalties and Prisoners

Mr. Lloyd George suggested that each case ought to be considered on its merits. He would like to consider the particular case proposed by Sir Ernest Pollock, namely, supposing Germany without adequate reason, fails to deliver up the culprits, was the return of German prisoners to be slowed down?

M. Sonnino said that the suggestion was all right in a general way, but the question was how far the principle should be applied in particular cases.

Mr. Lloyd George said that M. Larnaude’s proposal dealt with a substantial failure on the part of the Germans to carry out the Treaty, which was tantamount to a refusal to accept it. When the names of the persons to be surrendered was communicated to Germany, the Allies ought to be in a position to say that they would not complete the surrender of prisoners until Germany handed them over.

M. Sonnino said he did not like linking one case with another in the manner proposed by M. Larnaude.

M. Clemenceau said he was afraid that all the prisoners would have been handed over before the Germans were bound to fulfil their part of the Treaty.

[Page 756]

President Wesson said that it was physically impossible to do this. He hoped that before all the German prisoners had been surrendered, some indication would be given as to whether the Germans were carrying out the Treaty.

6. M. Clemenceau said that Herr von Haniel had asked M. Dutasta whether some Conferences should not now take place with the Germans in regard to the execution of the Treaty of Peace. He saw no objection to this, and if his colleagues would permit, he proposed to ask M. Dutasta to make some arrangement with the Germans. Conversations With the Germans in Regard to the Execution of the Treaty

Mr. Lloyd George pointed out that it had been agreed to set up a Committee in regard to the execution of the Treaty and he thought that they might be the medium for these conversations.

(Both M. Clemenceau’s and Mr. Lloyd George’s proposals were agreed to.)

7. With reference to C. F. 97, Minute 5,5 Sir Maurice Hankey said that he had encountered difficulty in giving effect to the decision taken at the meeting in the morning, to appoint a single temporary resident Commissioner to Armenia. It appeared to him that the matter required a good deal of administrative action. Armenia: Proposed Resident Commissioner

(It was agreed that the Council of Ten should be asked to concert the necessary administrative steps to give effect to this decision.)

8. (It was agreed that the Joint Note by the Admirals of the Allied and Associated Powers, dated 27th June, 1919, on the subject of the disposal of German and Austro-Hungarian warships should be referred to the Council of Ten.) The Disposal of German Warships

9. With reference to C. F. 93, Minute 8,6 the Council took note of the attached letter from General Bliss, reporting that he had no information to confirm the statement of Bela Kun in regard to the alleged resumption of hostilities by the Roumanians. (Appendix III.)

Appendix I to CF–99


[Herr Bethmann-Hollweg to the President of the Peace Conference (Clemenceau)]


Sir: I have the honour to request that Your Excellency will be [Page 757] so good as to bring the annexed letter to the notice of the Governments of the Allied and Associated Powers.

I have [etc.]


Enclosure in Above

According to Article 227 of the Conditions of Peace, the Allied and Associated Powers publicly arraign His Majesty William II of Hohenzollern, ex-Emperor of Germany, for a supreme offence against international morality and the sanctity of Treaties. At the same time they declare that they will address to the Royal Government of the Netherlands a request to deliver the former Emperor into their hands in order that he may be put on trial.

With reference to these stipulations, I beg leave to request the Governments of the Allied and Associated Powers to direct against my person the procedure which they propose to initiate against His Majesty the Emperor. With this object I declare that I place myself at the disposal of the Allied and Associated Powers.

In accordance with the constitutional laws of Germany, it is I who, in my capacity of former Chancellor of the Empire, bear the exclusive responsibility for political acts of the Emperor during my tenure of office. I feel justified in considering that the Allied and Associated Powers who wish to submit these acts to their judgment should call me only to account therefor.

I feel convinced that the Governments of the Allied and Associated Powers will not refuse to admit that the rule established by the public law of a State deserves to be recognised in international relations, and I express the hope that they will be so good as to grant the urgent request which I submit to them.


Appendix II to CF–99

[Redraft by Mr. Balfour of Letter to the Turkish Delegation]

The Principal Allied and Associated Powers desire to thank the Turkish Delegation for the statements which they requested permission to lay before the Peace Conference.

These statements have received, and will continue to receive, the careful consideration which they deserve. But they touch on other interests besides those of Turkey and they raise international questions whose immediate decision is unfortunately impossible. Though, therefore, the Council are most anxious to proceed rapidly with the final settlement of Peace, and fully realise the inconvenience of prolonging the present period of uncertainty, an exhaustive survey of the situation has convinced them that some delay is inevitable.

[Page 758]

They feel that in these circumstances nothing would be gained by the longer stay in Paris at the present time of the Turkish Delegation which the Turkish Government requested leave to send to France. Though, when the period arrives at which further interchange of ideas seems likely to be profitable, they will not fail to communicate with the Turkish Government as to the best method by which this result may be conveniently and rapidly accomplished.

Appendix III to CF–99

[General Tasker H. Bliss to the Secretary of the Council of Allied and Associated Powers (Hankey)]

My Dear Sir Maurice: Referring to your letter of June 26th, 1919. enclosing copy of a despatch from Bela Kuhn7 (SSS de Budapest Nr 319 W 192 le 26/6—4 h 20–), in which you state that the Council wishes to be informed whether Bela Kuhn’s statements in regard to the attitude of the Roumanians are correct, I beg to inform you that there is no information on file with the American Commission that would confirm the statements of Bela Kuhn. I have been informed by the Information Section of the British Delegation that that Section also has no information that would indicate a resumption of hostilities by the Roumanians.

Sincerely yours,

Tasker H. Bliss
  1. Ante, pp. 185 and 188.
  2. Ante, p. 741.
  3. Ante, p. 670.
  4. F. Larnaude, adviser on legal questions to the French delegation; alternate on the Commission on the Responsibility of the Authors of the War and Enforcement of Penalties.
  5. Ante, p. 741.
  6. Ante, p. 701.
  7. Appendix III to CF–93, p. 706.