President Woodrow Wilson describes “profound sympathy for China”.

You have heard a great deal- something that was true and a great deal that was false-about that provision of the treaty which hands over to Japan the rights which Germany enjoyed in the Province of Shantung in China.  In the first place, Germany did not enjoy any rights there that other nations had not already claimed.

For my part, my judgment, my moral judgment, is against the whole set of concessions.  They were all of them unjust to China, they ought never to have been exacted, they were all exacted by duress, from a great body of thoughtful and ancient and helpless people.

There never was it any right in any of them.  Thank God, America never asked for any, never dreamed of asking for any.  But when Germany got this concession in 1898, the Government of the United States made no protest whatever.

That was not because the Government of the United States was not in the hands of high-minded and conscientious men.  It was.  William McKinley was President and John Hay was Secretary of State-as safe hands to leave the honour of the United States in as any that you can cite.

They made no protest because the state of international law at that time was that it was none of their business unless they could show that the interests of the United States were affected, and the only thing that they could show with regard to the interests of the United States was that Germany might close the doors of Shantung Province against the trade of the United States.

They, therefore, demanded and obtained promises that we could continue to sell merchandise in Shantung.  Immediately following that concession to Germany there was a concession to Russia of the same sort, of Port Arthur, and Port Arthur was handed over subsequently to Japan on the very territory of the United States.

Don’t you remember that when Russia and Japan got into war with one another the war was brought to a conclusion by a treaty written at Portsmouth, N.H., and in that treaty without the slightest intimation from any authoritative sources in America that the Government of the United States had any objection, Port Arthur, Chinese territory, was turned over to Japan?

I want you distinctly to understand that there is no thought of criticism in my mind.  I am expounding to you a state of international law.  Now, read articles ten and eleven.  You will see that international law is revolutionized by putting morals into it.  Article ten says that no member of the League, and that includes all these nations that have demanded these things unjustly of China, shall impair the territorial integrity or the political independence of any other member of the League.

China is going to be a member of the League.  Article eleven says that any member of the League can call attention to anything that is likely to disturb the peace of the world or the good understanding between nations, and China is for the first time in the history of mankind afforded a standing before the jury of the world.

I, for my part, have a profound sympathy for China, and I am proud to have taken part in an arrangement which promises the protection of the world to the rights of China.  The whole atmosphere of the world is changed by a thing like that, my fellow citizens.  The whole international practice of the world is revolutionized.

President Woodrow Wilson
Addresses in Support of the League of Nations
Pueblo, Colorado, 25 September 1919

2 Responses so far.

  1. G. James says:
    Your headline is misleading. What Wilson said was “unjust to China” was “the whole set of concessions”, that is the territorial concessions of the nineteenth century, not the Treaty of Versailles. Whether by implication he may have considered the yield of Shandong to Japan as consequentially unjust is a different issue: he subscribed to the article in the Treaty which allowed it.
    • Campaign Team says:
      Thank you for your contribution Dr James. We have amended the title in light of your comment.

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