June 1 1919, Paris–The Germans had responded to the proposed peace terms on May 29, objecting to the harsh reparations, the loss of territory, and the general inconsistency of the terms with the Fourteen Points, on the basis of which they had agreed to the Armistice. The French, not unjustly, thought the terms were largely in concordance with the expectations set by the initial Armistice, which had included the occupation of the Rhineland and the internment of the High Seas Fleet; one leading liberal politician thought the German response only expressed German “indecency and lack of conscience.” Anticipating that the Germans might reject the deal altogether, there was a halfhearted French effort on June 1 to set up an independent buffer state in the Rhineland; having little local support however (and no support from France’s allies), it collapsed quickly without having gone past the most preliminary stage.
The Americans, and especially the British, however, found merit in the German reply. Henry Wilson wrote that “the Boches have done exactly what I forecast—they have driven a coach and four through our Terms, and then have submitted a complete set of their own, based on the 14 points, which are much more coherent than ours.” Lloyd George had already been having regrets regarding the harshness of the German terms, and called together the British Empire delegation on June 1 to discuss the matter. The most ardent voices against the terms as written were the South Africans. Smuts, despite having been a leading voice for increasing the reparations bill owed to Britain, said that it would be “practically impossible for Germany to carry out the provisions of the Treaty.” Botha reminded the British of the peace that had ended the Boer War, where Botha had been on the losing side and the British the winning: “On that occasion it was moderation which had saved South Africa for the British Empire, and he hoped on this occasion that it would be moderation which would save the world.”
The other delegation members unanimously agreed that Lloyd George should return to the Council of Four and begin work on changing the German terms–adjusting her borders with Poland, reducing the reparations bill and the duration of the occupation of the Rhineland, and ensuring Germany’s swift entry into the League of Nations.
Clemenceau and Wilson, however, refused to budge. Clemenceau had already made too many compromises, and Wilson was in no mood to renegotiate terms that the British had “insisted on at the time of the writing of the treaty.” Ultimately, despite two weeks of effort by the British, all they were able to secure was a plebiscite in a region of Silesia that would otherwise have been awarded to Poland.
Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.