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The 5 Most Important Treaties in World History

The world would most likely look very different today if it wasn't for what is considered the five most important treaties in its history. Because of these treaties there are boundary lines, territorial rights, states that govern themselves and undeveloped lands that became the countries that we know today.

Treaty of Tordesillas

The first historically significant treaty was the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. The division of land that was discovered outside of Europe was negotiated between Spain and Portugal. Although Portugal had a greater advantage due to trade routes between Europe and Asia, Spain established its dominance over Central and South America. Portugal had a difficult time gaining control of territory in the region while Spain acquired a large empire in Latin America and made enormous gains due to the mineral wealth they discovered there.

Peace of Westphalia

Another important treaty was the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It was a combination of two treaties signed after the end of the Thirty Years’ War mainly between Catholic and Protestant groups, but it had a global impact. The idea of each territory having the right to govern itself was born from this treaty. Each state became responsible for establishing its own laws, taxes and had control over the population within its boundaries. The religious and political freedom of choice that we know today stemmed from the signing of this treaty many years ago.

Treaty of Paris

A third treaty that has a particular historical significance to the United States is the Treaty of Paris signed in 1783. This is the oldest treaty in the U.S. and is still in effect today. The Treaty of Paris signaled an end to the Revolutionary War on good terms. Americans and the British worked together to establish the United States as an economically strong nation. This was despite French and Spanish attempts to keep America small and weak. Through this treaty, the United States was able to expand its boundaries and become the international powerhouse that it is today.

The Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815 was the location for the signing of several treaties that had a major impact on Europe, specifically yet another Treaty of Paris in 1814. The congress joined countries like France, Austria, Sweden, and Russia to negotiate acceptable divisions of territories to avoid further conflict and wars among the nations. Representatives from each nation were allowed to argue their positions until an acceptable compromise for all was reached. This series of treaty signing at the Congress helped to reshape much of Europe into the familiar areas we currently know.

Another key element of the Congress of Vienna was the manner in which losing parties were treated. Instead of being punitive in nature, measures were taken to ensure that there was no abolishing of countries or changes made to the political structure that they had already established. There was a conscious effort made to allow regions to maintain their independence despite certain factions that remained power hungry.

Treaty of Versailles

Lastly, and the most current of the five most important treaties in world history is the Treaty of Versailles, signed into effect in 1919. This treaty was in stark contrast to the previous spirit of fairness and cooperation. There was an air of “survival of the fittest” between the Western allies and Germany after the World War I. Germany was punished with loss of territory and harsh reparations, although the country was allowed to remain whole and not dismantled after the war. Improper conflict resolution had major consequences such as World War II and trouble in the Middle East.

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