Primary Documents - President Wilson on the Armistice, 17 November 1918

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson With German military morale in evident decline on the Western Front and revolution brewing at home - Kaiser Wilhelm II was himself obliged to abdicate on 9 November 1918 - the German government determined to negotiate an armistice with the Allies on 6 November, having issued preliminary diplomatic feelers two days earlier.

Consequently on 7 November the German Army Chief of Staff Paul von Hindenburg exchanged a series of telegrams with the Supreme Allied Commander, Ferdinand Foch, to agree a date, time and place for formal negotiations.  (Click here and here to read Allied eyewitness accounts of the armistice negotiations; click here to read an account by a German delegate.)

Although Germany had insisted that it would only enter into negotiations on the understanding that U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's so-called 'Fourteen Points' would form the basis for a settlement, the armistice terms were nevertheless punitive.  The Allies agreed to an armistice only on the basis that Germany effectively disarm herself, thereby preventing the latter from renewing hostilities.

The Allies' armistice terms were first presented to German negotiators on 8 November 1918; alarmed at the severity of the terms the Germans lodged formal protests before reluctantly signing revised terms at 5 a.m. on 11 November; the armistice was to come into effect six hours later, at 11 a.m.

President Wilson shortly afterwards announced details of the armistice to Congress, and further celebrated the agreement in a Thanksgiving Address (reproduced below) at the close of the month.

President Wilson on the Armistice, 17 November 1918

It has long been our custom to turn in the autumn of the year in praise and thanksgiving to Almighty God for His many blessings and mercies to us as a nation.

This year we have special and moving cause to be grateful and to rejoice.  God has in His good pleasure given us peace.  It has not come as a mere cessation of arms, a relief from the strain and tragedy of war.  It has come as a great triumph of Right.

Complete victory has brought us, not peace alone, but the confident promise of a new day as well, in which justice shall replace force and jealous intrigue among the nations.

Our gallant armies have participated in a triumph which is not marred or stained by any purpose of selfish aggression.  In a righteous cause they have won immortal glory and have nobly served their nation in serving mankind.  God has indeed been gracious.

We have cause for such rejoicing as revives and strengthens in us all the best traditions of our national history.  A new day shines about us, in which our hearts take new courage and look forward with new hope to new and greater duties.

While we render thanks for these things, let us not forget to seek the Divine guidance in the performance of those duties, and Divine mercy and forgiveness for all errors of act or purpose, and pray that in all that we do we shall strengthen the ties of friendship and mutual respect upon which we must assist to build the new structure of peace and goodwill among the nations.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

Russia mobilised 12 million men during the war; France 8.4 million; Britain 8.9 million; Germany 11 million; Austria-Hungary 7.8 million; Italy 5.6 million; and the USA 4.3 million.

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