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5 Most Important Treaties In History

Throughout history, there have been a host of conflicts. From the lowly cashier having a dispute with his boss to entire countries having disagreements that lasted decades, it took important steps in either situation to resolve what caused the conflict in the first place.

When it’s an individual and their boss who have a problem, a mediator might draft up a contract with terms that both parties must agree on. With entire countries, such a ‘contract’ is usually known as a treaty. Here are the most important treaties in history that helped shape world events:

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1. Treaty of Tordesillas (1494)

The document was a treaty drafted in 1494 between Portugal’s Kingdom of Castile and Spain. The terms of the treaty were actually negotiated by the office of the Pope. What the treaty did was divide any newly discovered territory between the two countries.

The “territory” the treaty spoke went along a latitude line of what is now known as eastern Brazil.

It I because of this treaty that most of the Spanish conquest was concentrated to the Americas. While the Spanish were busy sweeping through Central America, the Portuguese were lucky enough to find what would later be Brazil.

Portugal benefitted financially at the treaty’s initial start because of the trade routes established between Europe and Asia.

There may have been an agreement between Spain and Portugal for new land, but other states like England, the Netherlands, and France did not abide.

2. The Peace of Westphalia (1648)

The Peace of Westphalia was actually two treaties in one, the Treaty of Munster and the Treaty of Osnabruck. Both documents were signed toward the close of the 30-years-war. Sides in said war consisted of the Catholic and Protestant states. France decided, though, to have their hands in everyone’s pocket.

Initially, the treaties were established for general ‘state rules’ regarding territories in Western and Central Europe. But the guidelines would be something the world would follow.

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The Peace of Westphalia says “each state is solely responsible for law and order, taxes and control over the populations in their territories. Each state was also guaranteed autonomy over its religious and political arrangements.

3. The Treaty of Paris (1783)

Interestingly enough, the Treaty of Paris is the oldest treaty signed by the U.S., which is still in effect. The signing of the document helped established the United States on the most favorable of terms.

The U.S. “team” consisted of John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. With their help, the country gained the support of Spain, but they also sought to have direct dealings with the British. While the French were allies, their hope was that America wouldn’t be a strong economic power on its own.

The British were more apt to accepting America as a strong and successful nation and that it would be in their best interests to do so. The land and fishing rights granted to the country are what helped westward expansion and the establishment of the country as a powerhouse on the continent.

4. The Congress of Vienna (1814-15)

The Congress of Vienna would have been an early equivalent to what we currently know as the United Nations. Diplomats such as Talleyrand (France) and Metternich (Austria) would give their positions on an issue and work on a compromise that everyone was comfortable with. A handful of land was traded here and there, and while quite convoluted in how it operated, the Congress of Vienna was successful in helping prevent war in Europe for one hundred years.

Because of the way countries traded territories, the country of Poland ended up ruled by another state.

5. Treaty of Versailles (1919)

This is likely the treaty that most people hear about, though, those same people likely are likely unaware of its purpose. Signed by Western allies and German at the end of the First World War, its terms were demands that left no room for negotiation.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Germany lost the most by signing. They were forced to give up land and give compensation for the destruction at their hands.

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When Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points was put into action, it led to many smaller countries popping up. The instability caused by Wilson’s plan is often attributed as being the main catalyst that led to World War II.

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