Woodrow Wilson

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Woodrow Wilson
President Woodrow Wilson portrait December 2 1912.jpg
28th President of the United States
In office
March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921
Vice President Thomas R. Marshall
Preceded by William Howard Taft
Succeeded by Warren Harding
34th Governor of New Jersey
In office
January 17, 1911 – March 1, 1913
Preceded by John Fort
Succeeded by James Fielder
as Acting Governor
13th President of Princeton University
In office
Preceded by Francis Patton
Succeeded by John Stewart (Acting)
Personal details
Born (1856-12-28)December 28, 1856
Staunton, Virginia, U.S.
Died February 3, 1924(1924-02-03) (aged 67)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting place Washington National Cathedral
Washington, D.C.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Ellen Axson (1885–1914; her death)
Edith Bolling (1915–24; his death)
Children Margaret
Alma mater Davidson College
Princeton University
University of Virginia
Johns Hopkins University
Profession Academic
Political scientist
Religion Presbyterianism
Signature Cursive signature in ink

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and was Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913. With the Republican Party split in 1912, he led his Democratic Party to win control of both the White House and Congress for the first time since Grover Cleveland's victory in 1892.

Wilson induced a conservative Democratic Congress to pass a progressive legislative agenda, unparalleled until the New Deal in 1933.[1] This included the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and an income tax. Child labor was temporarily curtailed by the Keating–Owen Act of 1916, which was declared unconstitutional in 1918. Wilson also promoted passage of the Adamson Act, imposing an 8-hour workday for railroads.[2]

Narrowly re-elected in 1916 around the slogan "He kept us out of war", Wilson's second term was dominated by American entry into World War I. While American non-interventionist sentiment was strong, American neutrality was challenged in early 1917 when Germany persisted in submarine attacks against neutral and commercial vessels despite repeated strong warnings.

In April 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war in order to make "the world safe for democracy." The United States conducted military operations with the Allies, without a formal alliance. During the war, Wilson focused on diplomacy and financial considerations, leaving military particulars in the hands of the Army. He loaned billions of dollars to Britain, France and other Allies, allowing them to finance their own war effort. On the home front in 1917, he began the first large-scale draft and borrowed billions of dollars in war funding through the newly established Federal Reserve Bank and Liberty Bonds. He set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union cooperation and supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act. Wilson took over control of the railroads and gave a well-known Flag Day speech that fueled the wave of anti-German sentiment sweeping the country.[3]

He also suppressed anti-war movements with the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, a crackdown which broadened and intensified to include real and suspected anarchists and communists during the First Red Scare of 1919–1920. After years of opposition, in 1918 Wilson was pressured to change his position on women's suffrage, which he then advocated as a war measure.[4] Though he sought and received support from many in the black community, he permitted his Cabinet's racial segregation of the Post Office, the U.S. Treasury Department, and the Navy.[5][6]

In the late stages of the war, Wilson took personal control of negotiations with Germany, including the armistice. In 1918, he issued his Fourteen Points, the view of a post-war world that could avoid another terrible conflict. In 1919, he went to Paris to promote the formation of a League of Nations to the Treaty of Versailles, with special attention on creating new nations out of defunct empires. During an intense debate with Henry Cabot Lodge and the Republican-controlled Senate over the proposed power of the League of Nations to force the U.S. into war, Wilson suffered a severe stroke that left his wife largely in control of the White House until he left office in March 1921. Despite his poor health, he was able to block any compromises that would enable the Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, and attempted to run for a third term. He had alienated Irish Americans and German Americans, and by 1920 was increasingly out of touch. The Democratic candidates ignored him in 1920 as Republican Warren G. Harding, promising a "a return to normalcy", was elected in an unprecedented landslide in 1920.[7]

An intellectual with a mastery of political language, Wilson was a highly effective partisan campaigner as well as legislative strategist. His biographer Arthur Link says, "He was a virtuoso and a spellbinder during a time when the American people admired oratory above all other political skills. But as a spellbinder he appealed chiefly to men's minds and spirits, and only infrequently to their passions."[8] A Presbyterian of deep religious faith, Wilson appealed to a gospel of service and infused a profound sense of moralism into his idealistic internationalism, now referred to as "Wilsonian". Wilsonianism calls for the United States to enter the world arena to fight for democracy, and has been a contentious position in American foreign policy.[9][10][11] For his sponsorship of the League of Nations, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize.[12] Wilson has consistently been ranked by scholars and the public as one of the top ten presidents.

Early life

Wilson c. mid 1870s

Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, on December 28, 1856, at 18–24 North Coalter Street (now the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library), of Scots-Irish descent.[13] He was the third of four children of Joseph Ruggles Wilson (1822–1903) and Jessie Janet Woodrow (1826–1888).[14] Wilson's paternal grandparents immigrated to the United States from Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), in 1807. His mother was born in Carlisle, Cumberland, England, the daughter of Rev. Dr. Thomas Woodrow from Paisley, Scotland, and Marion Williamson from Glasgow.[15]

Wilson's father Joseph Ruggles Wilson was originally from Steubenville, Ohio, where his grandfather published a pro-tariff and anti-slavery newspaper, The Western Herald and Gazette.[16] Wilson's parents moved south in 1851 and identified with the Confederacy. His father defended slavery, owned slaves and set up a Sunday school for them; the parents cared for wounded soldiers at their church, and his father briefly served as a chaplain to the Confederate Army.[17] Woodrow Wilson's earliest memory, from the age of three, was of hearing that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming. Wilson would forever recall standing for a moment at Robert E. Lee's side and looking up into his face.[17]

Wilson's father was one of the founders of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) in 1861 after it split from the northern Presbyterians. He served as the first permanent clerk of the southern church's General Assembly, was Stated Clerk from 1865 to 1898 and was Moderator of the PCUS General Assembly in 1879. He became minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia, and the family lived there until young Wilson was 14.[18][18] Wilson himself in 1873 formally became a member of the Columbia First Presbyterian Church and remained a member throughout his life.[19]


Wilson was over ten years of age before he learned to read. His reading handicap may have been dyslexia; in later years he attributed these difficulties to the lack of schools in the post bellum South. As a teenager he taught himself the Graham shorthand system to compensate.[20] He was quite able to achieve academically through determination and self-discipline. He studied at home under his father's guidance and took classes in a small school in Augusta.[21] During Reconstruction, Wilson lived in Columbia, South Carolina from 1870 to 1874, while his father was professor at the Columbia Theological Seminary.[22]

Wilson attended Davidson College in North Carolina for the 1873–1874 school year.[23] After medical ailments kept him from returning for a second year, he transferred to Princeton as a freshman when his father took a teaching position at the university. Graduating in 1879, Wilson became a member of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Beginning in his second year, he read widely in political philosophy and history. Wilson credited the British parliamentary sketch-writer Henry Lucy as his inspiration to enter public life. He was active in the undergraduate American Whig–Cliosophic Society literary and debating society, serving as speaker of the Whig Party and writing for the Nassau Literary Review,[24] organized a separate Liberal Debating Society,[25] and later coached the Whig–Clio Debate Panel.[26][27] In the hotly contested election of 1876, Wilson declared his support for the Democratic Party and its nominee, Samuel J. Tilden.[28]

In 1879, Wilson attended law school at the University of Virginia for one year. Although he never graduated, during his time at the university he was deeply involved in the Virginia Glee Club and the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society, serving as the society's president.[29] While there, he enjoyed frequent trips to his birthplace Staunton where he visited with cousins, and fell in love with one, Hattie Woodrow, though his affections were unrequited.[30] His health then became frail and dictated withdrawal, so he went home to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he continued his law studies.[31]

In January 1882, Wilson accepted an invitation to practice law in Atlanta. He joined a University of Virginia classmate, Edward Ireland Renick, as partner in May 1882; he was admitted to the Georgia Bar that year.[32] The practice of law was a brief attempt by Wilson; competition was fierce in a city with 143 other lawyers, and he found few cases to keep him occupied.[33] Moreover, though he found legal history and the evolution of substantive jurisprudence interesting, he abhorred the day to day procedural aspects of law practice, and after less than a year resolved to pursue his more intense interest in research, writing and teaching in the field of political science. Both parents expressed misplaced concern over what they perceived to be a premature decision, after previous false starts in his educational pursuits.[34]

In April 1883, Wilson applied to the new Johns Hopkins University to study for a doctorate in history and political science and began his studies there in the fall.[33] Three years later completed his doctoral dissertation, "Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics",[35] and received a Ph.D. in history and political science. For his doctorate, Wilson had to learn German as his required foreign language.[36]

In late spring of 1883 Wilson was called upon to journey to Rome, Georgia to assist in the settlement of his maternal uncle William's estate which was being unsatisfactorily administered by a brother-in-law. While there he met and fell in love with Ellen Louise Axson, the daughter of a minister from Savannah, Georgia; he proposed to her and they became engaged in Asheville.[37]

Married life and personal interests

Ellen Axson Wilson (1883)

Wilson's eagerness to set a wedding date met with some initial hesitancy on Ellen's part due to traumatic developments in her family. In late 1883 Ellen's father Edward began suffering from severe depression and ultimately was admitted to the Georgia State Mental Hospital, where in 1884 he committed suicide. After closing the family home in Rome, Georgia and recovering from the initial shock, Ellen advanced her artistic interests by gaining admission to the Art Students League of New York; post graduation, she pursued portrait art and received a medal for one of her works from the Paris International Exposition. These endeavors provided much needed relief, and even independence, in the wake of the family trauma. Nevertheless she ultimately, and happily, agreed to sacrifice further independent artistic pursuits in order to keep her marriage commitment, and In 1885 she and Wilson married.[38]

They had three daughters: Margaret Woodrow Wilson (1886–1944); Jessie Wilson (1887–1933); and Eleanor R. Wilson (1889–1967).[39] Ellen Axson Wilson died in 1914. Wilson is one of only three presidents to be widowed while in office.[40]

The next year, Wilson married Edith Galt, a direct descendant of the Native American woman Pocahontas through one of the First Families of Virginia.[41]

Wilson was an early automobile enthusiast, and he took daily rides while he was President. His favorite car was a 1919 Pierce-Arrow, in which he preferred to ride with the top down.[42] His enjoyment of motoring made him an advocate of funding for public highways.[43]

Wilson was an avid baseball fan. In 1915, he became the first sitting president to attend a World Series game. Wilson had been a center fielder during his Davidson College days. When he transferred to Princeton, he was unable to make the varsity team and became the team's assistant manager. He was the first President to throw out a first ball at a World Series game.[44]

He cycled regularly, including several cycling vacations in the English Lake District.[45] Unable to cycle around Washington, D.C., as President, Wilson took to playing golf, although he played with more enthusiasm than skill.[46] Wilson holds the record of all the presidents for the most rounds of golf,[46] over 1,000, or almost one every other day. During the winter, the Secret Service painted golf balls with black paint so Wilson could hit them around in the snow on the White House lawn.[47]

Academic career

Dtrs. Jessie & Margaret
Dtr. Eleanor

During the academic year 1886–1887, Wilson was a visiting lecturer at Cornell University, but failed to gain a permanent position. However, he was tapped into the Irving Literary Society by the brothers of his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. He joined the faculty of the newly created Bryn Mawr College in 1885 until 1888, teaching ancient Greek and Roman history; while there he refused offers for other positions at the Universities of Michigan and Indiana.[48] When Ellen was pregnant with their first child in 1886, she and Woodrow decided, in light of the inadequate lodgings, it would be best for Ellen to go to her Aunt Louisa Brown's residence in Gainesville, Georgia to have their first child; she arrived just one day before the baby, Margaret, was born in April 1886. Their second child, Jessie, was born in August 1887.[49]

In 1888 Wilson left Bryn Mawr for Wesleyan University. This was a controversial decision, because Wilson had signed a three-year contract with Bryn Mawr in1887. The contract included a condition that Wilson be provided with an assistant "as soon as practicable". Pursuant to that, Wilson named a candidate but the board of the college refused to act on it. Nevertheless when Wilson departed from the college, the board claimed he was in violation of his contract, though the matter was never litigated.[50] At Wesleyan, he also coached the football team and founded the debate team, which bears his name. Shortly after the birth of their third child, Eleanor, in October 1889, Ellen suffered a burn injury in the kitchen from dropping oil on her feet, making her unable to walk for several months Wilson added babysitting to his other duties at that time.[51]

At the end of 1889 Wilson began a quiet campaign for an appointment at Princeton in political science, with the support of four trustees of the college. In February 1890 he was elected by the Princeton board to the Chair of Jurisprudence and Political Economy at a salary of $3000.[52] As he had at Bryn Mawr and at Wesleyan, he reserved time in his schedule for a six-week course in administration at Johns Hopkins for the next 7 years.[53] While there, he was one of the faculty members of the short-lived coordinate college, Evelyn College for Women. Additionally, Wilson became the first lecturer of Constitutional Law at New York Law School where he taught with Charles Evans Hughes.[54] Representing the American Whig Society, Wilson delivered an oration at Princeton's sesquicentennial celebration (1896) entitled "Princeton in the Nation's Service". This phrase became the motto of the University, later expanded to "Princeton in the Nation's Service and in the Service of All Nations".[55][56] In this speech, he outlined his vision of the university in a democratic nation, calling on institutions of higher learning "to illuminate duty by every lesson that can be drawn out of the past".[57]

Wilson was annoyed that Princeton was not living up to its potential, complaining "There's a little college down in Kentucky which in 60 years has graduated more men who have acquired prominence and fame than has Princeton in her 150 years."[58]

Political science author

U.S. democratic republic and British parliament

Under the influence of Walter Bagehot's The English Constitution, Wilson saw the United States Constitution as pre-modern, cumbersome, and open to corruption. An admirer of Parliament, Wilson favored a parliamentary system for the United States. In the early 1880s he wrote, "I ask you to put this question to yourselves, should we not draw the Executive and Legislature closer together? Should we not, on the one hand, give the individual leaders of opinion in Congress a better chance to have an intimate party in determining who should be president, and the president, on the other hand, a better chance to approve himself a statesman, and his advisers capable men of affairs, in the guidance of Congress."[59]

Wilson's first best-known political work, Congressional Government, published in 1885, advocated a parliamentary system, and provided a critical description of America's system, with frequent negative comparisons to Westminster. He said, "I am pointing out facts—diagnosing, not prescribing remedies."[60] Critics contended the book was written without the benefit of the author ever observing any operational aspect of the U.S. Congress, and supporters asserted the work was the product of the imagination of a future statesman. The book reflected the greater power of the legislature, relative to the executive, during that post-bellum period.[61] Wilson later became a regular contributor to the Political Science Quarterly.[62]

Wilson's second publication in 1890 was a textbook, entitled The State, and it served to further establish him as a political scientist; it was used widely in college courses throughout the country until the 1920s. In the book he argued that government should not be deemed evil and he advocated the use of government to alay social ills and advance society's welfare, verging upon a defense of socialism.[63]

in 1889 Albert Hurt from Cambridge asked Wilson to contribute to a U.S. historical series, specifically covering the period from Jackson through Reconstruction. The result was his third publication, entitled Division and Reunion, published in 1893 and considered an outstanding contribution to American historical writing.[64]

Wislon's fourth publication, a five volume work entitled History of the American People, was the culmination of a series of articles written for Harper's, and was published in 1902.[65]

Wilson believed that America's intricate system of checks and balances complicated American governance. He said that the divided power made it impossible for voters to see who was accountable. If government behaved badly, Wilson queried, "How is the schoolmaster, the nation, to know which boy needs the whipping? ... Power and strict accountability for its use are the essential constituents of good government... It is, therefore, manifestly a radical defect in our federal system that it parcels out power and confuses responsibility as it does. The main purpose of the Convention of 1787 seems to have been to accomplish this grievous mistake. The "literary theory" of checks and balances is simply a consistent account of what our Constitution makers tried to do; and those checks and balances have proved mischievous just to the extent which they have succeeded in establishing themselves.[66]

Wilson singled out the United States House of Representatives for particular criticism, saying, "... divided up, as it were, into forty-seven seignories, in each of which a Standing Committee is the court-baron and its chairman lord-proprietor. These petty barons, some of them not a little powerful, but none of them within reach [of] the full powers of rule, may at will exercise an almost despotic sway within their own shires, and may sometimes threaten to convulse even the realm itself.[67] Wilson said that the Congressional committee system was fundamentally undemocratic in that committee chairs, who ruled by seniority, determined national policy although they were responsible to no one except their constituents. He believed this arrangement facilitated corruption.[68]

When William Jennings Bryan captured the Democratic nomination from Cleveland's supporters in 1896, Wilson refused to support the ticket. Instead, he cast his ballot for John M. Palmer, the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Party, or Gold Democrats, a short-lived party that supported a gold standard, low tariffs, and limited government.[69]

In his last scholarly work in 1908, Constitutional Government of the United States, Wilson said that the presidency "will be as big as and as influential as the man who occupies it". By the time of his presidency, Wilson hoped that Presidents could be party leaders in the same way British prime ministers were. Wilson also hoped that the parties could be reorganized along ideological, not geographic, lines. He wrote, "Eight words contain the sum of the present degradation of our political parties: No leaders, no principles; no principles, no parties."[70]

Public administration

Wilson also studied public administration, which he called "...government in action; it is the executive, the operative, the most visible side of government, and is of course as old as government itself".[71] He believed that the study of studying public administration could enable officials to increase governmental efficiency.[72]

Wilson was concerned with the implementation of government. He faulted political leaders who focused on philosophical issues and the nature of government and dismissed the critical issues of government administration as mere "practical detail". He thought such attitudes represented the requirements of smaller countries and populations. By his day, he thought, "...it is getting to be harder to run a constitution than to frame one."[73] He thought it time "...to straighten the paths of government, to make its business less unbusinesslike, to strengthen and purify its organization, and it to crown its dutifulness".[74] He complained that studies of administration drew principally on the history of Continental Europe and an American equivalent was required. He summarized the growth of such foreign states as Prussia, France, and England, highlighting the events that led to advances in administration.

By contrast, he thought the United States required greater compromise because of the diversity of public opinion and the difficulty of forming a majority opinion; thus practical reform to the government is necessarily slow. Yet Wilson insisted that "...administration lies outside the proper sphere of politics"[75] and that "...general laws which direct these things to be done are as obviously outside of and above administration."[76] He likened administration to a machine that functions independent of the changing mood of its leaders. Such a line of demarcation is intended to focus responsibility for actions taken on the people or persons in charge. As Wilson put it, "...public attention must be easily directed, in each case of good or bad administration, to just the man deserving of praise or blame. There is no danger in power, if only it be not irresponsible. If it be divided, dealt out in share to many, it is obscured..."[77] Essentially, the items under the discretion of administration must be limited in scope, as to not block, nullify, obfuscate, or modify the implementation of governmental decree made by the executive branch.

President of Princeton University

Wilson - Princeton's president (1902)

Wilson had in the past been offered the presidency at other universities, but did not consider any of them seriously, with the exception of offers from the University of Illinois in 1892, and from the University of Virginia in 1901, both of which he declined.[78] The Princeton trustees promoted Professor Wilson to president of in June 1902, replacing Francis Landey Patton, whom the Trustees perceived to be an inefficient administrator.[78]

Although the school's endowment was barely $4 million, Wilson sought $2 million for a preceptorial system of teaching, $1 million for a school of science, and nearly $3 million for new buildings and salary increases. As a long-term objective, Wilson sought $3 million for a graduate school and $2.5 million for schools of jurisprudence and electrical engineering, as well as a museum of natural history.[79] He increased the faculty from 112 to 174, most of whom he selected himself on the basis of their records as outstanding teachers. The curriculum guidelines he developed proved important progressive innovations in the field of higher education.[80] Wilson also made biblical studies a scholarly pursuit, appointed the first Jew and the first Roman Catholic to the faculty and helped liberate the board from domination by conservative Presbyterians.[81]

To emphasize the development of expertise, Wilson instituted academic departments and a system of core requirements where students met in groups of six with preceptors, followed by two years of concentration in a selected major. He tried to raise admission standards and to replace the "gentleman's C" with serious study. Wilson aspired, as he told alumni, "to transform thoughtless boys performing tasks into thinking men".[82]

In 1906 Wilson awoke to suddenly find himself blind in the left eye. This was determined at the time to be the result of a blood clot and hypertension; modern medical opinion surmises Wilson had suffered a stroke - he later was diagnosed, as his father had been, with hardening of the arteries. He took a Bermuda vacation and then was advised to resume normal activities with moderate restriction of his schedule. In the wake of this illness, Wilson began to exhibit at times some of his father's traits of impatience toward delays in his plans and intolerance toward disagreement, which would on occasion lead to errors of judgment .[83] In 1896 Wilson had, somewhat prophetically, described his problem, in the sesquicentennial speech at Princeton: "...your thorough Presbyterian is not subject to the ordinary laws of life, is of too stubborn a fiber, too unrelaxing a purpose, to suffer mere inconvenience to bring defeat".[81]

Prospect House, Wilson's home on Princeton's campus

When Wilson began vacationing in Bermuda in 1906 he met a socialite, Mary Hulbert Peck, and their visits together there became a regular occurrence on his return. Wilson in his letters home to Ellen openly related these gatherings as well his others social events. According to biographer Heckscher, Ellen could sense a problematic situation and it became the topic of frank discussion between them. Wilson Historians have not conclusively established there was an affair; nevertheless, Wilson did on one occasion write a musing in shorthand – on the reverse side of a draft for an editorial: "my precious one, my beloved Mary".;[84] Wilson also sent very personal letters which would be used by his adversaries later.[85] While Wilson was vacationing solo in the British Isles, Ellen retreated to Connecticut where she was able to join the household of coveted artist Florence Griswold to further pursue her own past time.[86]

During his time at Princeton he attempted to curtail the influence of social elites by abolishing the upper-class eating clubs and proposed moving the students into colleges, also known as quadrangles. Wilson's Quad Plan was met with fierce opposition from Princeton's alumni, most importantly Moses Taylor Pyne, the most powerful of Princeton's Trustees. Wilson persisted, saying that giving in "would be to temporize with evil".[87] In October 1907, due to the intensity of alumni opposition, the Board of Trustees withdrew its support for the Quad Plan and instructed Wilson to withdraw it.[88] Not long afterwards, Wilson suffered a recurrence of his 1906 ailment; as before, a vacation was prescribed and proved beneficial.[86]

Late in his tenure, a confrontation ensued between Wilson and Andrew Fleming West, Dean of the graduate school, and also West's ally ex-President Grover Cleveland, who was a trustee. Wilson wanted to integrate a proposed graduate school building into the campus core while West preferred an extended campus site. In 1909 Wilson's final year at Princeton began with a gift to the graduate school campaign from William Cooper Proctor (of the well-known soap company). Proctor preferred the graduate school be located off the main campus and when this condition was accepted by the board, this was a pivotal defeat for Wilson.[89] The national press covered the confrontation as a battle between the elites, represented by West, versus the populace, represented by Wilson.

From its outset, resistance to Wilson's recommendations at Princeton had spawned some disenchantment on his part with his academic vocation, and invigorated Wilson's rumination of future political leadership. Prior to the Democratic presidential nominating convention in 1908, Wilson had even dropped hints to some influential players in the Democratic Party of his interest in the Democratic ticket. While he had no real expectations of being placed on the ticket, he did leave instructions that he not be offered the vice presidential nomination - before leaving for a vacation in Scotland; his ideas at the time were thereby considered politically as well as geographically detached and fanciful. Nevertheless, the seeds had been sewn.[90] Wilson later commented that politics was less brusk than university administration.[91] Wilson was elected president of the American Political Science Association in 1910, but soon decided to leave his Princeton post and enter New Jersey state politics.[92] McGeorge Bundy in 1956 described Wilson's contribution to Princeton: "Wilson was right in his conviction that Princeton must be more than a wonderfully pleasant and decent home for nice young men; it has been more ever since his time".[93]

Political career

Governor of New Jersey

Gov. Wilson, 1911

In January 1910 New Jersey's U.S. Senator James Smith, Jr. and George Harvey met to discuss the merits of Woodrow Wilson as the Democratic standard bearer in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Wilson on July 12, 1910 was introduced to the principal political leaders in New Jersey at the Lawyers Club in New York, including James Richard Nugent, Robert S. Hudspeth, Millard F. Ross, and Richard V. Lindabury. Even though the bosses had chosen their man, his nomination was not a foregone conclusion - many, including organized labor, initially felt Wilson was an inexperienced newcomer.[94] Nevertheless, the bosses marshaled their forces at the party convention, and on September 14 Wilson was nominated; this, despite his endorsement of the local option on the liquor issue, which was contrary to the political machine’s preference. He submitted his letter of resignation to Princeton on October 20.[95]

Wilson's opponent in the general election was the Republican candidate Vivian M. Lewis, the State Commissioner of Banking and Insurance. Wilson's campaign focused on his independence from machine politics, and he promised that if elected he would not be beholden to party bosses. It did not take long for Wilson to shed his professorial style for more emboldened speechmaking, and to present himself as a full-fledged progressive.[96] Wilson soundly defeated Lewis in the general election by a margin of more than 650,000 votes, although Republican William Howard Taft had carried New Jersey in the 1908 presidential election by more than 82,000 votes.[97][98] Historian Edmund Morris called Wilson in the Governor's race a "dark horse" and attributed his and others' success against the Taft Republicans in 1910 in part to the emergent national progressive message enunciated by Theodore Roosevelt in his post-presidency.[99]

In the 1910 election, the Democrats also took control of the General Assembly. The State Senate, however, remained in Republican control by a slim margin. After taking office, Wilson set in place his reformist agenda, ignoring the demands of party machinery. In fact, after Wilson's election, political boss U.S. Senator Smith asked Wilson to endorse his own reelection bid in the state legislature; Wilson refused, and endorsed Smith's opponent James E Martine. When Martine became the Victor, Wilson had manifestly positioned himself as a new leader in the party in that state.[100]

Wilson appointed Joseph Patrick Tumulty as his private secretary; he held that position throughout Wilson's political career.[101] As governor Wilson decided to concentrate on four major reforms – changes in the election laws. a corrupt practices act, Workmen's Compensation and the establishment of a commission to regulate utilities. The Geran bill, drafted by Del. Elmer H Geran expanded public participation in primaries for all offices including party officials and delegates; it was thus directed at the power of the political bosses, and it passed the assembly, albeit by a narrow margin. The corrupt practices law and Workmen's Compensation statute soon followed.[102]

Presidential Election of 1912

Democratic nomination

Wilson's popularity as governor and his prominence in the national media induced his presidential campaign in 1912. A pivotal moment when Wilson committed himself to make a try for the Democratic presidential nomination had actually occurred in March of the prior year. He spoke in Atlanta at a meeting of the Southern Commercial Congress, and he said : "I was given a dinner, breakfast and reception, and on every possible occasion was nominated for the presidency!"[103] While Wilson was in Atlanta, his wife Ellen, alert that William Jennings Bryan was visiting Princeton, and recalling Wilson's opposition to him in 1896, invited him for dinner upon Wilson's return. Indeed, the establishment of rapport with Bryan, the most recent standard bearer of the party, was essential to any chance of success; and the first meeting of the two was favorable.[104]

Champ Clark, Wilson's foremost opponent for the Democratic nomination
William Jennings Bryan shifted his support from Clark to Wilson and ushered in the nomination

Wilson more openly took up his campaign for the nomination in the south, with a speech to the Pewter Platter Club in Norfolk, Va.. While he was received enthusiastically, the speech, reformist in nature, was considered provocative and radical by the conservative audience, making the visit on the whole less than positive.[105] With Wilson the first Southerner to have a serious chance at the White House since 1848, Southern Democrats in general strongly supported Wilson's campaign for the nomination in 1912.[106] More of Wilson's support came from young progressives in that region, including intellectuals, editors and lawyers. Wilson managed to maneuver through the complexities of local politics. For example, in Tennessee the Democratic Party was divided on the issue of prohibition. Wilson was progressive and sober, but not dry, and appealed to both sides. They united behind him to win the presidential election in the state, but divided over state politics and lost the gubernatorial election.[107]

After Norfolk, Wilson then proceeded westward to Kansas, Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington; he came out squarely in favor of voting measures which empowered the populace, such as the initiative, the referendum and the recall (excepting judges).[108] In California Wilson was asked about his views on women's suffrage, and though he was firmly opposed to it, he declined to comment, saying that it was a matter for the states to decide.[109]

in July 1911 Wilson brought William Gibbs McAdoo and Edward Mandell House in to manage the campaign.[110] The 1912 Democratic convention in Baltimore was one of the most dramatic nominating conventions in American history; only the Republican conventions of 1880 and 1940, and the Democratic convention of 1952 are comparable.[111] William F. McCombs who helped Wilson win the governorship served as convention Chairman. The Republicans at their convention had set the stage a week earlier, nominating incumbent William Howard Taft, with Theodore Roosevelt stalking out, to launch an independent campaign.[112] Wilson for his part was reportedly convinced that the Baltimore convention should be allowed to work it's will without his interference – so he went golfing and motoring. As for his assistant Tumulty, who remained close to Wilson during this time, the same reporter said that he "nearly collapsed" under the strain[113]

The convention deadlocked for more than forty ballots – no candidate could reach the two-thirds vote required to win the nomination. The leading contender was House Speaker Champ Clark, a prominent progressive, strongest in the border states. Other contenders were Governor Judson Harmon of Ohio, and Representative Oscar Underwood of Alabama, but they lacked Wilson's charisma. Publisher William Randolph Hearst, a leader of the left wing of the party, supported Clark. William Jennings Bryan, the nominee in 1896, 1900 and 1908, played a critical role, particularly in his declared opposition to any candidate who had the support of "the financiers of Wall Street". Indeed, on the tenth ballot New York's delegation went unanimously to Clark, and the battle lines were clearly drawn between the bosses and the rank and file delegates.[114] Bryan then announced on the fourteenth ballot that his vote for Clark would be withheld due to the New York vote. Wilson's tally began to climb steadily, and he initially topped Clark's vote on the thirtieth ballot.[115] Bryan announced for Wilson, who ultimately won the nomination on the 46th ballot.[116] Wilson chose Indiana Governor Thomas R. Marshall as his running mate[117]

General election

One of Wilson's first directives in the general election was to his campaign’s Chairman of Finance, Henry Morganthau. He was instructed by Wilson not to accept contributions from corporations and to prioritize smaller donations from the widest possible quarters of the public; Morgenthau succeeded admirably. In order to further embolden Democrats, especially in New Jersey and New York, Wilson set out to ensure the defeat of James Smith Jr. who was running again for the U.S. Senate in New Jersey with the help of old political machinery. Wilson also was determined to stop the re-election of John Dix for Governor of New York, who relied upon similar forces as Smith. Wilson succeeded in both of these efforts and thereby weakened arguments that party control resided with political bosses.[118]

Speeches in Buffalo and then in New York City exemplified the pattern of Wilson's speechmaking. His oratory style was, as he put it, "right out of my mind as it is working at the time". He maintained towards his primary opponent Roosevelt a tone of humorous detachment. He described he Bull Moose party as "the irregular Republicans, the variegated Republicans". Wilson shunned the stump speech campaign routine, and initially was reticent to conduct an extensive campaign tour, but this changed after Roosevelt went on the offensive.[119]

1912 Electoral Vote Map

A notably progressive speech In Minneapolis included the following: "that property as compared with humanity, as compared with the vital red blood in the American people, must take second place, not first place".[120] Wilson frequently sought out Louis D. Brandeis for advice on economic policy, and this counsel illuminated for him the necessity that corporate trusts be regulated by the government. His campaign then increased its focus upon the elimination of monopoly in all forms. Wilson also concluded that major reforms in banking and a lower tariff were needed to eliminate the spheres of entrenched interests which distorted the functioning of the free-market.[121] In Indianapolis he said that for the next president "there will be no greater burden in our generation than to organize the forces of liberty… And to make conquest of a new freedom for America". This serendipitous comment spawned the title of Wilson's policy of "New Freedom", emphasizing the lower tariffs and limited federal government–albeit with increased anti-trust law enforcement and creation of a new banking regulator, the Federal Reserve System.[122]

When Roosevelt was wounded by an assassin during the campaign, Wilson restricted his events to those already scheduled and limited his criticism to the regular Republicans. It was evident by this time that the Wilson movement would not be checked.[123]

The GOP split between Taft and Roosevelt widened Wilson's success in the electoral college. Wilson appealed to African Americans and promised to work for them, gaining some support among them in the North at the expense of the Republicans. Wilson took 41.8% of the popular vote and won 435 electoral votes from 40 states.[124] It is not clear if Roosevelt extracted more support from fellow Republican Taft, or fellow progressive Wilson.[125]

Presidency, 1913–1921

First term, 1913–1917

Finding himself "completely fagged out" by the election, Wilson immediately thereafter set sail with Ellen and daughters Jesse and Eleanor for Bermuda (Margaret remained in New York for singing lessons.) The relaxation was thorough and included carriage rides, sailing, bicycling and picnics along the shore. As was often the case, Wilson's relaxation and rest not only energized him but on occasion even extended to combativeness. While still in Bermuda, a cameraman tried to photograph him within the grounds of his cottage; he threatened to thrash the intruder on the spot.[126]

Back home, and also suffering with a case of grippe (Influenza), Wilson grimly commented on his future job that "this is not a rosewater affair”; and he further described the presidency as an office "in which a man must put on his war paint”. He added that his type features would certainly not suffer from the disguise. At a banquet in Virginia celebrating his birthday, the president-elect expressed his bitterness for the lack of the Virginia delegation's support of him in Baltimore, saying "the trouble with some gentlemen was that they had ceased to believe in the Virginia bill of rights".[127] In Chicago, he addressed the Commercial Club, including some of the most powerful industrial and financial leaders of the Midwest; he unapologetically emphasized his progressivism and called his audience to account for their malpractices in business affairs.[128]

Woodrow Wilson sworn in March 4, 1913

In his inaugural address Wilson reiterated his agenda for lower tariffs, banking reform, as well as aggressive trust and labor legislation. To celebrate the inauguration, the Wilsons decided against an inaugural ball and instead gathered with family and friends at the White House.[129]

Wilson's need and demand for private reflection time was early exemplified when he immediately announced that office seekers were not permitted to visit the White House. His decision-making style was to use solitude while also taking time to discover prevailing opinions and advice in making decisions; Indeed Wilson thought he had, "a passionate sense of being connected with my fellow men in a peculiar relationship of responsibility".[130] Wilson's personal staff reflected these personal preferences and needs. Tumulty’s position as personal secretary provided a political buffer and intermediary with the press. His irrepressible Irish sentiment offset well the president's often dour Scotch disposition.[131] One of the closer members of his personal staff was a Navy medical officer, Cary T Grayson who served as his physician . Grayson soon familiarized himself with the president's medical history and confirmed the circulatory problem and hardening of the arteries.[132]

Wilson pioneered twice-weekly press conferences in the White House, though they were modestly effective – the president prohibited his being quoted and was particularly indeterminate in his statements.[133] He held the first modern presidential press conference, on March 15, 1913, in which reporters were allowed to ask him questions.[134] In 1913, he also became the first president to deliver the State of the Union address in person since 1801 when Thomas Jefferson discontinued this practice.

Wilson, the only Democrat besides Grover Cleveland to be elected president since 1856, recognized his Party's need for high level federal patronage.[135] Wilson was also the first Southerner elected to the White House since 1869 and worked closely with Southern Democrats. In Wilson's first month in office Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson and Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo permitted lower level officials to racially segregate employees in those departments. Segregation in the federal government, which had begun earlier, now accelerated in accord with predominant public opinion.[136] Heckscher argues that Wilson had indeed promised to deal generously with racial injustices, but did not deliver on these assurances, out of concern for his considerable legislative agenda.[137]

Wilson primes the economic pump with tariff, currency and anti-trust laws 1913

In an early and instructive foreign policy matter, Wilson responded to an angry protest by the Japanese when the state of California proposed legislation which excluded the Japanese from land ownership in the state. Wilson was reticent to assert federal supremacy over the state's legislation. There was talk of war and some argument within the cabinet for a show of naval force, which Wilson firmly rebuffed; after diplomatic exchanges the scare subsided. Japan wanted a treaty (beyond the Root–Takahira Agreement then in place) but none was negotiated; Japanese anger and humiliation remained high for this and other reasons for decades to come.[138][139]

In implementing economic policy, Wilson had to transcend the sharply opposing policy views of the Southern and agrarian wing of the Democratic Party led by Bryan, and the pro-business and Northern wing led by urban political bosses - Tammany in New York, Sullivan in Chicago and Smith and Nugent in Newark.[140] In his Columbia lectures of 1907 Wilson had said "the whole art of statesmanship is the art of bringing the several parts of government into effective cooperation for the accomplishment of particular common objects".[140] As he took up the first item of his "New Freedom" agenda – lowering the tariffs – he quite adroitly applied this artistry. With large Democratic majorities in Congress and a healthy economy, he promptly seized the opportunity to effectuate his agenda.[141] Wilson also made quick work of realizing his pledges to beef up antitrust regulation and to bring reform to banking and currency matters.[142]

While Wilson was busy with his prodigious legislative agenda, Ellen spent the summer and fall months of 1913 in Cornish, NH where she reprised her painting and was quite delighted doing so. She completed a number of New Hampshire landscapes which matched or exceeded the skills she had displayed up to that time. Though Wilson travelled to Cornish for brief visits, they both bemoaned their extended separation and frequently exchanged letters reflecting this and their affection for one another.[143]

Tariff legislation

To facilitate reduction of the tariffs, Wilson garnered unexpected support from a previous rival Oscar Underwood, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Sen. Furnifold M. Simmons, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.[144] In May 1913, the Underwood Tariff overwhelmingly passed in the House by a vote of 274 to 5; it would take a bit longer passing in the Senate – in September – and was signed by Wilson three weeks later.[145] Its effects were soon overwhelmed by the changes in trade caused by World War I.[146] Wilson proved especially effective in mobilizing public opinion behind tariff changes by denouncing corporate lobbyists, addressing Congress in person in highly dramatic fashion, and staging an elaborate ceremony when he signed the bill into law.[147] The revenue lost by a lower tariff was replaced by a new federal income tax, authorized by the 16th Amendment.

Federal Reserve System

Map of Federal Reserve Districts–black circles, Federal Reserve Banks–black squares, District branches–red circles and Washington HQ–star/black circle

Wilson had not waited for completion of the tariff legislation to proceed with his next item of reform – banking – which he initiated in June 1913.[148] After consulting with Brandeis, Wilson declared the banking system must be "public not private, must be vested in the government itself so that the banks must be the instruments, not the masters, of business."[149] Wilson secured passage of the Federal Reserve Act in late 1913. He tried to find a middle ground between conservative Republicans, led by Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, and the powerful left wing of the Democratic party, led by William Jennings Bryan, who strenuously denounced private banks and Wall Street. The latter group wanted a government-owned central bank that could print paper money as Congress required. The compromise, based on the Aldrich Plan but sponsored by Democratic Congressmen Carter Glass and Robert Owen, allowed the private banks to control the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, but appeased the agrarians by placing controlling interest in the System in a central board appointed by the president with Senate approval. Moreover, Wilson convinced Bryan's supporters that because Federal Reserve notes were obligations of the government, the plan met their demands for an elastic currency. Having 12 regional banks, with designated geographic districts, was meant to weaken the influence of the powerful New York banks, a key demand of Bryan's allies in the South and West. This decentralization was a key factor in winning Glass' support.[150] The final plan passed in December 1913. Some bankers felt it gave too much control to Washington, and some reformers felt it allowed bankers to maintain too much power. Several Congressmen claimed that New York bankers feigned their disapproval.[151]

Wilson named Paul Warburg and other prominent bankers to direct the new system. While power was supposed to be decentralized, the New York branch dominated the Fed as the "first among equals".[152] The new system began operations in 1915 and played a major role in financing the Allied and American war effort.[153] The strengthening of the Federal Reserve was later a major accomplishment of the New Deal.[154]

At the end of 1913, summing up the president's efficacy, the Saturday Evening Post stated, "This administration is Woodrow Wilson's and non-other's. He is the top, middle and bottom of it. There is not an atom of divided responsibility… the Democratic Party revolves about him. He is the center of it – the biggest Democrat in the country – the leader and the chief".[155]

Antitrust and other measures

Wilson then experienced challenges in his personal life as well–in November 1913 daughter Jesse married Frank Sayre and not long after daughter Eleanor became engaged to William McAdoo. Wilson’s reaction from a letter concluded, "I know from my own feelings how Ellen is suffering and that adds to my own misery".[156] Wilson and family took a much needed vacation to the Gulf of Mexico during Christmas at the end of 1913.

Immediately upon his return to the White House he began pushing for legislation which culminated with the Federal Trade Commission Act signed in September 1914. In doing so, Wilson broke with his predecessors' practice of litigating the antitrust issue in the courts, known as trust-busting; the new Federal Trade Commission provided a new regulatory approach, to encourage competition and reduce perceived unfair trade practices.[156] In addition, he pushed through Congress the Clayton Antitrust Act making certain business practices illegal (such as price discrimination, agreements prohibiting retailers from handling other companies' products, and directorates and agreements to control other companies). The power of this legislation was greater than that of previous anti-trust laws because individual officers of corporations could be held responsible if their companies violated the laws. More importantly, the new laws set out clear guidelines that corporations could follow, a dramatic improvement over the previous uncertainties. This law was considered the "Magna Carta" of labor by Samuel Gompers because it ended union liability antitrust laws. In 1916, under threat of a national railroad strike, Wilson approved legislation that increased wages and cut working hours of railroad employees; there was no strike.[157]

In the summer of 1914 Wilson succeeded in the repeal of exemptions from tolls at the Panama Canal for American ships; this was received positively by the international community, as a cessation of past discrimination against foreign commerce. The measure was considered unpatriotic by U.S. business interests and opponents such as Tammany Hall.[158]

With the President reaching out to new constituencies, a series of programs were targeted at farmers. The Smith–Lever Act of 1914 created the modern system of agricultural extension agents sponsored by the state agricultural colleges. The agents taught new techniques to farmers. The 1916 Federal Farm Loan Act provided for issuance of low-cost long-term mortgages to farmers.[159]

Child labor was curtailed by the Keating–Owen Act of 1916, but the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1918. No major child labor prohibition would take effect until the 1930s.[160]

In the summer of 1916, the railroad brotherhoods threatened to shut down the national transportation system. Wilson tried to bring labor and management together, but when management refused, he had Congress pass the Adamson Act in September 1916, avoiding the strike by imposing an 8-hour workday in the industry (at the same pay as before). Passage of this act helped Wilson gain union support for his reelection; the act was approved by the Supreme Court.[2] Much of this agenda would later serve as an example or a basis of support for the New Deal.[1]

Mexican Revolution

In October 1913 when Mexico's president Victoriano Huerta summarily dissolved the Mexican Congress, Wilson withdrew diplomatic recognition, in an attempt to isolate him globally using a policy called "watchful waiting”.[161] This attempt appeared to be succeeding, with Britain and Germany for example, until Wilson removed an embargo on the shipment of arms to Huerta’s opposition, the Constitutionalists, led by Venustiano Carranza; this was considered too destabilizing, and strengthened support for the existing government.[162] Wilson defended his action, "we are the friends of constitutional government...because in no other way can our neighbors work out their own development in peace and liberty". Wilson appeared to contradict himself soon after, telling the British ambassador that political stability in Mexico could only be achieved when a fair distribution of land was carried out. Wilson's ambiguity led to his being misunderstood and even mocked in regard to the matter.[161] After a U.S. naval crew was briefly detained at Tampico disagreements intensified. Wilson received approval from the Congress to use military force if needed and later ordered an occupation of Vera Cruz, incorrectly assuming there would be little opposition. In fact, the action resulted in fatalities – 126 Mexicans and 19 Americans – and Wilson's reputation as a statesman suffered severely for a time both at home and abroad.[163]

His miscalculation may well have resulted from his wife Ellen's failing health at the time, which weighed heavily upon him. Wilson gladly accepted the offer of the so-called ABC powers – Argentina, Brazil and Chile – to mediate the Mexican dispute. With the negotiations prolonged in Niagara Falls, under mounting pressure Huerta fled to Spain and a month later Carranza victoriously entered Mexico City. Though the administration had achieved the desired result, it was a pyrrhic victory, as Carranza's lieutenant, Pancho Villa, presented a more serious threat in 1916.[164]

Miners strike, wife's death and remarriage

In a 1914 dispute between miners and a mining company, the Colorado National Guard was engaged and a confrontation resulted in the Ludlow Massacre - the deaths of eight strikers, eleven children and two mothers. Part owner John D. Rockefeller, Jr. refused Wilson's personal offer of Federal mediation, conditioned upon collective bargaining, so Wilson sent U.S. troops to Colorado. While Wilson succeeded in bringing order and discipline to the situation, and demonstrated support for the labor union, the miners' ultimate unconditional surrender to the implacable owners was a defeat for Wilson.[165]

Wife Ellen's failing health, due to Bright's disease, a fatal kidney ailment, became increasingly evident in the spring of 1914; after a fall, she was bedridden for a time, rallied briefly, then Wilson wrote "my dear one… grows weaker and weaker, with a pathetic patience and sweetness" He was devotedly at her bedside to the end, which came August 6. At the time Wilson despairingly said "Oh my God, what am I to do." Wilson later wrote accurately of his mourning and depression, "Of course you know what has happened to me…God has stricken me almost beyond what I can bear". Six Months of depression followed for him, though mourning was longer. At the same time that Wilson's private world shattered, World War I broke out in Europe, and this momentously changed his political life as well.[166]

Edith Wilson

In January 1915, Wilson appeared to emerge from his depression during a spirited speech in Indianapolis where he said, "the trouble with the Republican Party is that it has not had a new idea for thirty years… the Republican Party is still a covert and a refuge for those who are afraid, for those who want to consult their grandfathers about everything."[167] Another sign of Wilson’s emotional restoration was the aggressiveness with which he pursued passage of a ship-purchase bill to bulk up the inadequately equipped merchant marine; the bill allowed German ships caught in U.S. ports to be purchased; Wilson initially employed the full force of his prestige and power toward passage. This lasted until March 1915, when he moderated, drew back from the bill and even congratulated the Congress for its work in the session just ended - the initial completion of his journey through mourning was evident.[168]

In February 1915 Wilson had met Edith Bolling Galt, an attractive southern widow and owner of her deceased husband's jewelry business. After seeing her a number of times, he fell in love and in May Wilson proposed. He was rebuffed initially but Wilson was undeterred and the courtship continued.[169] Edith initially did not pursue the furtherance of their physical interaction with the vigor of Wilson, but she gradually warmed to the relationship and they became secretly engaged in the fall of 1915.[170] Many in Wilson's camp had become concerned about the political consequences of the president's initiating a romance less than a year after the death of his wife; the engagement was made public in October and they were married on December 18 at Edith's house on 20th St. in Washington, then honeymooned at Hot Springs.[171]

World War I, 1914–1916

From 1914 until early 1917 Wilson's primary objective was to keep America out of the war in Europe. In August 1914 he described his policy as, "the true spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness to all concerned."[172] Wilson also addressed the Congress in 1914, "Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of the proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak the counsels of peace and accommodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend."[173]He made numerous offers to mediate; he sent Colonel House on missions to the combatants, the Allies and the Central Powers, both of whom sought victory and dismissed the overtures. Wilson was so committed to neutrality as the best policy, until 1916, that he felt it would even be counterproductive to comment on atrocities by either side; this led to some initial assertions of heartlessness on his part.[174] Republicans, led by Theodore Roosevelt, strongly criticized Wilson's refusal to build up the U.S. Army in anticipation of the threat of war. Wilson won the support of the peace element (especially women and churches) by arguing that an army buildup would provoke war.

Wilson and "Jingo", the American War Dog – depicts hawks wanting the U.S. to enter WW I

Britain declared a blockade of Germany to prevent neutral ships from carrying contraband goods to Germany. Wilson protested some British violation of neutral rights, where no one was killed. His protests were mild, and the British knew America would not see it as a casus belli.[175] In early 1915 Germany declared the waters around Great Britain to be a war zone; Wilson dispatched a note of protest, imposing "strict accountability" on Germany for the safety of neutral ships. The meaning of the policy, dubious as applied in specific incidents, evolved with the policy of neutrality, but ultimately formed the substance of U.S. diplomatic efforts over the next two years, and largely determined the military involvement of the US in the war.[176] The commercial British steamship Falaba was sunk in March 1915 by a German submarine with the loss of 111 lives, including one American in the Thrasher Incident. Declining advice from both sides of the issue, Wilson chose to avoid risking escalation of the war as a result of the loss of one American.[176] In the spring of 1915 a German bomb struck an American ship, the Cushing and a German submarine torpedoed an American tanker, the Gulflight. Wilson took the view, based on some reasonable evidence, that both incidents were accidental, and that a settlement of claims could be postponed to the end of the war.[177]

A German submarine torpedoed and sank the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania in May 1915; over a thousand perished, including many Americans. That weekend Wilson commented in a Philadelphia speech, "There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right". Many reacted to these remarks with contempt.[178] Wilson sent a restrained note to the Germans protesting it's submarine warfare, particularly against commerce; the initial German reply was evasive and was received in the United States with indignation. Secretary of State Bryan, a dedicated pacifist, then sensing the country’s path to war, resigned, and was replaced by Robert Lansing. The White Star liner the Arabic was then torpedoed, with two American casualties. The U.S. threatened a diplomatic break unless Germany repudiated the action; the German ambassador then conveyed a note, "liners will not be sunk by our submarines”. Wilson had not stopped the submarine campaign, but he won agreement that unarmed merchant ships would not be sunk without warning; and most importantly he had kept the U.S. out of the war.[179] Meanwhile, Wilson requested and received funds in the final 1916 appropriations bill to provide for 500,000 troops. It also included a five-year Navy plan for major construction of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines - showing Wilson's dedication to a big Navy.[180]

In March 1916 the Sussex, an unarmed ferry under the French flag, was torpedoed in the English Channel and four Americans were counted among the dead; the Germans had flouted the post-Lusitania exchanges. The president demanded the Germans reject the submarine tactics used.[181] Wilson drew praise when he succeeded in wringing from Germany a pledge to constrain their U-boat warfare to the rules of cruiser warfare. This was a clear departure from existing practices – a diplomatic concession from which Germany could only more brazenly withdraw, and regrettably did.[182]

Coincidentally, early 1916 brought two separate Mexican incidents in which thirty-six Americans were killed by the forces of Pancho Villa; Wilson ordered Gen. John Pershing and 4000 troops across the border to reinforce Carranza.[183] In early April, though Villa had not been captured, Pershing's forces had broken up and dispersed his bands; yet, the forces continued their pursuit. Carranza then pivoted against the Americans and accused them of a punitive invasion; a confrontation in Parral resulted in two dead Americans and two wounded, plus hundreds of Mexican casualties. Pershing, recommending the railroads be seized and the country occupied, was ordered by Wilson to withdraw.[184]

Wilson made a plea for postwar union in May 1916; his speech recited the right of every nation to its sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom from aggression. "So sincerely do we believe these things”, Wilson said, "that I am sure that I speak the mind and wish of the people of America when I say that the United States is willing to become a partner in any feasible association of nations formed in order to realize these objectives”. At home the speech was seen as a turning point in policy. In Europe the words were received by the British and the French without comment. His harshest European critics rightly thought the speech reflected indifference on Wilson’s part; indeed, Wilson never wavered from a belief that the war was the result of corrupt European power politics.[185]

Wilson made his final offer to mediate peace on December 18, 1916. As a preliminary, he asked both sides to state their minimum terms necessary for future security. The Central Powers replied that victory was certain, and the Allies required the dismemberment of their enemies' empires; no desire for peace existed, and the offer lapsed.[186]

Presidential Election of 1916

Wilson accepts the Democratic Party nomination, 1916

Renominated without opposition, Wilson used as a major campaign slogan "He kept us out of war", referring to his avoiding open conflict with Germany or Mexico while maintaining a firm national policy. Wilson, however, never promised to keep out of war regardless of provocation. In his acceptance speech on September 2, 1916, Wilson pointedly warned Germany that submarine warfare that took American lives would not be tolerated, saying "The nation that violates these essential rights must expect to be checked and called to account by direct challenge and resistance. It at once makes the quarrel in part our own."[187]

During the 1916 election campaign, while drafting the Democratic Party platform, Wilson received a suggestion that helped give the document a sharper political focus. Senator Owen of Oklahoma urged Wilson to take ideas from the Progressive Party platform of 1912 “as a means of attaching to our party progressive Republicans who are in sympathy with us in so large a degree.” Wilson liked this suggestion and asked Owen to specify the 1912 Progressive ideas to include. In response, Owen highlighted federal legislation to promote workers’ health and safety, prohibit child labour, provide unemployment compensation, require an eight-hour day and six-day workweek, and establish minimum wages and maximum hours. Wilson, in turn, included in his draft platform a plank that called for all work performed by and for the federal government to provide a minimum wage, an eight-hour day and six-day workweek, health and safety measures, the prohibition of child labour, and (his own additions) safeguards for female workers and a retirement program.[188]

1916 Electoral Vote Map

"Colonel" House, one of Wilson's closest advisors during his first term, played an important role in Wilson re-election campaign. He declined any public role, but was Wilson's top campaign advisor. "He planned its structure; set its tone; guided its finance; chose speakers, tactics, and strategy; and, not least, handled the campaign's greatest asset and greatest potential liability: its brilliant but temperamental candidate."[189]

Wilson narrowly won the election, defeating Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes. As governor of New York from 1907 to 1910, Hughes had a progressive record strikingly similar to Wilson's as governor of New Jersey. Theodore Roosevelt would comment that the only thing different between Hughes and Wilson was a shave. However, Hughes had to try to hold together a coalition of conservative Taft supporters and progressive Roosevelt partisans and so his campaign never seemed to take a definite form. Wilson ran on his record and ignored Hughes, reserving his attacks for Roosevelt. When asked why he did not attack Hughes directly, Wilson told a friend, "Never murder a man who is committing suicide."[190]

The result was exceptionally close and the outcome was in doubt for several days. The vote came down to several close states. Wilson won California by 3,773 votes out of almost a million votes cast and New Hampshire by 54 votes. Hughes won Minnesota by 393 votes out of over 358,000. In the final count, Wilson had 277 electoral votes vs. Hughes's 254. Wilson was able to win by picking up many votes that had gone to Teddy Roosevelt or Eugene V. Debs in 1912.[191]

Second term, 1917–1921

Decision for war, 1917

Wilson found it increasingly difficult to maintain U.S. neutrality after Germany, despite its promises in the Arabic pledge and the Sussex pledge, initiated a program of unrestricted submarine warfare early in 1917 that threatened U.S. commercial shipping. Following the revelation of the Zimmermann Telegram, in which Germany attempted to enlist Mexico as an ally against the U.S., Wilson took America into World War I to make "the world safe for democracy." The U.S. did not sign a formal alliance with the United Kingdom or France but operated as an "associated" power. The U.S. raised a massive army through conscription and Wilson gave command to General John J. Pershing, allowing Pershing a free hand as to tactics, strategy and even diplomacy.[192]

Wilson had decided by then that the war had become a real threat to humanity. Unless the U.S. threw its weight into the war, as he stated in his declaration of war speech on April 2, 1917,[193] western civilization itself could be destroyed. His statement announcing a "war to end war" meant that he wanted to build a basis for peace that would prevent future catastrophic wars and needless death and destruction. This provided the basis of Wilson's Fourteen Points, which were intended to resolve territorial disputes, ensure free trade and commerce, and establish a peacemaking organization. Included in these fourteen points was the proposal for the League of Nations.[194]

War Message

President Wilson delivering his war message before Congress. April 2, 1917.

Woodrow Wilson delivered his War Message to Congress on the evening of April 2, 1917. Introduced to great applause, he remained intense and almost motionless for the entire speech, only raising one arm as his only bodily movement.[195]

Wilson announced that his previous position of "armed neutrality" was no longer tenable now that the Imperial German Government had announced that it would use its submarines to sink any vessel approaching the ports of Great Britain, Ireland or any of the Western Coasts of Europe. He advised Congress to declare that the recent course of action taken by the Imperial German Government constituted an act of war. He proposed that the United States enter the war to "vindicate principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power". He also charged that Germany had "filled our unsuspecting communities and even our offices of government with spies and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity of counsel, our peace within and without our industries and our commerce". Furthermore, the United States had intercepted a telegram sent to the German ambassador in Mexico City that evidenced Germany's attempt to instigate a Mexican attack upon the U.S. The German government, Wilson said, "means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors". He then warned that "if there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with a firm hand of repression."[196] Wilson closed with the statement that the world must be again safe for democracy.[197]

With 50 Representatives and 6 Senators in opposition, the declaration of war by the United States against Germany was passed by the Congress on April 4, 1917, and was approved by the President on April 6, 1917.

The Fourteen Points

Main article: Fourteen Points
Image of Wilson created by 21,000 soldiers at Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio, 1918
("The great white father now calls you his brothers"), an address given in 1913

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In a speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, Wilson articulated America's war aims. It was the clearest expression of intention made by any of the belligerent nations. The speech, authored principally by Walter Lippmann, expressed Wilson's progressive domestic policies into comparably idealistic equivalents for the international arena: self-determination, open agreements, international cooperation. Promptly dubbed the Fourteen Points, Wilson attempted to make them the basis for the treaty that would mark the end of the war. They ranged from the most generic principles like the prohibition of secret treaties to such detailed outcomes as the creation of an independent Poland with access to the sea.[198]

Home front

To counter opposition to the war at home, Wilson pushed through Congress the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 to suppress anti-British, pro-German, or anti-war opinions.[196] While he welcomed socialists who supported the war, he pushed at the same time to arrest and deport foreign-born radicals.[199] Citing the Espionage Act, the U.S. Post Office, following the instructions of the Justice Department, refused to carry any written materials that could be deemed critical of the U.S. war effort.[199] Some sixty newspapers judged to have revolutionary or antiwar content were deprived of their second-class mailing rights and effectively banned from the U.S. mails.[199][200] A movie producer Robert Goldstein, was sentenced to ten years in prison for producing The Spirit of '76, a film that the federal prosecutor alleged was an incitement to riot and could cause insubordination, disloyalty, and mutiny by U.S. soldiers then in uniform as well as prospective recruits.[201]

Wilson's domestic economic policies were strongly pro-labor, but this favorable treatment was extended to only those unions that supported the U.S. war effort, such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL).[202][203] Antiwar groups, anarchists, communists, Industrial Workers of the World members, and other labor groups that tried to sabotage the war effort were targeted by the Department of Justice; many of their leaders were arrested on grounds of incitement to violence, espionage, or sedition. By 1918, the ranks of those arrested included Eugene Debs, the fiery Socialist Party leader and anti-war activist, after he gave a speech encouraging draft evasion.[199][204] Wilson later called Debs a "traitor to his country".[202]

Many recent immigrants, resident aliens without U.S. citizenship, who opposed America's participation in the war were deported to Soviet Russia or other nations under the sweeping powers granted in the Immigration Act of 1918.[199][204] Even after the war ended in November 1918, the Wilson administration's attempts to silence radical political opponents continued, culminating in the Palmer Raids, a mass arrest and roundup of some 10,000 anarchists and labor activists, raids led by Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer.[205]

Liberty Loan drive in front of City Hall, New Orleans. On City Hall is a banner reading "Food will win the war - don't waste it".
Women workers in ordnance shops, Pennsylvania, 1918

During the war, Wilson worked closely with Samuel Gompers and the AFL, the railroad brotherhoods, and other 'moderate' unions, which saw enormous growth in membership and wages during Wilson's administration. As there was no rationing, consumer prices soared. As income taxes increased, white-collar workers suffered. Despite this, appeals to buy war bonds were highly successful. The purchase of wartime bonds had the result of shifting the cost of the war to the affluent 1920s.[200]

Wilson set up the first western propaganda office, the United States Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel (thus its popular name, Creel Commission), which filled the country with patriotic anti-German appeals and conducted various forms of censorship.[206] In 1917, Congress authorized ex-President Theodore Roosevelt to raise four divisions of volunteers to fight in France—Roosevelt's World War I volunteers; Wilson refused to accept this offer from his political enemy. Other areas of the war effort were incorporated into the government along with propaganda. The War Industries Board headed by Bernard Baruch set war goals and policies for American factories. Future President Herbert Hoover was appointed to head the Food Administration which encouraged Americans to participate in "Meatless Mondays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays" to conserve food for the troops overseas. The Federal Fuel Administration run by Henry Garfield introduced daylight saving time and rationed fuel supplies such as coal and oil to keep the U.S. military supplied. These and many other boards and administrations were headed by businessmen recruited by Wilson for a-dollar-a-day salary to make the government more efficient in the war effort.[200]

In an effort at reform and to shake up his Mobilization program, Wilson removed the chief of the Army Signal Corps and the chairman of the Aircraft Production Board on April 18, 1918.[207] On May 16, the President launched an investigation, headed by Republican Charles Evans Hughes, into the War Department and the Council of Defense.[208] The Hughes report released on October 31 found no major corruption violations or theft in Wilson's Mobilization program, although the report found incompetence in the aircraft program.[209]

Other foreign affairs

President and Mrs Woodrow Wilson arriving in a horse-drawn carriage at the Mansion House, London in 1918

In anticipation of the opening of the Panama Canal, Britain protested that U.S. plans to exempt from tolls all U.S. vessels traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of the U.S. in accordance with the Panama Canal Act of 1912, violated the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty. On March 5, 1914, Wilson sent a message to Congress strongly urging the repeal of the exemption. He regarded the exemption as a plain breach of the Treaty and proposed a "voluntary withdrawal from a position everywhere questioned and misunderstood." In spite of strong opposition within his own party, he forced Democrats in Congress to support a repeal of the exemption.[210]

For more details on this topic, see Latin America–United States relations.

Wilson frequently intervened in Latin American affairs, saying in 1913: "I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men."[211] These interventions included Mexico in 1914, Haiti, Dominican Republic in 1916, Cuba in 1917, and Panama in 1918. The U.S. maintained troops in Nicaragua throughout the Wilson administration and used them to select the president of Nicaragua and then to force Nicaragua to pass the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty. American troops in Haiti, under the command of the federal government, forced the Haitian legislature to choose as Haitian president the candidate Wilson selected. American troops occupied Haiti between 1915 and 1934.[212] Wilson ordered the military occupation of the Dominican Republic shortly after the resignation of its President Juan Isidro Jimenes Pereyra in 1916. The U.S. military worked in concert with wealthy Dominican landowners to suppress the gavilleros, a campesino guerrilla force fighting the occupation. The occupation lasted until 1924, and was notorious for its brutality against those in the resistance.[213] Wilson also negotiated with Colombia a treaty in which the U.S. apologized for its role in the Panama Revolution of 1903–1904.[214]

American troops in Vladivostok as part of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia, August 1918

After Russia left World War I following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Allies sent troops there to prevent a German or Bolshevik takeover of allied-provided weapons, munitions and other supplies previously shipped as aid to the pre-revolutionary government.[215] Wilson sent armed forces to assist the withdrawal of Czechoslovak Legions along the Trans-Siberian Railway, and to hold key port cities at Arkangel and Vladivostok. Though not sent to engage the Bolsheviks, the U.S. forces engaged in several armed conflicts against forces of the new Russian government. Revolutionaries in Russia resented the American intrusion. As Robert Maddox puts it, "The immediate effect of the intervention was to prolong a bloody civil war, thereby costing thousands of additional lives and wreaking enormous destruction on an already battered society."[216] Wilson withdrew most of the soldiers on April 1, 1920, though some remained until as late as 1922.

In 1919, Wilson guided American foreign policy to "acquiesce" in the Balfour Declaration without supporting Zionism in an official way. Wilson expressed sympathy for the plight of Jews, especially in Poland and in France.[217]

In May 1920, Wilson finally sent a long-deferred proposal to Congress to have the U.S. accept a mandate from the League of Nations to take over Armenia.[218] Bailey notes that the scheme was strongly opposed by American public opinion,[219] while Richard G. Hovannisian states that Wilson "made all the wrong arguments" for the mandate and focused less on the immediate policy than on how history would judge his actions: "[he] wished to place it clearly on the record that the abandonment of Armenia was not his doing."[220] The resolution won the votes of only 23 senators.

Peace Conference 1919

The “Big Four” at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, following the end of World War I.

After World War I, Wilson participated in negotiations with the stated aim of assuring statehood for formerly oppressed nations and an equitable peace. On January 8, 1918, Wilson made his famous Fourteen Points address, introducing the idea of a League of Nations, an organization with a stated goal of helping to preserve territorial integrity and political independence among large and small nations alike.[221]

Wilson intended the Fourteen Points as a means toward ending the war and achieving an equitable peace for all the nations. He spent six months in Paris for the Peace Conference (making him the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office). He was not well-regarded at the Conference. As John Maynard Keynes observed: "He not only had no proposals in detail, but he was in many respects, perhaps inevitably, ill-informed as to European conditions. And not only was he ill-informed—that was true of Mr. Lloyd George also—but his mind was slow and unadaptable...There can seldom have been a statesman of the first rank more incompetent than the President in the agilities of the council chamber."[222] He worked tirelessly to promote his plan. The charter of the proposed League of Nations was incorporated into the conference's Treaty of Versailles.[223] Japan proposed that the Covenant include a racial equality clause. Wilson was indifferent to the issue, but acceded to strong opposition from Australia and Britain.[224] After the conference, Wilson said that "at last the world knows America as the savior of the world!"[225]

When Wilson traveled to Europe to settle the peace terms, he visited Pope Benedict XV in Rome, making Wilson the first American President to visit the Pope while in office.[226]

Wilson returning from the Versailles Peace Conference, 1919.

For his peace-making efforts, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize.[12]

Treaty fight, 1919

The next question was whether the United States Senate would approve the treaty by the required two-thirds vote. Public opinion was mixed, with intense opposition from most Republicans, from Germans, and from Irish Catholic Democrats. In numerous meetings with Senators in Washington he discovered the opposition had hardened and the Treaty probably lacked the two-thirds vote needed for passage. Despite his weakened physical condition Wilson decided to barnstorm the Western states, scheduling 29 major speeches and many short ones to rally support.[227]

Wilson had downplayed the theme of Germany as guilty in starting the war in 1917 by calling for "peace without victory", but he took an increasingly hard stand at Paris and rejected advice to soften the Treaty.[228] In his public campaign in summer 1919 to rally American support, he repeatedly stressed Germany's guilt, as in his speech on September 4, 1919, where he said the Treaty:

"Seeks to punish one of the greatest wrongs ever done in history, the wrong which Germany sought to do to the world and to civilization; and there ought to be no weak purpose with regard to the application of the punishment. She attempted an intolerable thing,and she must be made to pay for the attempt."[229]

Wilson had a series of debilitating strokes and had to cancel his trip on September 26, 1919. He became an invalid in the White House, closely monitored or controlled by his wife, who pretended that all was well and never told Wilson how serious his condition was.[230] Republicans under Senator Lodge controlled both houses of Congress after the 1918 elections. The key point of disagreement was whether the League would diminish the power of Congress to declare war.

The Senate was divided into a crazy quilt of positions on the Versailles question.[231] It proved possible to build a majority coalition, but impossible to build the two-thirds coalition needed to pass a treaty.[232] One block of Democrats strongly supported the Versailles Treaty. A second group of Democrats supported the Treaty but followed Wilson in opposing any amendments or reservations. The largest bloc, led by Senator Lodge, comprised a majority of the Republicans. They wanted a treaty with reservations, especially on Article X, which involved the power of the League of Nations to make war without a vote by the United States Congress. Finally, a bipartisan group of 13 "irreconcilables" opposed a treaty in any form.[233] The closest the Treaty came to passage in mid-November 1919 when Lodge and his Republicans formed a coalition with the pro-Treaty Democrats, and were close to a two-thirds majority for a Treaty with reservations, but Wilson rejected this compromise and enough Democrats followed his lead to end permanently the chances for ratification. Cooper and Bailey suggest that Wilson's stroke on September 25, 1919, had so altered his personality that he was unable to negotiate effectively with Lodge. Cooper says the psychological effects of a stroke were profound: "Wilson's emotions were unbalanced, and his judgment was warped....Worse, his denial of illness and limitations was starting to border on delusion."[234]

During this period, Wilson became less trustful of the press and stopped holding press conferences for them, preferring to use his propaganda unit, the Committee for Public Information, instead.[134] A poll of historians in 2006 cited Wilson's failure to compromise with the Republicans on U.S. entry into the League as one of the 10 largest errors on the part of an American president.[235]

Post war: 1919–1920

Wilson's administration did not plan for the process of demobilization at the war's end. Though some advisers tried to engage the President's attention to what they called "reconstruction", his tepid support for a federal commission evaporated with the election of 1918. Republican gains in the Senate meant that his opposition would have to consent to the appointment of commission members. Instead, Wilson favored the prompt dismantling of wartime boards and regulatory agencies.[236]

Demobilization proved chaotic and violent. Four million soldiers were sent home with little planning, little money, few benefits, and vague promises of a future life insurance policy. A wartime bubble in prices of farmland burst, leaving many farmers bankrupt or deeply in debt after they purchased new land. Major strikes in the steel, coal, and meatpacking industries disrupted the economy in 1919.[237] Racial animosity erupted in serious race riots of ethnic whites against blacks in Chicago, Omaha, and two dozen other major cities in the North.[238]

As the election of 1920 approached, Wilson imagined that a deadlocked Democratic convention might nominate hinm for a third term with a campaign focused on the League of Nations. No one around the President dared tell him that he was incapacitated, had little support, and the League was a lost cause.[239] In retirement, Wilson made elaborate plans for a White House run in 1924; he had no serious support.[240]


Edith holds document while Wilson signs after stroke.

The immediate cause of Wilson's incapacity in September 1919 was the physical strain of the public speaking tour he undertook in support of ratification of Treaty of Versailles. In Pueblo, Colorado, on September 25, 1919, he collapsed and never fully recovered.[241]

On October 2, 1919, he suffered a serious stroke, leaving him paralyzed on his left side, and with only partial vision in the right eye.[242] He was confined to bed for weeks and sequestered from everyone except his wife and physician, Dr. Cary Grayson.[243] For some months he used a wheelchair and later he required use of a cane. His wife and aide Joe Tumulty helped a journalist, Louis Seibold, present a false account of an interview with the President.[244]

He was insulated by his wife, who screened matters for his attention and delegating others to his cabinet heads. Eventually, Wilson resumed his attendance at cabinet meetings, but his input there was perfunctory at best.[245] By February 1920 the President's true condition was public. Nearly every major newspaper expressed qualms about Wilson's fitness for the presidency at a time when the League fight was reaching a climax, and domestic issues such as strikes, unemployment, inflation and the threat of Communism were ablaze. There was no mechanism to remove him.[246] This was a complex case of presidential disability and became an inducement for passage of the 25th Amendment.[247]

Civil rights

Several historians have described a number of Wilson's policies as racist;[248][249][250] some also describe Wilson personally as a racist.[251]

In his book, History of the American People, Wilson depicted white European immigrants with empathy while African American immigrants and their children were regarded as unsuitable for citizenship and unable to assimilate positively into American society.[252] Wilson believed that slavery was wrong on economic labor grounds, rather than for moral reasons.[252] Wilson idealized the slavery system in the South, having viewed masters as patient with "indolent" slaves, whom Wilson believed were like "shiftless children". Wilson held contempt for the belief that African Americans could be free and self-governing.[252] In terms of Reconstruction, Wilson held the common neo-Confederate view that the South was demoralized by Northern carpetbaggers and Congressional imposition of black equality justified extreme measures to reassert white supremacist national and state governments.[253] Wilson viewed blacks as related to the animal world, having illustrated an elderly black man with monkey features.[253] Wilson publicly and privately referred to blacks as "darkies".[253] In 1912 many African Americans left the Republican Party to cast their vote for Wilson, a Democrat. They were encouraged by his promises of support for minorities. However, once in office, Wilson's cabinet members expanded racially segregationist policies. Black leaders who had supported Wilson in the 1912 election were angered when Wilson placed segregationist white Southerners in charge of many executive departments,[250][254] and the administration acted to reduce the number of African-Americans in political-appointee positions.[248][254] Wilson's cabinet officials, with the president's tolerance, proceeded to establish official segregation in most federal government offices – in some departments for the first time since 1863.[250] When a delegation led by Monre Trotter denounced Wilson face to face for instituting a "new slavery," Wilson, insulted, lost his temper.[255]

In 1915, Wilson hosted a White House showing of D.W. Griffith's film, The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan. It was based on a novel by Wilson's college friend Thomas Dixon, Jr.. Wilson privately said the movie was "a very unfortunate production" and stated publicly that he was "entirely unaware of the character of the play and has at no time expressed his approbation of it."[256]

Historian Eric Foner says, "[Wilson's] administration imposed full racial segregation in Washington and hounded from office considerable numbers of black federal employees."[248] In 1914, Wilson told The New York Times, "If the colored people made a mistake in voting for me, they ought to correct it."[257] Segregation was also quickly implemented at the Post Office Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. Many African American employees were downgraded and even fired. The segregation implemented in the Department of the Treasury and the Post Office Department involved not only screened-off working spaces, but also separate lunchrooms and toilets. Some segregationist federal workplace policies introduced by the Wilson administration would remain until the Truman Administration in the 1940s.[258] Other steps were taken by the Wilson Administration to make obtaining a civil service job more difficult for blacks. Primary among these was the requirement, implemented in 1914 and continued until 1940, that all candidates for civil service jobs attach a photograph to their application further allowing for discrimination in the hiring process.[259][260] Despite these policies, Wilson was criticized by such hard-line segregationists as Georgia's Thomas E. Watson, for not going far enough in restricting black employment in the federal government.[261]

Wilson did not interfere with the well-established system of Jim Crow and backed the demands of Southern Democrats that their states be left alone to deal with issues of race and black voting without interference from Washington.[262] Wilson biographer A. Scott Berg concludes that at the time, "Wilson's racial views were fairly centrist in America." Berg notes that "Wilson treated every person of color, regardless of that person's position, with decency and dignity."[263]

Wilson's War Department drafted hundreds of thousands of blacks into the army, giving them equal pay with whites, but kept them in all-black units with white officers, and kept the great majority out of combat.[264] When a delegation of blacks protested the discriminatory actions, Wilson told them "segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen." W. E. B. Du Bois, a leader of the NAACP who had campaigned for Wilson was in 1918 offered an Army commission in charge of dealing with race relations; DuBois accepted, but he failed his Army physical and did not serve.[265]

While president of Princeton University, Wilson had discouraged blacks from even applying for admission, preferring to keep the peace among white students and alumni than have black students admitted.[266] Wilson's History of the American People (1901) explained the Ku Klux Klan of the late 1860s as a lawless reaction to a lawless period. Wilson wrote that the Klan "began to attempt by intimidation what they were not allowed to attempt by the ballot or by any ordered course of public action".[267]

Wilson had harsh words to say about immigrants in his history books, but after entering politics in 1910, he worked to integrate immigrants into the Democratic party, the army, and American life. During the war, he demanded in return that they repudiate any loyalty to enemy nations. Irish Americans were powerful in the Democratic party and opposed going to war as allies of their traditional enemy Britain, especially after the violent suppression of the Easter Rebellion of 1916. Wilson won them over in 1917 by promising to ask Britain to give Ireland its independence. At Versailles, however, he reneged because he saw the Irish situation purely as an internal UK matter and did not perceive the dispute and the unrest in Ireland as comparable to the plight of the various nationalities in Europe as a fall-out from World War I.[268] As a result, much of the Irish-American community vehemently denounced him. Wilson, in turn, blamed the Irish Americans and German Americans for lack of popular support for the League of Nations, saying:[269]

There is an organized propaganda against the League of Nations and against the treaty proceeding from exactly the same sources that the organized propaganda proceeded from which threatened this country here and there with disloyalty, and I want to say, I cannot say too often, any man who carries a hyphen about with him carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic whenever he gets ready.

Wilson nominated the first Jew to the Supreme Court (Louis Brandeis), starting a long line of Jewish justices who would serve on the nation's highest court.[270]

Administration and Cabinet

Wilson's chief of staff ("Secretary") was Joseph Patrick Tumulty from 1913 to 1921, but he was largely upstaged after 1916 when Wilson's second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, assumed full control of Wilson's schedule. The most important foreign policy advisor and confidant was "Colonel" Edward M. House until Wilson broke with him in early 1919.[271]

Woodrow Wilson and his cabinet in the Cabinet Room
The Wilson Cabinet
Office Name Term
President Woodrow Wilson 1913–1921
Vice President Thomas R. Marshall 1913–1921
Secretary of State William J. Bryan 1913–1915
Robert Lansing 1915–1920
Bainbridge Colby 1920–1921
Secretary of Treasury William G. McAdoo 1913–1918
Carter Glass 1918–1920
David F. Houston 1920–1921
Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison 1913–1916
Newton D. Baker 1916–1921
Attorney General James C. McReynolds 1913–1914
Thomas W. Gregory 1914–1919
A. Mitchell Palmer 1919–1921
Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson 1913–1921
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels 1913–1921
Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane 1913–1920
John B. Payne 1920–1921
Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston 1913–1920
Edwin T. Meredith 1920–1921
Secretary of Commerce William C. Redfield 1913–1919
Joshua W. Alexander 1919–1921
Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson 1913–1921

Judicial appointments

Justice Louis Brandeis

Supreme Court

Wilson appointed three Associate Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:

  • James Clark McReynolds in 1914. A conservative, he served more than 26 years and opposed the New Deal.
  • Louis Dembitz Brandeis in 1916. A liberal, and the first Jew appointed to the Court, he served 22 years and wrote landmark opinions on free speech and right to privacy.
  • John Hessin Clarke in 1916. He served just 6 years on the Court before resigning. He thoroughly disliked his work as an Associate Justice.

Other courts

Along with his Supreme Court appointments, Wilson appointed 75 federal judges, including three Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States, 20 judges to the United States Courts of Appeals, and 52 judges to the United States district courts.

Retirement, death and personal affairs

The final resting place of Woodrow Wilson at the Washington National Cathedral

In 1921, Wilson and his wife Edith retired from the White House to an elegant 1915 town house in the Embassy Row (Kalorama) section of Washington, D.C.[272] Wilson continued going for daily drives, and attended Keith's vaudeville theatre on Saturday nights. Wilson was one of only two Presidents (Theodore Roosevelt was the first) to have served as president of the American Historical Association.[273]

Wilson attended only two state occasions in his retirement: the ceremonies preceding the burial of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, on Armistice Day (November 11), 1921; and President Warren G. Harding's state funeral in the U.S. Capitol on August 8, 1923. On November 10, 1923, Wilson made a short Armistice Day radio speech from the library of his home, his last national address. The following day, Armistice Day itself, he spoke briefly from the front steps to more than 20,000 well wishers gathered outside the house.[272][274][275]

On February 3, 1924, Wilson died in his S Street home as a result of a stroke and other heart-related problems. He was interred in a sarcophagus in Washington National Cathedral, the only president interred in Washington, D.C.[276]

Mrs. Wilson stayed in the home another 37 years, dying there on December 28, 1961, the day she was to be the guest of honor at the opening of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge across the Potomac River near and in Washington, D.C.[277]

Mrs. Wilson left the home and much of the contents to the National Trust for Historic Preservation to be made into a museum honoring her husband. The Woodrow Wilson House opened to the public in 1963, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1964, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966.[278]

Wilson wrote his one-page will on May 31, 1917, and appointed his wife Edith as his executrix. He left his daughter Margaret an annuity of $2,500 annually for as long as she remained unmarried, and left to his daughters what had been his first wife's personal property. The rest he left to Edith as a life estate with the provision that at her death, his daughters would divide the estate among themselves. In the event that Edith had a child, her children would inherit on an equal footing with his daughters. As the second Mrs. Wilson had no children from either of her marriages, he was thus providing for the child of a possible subsequent third marriage on her part.[279]


Keystone Marker for Wilson, Pennsylvania, renamed for Woodrow Wilson
Wilson's Pierce Arrow on display in Staunton, Virginia

On December 28, 1925, less than two years after Wilson's death, the United States Post Office issued the 17¢ stamp in his honor. On January 10, 1956, the 7¢ Liberty Issue postage stamp honoring Wilson was also issued. A third 32¢ stamp was issued on February 3, 1998, as part of the Celebrate the Century stamp sheet series.

In recognition of having signed on March 2, 1917 the so-called "Jones Act" that granted United States citizenship to Puerto Ricans, streets in several municipalities in the U.S. territory were renamed "Calle Wilson", including one in the Mariani neighborhood in Ponce and the Condado section of San Juan.

The USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624), a Lafayette-class ballistic missile submarine, was the only ship of the United States Navy to be named for Wilson. She later was converted into an attack submarine and redesignated SSN-624.

The Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs was founded at Princeton in 1930. It was created in the spirit of Wilson's interest in preparing students for leadership in public and international affairs.

Shadow Lawn, the Summer White House for Wilson during his term in office, became part of Monmouth University in 1956. The college has placed a marker on the building, renamed Woodrow Wilson Hall, commemorating the home. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985.

In 1929, Wilson's image appeared on the $100,000 bill. The bill, now out of print but still legal tender, was used only to transfer money between Federal Reserve banks.[280][281]

In 1944, Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox produced a film titled Wilson. It looked back with nostalgia to Wilson's presidency, especially concerning his role as commander-in-chief during World War I.

A section of the Rambla of Montevideo, Uruguay, is named Rambla Presidente Wilson. A street in the 16th arondissement in Paris, running from Trocadéro to the Place de l'Alma, is named the Avenue du Président Wilson. The Pont Wilson crosses the Rhône river in the center of Lyon, France. The Boulevard du Président Wilson extends from the main train station of Strasbourg and connects to the Boulevard Clemenceau. In Bordeaux, the Boulevard du Président Wilson links to the Boulevard George V. The Quai du Président Wilson forms part of the port of Marseille. Praha hlavní nádraží, the main railway station of Prague has, for much of its history, been known as the "Wilson Station" (Czech: Wilsonovo nádraží). The Woodrow Wilsonsquare (nl) in Ghent, Belgium.

In 2010, Wilson was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[282]

In its impact upon American society, while the Wilson Administration accomplished much in the way of social reform during its eight years in office, it did not go as far as Theodore Roosevelt's proposed New Nationalism in relation to the latter's calls for a standard 40-hour work week, minimum wage laws, and a federal system of social insurance. This reflected Wilson's own ideological convictions, who adhered to the classical liberal principles of Jeffersonian Democracy[283] and was opposed to both minimum wage legislation[284] and social insurance, only reluctantly (shortly before his 1916 re-election campaign) consenting to endorse a bill to expand workmen's compensation benefits for Federal employees after there had been widespread public acceptance of the idea.[285] Despite this, Wilson and his New Freedom did much to extend the power of the federal government in social and economic affairs, and paved the way for future reform programs such as the New Deal and the Great Society.



Books and writing

The publications of Wilson's authorship are extensive.

Of the books published under his authorship, The New Freedom contains controversial yet relevant assertions. "Our Government has been for the past few years under the control of the heads of great allied corporations with special interests." "The Government has not controlled these interests ... it has submitted itself to their control". - p. 25, "We vote : we are offered the platform we want ; we elect the men who stand on that platform, and we get absolutely nothing." -p. 27, "We know that the machines of both parties are subsidised by the same persons, and therefore it is useless to turn in either direction." -p. 27.

See also


  1. ^ a b Cooper, John Milton. "Woodrow Wilson: A Biography". p. 201
  2. ^ a b Kerr, K. Austin (1967). "Decision For Federal Control: Wilson, McAdoo, and the Railroads, 1917". Journal of American History 54 (3): 550–560. doi:10.2307/2937406. JSTOR 2937406. 
  3. ^ Luebke, Frederick C. (1974). Bonds of Loyalty: German Americans and World War I. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press. pp. 234–235. ISBN 0875800459. 
  4. ^ Lemons, J. Stanley (1973). The Woman Citizen: Social Feminism in the 1920s p. 13. University of Virginia Press, 1973
  5. ^ Gerstle, Gary (2008). John Milton Cooper Jr., ed. Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson: Progressivism, Internationalism, War, and Peace. Washington D.C.: Woodrow Wilson International Center For Scholars. pp. 93–94. 
  6. ^ Weiss, Nancy J. (1969). "The Negro and the New Freedom: Fighting Wilsonian Segregation". Political Science Quarterly 84 (1): 61–79 [p. 63]. JSTOR 2147047. 
  7. ^ Dave Leip. "US Election Atlas". 
  8. ^ Arthur Stanley Link (1957). Woodrow Wilson and the World of Today: Essays. U. of Pennsylvania Press. p. 10. 
  9. ^ Blum, John Morton (1956). Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality. Boston: Little, Brown. 
  10. ^ Gamble, Richard M. (2001). "Savior Nation: Woodrow Wilson and the Gospel of Service". Humanitas 14 (1): 4–22. 
  11. ^ Cooper, Woodrow Wilson (2009) p. 560.
  12. ^ a b Woodrow Wilson bio sketch from NobelFoundation.org
  13. ^ Heckscher (1991), p. 4.
  14. ^ John Milton Cooper, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (2009) pp. 13–19
  15. ^ "Genealogy of President Woodrow Wilson". Wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com. Retrieved September 11, 2010. 
  16. ^ Walworth 1958 p. 4
  17. ^ a b "Woodrow Wilson – 28th President, 1913–1921". PresidentialAvenue.com. 
  18. ^ a b White, William Allen (March 15, 2007). "Chapter II: The Influence of Environment". Woodrow Wilson – The Man, His Times and His Task. ISBN 978-1-4067-7685-0. 
  19. ^ Heckscher (1991), p. 23.
  20. ^ Heckscher (1991), p. 22
  21. ^ Link Road to the White House pp. 3–4.
  22. ^ Walworth ch 1
  23. ^ "Woodrow Wilson". Davidson College. Retrieved November 9, 2011. 
  24. ^ "Princeton Periodicals — Daily Princetonian Special Class of 1971, Volume 91, Number 72, Issue 15 June 1967". Theprince.princeton.edu. 1967-06-15. Retrieved 2012-09-02. 
  25. ^ Link, Wilson I:5–6; Wilson Papers I: 130, 245, 314
  26. ^ McKean, Dayton D. (1930). "Woodrow Wilson as a debate coach". Quarterly Journal of Speech 16 (4): 458. doi:10.1080/00335633009360910.  edit
  27. ^ "Princeton Periodicals — Daily Princetonian 5 December 1895". Theprince.princeton.edu. Retrieved 2012-09-02. 
  28. ^ Heckscher (1991), p. 35.
  29. ^ The World's Work: A History of our Time, Volume IV: November 1911 – April 1912. Doubleday. 1912. pp. 74–75. 
  30. ^ Heckscher (1991), p. 53.
  31. ^ Cranston 1945
  32. ^ Heckscher (1991), p. 58.
  33. ^ a b Mulder, John H. (1978). Woodrow Wilson: The Years of Preparation. Princeton. pp. 71–72. 
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  • Berg, A. Scott. Wilson (2013), full-scale scholarly biography
  • Blum, John. Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality (1956); short scholarly biography
  • Brands, H. W. Woodrow Wilson 1913–1921 (2003); short scholarly biography
  • Cooper, John Milton. Woodrow Wilson: A Biography (2009), full-scale scholarly biography
  • Heckscher, August (1991). Woodrow Wilson. Easton Press. 
  • Levin, Phyllis Lee (2001). Edith and Woodrow: The Wilson White House. Scribner. ISBN 0-7432-1158-8. 
  • Link, Arthur S. "Woodrow Wilson" in Henry F. Graff ed., The Presidents: A Reference History (2002) pp. 365–388; short scholarly biography
  • Link, Arthur Stanley. Wilson: The Road to the White House (1947), first volume of standard biography (to 1917); Wilson: The New Freedom (1956); Wilson: The Struggle for Neutrality: 1914–1915 (1960); Wilson: Confusions and Crises: 1915–1916 (1964); Wilson: Campaigns for Progressivism and Peace: 1916–1917 (1965), the last volume of standard scholarly biography
  • Maynard, W. Barksdale. Woodrow Wilson: Princeton to the Presidency (2008)
  • Miller, Kristie. Ellen and Edith: Woodrow Wilson's First Ladies (University Press of Kansas, 2010)
  • Post, Jerrold M. "Woodrow Wilson Re-Examined: The Mind-Body Controversy Redux and Other Disputations," Political Psychology (1983) 4#2 pp. 289–306 in JSTOR, on Wilson's self-defeating behavior
  • Walworth, Arthur (1958). Woodrow Wilson, Volume I. Longmans, Green. ; full scale scholarly biography

Scholarly topical studies

  • Ambrosius, Lloyd E., "Woodrow Wilson and George W. Bush: Historical Comparisons of Ends and Means in Their Foreign Policies", Diplomatic History, 30 (June 2006), 509–43.
  • Bailey; Thomas A. Wilson and the Peacemakers: Combining Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace and Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (1947); detailed coverage of 1919
  • Clements, Kendrick, A. Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman (1999)
  • Clements, Kendrick A. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (1992), a standard scholarly survey
  • Clements, Kendrick A. "Woodrow Wilson and World War I", Presidential Studies Quarterly 34:1 (2004). pp. 62+
  • Cooper, John Milton, ed. Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson: Progressivism, Internationalism, War, and Peace (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)
  • Cooper, John Milton. "Making A Case for Wilson," in Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson (2008) ch 1
  • Davis, Donald E. and Eugene P. Trani. The First Cold War: The Legacy of Woodrow Wilson in U.S.-Soviet Relations] (2002) online
  • Greene, Theodore P., ed. Wilson at Versailles (1957) essays by scholars and primary sources
  • Hofstadter, Richard. "Woodrow Wilson: The Conservative as Liberal" in The American Political Tradition (1948), ch. 10.
  • Janis, Mark Weston. "How Wilsonian Was Woodrow Wilson?," Dartmouth Law Journal (2007) 5:1 pp. 1–15 online
  • Kazianis, Harry. "Woodrow Wilson: Civil War, Morality and Foreign Policy", E-International Relations (2011), E-ir.info
  • Kennedy, Ross A., ed. A Companion to Woodrow Wilson (2013), historiographical essays by scholars
  • Knock, Thomas J. To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (1995)
  • Levin, Jr., N. Gordon. Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution (1968)
  • Link, Arthur Stanley. Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910–1917 (1972) standard political history of the era
  • Link, Arthur S.; Wilson the Diplomatist: A Look at His Major Foreign Policies (1957)
  • Link, Arthur S.; Woodrow Wilson and a Revolutionary World, 1913–1921 (1982)
  • Livermore, Seward W. Woodrow Wilson and the War Congress, 1916–1918 (1966)
  • Malin, James C. The United States after the World War (1930) online
  • Saunders, Robert M. In Search of Woodrow Wilson: Beliefs and Behavior (1998)
  • Trani, Eugene P. "Woodrow Wilson and the Decision to Intervene in Russia: A Reconsideration". Journal of Modern History (1976). 48:440–61. in JSTOR
  • Tucker, Robert W. Woodrow Wilson and the Great War: Reconsidering America's Neutrality, 1914–1917 (2007)
  • Vought, Hans. "Woodrow Wilson, Ethnicity, and the Myth of American Unity". In Myth America: A Historical Anthology, Volume II. 1997. Gerster, Patrick, and Cords, Nicholas. (editors.) Brandywine Press, St. James, NY. ISBN 1-881-089-97-5
  • Walworth, Arthur; Wilson and His Peacemakers: American Diplomacy at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919 (1986)
  • Yellin, Eric S. Racism in the Nation's Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson's America (2013)
  • Princeton University (1956). Woodrow Wilson – Catalogue of an Exhibition in the Princeton University Library February 18 through April 15, 1956 Commemorating the Centennial of His Birth XVII (3, Spring issue). The Princeton University Library Chronicle. 

Primary sources

External links