Arthur S. Link
THOMAS WOODROW WILSON, twenty-eighth president of the United States, is the only chief executive who has given scholarly attention to the presidency before undertaking the duties of that office. Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, on 28 December 1856, the son of Janet Woodrow Wilson and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a founder of the southern Presbyterian Church. He was graduated from Princeton University (1879), studied law at the University of Virginia (1879–1880), practiced law in Atlanta (1882–1883), and thereafter did graduate work in political science, history, and economics at The Johns Hopkins University, where he received the Ph.D. in 1886.
From his youth onward, Wilson was intensely interested in the problems of modern democracy from a practical, not a theoretical, point of view. Presidential power was at a low ebb in the mid-1880s, and Wilson, in his first book, Congressional Government (1885), virtually ignored the presidency and focused on the obstacles that then existed to searching debate and discussion of great national issues. He singled out for particular criticism the committees of the House of Representatives, which, he said, effectively stifled free discussion. The surest way to guarantee that such debate would take place, Wilson said, would be to adopt the British cabinet system and make cabinet members ministers of state responsible to Congress.
Throughout his years as a professor of history, politics, and constitutional law at Bryn Mawr College (1885–1888), Wesleyan University (1888–1890), and Princeton University (1890–1910; president, 1902–1910), Wilson paid close attention to developments in American politics. He admired what he perceived as Cleveland's assertion of the moral leadership of the presidency and noted the impact on that office of the war with Spain and the entry of the United States on the world stage as a colonial and naval power.
It was Theodore Roosevelt's revivification of the presidential office that helped Wilson to come to his mature and definitive understanding of the potential powers of the chief executive. Those powers are described in Wilson's Constitutional Government in the United States (1908) in what is perhaps the classic view of the modern presidency. The president, Wilson wrote, is the one single spokesman of the nation:
Let him once win the admiration and confidence of the country, and no other single force can withstand him, no combination of forces will easily overpower him. His position takes the imagination of the country. He is the representative of no constituency, but of the whole people. When he speaks in his true character, he speaks for no special interest. If he rightly interpret the national thought and boldly insist upon it, he is irresistible; and the country never feels the zest of action so much as when he is of such insight and calibre.
Wilson as Maker and Leader of Public Opinion
This was the kind of president that Wilson was determined to be after his victory on 5 November 1912 over the Republican incumbent, William Howard Taft; the Republican insurgent, or Progressive, Theodore Roosevelt; and the Socialist, Eugene Victor Debs. During the first days of his administration, Wilson moved quickly and decisively to establish himself as the chief maker, educator, and organizer of public opinion to support his domestic and foreign policies.
His first move—to hold regularly scheduled press conferences with the Washington press corps—was an innovation. Wilson appealed to the reporters assembled in the East Room of the White House for his first press conference, on 22 March 1913, to join him in partnership by interpreting the public opinion of the country to him. Wilson's intentions were, of course, to control the flow of information from the capital to the country and to use it to shape public opinion. And this he did successfully, on the whole. Wilson discontinued the regular press conferences in June 1915 because of increasing diplomatic responsibilities. He held only a few afterward—one in September 1916, a few in late 1916 and early 1917, and the final one on 10 July 1919.
Wilson also sought to educate and shape public opinion through state papers, addresses, and public statements. No president in American history has used these media with such remarkable power and success as Wilson did. He rivaled Jefferson and Lincoln in his mastery of the English language, but he used the spoken and printed word far more than they had done to shape the course of events. On the highest level of discourse—when he sought to end the war in Europe, to enunciate American war aims, or to plead for ratification of the Treaty of Versailles—Wilson claimed to speak not for himself but for the American people. In his annual message of 8 December 1914 he said:
I have tried to know what America is, what her people think, what they are, what they most cherish and hold dear. I hope that some of their finer passions are in my own heart—some of the great conceptions and desires which gave birth to this Government and which have made the voice of this people a voice of peace and hope and liberty among the peoples of the world, and that, in speaking my own thoughts, I shall, at least in part, speak theirs also.
However one judges Wilson's claim, it is beyond doubt that he used the "bully pulpit" of the White House to educate and shape public opinion with remarkable success. And because he invoked Judeo-Christian traditions and appealed to the minds and spirits of people, his rhetoric literally changed the course of history. For example, it is doubtful that any American, other than Wilson, could have so successfully united the people of the United States behind the great war effort of 1917–1918.
Long study of Anglo-American politics had convinced Wilson that party responsibility was the key to effective government in a democracy. Parties had to enunciate and stand for principles, and a party platform was a covenant with the people. But parties could not play their essential role without leaders. As governor of New Jersey (1911–1913), Wilson had confounded many cynics by fulfilling every pledge in the New Jersey Democratic platform of 1910. He had also invigorated and substantially transformed the Democratic party in his state.
Wilson was determined to unite the fragmented and hitherto leaderless Democrats in Congress into a disciplined phalanx. As he wrote on the eve of his inauguration in 1913, the president
is expected by the nation to be the leader of his party as well as the chief executive officer of the government, and the country will take no excuses from him.. . . He must be the prime minister, as much concerned with the guidance of legislation as with the just and orderly execution of law.
The White House announced a few days after Wilson's inauguration that the new "prime minister" would help to frame legislation and would confer frequently with Democratic leaders in Congress in the President's Room in the Capitol. This Wilson did throughout his administration. He planned the first legislative program with his spokesmen in Congress even before he was inaugurated. He then broke a precedent, established by Jefferson, by going in person before a joint session of Congress on 8 April 1913 to deliver his message on tariff reform. Wilson kept in close touch with congressional leaders, and no detail of legislation escaped his eye; virtually no legislation was adopted without his prior approval.
Wilson established his leadership of the Democrats in Congress usually through sheer force of personality and moral leadership, by simply reminding them of their obligations to the country. He was courteous, even deferential, in discourse and disarmed potential dissidents by affirming that they, as much as he, wanted to do their duty. As Samuel G. Blythe wrote at the time, he was agreeable, mild-mannered, even solicitous about it all, "but . . . he is firmly and entirely the leader, and insists upon complete recognition as such.. . . The Democratic party revolves around him. He is the center of it; the biggest Democrat in the country—the leader and the chief."
Wilson succeeded as a parliamentary leader mainly because Democratic members admired him intensely, recognized his elevated motives and purposes, and wanted to make their party an effective instrument of government. It was silly to talk about his bending Congress to his indomitable will, Wilson said, for "Congress is made up of thinking men who want the party to succeed as much as I do, and who wish to serve the country effectively and intelligently.. . . They are using me; I am not driving them."
In summation, Wilson was the parliamentary leader par excellence in the history of the American presidency. During the period when he enjoyed a majority in Congress (1913–1919), he broke down the wall between the executive and legislative branches, focused executive and legislative leadership in his own person, and established himself as the spokesman of the American people in domestic and international affairs.
Wilson's first cabinet reflected the geographical distribution of Democratic strength across the United States and the various factions of the party. The secretary of state, Willam Jennings Bryan of Nebraska, had three times been the Democratic presidential candidate and represented particularly agrarian interests. The secretary of the treasury, William Gibbs McAdoo of New York, spoke for the independent, anti-Wall Street financial elements. The attorney general, James C. McReynolds of New York, had the reputation of a relentless trust-buster. The secretary of war, Lindley M. Garrison, was a New Jersey judge with no political base. The secretary of the navy, Josephus Daniels of North Carolina, represented southern progressivism. Albert S. Burleson of Texas, the postmaster general, had served many terms in the House of Representatives. The secretary of labor, William B. Wilson of Pennsylvania, had been secretary-treasurer of the United Workers of America and was the frank spokesman of the American Federation of Labor (AF of L). Wilson chose the remaining three cabinet members—Franklin K. Lane of California, secretary of the interior; David E Houston of Texas, secretary of agriculture; and William C. Redfield of New York, secretary of commerce—more for their expertise than for their political influence.
There were several changes in the cabinet during the Wilson administration. Bryan resigned in 1915 and was replaced by Robert Lansing of New York, a professional international lawyer. Wilson dismissed Lansing in early 1920 and appointed Bain-bridge Colby of New York to succeed him. Garrison resigned in 1916 and was replaced by an Ohio progressive, Newton D. Baker. Carter Glass of Virginia, and then Houston, succeeded McAdoo at the Treasury Department in 1918 and 1920, respectively. McReynolds resigned in 1914 to accept appointment to the Supreme Court. He was succeeded by Thomas W. Gregory of Texas and, in 1919, by Alexander M. Palmer of Pennsylvania. Lane left the cabinet in 1920 and was succeeded by John B. Payne of Illinois. When Houston went to the treasury in 1920, Edwin T. Meredith of Iowa took his place as secretary of agriculture.
Wilson worked closely with his cabinet officers but gave them considerable freedom and initiative and always supported them so long as they executed policies that had his approval. Cabinet meetings, which usually took place once a week, were informal affairs at which Wilson would discuss current problems and seek, as he put it, "common counsel." Wilson formally requested the advice of the cabinet on a specific issue only once—on 20 March 1917, on the question of whether he should ask Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.
A strong cabinet, composed for the most part of activists, carried out policies that were nearly as important as the legislative achievements for which the Wilson administration is more famous. (Since Wilson tended to make and control foreign policy in all important areas himself, his secretaries of state will be discussed in the sections on foreign policies.)
McAdoo was the most dynamic and vigorous member of the administration; he also had an undisguised lust for power and a habit of invading the jurisdictions of other cabinet officers. His bold and original mind was wedded to a strong determination to make the United States treasury the dominant force in controlling credit, interest rates, and the money supply. He tried, but failed, to make the new Federal Reserve system an adjunct of the treasury. Once the United States entered World War I, McAdoo made the treasury into an all-powerful engine of credit. With the creation in 1918 of the War Finance Corporation, McAdoo enjoyed control of an agency capable of lending money on a large scale. Along parallel lines, the Justice Department, under both McReynolds and Gregory, relentlessly and successfully pursued one single policy: to restore competition through the dissolution of monopolies. Lane, in the Interior Department, took the lead in building the federally owned Alaskan Railroad and in the adoption of a coal-leasing bill for Alaska. Lane was caught between the cross fire of extreme conservationists and private interests in a long struggle for legislation to permit development of hydroelectric power on navigable rivers and public lands and the exploitation of oil and mineral deposits in the public domain. The adoption of the Water Power and General Leasing acts of 1920 vindicated Lane's long struggle just at the time that he left the cabinet.
Because they were relatively new, the departments of agriculture, labor, and commerce took the lead in the expansion of governmental activities. Secretary of Labor William Wilson in 1913 established an informal conciliation service that frequently settled labor disputes, whenever possible upon the basis of the recognition of the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively. In this matter, the Labor Department was only nominally evenhanded. The secretary also played an active role in attempts to prevent or control child labor. Throughout his tenure, William Wilson maintained a close alliance with Samuel Gompers, president of the AF of L.
Little has been written about Redfield and his work in the Commerce Department. A vigorous free trader, he was also a zealous champion of American business enterprise who sought ardently to stimulate American enterprise abroad. Indeed, Redfield took many of the initiatives in support of American business for which Herbert Hoover, as secretary of commerce from 1921 to 1928, is usually given credit.
Finally, the quiet academic David F. Houston led the Agriculture Department in the most important expansion of the activities of any single department during the Wilson administration. Houston supervised the establishment of the Federal Farm Loan system, created by the Rural Credits Act of 1916. Houston also helped to draft the measures that vastly enlarged the rural service of the federal government: the Cotton Futures Act, the Grain Standards Act, and the Warehouse Act, all of 1916. Even more important were the Agricultural Educational Act of that same year, which provided funds to place agents of land-grant colleges in every agricultural county in the United States; the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, which provided for federal assistance to vocational and agricultural education in public schools; and the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1916, which was designed at first to benefit rural areas and later became the legislative authority for the construction of a nationwide system of modern highways.
The New Freedom at Home
Wilson came to the presidency in 1913 with clear and precise ideas about the urgent agenda for the reconstruction of the American political economy. Fortunately for him, the Democratic platform of 1912, largely written by Bryan, was either in conformity with Wilson's views or was sufficiently general in language to validate them as pure Democratic doctrine. Wilson believed deeply in the resourcefulness and capacities of the American people. He also believed that the energies of the aspiring middle classes had been stifled by industrial, commercial, and financial monopolists. Wilson laid out his program for reform, which he called the New Freedom, clearly and eloquently during the presidential campaign of 1912.
The first item on Wilson's legislative agenda was, inevitably, a drastic lowering of the high rates of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff of 1909. Low tariffs, to benefit consumers and stimulate competition, had been the most important Democratic policy since the Civil War, and Wilson had pressed the issue vigorously during the campaign of 1912. Moreover, the Payne-Aldrich Tariff stood as the single most glaring symbol of the power of special-interest groups over legislative policy.
Wilson sounded the call for reform in his address to Congress of 8 April 1913: "We must abolish everything that bears even the semblance of privilege or of any kind of artificial advantage." The House of Representatives was ready and eager to act. The Ways and Means Committee, led by Oscar W. Under-wood of Alabama, had already introduced a measure that cut most rates drastically, put most consumer goods and articles used by farmers on the free list, and (at Wilson's demand) put farm products, including wool and later sugar, on the free list. The Under-wood bill reduced the average ad valorem rates of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff from about 40 percent to about 29 percent; these figures do not take into account the additional reductions effected by the vast expansion of the free list. Finally, in order to compensate for the anticipated decrease in customs receipts, the Underwood bill imposed a modest income tax, the first under the Sixteenth Amendment. The House Democratic caucus made the bill a party measure, and Underwood pushed it through the House by a vote of 281 to 139 on 8 May 1913.
The main danger now was that the slim Democratic majority in the Senate would vanish if senators from the sugar- and wool-producing states bolted. But Wilson stood firm, and he enjoyed the full support of the Finance Committee, headed by Furnifold M. Simmons of North Carolina. Wilson, in a public statement on 26 May 1913, denounced the lobbyists who were hard at work trying to wreck tariff reform. This charge led to a Senate investigation of the private interests of senators that might be affected by tariff reductions. Under the white heat of this investigation and Wilson's steady pressure, Democratic opposition melted, and the Senate, on 9 September, approved what was now called the Underwood-Simmons bill by a vote of 44 to 37. The Senate bill actually decreased the rates of the Underwood bill by 4 percent and brought the general ad valorem rates to a level of about 26 percent; in addition, the Senate bill increased the maximum income tax in the Under-wood bill from 4 percent to 7 percent. The House accepted these changes, and Wilson signed the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act on 3 October 1913.
The measure marked a significant change in federal economic policy. It reflected certain underlying changes in the American economy that had been taking place since the late 1890s, the most important of which was the transformation of the United States from an importer of goods and capital into the leading manufacturing nation of the world, with a surplus of capital and goods that had to be invested and sold abroad.
Much more complex, difficult, and urgent than tariff reform was the restructuring of the nation's banking and currency systems so as to assure a money supply adequate for the needs of a dynamic and growing economy and to open the channels of credit to all worthy borrowers. Bankers, businessmen, and economists had long pointed to the grave weaknesses of the national banking system, established during the Civil War. It tied the money supply in large degree to the gold supply and the bonded indebtedness of the United States, provided only a primitive means of mobilizing and transferring banking reserves from one section to another, and encouraged the concentration of reserves in Wall Street. The National Monetary Commission, headed by Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, Republican of Rhode Island, had exposed these weaknesses in its report to Congress of 1912, but its solution—a single national reserve bank, with branches, owned and controlled by the banks—only intensified the widespread fear that Wall Street wanted to fasten its control over the credit resources of the country.
Wilson had the main outlines of a currency and banking bill in mind at least by November 1912. He explained them a month later to Carter Glass, who would be the next chairman of the House Banking Committee. Wilson proposed the creation of a number of regional reserve banks owned and controlled by member banks. The "capstone," as Wilson called it, would be the Federal Reserve Board, which would control the money supply, determine interest rates, and perform all the functions of a central bank. Moreover, the legislation would provide for new currency, Federal Reserve notes, to be issued by the Federal Reserve banks upon a basis of gold and commercial assets so that the money supply would expand or contract according to the needs of producers and businessmen. Glass and his committee and technical advisers set to work and, about 1 May 1913, completed a draft of a banking and currency bill that conformed to Wilson's concepts.
Circulation of this draft set off a fierce controversy. Bryan could not accept the Glass bill because it stipulated that Federal Reserve notes would be the obligation of the reserve banks, not of the federal government. Neo-Populists in Congress went even further and demanded a reserve and currency system owned and controlled exclusively by the federal government. They were also adamantly opposed to the Glass bill's stipulation that three of the nine members of the Federal Reserve Board should be bankers chosen by the regional banks. McAdoo muddied the waters by drafting a bill that made the Federal Reserve system an adjunct of the United States treasury. Wilson moved decisively but calmly to regain control. He conceded Bryan's point and won his support. Wilson also accepted the advice of Louis D. Brandeis, progressive lawyer and economist of Boston, to the effect that all members of the Federal Reserve Board should be appointed by the president. Glass revised the bill accordingly.
Wilson went again in person before a joint session of Congress on 23 June 1913: "I have come to you, as head of the Government and the responsible leader of the party in power, to urge action now." Glass and Robert L. Owen of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, introduced identical bills in their respective houses on 26 June.
By this time, conservatives and many large-city bankers had mounted a furious assault on the Federal Reserve bill. They charged that it was socialistic because it deprived bankers of control over their own property, and they also said that the measure would politicize the banking and currency systems. Other assaults came from agrarian spokesmen because the Federal Reserve bill made no provision for the redis-counting of agricultural paper. Wilson quickly conceded the demand of the agrarians but held firm in his adherence to the principle of public control. The House passed the Federal Reserve bill by an overwhelming majority on 18 September. Wilson waited patiently as conservative Senate Republicans and obstructionist Democrats wore themselves out. The Federal Reserve bill passed the Senate by a vote of 54 to 34 on 19 December. Wilson signed the measure on 23 December 1913.
The Federal Reserve Act was the most important legislation of the Wilson era and one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of the United States. The cornerstone of the new progressive political economy, it attempted to combine private initiative with public control. The act has been amended significantly only once, in 1935, in order to strengthen the Federal Reserve Board's power over interest rates and the money supply. The Federal Reserve system is still the most important economic instrumentality of the United States.
Achievement of Wilson's third great New Freedom goal—legislation to clarify and strengthen the generalities of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890—proved to be nearly as difficult as the writing and enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, but not because of any significant opposition to a stronger federal antitrust policy. The administration's original program was embodied in the antitrust bill introduced by Representative Henry D. Clayton of Alabama on 14 April 1914; in a measure to create an interstate commerce commission with no power to enforce its decrees, introduced by Representative James H. Covington of Maryland on 16 March 1914; and in a measure to give the Interstate Commerce Commission authority over the issuance of securities by the railroads, introduced by Representative Sam Rayburn of Texas on 7 May 1914.
The keystone of the administration's program, the Clayton bill, attempted to outlaw all known methods and devices used to strangle competition and achieve monopoly. It at once drew the fire of the leaders of the AF of L because it did not specifically exempt labor unions from prosecution for acts that the Supreme Court had said violated the Sherman Act. Wilson assuaged labor by permitting the addition of provisions that stipulated that labor unions and agricultural cooperatives should not be deemed to be conspiracies in restraint of trade and that sought to protect labor unions against indiscriminate court injunctions in strikes. The House passed the Clayton, Covington, and Rayburn bills by a huge majority, all on 5 June 1914.
Opposition to the Clayton bill came quickly and vociferously from small businessmen, who claimed that the measure provided jail terms for their day-today practices, and from legal authorities, who argued that it was impossible to legislate against every conceivable restraint of trade. Wilson again sought the advice of Brandeis, who urged him to take up a measure that he and a friend had drafted. Known as the Stevens bill, it outlawed all "unfair" competition and established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate alleged unfair trade practices; most important, the Stevens bill authorized the FTC to issue cease and desist orders, which would have the force of court injunctions, to alleged perpetrators of unfair competition.
Wilson took up the Stevens bill at once, and a relieved House adopted it as a substitute for the Covington bill on 12 June 1914. Then the Senate undertook the task of generalizing the Clayton bill. The final text may not have "clarified" the Sherman Act, but it strengthened the Sherman Act in two important ways. It made corporation officials personally and criminally liable for the acts of their companies, and it gave individuals and corporations the benefit of decisions in antitrust cases instituted by the government. This meant they could almost automatically collect threefold damages from companies that had injured them once the government had won a suit against the latter. The Rayburn bill was abandoned when the outbreak of war in Europe in August 1914 totally demoralized the securities markets, but would be revived and incorporated in the Transportation Act of 1920. Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission bill on 26 September 1914 and the Clayton bill on 15 October 1914. The reconstruction of the American political economy was now complete.
Labor and farm organizations and social reformers now increased their pressure upon Wilson and Congress for legislation to benefit special interests and protect disadvantaged groups. Wilson at first yielded gracefully and then championed their causes in 1916, in part because he would need the support of progressive Republicans in the presidential election of 1916 and in part because he was becoming increasingly convinced that federal authority alone could cope with some of the urgent social and economic problems of the day.
Wilson had nothing to do with the origins and passage of the two important pieces of social legislation in 1915. One was the Burnett immigration bill, which attempted to restrict immigration by imposing a literacy test upon newcomers. Organized labor had long demanded this legislation, but social workers and reformers were badly divided over it. Wilson lost no standing with progressives when he vetoed the Burnett bill on 28 January 1915. It was reenacted over his veto in 1917.
The second measure was the Seamen's Act, drafted by Andrew Furuseth, president of the International Seamen's Union, and championed in Congress by Senator Robert M. La Follette, progressive Republican from Wisconsin. The United States was obliged by treaties with twenty-two maritime nations to arrest their seamen when they deserted in American ports and to return them to their ships. The Seamen's Act freed all seamen in American ports from bondage to their labor contracts; in other words, once seamen were on American soil, they were free to leave their ships and accept whatever employment they chose. Bryan talked to La Follette and Furuseth on 2 March 1915. Wilson was so moved by Furuseth's plea and by the justice of the seamen's claims that he signed the bill on 4 March 1915, and the State Department duly abrogated the treaties.
The pace of Wilsonian reform quickened as the two great parties prepared for their national conventions in 1916. As has been said, Wilson pushed adoption of a comprehensive program to provide to farmers long-term credit, educational and other assistance, and good roads. He advocated and obtained congressional approval for the establishment of the Federal Tariff Commission, which progressives had long demanded. He appointed Brandeis to the Supreme Court and won the Senate's approval of the nomination after a grueling battle. Soon after the adjournment of the Democratic National Convention, Wilson pushed the Keating-Owen child-labor bill and a measure for federal workmen's compensation through the Senate, where they had been stalled for months. In late August and early September, he obtained quick passage of the Adamson Act, which established the eight-hour workday on interstate railroads, thus averting a disastrous nationwide rail strike. At the same time, Wilson approved a Revenue Act that drastically increased taxes upon incomes and estates.
The Democratic platform of 1912 demanded enlarged self-government and early independence for the Philippine Islands and territorial self-government for Puerto Rico. Wilson, who had long since shed whatever imperialistic sentiments he might once have had, became in fact the first de-colonizer among the statesmen of the twentieth century. The Jones Act of 29 August 1916 affirmed the intention of the United States to withdraw entirely from the Philippines as soon as a stable indigenous government was established, created an elective senate to supplant presidential appointees as the upper house of the Philippine legislature, and provided that the governor-general should appoint heads of executive departments, except the Department of Public Instruction, with the consent of the Philippine Senate.
The all-Filipino legislature, which met on 16 October 1916, was the first autonomous legislature established by a colonial power in an overseas possession, except for the self-governing dominions of the British Empire. Moreover, Wilson's governor-general, Francis Burton Harrison, was an ardent anti-imperialist. He transferred virtually all powers of local government to Filipinos, so that the Philippine Islands enjoyed dominion status in fact, if not in name, by the end of the Wilson administration.
For Puerto Rico, Wilson pushed through Congress, and signed on 2 March 1917, the second Jones Act. It gave Puerto Rico territorial status, conferred American citizenship upon residents of the island, and created a virtually autonomous two-house legislature elected by the people.
The New Freedom Abroad
Among all the statesmen of the modern era, Woodrow Wilson stands out as the preeminent champion of liberal humanitarian international ideals. He believed, to the point of religious commitment, that the United States had been created to serve mankind. He detested imperialism and the exploitation of helpless people by the strong and ruthless. He believed in the right of all peoples to govern themselves and in the peaceful settlement of international disputes. He abhorred the use of violence to protect American material interests abroad. Secretary of State Bryan, who shared all of Wilson's views, was easily the leading opponent of imperialism in the United States and was also in the vanguard of the movement to advance peace through arbitration and conciliation. Both Wilson and Bryan were determined to make a new beginning in foreign policy in 1913.
With Wilson's blessing, Bryan, in 1913 and 1914, negotiated with thirty nations—including Great Britain, France, and Italy—treaties that established elaborate machinery to prevent war. Additional evidence of Wilson and Bryan's intentions in foreign policy came early in the new administration, with a forthright repudiation of the "dollar diplomacy" of the Taft administration. At the insistence of the State Department, an American banking group had been admitted in 1911 to an international consortium to finance the construction of the Hukuang Railway in China. Wilson, on 18 March 1913, announced that he could not approve the loan agreement because it would lead to unacceptable outside interference in Chinese domestic affairs, and so the consortium collapsed. Then, on 2 May 1913, Wilson extended diplomatic recognition to the fledgling Republic of China without prior consultation with the other great powers.
A crisis in Japanese-American relations erupted in the spring of 1913, when the legislature of California began to deliberate a bill that forbade persons "ineligible to citizenship" (that is, Orientals) to own land in the state. Wilson sent Bryan to Sacramento to plead with the governor and leaders of the legislature of California to avoid this open insult to the Japanese. But Wilson and Bryan could not budge the intransigent Californians; moreover, the latter put the president and secretary of state in an awkward position when they added to the bill a provision that declared null and void any part of the measure that violated the treaty obligations of the United States.
The Japanese government protested strongly, and there was talk of war on both sides, particularly among American naval leaders; but Wilson and Bryan's conciliatory diplomacy defused the crisis at once. Wilson and Bryan also seemed prepared, in spite of all the obvious political risks at home, to negotiate a treaty with Japan to guarantee the mutual right of landownership. Then, in the early weeks of 1915, a new crisis broke out when the Japanese attempted to impose upon China a treaty that would have made that country a virtual protectorate of Japan. Wilson resisted this assault upon Chinese independence and the Open Door so vigorously that the Japanese gave up their extreme demands.
Another demonstration of Wilson's determination to do the "right" thing in international relations in spite of heavy political risks came out in a controversy with Great Britain in 1913 and 1914. With the Panama Canal nearing completion, Congress, in August 1912, passed legislation that exempted American ships engaged in the coastwise trade from the payment of tolls for use of the canal. The Democratic platform of 1912 had also endorsed such exemption. The British government, soon after Taft signed the Panama Canal Act, sent to Washington a solemn note that argued that the exemption violated the Anglo-American Hay-Pauncefote Treaty of 1901, which stipulated that the Panama Canal should be open on equal terms to the ships of all nations.
Wilson was convinced, even before his inauguration, that the British were right, but he did not dare to act until the success of his domestic program was assured. Then, on 5 March 1914, Wilson went before a joint session of Congress and asked for repeal of the exemption provision. "The large thing to do is the only thing we can afford to do," he said, "a voluntary withdrawal from a position everywhere questioned and misunderstood."
It was actually one of Wilson's most courageous moves during his presidency. The entire Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives opposed him, and he risked his leadership of Congress and his party by repudiating a prominent plank of the platform of 1912. The British ambassador in Washington believed that Wilson faced certain defeat. However, the House and the Senate approved repeal of the exemption provision on 31 March and 11 June 1914, by votes of 247–162 and 50–35, respectively. "When I think of the obstacles you have encountered and overcome in this conflict for the national honor," one friend wrote to Wilson on 16 June 1914, "the victory seems colossal." It was also a victory over anglo-phobes and chauvinists, and it secured Wilson's leadership of the Democratic party in Congress.
Wilson and Bryan wanted ardently to draw the two continents of the western hemisphere into intimate economic and diplomatic relationships. As a first step, they negotiated a treaty with the Colombian government to repair the moral and diplomatic damage done by Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, when he encouraged and supported the Panamanian "revolution" that tore the province of Panama from Colombia. The Treaty of Bogotá, signed on 6 April 1914, not only awarded Colombia an indemnity of $25 million, for the loss of Panama; it also expressed the "sincere regret" of the United States that anything should have happened to impair good relations between the two countries. The sight of a great power apologizing to a small country for a wrong done in the past evoked warm approval throughout Latin America. However, Theodore Roosevelt's friends in the Senate were able to block ratification. The Harding administration, in 1921, negotiated a new treaty, which was ratified, that awarded Colombia the $25 million but omitted the apology.
Wilson's great goal in Latin America was the negotiation of a pact to unite all the American republics in an alliance binding them to respect one another's territorial integrity, guarantee one another's political independence, and settle all disputes among themselves by peaceful methods. Such a treaty would in effect have mutualized the Monroe Doctrine, and Wilson, in an address to a Pan-American conference in Washington on 6 January 1916, announced his intention to take this then-radical step. The Monroe Doctrine, he said, was proclaimed by the United States on its own authority; it was a unilateral policy, and it did not restrain the United States in the western hemisphere. Doubts about this matter had to be removed and would be removed by the Pan-American pact, for it was based upon the "handsome principle of self-restraint and respect for the rights of everybody." Wilson's hopes for the Pan-American pact were spoiled by the opposition of Chile, which had an old border dispute with Peru that it would not submit to arbitration.
Whatever their thoughts were about Latin American policy in general, Wilson and Bryan (and subsequent secretaries of state to 1921) regarded defense of the Caribbean area and of the Panama Canal as one of the main objectives of the foreign policy of the United States. They tried to inculcate respect for democratic government among the leaders of the countries in the Caribbean; they also refused, insofar as it was within their power to do so, to permit American business interests to obtain concessions and American bankers loans that would unfairly exploit the people of the Caribbean basin. Nonetheless, Wilson and his secretaries of state deemed the stability of the area to be absolutely essential to the security of the United States and were prepared to take all measures necessary to guarantee that stability.
Bryan continued the Taft administration's support of a corrupt and conservative regime in Nicaragua, not by armed intervention, which Taft had resorted to, but by a treaty that provided for the payment of $3 million to Nicaragua for an option on its canal route and stipulated (at the insistence of the Nicaraguan government) that the United States might intervene in Nicaragua to preserve order, protect property, and defend Nicaraguan independence. The latter provision was unacceptable to anti-imperialists in the Senate. Only when the provision was removed from the treaty in 1916 would they consent to its ratification.
The republic of Haiti had always contrived to preserve its independence, but it came on evil times in 1914 and 1915 as governments fell in quick succession to revolutionists with their eyes on the custom-houses. The only remedy seemed to be American control of the Haitian customs, but the Haitians refused to take this strong medicine when Wilson sent a commission to Haiti to offer it. An enraged mob murdered the Haitian president in Port-au-Prince on 27 July 1915; anarchy and starvation threatened. Wilson was reluctant to intervene, but he thought that he had no choice but to rescue the hapless Haitian people. As he wrote to Lansing on 4 August 1915, "I suppose there is nothing for it but to take the bull by the horns and restore order." American marines and sailors occupied Port-au-Prince on 28 July 1915. The American navy proceeded to pacify the country, to set up a puppet government, and to impose upon the Haitian Senate a treaty that made Haiti a protectorate of the United States.
The United States had collected and disbursed the customs revenues of the Dominican Republic since 1905, but Wilson's warnings and Bryan's exhortations failed to prevent the same fatal cycle of revolutions in the Dominican Republic that had devastated Haiti. To Wilson and his advisers, there seemed to be no alternative but to impose peace upon the country. American military forces occupied Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, on 15 May 1916, and established a military government in the following November.
American marines occupied the Dominican Republic until 1924 and Haiti until 1934. They put an end to revolutions and built schools, roads, and sanitary facilities, and the Dominican and Haitian peoples enjoyed greater peace and protection of their lives and property than they had known before.
Denmark, in desperate straits on account of World War I, indicated in 1915 that it might be willing to sell its West Indian islands, with their potential for naval bases, to the United States if the price was right. Wilson, worried by the possibility that Germany might, by one means or another, force Denmark to cede it the Danish West Indies, was in no mood to haggle over the price of even run-down real estate. The two governments agreed upon a purchase price of $25 million; the treaty was signed on 4 August 1916 and ratified on 17 January 1917; and an American naval commander accepted transfer of the islands from the Danish governor on 31 March 1917.
Wilson fought his first battle against imperialism while dealing with events in Mexico, the country in which imperialism had reached its apogee. Porfirio Díaz, dictator of Mexico since 1877, had given away much of the birthright of the Mexican people to foreigners by 1910. Reformers, led by Francisco Indalecio Madero, drove the senile Díaz into exile and installed Madero in the presidential palace in November 1911. But Madero proved to be an inept ruler, and when the inevitable counterrevolution began on 9 February 1913, the head of the army, Victoriano Huerta, joined the rebels; had Madero murdered; and assumed power as acting president on 18 February. Huerta perpetrated his treachery with the full knowledge and, to some degree, the complicity of Henry Lane Wilson, the American ambassador in Mexico City. Great Britain, Germany, and France, whose citizens owned extensive properties in Mexico, recognized Huerta as the constitutional de facto president, as did Japan and many other nations.
This, then, was the situation in Mexico when Woodrow Wilson took the oath of office on 4 March 1913. Wilson recoiled in disgust at what he called "a government of butchers" and was distressed beyond description when he learned a few months later about Henry Lane Wilson's complicity in Huerta's coup. Woodrow Wilson's goal from March to October 1913 was clear, consistent, and, initially, naive. It was the reestablishment of constitutional government in Mexico through free elections in which Huerta would not be a candidate for president. Wilson's only weapons during those months were moral pressure and the influence that inhered in his power to extend recognition or to withhold it. Thus, he recalled Henry Lane Wilson and, in August 1913, sent John Lind, a former Democratic governor of Minnesota, to Mexico City to offer what amounted to de facto recognition and Washington's approval of a large loan to the Mexican government if Huerta would agree to hold an "early and free" election. The American president also asked for an immediate armistice in the civil war that had begun soon after Huerta's coup, when a large group of Madero's followers, called Constitutionalists, had taken to the field under Venustiano Carranza, governor of the state of Coahuila.
Huerta bluffed and feinted, but by then he had the outright support of the British government and no intention of abdicating. On the contrary, he arrested most of the members of the Chamber of Deputies and instituted an outright military dictatorship on 10 October 1913.
Huerta's move forced Wilson to adopt a policy that took account of the hard realities of the Mexican situation. Support of the usurper was simply not an option with Wilson. There was the possibility of cooperation with Carranza, but the First Chief, as he was called, said plainly that he and his followers did not want Wilson's help, had no interest in "constitutional" elections at this time, and were determined to purge Mexico by the sword. Wilson did not shrink from accepting the logic of his implacable opposition to Huerta. He announced his policy to the powers on 24 November:
The present policy of the Government of the United States is to isolate General Huerta entirely; to cut him off from foreign sympathy and aid and from domestic credit, whether moral or material, and so to force him out. It hopes and believes that isolation will accomplish this end, and shall await the results without irritation or impatience. If General Huerta does not retire by force of circumstances, it will become the duty of the United States to use less useful peaceful means to put him out.
Wilson could write so confidently because he had just forced the British government to withdraw support from Huerta. When the Constitutionalist campaign faltered, Wilson, on 3 February 1914, lifted the arms embargo against the Constitutionalists that Taft had imposed a year before. Most important, Wilson accepted the Mexican Revolution upon its own terms. Settlement by a civil war was a terrible thing, he wrote in a circular note to the powers on 31 January 1914, "but it must come now whether we wish it or not." From this moment until the end of his administration, Wilson was committed personally and morally to the cause of the Mexican Revolution, "a revolution as profound as that which occurred in France." Wilson's support of the Constitutionalists caused the Roman Catholic Church, the bankers, and the large landowners in Mexico to rally to Huerta's standard, so that the dictator was actually stronger by the spring of 1914 than he had been when Wilson hurled his threats at him. There was no choice now for Wilson but to resort to a show of force. But how could he do this without making open war, which Congress and the American people would probably not support and which Carranza would probably resist? The opportunity came when a Huertista officer arrested the crew of a boat from the USS Dolphin at Tampico on 9 April 1914 and the commander of the American fleet in Mexican waters demanded a formal apology and a salute to the American flag with twenty-one guns. When (fortunately for the American president) Huerta balked at rendering the salute, Wilson, on 21 April 1914, ordered the fleet to seize Veracruz, Mexico's largest port. Wilson expected no resistance because the Huertista commander at Vera-cruz had promised to withdraw from the city before the Americans landed. He did so, but cadets from the Mexican naval academy and others resisted bravely, and 126 Mexicans and 19 Americans died before the Americans secured their control of Veracruz.
When Carranza denounced the American invasion as angrily as Huerta, what could Wilson do but launch a strike toward Mexico City? But he was determined to avoid general war with Mexico. Wilson was saved from this dilemma by Huerta's acceptance of an offer by the ABC powers—Argentina, Brazil, and Chile—to mediate the controversy. American and Mexican commissioners met at Niagara Falls, Canada, from 20 May to 2 July 1914. Wilson had no intention of submitting to a genuine mediation; on the contrary, he prolonged the charade at Niagara Falls until the Constitutionalists had beaten the weakened, isolated, and weary Huerta. The dictator fled to Spain on 15 July, and Carranza occupied Mexico City on 20 August 1914.
The revolutionary forces had divided even before Carranza rode into Mexico City on his white horse. Carranza faced two bitter foes—Francisco ("Pancho") Villa, former brigand and now commander of the Division of the North, and Emiliano Zapata, leader of a peasant revolt in the state of Morelos, south of Mexico City. Villa and Zapata dominated a convention of revolutionary generals that met at Aguascalientes in October and November 1914. It deposed Carranza and installed a puppet regime in Mexico City. Carranza and the divisions loyal to him retired to Veracruz, which Wilson had recently evacuated.
Wilson tried to persuade the two factions to unite; when this effort failed, he simply withdrew from active interference in Mexican affairs and awaited the outcome of the new civil war. Bryan tried to persuade Wilson to recognize the Villa-Zapata government in Mexico City, but Wilson refused to take sides. Then, when Carranza's chief general, Álvaro Obregón, nearly destroyed the Division of the North in April 1915, several counter-revolutionary Mexican leaders appeared in Washington to seek American assistance. Wilson would have nothing to do with them. As the summer wore on and Carranza gained strength, Robert Lansing, who had replaced Bryan in June and who regarded Carranza as a dire threat to foreign interests in Mexico, concocted a scheme to eliminate the First Chief through Pan-American mediation of the Mexican civil war. Wilson turned Lansing's scheme aside and accorded de facto recognition to the Carranza regime on 19 October 1915.
Villa, who had retreated northward with a small but loyal force, retaliated against Wilson's recognition of Carranza by murdering sixteen Americans in northern Mexico on 11 January 1916. When this act failed to provoke Wilson into military intervention, Villa struck at an army camp at Columbus, New Mexico, on 9 March 1916, burning the town and killing nineteen inhabitants. Wilson did the least that he could in the circumstances: he sent a force of some seven thousand men under General John Joseph Pershing to capture Villa and bring him to justice.
Before he sent Pershing into Mexico, Wilson thought that he had obtained Carranza's tacit consent to the entry of what was called the Punitive Expedition. The problem was the wily Villa, who eluded Pershing and drew him 350 miles southward into Mexico. Carranza, who probably would have been very glad if Pershing had captured Villa, now had to deal with a Mexican public opinion outraged by Pershing's move into the heart of Mexico. In response, the First Chief demanded that Wilson withdraw the Punitive Expedition from Mexican soil. Wilson did withdraw the expedition to the northernmost part of Mexico, but fighting broke out on 21 June 1916, when an American cavalry force attacked a detachment of Mexican regulars at Carrizal. First reports told of a treacherous ambush by the Mexicans, and Wilson wrote an address in which he asked Congress for authority to occupy all of northern Mexico. But both Carranza and Wilson desperately wanted to avoid war. Wilson cried out in a speech on 30 June 1916: "Do you think the glory of America would be enhanced by a war of conquest? Do you think that any act of violence by a powerful nation like this against a weak distracted neighbor would reflect distinction upon the annals of the United States?"
Carranza, on 4 July, proposed that a joint high commission be appointed to investigate and recommend, and Wilson jumped at the chance to seek a diplomatic solution. The commission met at various places in the United States from 6 September 1916 to 15 January 1917, when it broke up because Carranza would accept no agreement that did not provide for the complete withdrawal of all of Pershing's force on a specific date, a promise the Americans were unwilling to make. Wilson, determined to escape from the Mexican imbroglio, called the Punitive Expedition back to the United States on 18 January 1917. Then Wilson sent a new ambassador to Mexico and, on 3 March, accorded de facto recognition to Carranza and the constitutional government that he had just established at Querétaro.
Through all the confused period in Mexican-American relations from 1914 to 1917, Wilson prevented any counterrevolutionary movements from being hatched on American soil and kept a close watch over American bankers and businessmen who, he suspected, wanted to take advantage of a helpless nation. Over and over, Wilson insisted that the Mexican people had the right to solve their problems in their own way. Ironically, the man who provoked Mexican ill will by his occupation of Veracruz and the dispatch of the Punitive Expedition was in fact the chief defender and guardian of the Mexican Revolution.
American Neutrality, 1914–1916
With the outbreak of a general war in Europe in early August 1914, the great majority of Americans gave thanks for the Atlantic Ocean. Wilson and his advisers acted quickly to establish formal neutrality and to meet the rude shocks caused by the total disorganization of world markets and trade. In addition, Wilson, on 17 August 1914, appealed to his "fellow countrymen" to be "impartial in thought as well as in action."
Wilson then turned his attention to British encroachments against neutral trade with Germany and Austria-Hungary (the Central Powers). He first tried to persuade the British to adhere to the Declaration of London of 1909, which purported to codify existing international law and was extremely protective of neutral commerce. But the British were determined to use their overwhelming sea power to cut Germany off from life-giving supplies, and Wilson had no recourse but to fall back upon ambiguous international law to protect American trading rights. This he did in a note to the British Foreign Office on 26 December 1914.
The European theater of war was in delicate balance by the end of 1914. The British controlled the seas, and the French and British armies had repelled a German advance toward Paris. German armies in the east were on the move in Poland, but they were still far from their main eastern enemy, Russia. In these circumstances of stalemate, American neutrality seemed secure.
The announcement by the German government on 4 February 1915 that it would thereafter use its small submarine fleet to sink all Allied ships within a broad war zone without warning posed a grave threat to American neutrality, since the Germans also said that, because submarine commanders would sometimes find it impossible to discriminate between enemy and neutral ships, neutral ships would not be safe from torpedoes. Wilson, on 10 February, sent a conventional warning to Berlin to the effect that the United States would hold Germany to a "strict accountability" for the destruction of American ships and lives on the high seas. What that warning meant in practical terms, no one, including the leaders in Washington, knew. For example, when a submarine sank a British passenger ship without warning off the coast of Africa on 28 March 1915 and caused the death of one American, Wilson decided not to act or even to protest. However, it was impossible to do nothing when a submarine sank the great British liner Lusitania without warning on 7 May 1915, causing the death of more than 1,200 noncombatants, including 128 Americans.
Wilson was in a dilemma worse than the one occasioned by his occupation of Veracruz. It was obvious that the American people wanted him to defend their right to travel in safety upon the seas; it was also obvious that a majority of Americans and of the members of Congress did not want to go to war to vindicate this right. Moreover, the cabinet and Wilson's advisers in the State Department were about evenly divided over a wise and proper response to the sinking of the Lusitania. Secretary of State Bryan pleaded with Wilson to acquiesce in the submarine blockade by warning Americans not to travel on Allied ships. Robert Lansing, then second in command of the State Department, pressed Wilson to send a peremptory demand to Germany for an apology, a disavowal, and a promise that submarines in the future would obey international law—that is, commanders would have to warn ships and permit passengers and crews to escape before the ships were sunk.
Wilson, taking high humanitarian ground, addressed two appeals to the German government to abandon the entire submarine campaign, at least against unarmed and unresisting liners and merchantmen. When the German government refused, Wilson, on 21 July, sent a third note, which admitted that it was possible to conduct a submarine campaign in substantial accordance with international law. But the note ended with the warning that the United States government would hereafter regard ruthless attacks on merchant ships and liners, when they affected American citizens, as "deliberately unfriendly"—that is, as an act of war.
Wilson desperately wanted to avoid war. At the very time that he was writing the Lusitania notes, he sent two moving appeals to the German government to join him in a campaign to establish real freedom of the seas—that is, to force the British to observe international law. Wilson also planned to rally the other neutrals to win the same objective. But the civilian leaders in Berlin were engaged in a desperate struggle with military and naval leaders over submarine policy and could not return a positive response to Wilson's overtures. Had they done so, the outcome of the war might well have been very different.
Bryan resigned as secretary of state on 8 June rather than continue a correspondence that he said might eventuate in hostilities with Germany. Wilson, somewhat reluctantly, appointed Lansing to succeed Bryan. Wilson continued to maintain close personal control over important foreign policies, but it was hard to do this with Lansing in command at the State Department because the new secretary, bent on war with Germany, tried at critical points to thwart or undermine Wilson's diplomacy. Lansing was also, by Wilson's standards, legalistic and reactionary.
The crisis with Germany came to a sudden head when the commander who had sent the Lusitania to the bottom sank another large British liner, the Arabic, without warning on 19 August 1915, with forty-four casualties, including two Americans. Wilson did not resort to public correspondence, but he made it clear to the German government that he would break diplomatic relations if it did not disavow the sinking of the Arabic and promise that submarines would thereafter warn unarmed passenger ships and provide for the safety of their passengers and crews before sinking them. Kaiser Wilhelm II finally hardened his courage and, on 30 August 1915, ordered his naval commanders to cease the submarine campaign against all passenger ships. Under instructions from his superiors, the German ambassador in Washington, Count Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, informed Lansing on 1 September, "Liners will not be sunk by our submarines without warning and without safety of the lives of noncombatants, provided that the liners do not try to escape or offer resistance."
Americans hailed the so-called Arabic pledge as a great triumph for their president. Actually, what Wilson had done was to narrow the submarine dispute to the sole issue of the safety of unarmed passenger ships. Submarines were still free to prowl the seas and sink merchantmen without warning. The kaiser called all submarines back to their bases temporarily, in order to avoid any further incidents. But the Germans had not renounced the important aspects of the underseas campaign—the war against merchant shipping—and Wilson had in effect withdrawn his demand that they do so.
Confusion and Crises, 1916
The submarine controversy with Germany and disputes with Great Britain over neutral trade convinced Wilson and many other Americans that the world was a jungle, a place where force was more powerful than reason and law, and that the United States, with its limited armed forces, was unable to protect its own security, to say nothing of its worldwide interests.
The administration's plan to strengthen the army was devised by Secretary Garrison and the General Staff. It provided for a 400,000-man reserve force, called the continental army, and for a modest increase in the regular army. In contrast, the plan for naval expansion proposed a five-year building program, aimed obviously at Great Britain and Japan, to give the United States a two-ocean fleet capable of challenging the former and overwhelming the latter. Wilson opened the campaign for these programs in New York on 4 November 1915. Opposition from antimilitarists, pacifists, labor organizations, and Socialists developed very quickly. To complicate matters further for Wilson, the House Military Affairs Committee adamantly opposed the plan for the continental army, mainly because it would replace the National Guard as the first line of defense.
Wilson set out upon a speaking tour in the Middle West in late January to stir up public support for his program. He returned to Washington to find congressional Democrats as stubbornly opposed as ever to the continental army. Wilson was not committed to any single plan to strengthen the land forces; hence, he scuttled the continental army plan and accepted the House committee's demand that the National Guard be greatly strengthened and brought under comprehensive federal control. Garrison's resignation on 10 February, in protest against Wilson's move, cleared the way for easy passage of the revised Army Reorganization Act, signed by Wilson on 3 June. Wilson's great personal achievement was passage of the Naval Appropriations Act, signed by him on 29 August 1916. It provided for the completion of the Navy Department's building program in three, rather than five, years. "Let us build a navy bigger than hers [Britain's], and do what we please," Wilson said to his confidant, Colonel Edward M. House.
The failure of Wilson and Lansing to coordinate their foreign policies during the early months of 1916 led to confusions and crises that nearly caused Wilson to lose control of foreign policy to Congress. Wilson sent Colonel House to Europe in early January 1916 to work out a plan for Anglo-American cooperation for peace. House went through the formalities of talking with French and German leaders, but he spent most of his time in London. His peace plan stipulated that Wilson should convoke a peace conference in the near future. If the Germans refused to attend, the United States would probably enter the war on the side of the Allies. If a peace conference met and Germany refused to accept a "reasonable" settlement, the United States would probably enter the war on the Allied side. Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, on 22 February 1916 initialed a memorandum that embodied the plan, but he stipulated that the British, in agreement with the French, should decide when the House-Grey Memorandum was to be implemented.
Meanwhile, Lansing had launched an initiative that threatened to wreck House's negotiations. On 18 January 1916 the secretary of state proposed to the Allies that they disarm their merchant ships in return for a pledge by Germany that submarines would sink merchantmen only after warning them and providing for the safety of their crews. As Grey said, the Allies were being asked to permit submarines to sink their entire merchant fleets. Protests from Grey and House in London caused Wilson and Lansing to reverse course at once. The secretary of state announced on 15 February 1916 that the administration would follow customary rules and require submarines to warn defensively armed merchant ships before attacking them.
The intimation that the United States might break relations or go to war with Germany over the safety of armed ships set off a panic among Democrats in Congress, who threatened to take control of foreign policy by approving resolutions warning Americans against traveling on any armed ships. Wilson responded with his usual boldness, and the Senate and House tabled the resolutions on 3 March and 7 March, respectively. Actually, the safety of armed ships never became an issue between the American and German governments.
When a submarine torpedoed the packet Sussex without warning in the English Channel with heavy loss of life on 24 March 1916, Wilson decided to use the incident to force the submarine issue to a clear resolution. He went before a joint session of Congress on 19 April and read the terms of an ultimatum he had just sent to Berlin: if the Germans did not at once abandon their ruthless submarine campaign, he would break diplomatic relations with the German government. The Germans did not yet have enough submarines to conduct a successful blockade; consequently they replied on 4 May that submarines would thereafter observe the rules of visit and search when they attacked merchant ships. Maintenance of this pledge would be contingent upon the success of the United States in forcing Great Britain to observe international law in matters of trade.
Relations with Germany were almost cordial following the so-called Sussex pledge, and Americans could turn undistracted attention to the forthcoming national conventions and presidential campaign. The Republicans nominated Associate Justice Charles Evans Hughes, former governor of New York. The Democrats of course renominated Wilson. Repeated demonstrations for peace rocked the Democratic convention hall, and the Democrats adopted a platform plank that hailed Wilson because he had preserved national honor and "kept us out of war."
In the campaign, Hughes appeared petty, legalistic, and quarrelsome. Wilson, in contrast, was never better as a campaigner. Highlighting the themes of progressivism and peace, he kept Hughes on the defensive. Bryan joined other Democrats in trumpeting the cry "He kept us out of war" through the Middle West, the Plains states, and the Far West. In the election on 7 November 1916, Wilson carried New Hampshire, Ohio, the South, and virtually all trans-Mississippi states for a narrow victory (277–254) in the electoral college. Wilson's increase in popular votes in 1916 of nearly 50 percent over his popular vote in 1912 was one of the great electoral achievements in American history.
From Mediation to War, 1916–1917
All through the spring and summer of 1916, Wilson and House tried to persuade Sir Edward Grey to put the House-Grey Memorandum into effect. Grey adamantly refused, and Wilson abandoned all hope of peace through Anglo-American cooperation. This development and others embittered Anglo-American relations and caused Wilson to believe that the British were prolonging the war for conquest and revenge. Ever since the outbreak of the war, Wilson had hoped to bring it to an end. By late 1916, the conflict seemed about to destroy the very fabric of European society; moreover, Wilson knew that both sides would intensify their efforts to end the bloody struggle, and intensification of the war at sea would probably force the United States into the conflict.
To bring peace to the world and to avert the possibility of American participation, Wilson appealed to the belligerents on 18 December 1916 to disclose the terms upon which they would agree to end the fighting. The Germans refused to divulge their terms. The Allies—emboldened by Lansing's assurances, made secretly to the French and British ambassadors, that Wilson was pro-Ally—announced terms that could be achieved only by complete defeat of the Central Powers. Undaunted, Wilson opened secret negotiations with the German government. He was, he told Berlin, prepared to be an independent and impartial mediator, and he could force the Allies to the peace table because they were now totally dependent upon American credit and supplies. While he waited for a reply from Berlin, Wilson went before the Senate on 22 January 1917 to describe the kind of a peace settlement that the United States was prepared to work for and support. It had to be a "peace without victory," he said, one without indemnities and annexations. Above all, it had to be based upon a league of nations to preserve peace.
The Germans were as much determined upon total victory as the Allies. They abhorred the idea of Wilson's mediation and believed that their now large fleet of long-range submarines could bring the British to their knees long before the United States could send a single soldier to France. Hence, they rejected Wilson's hand of friendship, accepted the prospect of war with the United States, and announced on 31 January 1917 that they would begin, the following day, a ruthless submarine campaign against all merchant shipping in European waters.
Wilson was stunned, and he broke diplomatic relations with the German Empire on 3 February. Even so, he said that he hoped that no German aggressions against American ships would force the United States to take sterner measures of protection. American ships refused to enter the war zone, and the nation waited expectantly. Then, in late February, the British disclosed a telegram from the German foreign secretary, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German minister in Mexico. The "Zimmermann telegram" instructed the minister, in the event that the United States entered the war against Germany, to offer to the Mexican government an alliance by which Mexico would go to war against the United States and would receive in return "the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona."
Events thereafter led inexorably to war between the United States and Germany. On 9 March, Wilson announced that the navy would place guns and gun crews on American merchantmen. It soon became obvious that armed neutrality would not suffice to protect American rights, and Wilson, after much agonizing, on 2 April asked Congress to recognize that a state of war already existed between the United States and Germany on account of German aggressions. In a moving peroration, Wilson declared that the world had to be made "safe for democracy" and freed from the threat of German militarism. Congress complied after a brief debate, and Wilson signed the war resolution on 6 April 1917.
The United States at War, 1917–1918
With only recent British experience to guide him, Wilson led Congress, his administration, and the entire American people in one of the speediest and most successful mobilizations for war in history. Congress approved a selective service bill on 18 May 1917, and the War Department set about systematically raising an army of 3 million men. Congress gave Wilson full power over the production, distribution, and prices of food and fuel supplies in the Lever Act of 10 August 1917. Food and fuel administrations mobilized and stimulated production to such an efficient degree that there was never any real danger of critical shortages of fuel and food for the American people, the American army, and the Allies. Through various instrumentalities, but most notably the War Industries Board, Wilson maintained a steady supply of raw materials to war industries. Substantial labor peace was maintained in 1917 through the Labor Department and in 1918 through the National War Labor Board. Wilson launched a large shipbuilding program at the outset of belligerency and, in December 1917, took over operation of the railroads. To pay for this gigantic mobilization, the Treasury Department raised some $23 billion through the sale of bonds and an additional $10.5 billion through heavy taxes on incomes and business profits.
To persuade the public, still badly divided over the wisdom of participation, Wilson established the Committee on Public Information to undertake a nationwide program to convince Americans that they were fighting for justice, peace, democracy, and their own security in the world. To stamp out active opposition to the war effort, Congress adopted the Espionage Act of 15 June 1917 and the Sedition Act of 16 May 1918.
The direct threat to the American and Allied cause in the spring of 1917 was the German submarine campaign, the results of which at first exceeded German expectations. Against British opposition, Wilson insisted upon the institution of the convoy system. Wilson had his way in July, and the Navy Department suspended construction of capital ships and concentrated upon destroyers and smaller antisubmarine craft. The convoy system brought the submarine menace under control by the autumn of 1917 and eliminated it almost entirely by the spring of 1918. In addition, pooled American and British shipping transported nearly 2 million American soldiers safely to France and maintained the flow of American supplies to the Allies.
The American Expeditionary Force, under General Pershing, first saw active service before Paris during the Second Battle of the Marne (21 March–6 August 1918). In mid-August, Pershing's First Army, some 550,000 strong, joined the British and French in a broad counterattack against the German lines. By late September, Pershing's force numbered 1.2 million men; by 1 November it was near the German frontier. American manpower gave the Allied-American armies a predominance of 600,000 soldiers on the western front and turned the tide of battle decisively against Germany.
In his war message to Congress, Wilson had declared that the war aims of the United States were the same as the ones he had enunciated in his Peace Without Victory Address of 22 January 1917. Thus, from the outset of American belligerency, Wilson dissociated his government from the secret treaties and war aims of the Allies and declared that the United States was an associated, not an Allied, power. This meant, theoretically, that the United States was free to wage its own war and to conclude a separate peace when it had achieved its ends. Of course, it was not possible to be so disengaged. The United States was also committed to total defeat of Germany if necessary, and the only way to wage a total war in the circumstances was through close cooperation, diplomatic as well as military, with Britain and France.
This fact became clear when Pope Benedict XV, on 1 August 1917, called for peace very much along the lines of Wilson's Peace Without Victory Address. Wilson responded as warmly as he thought prudent; when Britain and France rebuffed the pontiff, Wilson had to console himself with the thought that the Allies would be in his hands "financially" at the end of the war and that he could force them to accept his own peace terms.
Wilson was spurred to an independent peace campaign in response to the Bolshevik takeover in Russia in early November 1917. The Bolsheviks, or Communists, appealed to the war-weary peoples of Europe to stop the fighting, called for a general peace conference, and opened separate peace negotiations with the Central Powers. Unable to persuade the Allies to join him in returning a positive response, Wilson went before Congress on 8 January 1918 to announce in precise terms what the United States was fighting for. This peace program, embodied in fourteen points, called for, among other things, an end to secret diplomacy, freedom of the seas, drastic reduction in armaments, an independent Poland, and a "general association of nations . . . affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."
The Fourteen Points Address at once became the great ideological manifesto of the war and the rallying cry of liberal and labor groups throughout the world. Moreover, in subsequent addresses Wilson challenged the German and Austrian governments to avow their war aims and, better still, to join him in an irresistible campaign for a reasonable peace. The Austrian emperor, Charles, responded warmly and seemed ready to conclude a separate peace based upon the Fourteen Points. However, the French government finessed Charles's move by announcing to the world that the Austrian emperor was eager for peace. Charles could now only proclaim fervent loyalty to his ally, Germany.
The Germans responded to Wilson's appeal with the imposition of the punitive Treaty of Brest-Litovsk upon Russia on 3 March 1918 and with their own peace offensive—the Second Battle of the Marne, designed to knock France out of the war before substantial American help could arrive. As Wilson said sadly in an address on 6 April, the war now had to be fought to its bitter conclusion. And so it was. As has been said, the second German Marne offensive failed, and the Allies, in July 1918, began a broad counterattack that ended with the armistice.
During the height of the Second Battle of the Marne, the hard-pressed British and French put heavy pressure upon Wilson to join the Japanese in opening a second front in Siberia, in order to prevent the transfer of German troops from Russia to the western front. Wilson suspected, rightly, that the Allies wanted the United States and Japan to make war against the Bolshevik regime. Wilson thought that Allied hopes to reestablish the eastern front were futile and foolish. He also believed very deeply that the Russian people had the right to work out their own destiny and to establish any kind of government that they pleased, without any outside influence or pressure whatsoever. Hence, he vetoed all suggestions for a Siberian operation.
Wilson relented slightly under the pressure of events in the summer of 1918. A force of seventy thousand Czechs, former Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war in Russia, had banded together in what was called the Czech Legion and were fighting to escape along a route from Russia proper to the Siberian port of Vladivostok. Wilson, in a memorandum of 17 July 1918, announced that he would send a small force to Vladivostok to guarantee the safe exit of the Czechs; he also invited the Japanese to join him in this limited operation. In the same memorandum, Wilson reiterated his intention to oppose all efforts to interfere in Russian internal affairs.
Wilson was motivated in large part by the suspicion, which turned out to be well grounded, that the Japanese had designs on Siberia. Thus, Wilson, while he sent only seven thousand men to Vladivostok, did his best to keep the Japanese contingent to the same size. However, the Japanese government eventually sent in seventy thousand men and seized northern Manchuria and eastern Siberia. Wilson, in August 1918, also sent four battalions from Pershing's force to Murmansk and Archangel in northern Russia to cooperate with British and Czech forces there to safeguard large munitions supplies against capture by the Germans.
As British, French, and American armies neared the German frontier in early October 1918, the German government, now in the control of liberals and antimilitarists, appealed to Wilson for an armistice
based upon the Fourteen Points Address and subsequent speeches by Wilson. Wilson kept in close touch with Allied leaders during the negotiations that followed. Once Wilson was convinced that the German government was prepared to admit defeat, he sent Colonel House to London to obtain British and French consent to an armistice agreement. House claimed that he had won a diplomatic triumph when the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, and the French premier, Georges Clemenceau, agreed to make peace upon the basis of the Fourteen Points. The British said, though, that they would not be bound by the point concerning freedom of the seas, and the French won House's and Wilson's approval for a stipulation to the effect that the Germans should be liable for all civilian damages caused by their aggression. More important, the military and naval terms of the armistice agreement left the Germans powerless to wage even defensive war in the future. Nonetheless, German representatives signed the armistice agreement on 11 November 1918.
Wilson now faced the awesome problems of peace-making and the reconstruction of the world order. Yet, even before the guns were silent on the western front, he had gravely impaired his standing by appealing for the election of a Democratic Congress in the off-year election of 1918, on the ground that the return of a Republican majority to either house of Congress would be interpreted in Europe as a repudiation of his leadership. The voters, on 6 November, elected a Congress with slight Republican majorities in both houses. Whether repudiated or not, Wilson proceeded with his own plans for the peace conference without seeking Republican cooperation and support. On 18 November he announced that he would go to the peace conference, scheduled to meet in Paris in January 1919, as the head of an American delegation that was not to contain a single prominent Republican.
Wilson went to Paris in December 1918 determined to achieve a just and lasting peace based upon principles of justice, humanity, and self-determination and upon an effective world organization. All the Allied leaders at Paris were motivated by particular selfish interests. The French wanted large reparations from Germany and a settlement that would remove forever the threat of German militarism from Europe. The British wanted to exact huge payments from Germany, to annex former German colonies, and to destroy the German navy but not destroy the balance of power on the Continent entirely. The Italians had their eyes on former Austrian territory in the Tyrol and along the Adriatic coast. The Japanese demanded former German colonies in the Pacific and the former German concession in the Chinese province of Shantung.
By all accounts, Wilson was the only disinterested principal leader at the peace conference. He wanted nothing for the United States except a just peace that would endure and a world organization that could maintain peace in the future. Wilson fought as hard as any person could to achieve these objectives. With British support, he was able to prevent the dismemberment of Germany in the west, which the French demanded, and vetoed French plans for a "great crusade" to crush the Bolshevik regime. With British and French support, Wilson successfully resisted Italian demands for territory along the Adriatic coast that was essential to the new state of Yugoslavia.
Since Wilson had only one vote in the councils at Paris, his one alternative to yielding or to compromising when the British and French ganged up against him was to withdraw from the conference and make a separate peace with Germany. During the direst controversy with the French, Wilson threatened to leave the conference. But, as Wilson knew, the cure in this case was worse than the disease. His withdrawal would wreck his plans for a postwar world organization and result in a Carthaginian peace imposed by the French.
Thus, Wilson yielded on the key question of reparations (the British and French were permitted to demand potentially astronomical payments from Germany) and compromised on the equally important question of French control of the coal-rich Saar Valley of Germany. Moreover, the conferees at Paris said nothing about disarmament. Even so, Wilson was able to vindicate most of his Fourteen Points. Belgium, brutally overrun and occupied by Germany in 1914, was restored. An independent Poland with access to the sea came back into the family of nations. The claims of the Central European peoples to self-determination were satisfied. Alsace-Lorraine was restored to France.
Wilson's most important achievement at Paris was the creation of the League of Nations and the inclusion of its covenant in the Treaty of Versailles between the United States and the former Allies and Germany. The covenant created elaborate machinery for the settlement of international disputes and for united action against aggressors. Moreover, the League was designated as the instrument to carry out the Versailles and other treaties concluded at Paris.
The Treaty Fight in the United States, 1919–1920
Wilson presented the Versailles treaty to the Senate on 10 July 1919, in the supreme confidence that that body would not dare to refuse to give its consent to ratification. There were many signs of danger ahead. One was the persistence of the tradition of isolationism, which before 1914 had been the cornerstone of American foreign policy. Ratification of the Treaty of Versailles would carry heavy new international responsibilities for the United States: Article 10 of the covenant guaranteed the political independence and territorial integrity of all member nations, and support of the covenant's peacekeeping machinery might well entail the risk of war. Moreover, Republicans controlled the Senate, and Wilson's implacable personal and political foe, Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts, was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Lodge would have preferred to reject the treaty outright, but in order to preserve unity within his party, he accepted a plan offered by more moderate Republicans—to approve the treaty subject to certain reservations. The most important of these was a reservation to Article 10 that stipulated that the United States assumed no obligation under this article unless Congress, by joint resolution or otherwise, should specifically assume such obligation.
Saying that the enemies of the League were poisoning the wells of public opinion, Wilson set out upon a tour of the West in order to purify them. In one of the great forensic efforts in American history, he traveled eight thousand miles and delivered thirty-two major addresses between 3 and 25 September 1919. During the early hours of 26 September, Wilson suffered a stroke warning, which ended his tour. Then, on 2 October, after his return to Washington, Wilson suffered a devastating stroke that paralyzed his left side and for a time threatened his life.
This stroke was only the worst manifestation of cerebrovascular disease that had victimized Wilson at least since 1896, when he suffered loss of dexterity in his right hand for about eight months. Then came small strokes and a serious vascular accident in his left eye in 1906. Dr. S. Weir Mitchell, the distinguished neurologist of Philadelphia, examined Wilson soon after the election of 1912 and reported to the White House physician, Dr. Cary T. Grayson, that he thought Wilson would not live out his first term. Grayson kept Wilson on a regime of simple diet, exercise, and avoidance of stress, but the tasks of overseeing the American war effort blew Grayson's regimen to pieces. Wilson, now suffering from uncontrolled hypertension, went to Paris unwell. There he suffered a viral infection and another small stroke in April 1919. This was followed by a more severe small stroke on 19 July. By the time Wilson went out West, his hypertension was fulminant. The specialist who examined Wilson after his large stroke of October reported that he had long suffered from hyper-tension, atherosclerosis, and carotid artery disease and was in the lacunar state as a result of small strokes. Wilson was almost completely disabled, both physically and psychologically, from October through December 1919.
A healthy Wilson would almost certainly have found a high ground of compromise with pro-League Republicans and put the treaty across, probably by October 1919. But the sick Wilson, isolated in the White House, was incapable of comprehending political realities, or even of thinking abstractly or strategically. When the treaty came up for a vote in the Senate on 19 November, Wilson commanded Democrats in the Senate to vote against ratification with reservations. The reservation to Article 10, Wilson said, amounted to nullification, not ratification, of the treaty. The Republicans defeated ratification without the reservations; the Democrats then defeated ratification with the reservations.
Democrats tried to find some compromise, but Lodge would not budge on the all-important reservation to Article 10. For his part, Wilson not only refused to yield an inch of ground, but in a public letter (drafted, actually, by his chief of staff, Joseph P. Tumulty), on 8 January 1920 he also made the League issue a partisan question by saying that the coming presidential election should be a "great and solemn referendum" on the question of ratification of the Versailles treaty. Actually, all hopes for Senate approval were by now dead unless enough Democrats were prepared to defy Wilson and join the Republicans to form a two-thirds majority in favor of ratification with reservations. And if that had happened, Wilson would have killed the treaty himself by refusing to go through the process of ratification. But Wilson did not have to do this. In one of the most important presidential letters in history (drafted for the most part by Tumulty), written to his spokesman in the Senate on 8 March 1920, Wilson commanded Democratic senators to vote against ratification with any reservations whatsoever. A second vote in the Senate, on 19 March 1920, failed to find two-thirds of the senators in favor of the treaty in any form. Wilson was only momentarily downcast, if at all. He planned to secure his renomination and to run again for the presidency on a pro-League platform.
The End of the Wilson Administration, 1919–1921
Wilson had passed through the dangerous aftereffects of his stroke and achieved a slight recovery by the end of 1919, but for the balance of his term, he remained a sick man, his physical constitution, psyche, and sense of reality shattered. He continued to function on a low level, but he could sit up or concentrate upon a subject for only short periods. He also suffered from severe changes in mood and from some paranoia. Consequently, Wilson was incapable of giving leadership to his party, to Congress, and to the people during one of the most critical periods in American history.
The myth still persists that Edith Bolting Wilson, Wilson's second wife (his first wife, Ellen Louise Axson Wilson, had died on 6 August 1914), ran the presidential office after his first stroke. Edith Wilson, in consultation with Dr. Grayson, did determine to a large degree the persons whom Wilson saw and for how long. She also took important state papers into Wilson's room, read them to him, and recorded her husband's instructions in the margins of the documents. But she neither knew how to serve as an acting president nor wanted to be one. She was interested only in the health and happiness of her husband, whom she worshiped. Mrs. Wilson did make two decisions of momentous importance: in mid-October 1919 she vetoed a plan by Dr. Grayson and his chief consultant, Dr. Francis X. Dercum of Philadelphia, to make a complete disclosure of Wilson's condition. Later, in January 1920, Dr. Grayson persuaded Wilson to resign, and Mrs. Wilson blocked this initiative.
Power in these circumstances fell to Tumulty, who assumed general oversight of the executive office, and to the various departmental heads. Lansing, as the premier of the group, held unauthorized cabinet meetings on his own from October 1919 until Wilson dismissed him on 12 February 1920.
Lansing's successor was Bainbridge Colby, a New York lawyer, appointed on 25 February 1920. The two men presented a study in contrasts. Whereas Lansing was conservative in political outlook, Colby was an advanced progressive who had followed Roosevelt in 1912 and supported Wilson in 1916. Lansing was a professional "realist"; Colby was an idealist and an amateur, at least at the beginning of his incumbency.
When a group of generals led by Álvaro Obregón overthrew Carranza on 8 May 1920, Colby moved at once to mend Mexican-American relations preparatory to a recognition of the Obregón government, but the new rulers in Mexico City were then too afraid of domestic public opinion to come to any understanding with the United States. They deferred serious negotiations until the inauguration of Warren G. Harding.
Wilson seemed to want to wash his hands of European problems after the Senate's second rejection of the Versailles treaty, and the United States government sat on the sidelines while the Allies tidied up the map of Europe. Wilson and Colby also continued the administration's policy of strict noninterference in Russian affairs. The United States, for example, refused to recognize the independence of the new Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. Colby coupled the policy of noninterference with one of adamant refusal to recognize the Bolshevik government, on the ground that it did not represent the Russian people.
Departmental heads and Congress met the problems of demobilization without much guidance from the White House. The new attorney general, Alexander Mitchell Palmer, on 8 November 1919, secured an injunction that prevented a nationwide coal strike by the United Mine Workers of America. A federal arbitration commission soon granted most of the miners' demands. Palmer, with an eye on the White House and in response to a mounting fear of Communism, had federal agents, on 1 January 1920, execute a gigantic raid on Communist headquarters throughout the country. It is doubtful if Wilson knew anything about Palmer's raid.
Wilson announced on 24 December 1919 that he would return the railroads to their owners on 1 March 1920 unless Congress instructed otherwise. Congress responded with the Transportation Act of 1920, which affirmed the principle of private ownership but also established comprehensive federal control over all aspects of the railroad business. At the same time, before he left office, Secretary of the Interior Lane was assured of passage of the Water Power and General Leasing acts by Congress in early 1920. Their adoption brought to an end controversies that had worried the Wilson administration since 1913. One of the crowning achievements of the Wilson administration—the Nineteenth Amendment, which conferred the vote upon women—came to fulfillment with ratification of the amendment on 26 August 1920. Finally, Wilson vetoed, on 27 May 1920, a joint resolution ending the war with Germany. A separate peace, he said, "would place ineffable stain upon the gallantry and honor of the United States." (A joint resolution to end the state of war was approved by President Harding in July 1921.) Wilson vetoed, unsuccessfully, the Volstead Act of 1919 for the enforcement of national prohibition under the Eighteenth Amendment. In his last important act as president, he vetoed emergency bills to increase tariff rates and severely limit the admission of immigrants. Congress passed both measures again in May 1921, and the new president signed them.
The Significance of the Wilson Presidency
Wilson and Warren Gamaliel Harding rode together from the White House to the Capitol for the latter's inauguration on 4 March 1921. Wilson, aged and infirm, was a living mind in a dying body; Harding, majestic in appearance, looked every inch a leader. Appearances were never more deceiving. Harding would soon reveal his moral and intellectual bankruptcy, and Wilson lived to attend his funeral services.
Wilson, who died at his home in Washington on 3 February 1924, set an example of leadership, both of public opinion and of Congress, that challenges every incumbent of the White House. His reconstruction of the American political economy still survives in all its important features. Wilson's conviction that the state and federal governments should work actively to protect the weak and disadvantaged remains the main theme of Democratic politics.
The Wilsonian legacy in foreign policy is clear, but the degree to which it continues to guide American foreign policy is ambiguous. Wilson believed very deeply that the United States was called to serve mankind through leadership for peace, democracy, and the uplift of the peoples of the world. But this leadership had to be essentially of the spirit, not of the sword. It may be that the Wilsonian legacy is now only the conscience of American foreign policy.
Ray Stannard Baker, Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters, 8 vols. (Garden City, N.Y., 1927–1939), is the authorized biography by a contemporary and friend. William M. Leary, Jr., and Arthur S. Link, comps, The Progressive Era and the Great War, 1896–1920, 2d ed. (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1978), is the most extensive bibliography of Wilson and his era. Arthur S. Link, Wilson, 5 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1947–1965), provides fullest coverage of Wilson as governor and president, 1913–1917. Arthur S. Link et al., eds., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 69 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1966–1994), is the authoritative and basic documentary collection and the starting point for research on Woodrow Wilson and the Wilson era.
August Heckscher, Woodrow Wilson (New York, 1991), is the best personal biography. Edwin A. Weinstein, Woodrow Wilson: A Medical and Psychological Biography (Princeton, N.J., 1981); Bert E. Park, The Impact of Illness on World Leaders (Philadelphia, 1986), and his Ailing, Aged, Addicted: Studies of Compromised Leadership (Lexington, Ky., 1993); and the documents and essays in Link et al., eds., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, vols. 58, 63–68, are definitive on Wilson's health history.
John D. Clark, The Federal Trust Policy (Baltimore, 1931), is good on the Clayton and Federal Trade Commission acts. Thomas J. Knock and Christine Lunardini, "Woodrow Wilson and Woman Suffrage: A New Look," in Political Science Quarterly 95 (1980–1981), gives the closest look at this important subject. Earl Latham, ed., The Philosophy and Policies of Woodrow Wilson (Chicago, 1958), provides a good overview. Sidney Ratner, Taxation and Democracy in America (New York, 1967), is the best coverage of the Wilson administration's fiscal policies.
Alan P. Seltzer, "Woodrow Wilson as 'Corporate-Liberal': Toward a Reconsideration of Left Revisionist Historiography," in Western Political Quarterly 30 (1977), is the definitive monograph on the antitrust policy of the Wilson administration. Frank W. Taussig, The Tariff History of the United States, 8th ed. (New York, 1931), is excellent on the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act and the Federal Tariff Commission Act. H. Parker Willis, The Federal Reserve System (Chicago, 1920), provides a documentary history by one of the drafters of the Federal Reserve bill.
Patrick Devlin, Too Proud to Fight: Woodrow Wilson's Neutrality (New York, 1974), is by an eminent British legal scholar. N. Gordon Levin, Jr., Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution (New York, 1968), interprets Wilson's reaction to the war and the Bolshevik revolution from a revisionist point of view. Thomas J. Knock, To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order (New York, 1992), is an eloquent antidote to Levin. Frederick S. Calhoun, Power and Principle: Armed Intervention in Wilsonian Foreign Policy (Kent, Ohio, 1986), and his Uses of Force and Wilsonian Foreign Policy (Kent, Ohio, 1993), are pathbreaking works.
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace (Arlington Heights, Ill., 1979), presents Wilson as an anti-imperialist, decolonizer, and leader in the fight for world peace. Arthur S. Link, ed., Woodrow Wilson and a Revolutionary World, 1913–1921 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1982), gathers articles that reflect the latest research on important topics, such as Wilson and the Mexican Revolution and Wilson and the Russian Revolution. Ernest R. May, The World War and American Isolation, 1914–1917 (Cambridge, Mass., 1959), provides the worldwide context. Arno J. Mayer, Political Origins of the New Diplomacy, 1917–1918 (New Haven, Conn., 1959), presents an interesting contrast between Wilson and Lenin as makers of foreign policy.
Dana G. Munro, Intervention and Dollar Diplomacy in the Caribbean, 1900–1921 (Princeton, N.J., 1964), is a nearly definitive treatment. Robert E. Quirk, An Affair of Honor: Woodrow Wilson and the Occupation of Veracruz (Lexington, Ky., 1962), and The Mexican Revolution, 1914–1915: The Convention of Aguascalientes (Bloomington, Ind., 1960), cover Mexican-American relations in 1914–1915. Charles Seymour, ed., The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, 4 vols. (Boston, 1926–1928), contains the diary and letters of Wilson's confidant on foreign policy.
Daniel R. Beaver, Newton D. Baker and the American War Effort, 1917–1919 (Lincoln, Nebr., 1966), and Arthur S. Link and John Whiteclay Chambers II, "Woodrow Wilson as Commander in Chief," in Richard H. Kohn, ed., The United States Military Under the Constitution of the United States, 1789–1989 (New York, 1991), are the best studies of American mobilization. Robert D. Cuff, The War Industries Board: Business-Government Relations During World War I (Baltimore, 1973), places too much emphasis on voluntarism as the motif of American mobilization.
For Wilson's wartime diplomacy, see David R. Woodward, Trial by Friendship: Anglo-American Relations, 1917–1918 (Lexington, Ky., 1993); George F. Kennan, Russia Leaves the War (Princeton, N.J., 1956), and his The Decision to Intervene (Princeton, N.J., 1958); Betty Miller Unterberger, America's Siberian Expedition, 1918–1920: A Study of National Policy (Durham, N.C., 1956), and her The United States, Revolutionary Russia, and the Rise of Czechoslovakia (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1989); and Victor S. Mamatey, The United States and East Central Europe, 1914–1918 (Princeton, N.J., 1957).
For other aspects of the home front, see Horace C. Peterson and Gilbert C. Fite, Opponents of War, 1917–1918 (Madison, Wis., 1957); Stephen Vaughn, Holding Fast the Inner Lines: Democracy, Nationalism, and the Committee an Public Information (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1980); and Seward W. Livermore, Politics Is Adjournal: Woodrow Wilson and the War Congress, 1916–1918 (Middletown, Conn., 1966).
The indispensable source for Wilson and the Paris Peace Conference is vols. 53–61 of Link et al., eds., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, to which should be added Arthur S. Link, trans. and ed., The Deliberations of the Council of Four (March 24–June 28, 1919): Notes of the Official Interpreter, Paul Mantoux, 2 vols. (Princeton, N.J., 1992). Paul Birdsall, Versailles Twenty Years After (New York, 1941), is still the best one-volume account, but see also Inga Floto, Colonel House in Paris: A Study of American Policy at the Paris Peace Conference 1919 (Princeton, N.J., 1980).
For the period 1919–1921, see Robert K. Murray, Red Scare: A Study in National Hysteria, 1919–1920 (Minneapolis, 1955); Daniel M. Smith, The Aftermath of War: Bainbridge Colby and Wilsonian Diplomacy, 1920–1921 (Philadelphia, 1970); Thomas A. Bailey, Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (New York, 1945); Ralph Stone, The Irreconcilables: The Fight Against the League of Nations (Lexington, Ky., 1970); Lloyd E. Ambrosius, Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition: The Treaty Fight in Perspective (Cambridge, 1987); and Wesley M. Bagby, The Road to Normalcy: The Presidential Campaign and Election of 1920 (Baltimore, 1962).
Recent works include Louis Auchincloss, Woodrow Wilson (New York, 2000); John Milton Cooper, Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations (Cambridge and New York, 2001); and Phyllis Lee Levin, Edith and Woodrow: The Wilson White House (New York, 2001).
28th president, 1913–1921
Born: December 28, 1856
Died: February 3, 1924
Vice President: Thomas R. Marshall
First Ladies: Ellen Axson Wilson, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson
Children: Margaret, Jessie, Eleanor
Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, was born in Staunton, Virginia, in 1856. He grew up in Georgia and South Carolina, and observed firsthand the effects of the Civil War and its aftermath on the South. Wilson first went to Davidson (N.C.) College, but withdrew because of ill health. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1879. Wilson went to Johns Hopkins University in 1883, studying government and history. Wilson is the only U.S. president to hold a Ph.D. He taught at Bryn Mawr (Pa.) College, then at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He wrote nine books and became an accomplished essayist. He was named president of Princeton in 1902.
- Wilson won the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for the League of Nations peace treaty.
- The first movie shown at the White House was screened during Wilson's presidency. The film, Birth of a Nation, is widely regarded today as racist propaganda. Wilson, however, praised its realism.
- After Wilson had a stroke, his wife allowed no one but herself and a doctor to see him. On Wilson's behalf, she signed legislation and made political appointments.
- Wilson was the only president to hold a Ph.D.
- Wilson is the only president who is buried in Washington, D.C.
In 1910, Wilson accepted the Democratic nomination for governor of New Jersey. He won the election in a land-slide—his only elective office before the winning the presidency in 1912. As president, Wilson's domestic agenda focused on corrupt trusts, unfair labor practices, and federal control of the nation's banking system. His first term was one of the most successful in the twentieth century. Wilson's tenure in office, however, was mainly centered around issues relating to American involvement in World War I. Wilson hoped to keep the United States neutral, but events drew the country into the war in 1917. After the war, Wilson traveled to Europe to play a role in peace negotiations. He presented his famous Fourteen Points plan for peace, which introduced the concept of a League of Nations. European powers agreed to include Wilson's plan in the fnal peace treaty. The U.S. Senate, however, did not approve of the League of Nations and would not ratify the treaty.
When Wilson Was in Office
- The Panama Canal, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, opened.
- Telephone lines linked New York City and San Francisco, California.
- Jeannette Rankin of Montana became the first female member of the House of Representatives.
- The first Pulitzer Prizes for journalism were awarded.
- A worldwide influenza epidemic killed 20 to 40 million people.
- Prohibition began as the 18th Amendment banned alcohol in the United States.
- The 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote.
Wilson decided to take his case for ratification to the American people and began a cross-country train journey, giving speeches along the way. Exhausted from traveling 8,000 miles by rail around the country, Wilson suffered a stroke from which he never fully recovered. The United States signed a separate treaty with Germany in 1921. Wilson died in 1924.
On Wilson's First Inauguration Day
Woodrow Wilson took office as the first Democratic president with a Democratic majority in Congress. He was a scholarly man whose only previous elected office was a term as governor of New Jersey. The United States was a world economic power, yet the government was struggling to establish its role in controlling the rapid growth of big business and to build a secure banking system for the enormous wealth the country was creating.
Woodrow Wilson's First Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Tuesday, March 4, 1913
THERE has been a change of government. It began two years ago, when the House of Representatives became Democratic by a decisive majority. It has now been completed. The Senate about to assemble will also be Democratic. The offices of President and Vice-President have been put into the hands of Democrats. What does the change mean? That is the question that is uppermost in our minds to-day. That is the question I am going to try to answer, in order, if I may, to interpret the occasion.
It means much more than the mere success of a party. The success of a party means little except when the Nation is using that party for a large and definite purpose. No one can mistake the purpose for which the Nation now seeks to use the Democratic Party. It seeks to use it to interpret a change in its own plans and point of view. Some old things with which we had grown familiar, and which had begun to creep into the very habit of our thought and of our lives, have altered their aspect as we have latterly looked critically upon them, with fresh, awakened eyes; have dropped their disguises and shown themselves alien and sinister. Some new things, as we look frankly upon them, willing to comprehend their real character, have come to assume the aspect of things long believed in and familiar, stuff of our own convictions. We have been refreshed by a new insight into our own life.
We see that in many things that life is very great. It is incomparably great in its material aspects, in its body of wealth, in the diversity and sweep of its energy, in the industries which have been conceived and built up by the genius of individual men and the limitless enterprise of groups of men. It is great, also, very great, in its moral force. Nowhere else in the world have noble men and women exhibited in more striking forms the beauty and the energy of sympathy and helpfulness and counsel in their efforts to rectify wrong, alleviate suffering, and set the weak in the way of strength and hope. We have built up, moreover, a great system of government, which has stood through a long age as in many respects a model for those who seek to set liberty upon foundations that will endure against fortuitous change, against storm and accident. Our life contains every great thing, and contains it in rich abundance.
But the evil has come with the good, and much fine gold has been corroded. With riches has come inexcusable waste. We have squandered a great part of what we might have used, and have not stopped to conserve the exceeding bounty of nature, without which our genius for enterprise would have been worthless and impotent, scorning to be careful, shamefully prodigal as well as admirably efficient. We have been proud of our industrial achievements, but we have not hitherto stopped thoughtfully enough to count the human cost, the cost of lives snuffed out, of energies overtaxed and broken, the fearful physical and spiritual cost to the men and women and children upon whom the dead weight and burden of it all has fallen pitilessly the years through. 1 The groans and agony of it all had not yet reached our ears, the solemn, moving undertone of our life, coming up out of the mines and factories, and out of every home where the struggle had its intimate and familiar seat. With the great Government went many deep secret things which we too long delayed to look into and scrutinize with candid, fearless eyes. The great Government we loved has too often been made use of for private and selfish purposes, and those who used it had forgotten the people.
At last a vision has been vouchsafed us of our life as a whole. We see the bad with the good, the debased and decadent with the sound and vital. With this vision we approach new affairs. Our duty is to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore, to correct the evil without impairing the good, to purify and humanize every process of our common life without weakening or sentimentalizing it. There has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed and be great. Our thought has been "Let every man look out for himself, let every generation look out for itself," while we reared giant machinery which made it impossible that any but those who stood at the levers of control should have a chance to look out for themselves. We had not forgotten our morals. We remembered well enough that we had set up a policy which was meant to serve the humblest as well as the most powerful, with an eye single to the standards of justice and fair play, and remembered it with pride. But we were very heedless and in a hurry to be great. We have come now to the sober second thought. The scales of heedlessness have fallen from our eyes. We have made up our minds to square every process of our national life again with the standards we so proudly set up at the beginning and have always carried at our hearts. Our work is a work of restoration.
We have itemized with some degree of particularity the things that ought to be altered and here are some of the chief items: A tariff which cuts us off from our proper part in the commerce of the world, violates the just principles of taxation, and makes the Government a facile instrument in the hand of private interests; a banking and currency system based upon the necessity of the Government to sell its bonds fifty years ago and perfectly adapted to concentrating cash and restricting credits ;2 an industrial system which, take it on all its sides, financial as well as administrative, holds capital in leading strings, restricts the liberties and limits the opportunities of labor, and exploits without renewing or conserving the natural resources of the country; a body of agricultural activities never yet given the efficiency of great business undertakings or served as it should be through the instrumentality of science taken directly to the farm, or afforded the facilities of credit best suited to its practical needs; watercourses undeveloped, waste places unreclaimed, forests untended, fast disappearing without plan or prospect of renewal, unregarded waste heaps at every mine. We have studied as perhaps no other nation has the most effective means of production, but we have not studied cost or economy as we should either as organizers of industry, as statesmen, or as individuals.
Nor have we studied and perfected the means by which government may be put at the service of humanity, in safeguarding the health of the Nation, the health of its men and its women and its children, as well as their rights in the struggle for existence. This is no sentimental duty. The firm basis of government is justice, not pity. These are matters of justice. There can be no equality or opportunity, the first essential of justice in the body politic, if men and women and children be not shielded in their lives, their very vitality, from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they can not alter, control, or singly cope with. Society must see to it that it does not itself crush or weaken or damage its own constituent parts. The first duty of law is to keep sound the society it serves. Sanitary laws, pure food laws, and laws determining conditions of labor which individuals are powerless to determine for themselves are intimate parts of the very business of justice and legal efficiency.
These are some of the things we ought to do, and not leave the others undone, the old-fashioned, never-to-be-neglected, fundamental safeguarding of property and of individual right. This is the high enterprise of the new day: To lift everything that concerns our life as a Nation to the light that shines from the hearthfire of every man's conscience and vision of the right. It is inconceivable that we should do this as partisans; it is inconceivable we should do it in ignorance of the facts as they are or in blind haste. We shall restore, not destroy. We shall deal with our economic system as it is and as it may be modified, not as it might be if we had a clean sheet of paper to write upon; and step by step we shall make it what it should be, in the spirit of those who question their own wisdom and seek counsel and knowledge, not shallow self-satisfaction or the excitement of excursions whither they can not tell. Justice, and only justice, shall always be our motto.
And yet it will be no cool process of mere science. The Nation has been deeply stirred, stirred by a solemn passion, stirred by the knowledge of wrong, of ideals lost, of government too often debauched and made an instrument of evil. 3 The feelings with which we face this new age of right and opportunity sweep across our heartstrings like some air out of God's own presence, where justice and mercy are reconciled and the judge and the brother are one. We know our task to be no mere task of politics but a task which shall search us through and through, whether we be able to understand our time and the need of our people, whether we be indeed their spokesmen and interpreters, whether we have the pure heart to comprehend and the rectified will to choose our high course of action.
This is not a day of triumph; it is a day of dedication. Here muster, not the forces of party, but the forces of humanity. Men's hearts wait upon us; men's lives hang in the balance; men's hopes call upon us to say what we will do. Who shall live up to the great trust? Who dares fail to try? I summon all honest men, all patriotic, all forward-looking men, to my side. God helping me, I will not fail them, if they will but counsel and sustain me!
Quotes to Note
- "We have been proud of our industrial achievements..." Wilson spent a great deal of time in his term establishing fair labor practices. His efforts led to improved child labor laws and an eight-hour workday in certain industries.
- "a banking and currency system..." Wilson supported the formation of the Federal Reserve System. This system of twelve regional banks served as "banker's banks," regulating the amount of currency available for use and helping to prevent banks from collapsing in times of financial uncertainty.
- "The Nation has been deeply stirred..." Although other presidents criticized enemies of government as evil, Wilson became the first president in an inaugural address to accuse the United States government itself of having been "an instrument of evil."
On Wilson's Second Inauguration Day
Wilson began his second term under the cloud of war. World War I had been raging in Europe for almost three years, and the United States had attempted to remain neutral. Wilson spoke to a worried nation that was on the verge of being drawn into the horrible bloodshed that began the twentieth century.
Woodrow Wilson's Second Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Monday, March 5, 1917
My Fellow Citizens:
THE four years which have elapsed since last I stood in this place have been crowded with counsel and action of the most vital interest and consequence. Perhaps no equal period in our history has been so fruitful of important reforms in our economic and industrial life or so full of significant changes in the spirit and purpose of our political action. We have sought very thoughtfully to set our house in order, correct the grosser errors and abuses of our industrial life, liberate and quicken the processes of our national genius and energy, and lift our politics to a broader view of the people's essential interests.
It is a record of singular variety and singular distinction. But I shall not attempt to review it. It speaks for itself and will be of increasing influence as the years go by. This is not the time for retrospect. It is time rather to speak our thoughts and purposes concerning the present and the immediate future.
Although we have centered counsel and action with such unusual concentration and success upon the great problems of domestic legislation to which we addressed ourselves four years ago, other matters have more and more forced themselves upon our attention—matters lying outside our own life as a nation and over which we had no control, but which, despite our wish to keep free of them, have drawn us more and more irresistibly into their own current and influence.
It has been impossible to avoid them. They have affected the life of the whole world. They have shaken men everywhere with a passion and an apprehension they never knew before. It has been hard to preserve calm counsel while the thought of our own people swayed this way and that under their influence. We are a composite and cosmopolitan people. We are of the blood of all the nations that are at war. 1 The currents of our thoughts as well as the currents of our trade run quick at all seasons back and forth between us and them. The war inevitably set its mark from the first alike upon our minds, our industries, our commerce, our politics and our social action. To be indifferent to it, or independent of it, was out of the question.
And yet all the while we have been conscious that we were not part of it. In that consciousness, despite many divisions, we have drawn closer together. We have been deeply wronged upon the seas, but we have not wished to wrong or injure in return; 2 have retained throughout the consciousness of standing in some sort apart, intent upon an interest that transcended the immediate issues of the war itself.
As some of the injuries done us have become intolerable we have still been clear that we wished nothing for ourselves that we were not ready to demand for all mankind—fair dealing, justice, the freedom to live and to be at ease against organized wrong.
It is in this spirit and with this thought that we have grown more and more aware, more and more certain that the part we wished to play was the part of those who mean to vindicate and fortify peace. We have been obliged to arm ourselves to make good our claim to a certain minimum of right and of freedom of action. We stand firm in armed neutrality since it seems that in no other way we can demonstrate what it is we insist upon and cannot forget. 3 We may even be drawn on, by circumstances, not by our own purpose or desire, to a more active assertion of our rights as we see them and a more immediate association with the great struggle itself. But nothing will alter our thought or our purpose. They are too clear to be obscured. They are too deeply rooted in the principles of our national life to be altered. We desire neither conquest nor advantage. We wish nothing that can be had only at the cost of another people. We always professed unselfish purpose and we covet the opportunity to prove our professions are sincere.
There are many things still to be done at home, to clarify our own politics and add new vitality to the industrial processes of our own life, and we shall do them as time and opportunity serve, but we realize that the greatest things that remain to be done must be done with the whole world for stage and in cooperation with the wide and universal forces of mankind, and we are making our spirits ready for those things.
We are provincials no longer. The tragic events of the thirty months of vital turmoil through which we have just passed have made us citizens of the world. There can be no turning back. Our own fortunes as a nation are involved whether we would have it so or not.
And yet we are not the less Americans on that account. We shall be the more American if we but remain true to the principles in which we have been bred. They are not the principles of a province or of a single continent. We have known and boasted all along that they were the principles of a liberated mankind. These, therefore, are the things we shall stand for, whether in war or in peace:
That all nations are equally interested in the peace of the world and in the political stability of free peoples, and equally responsible for their maintenance; that the essential principle of peace is the actual equality of nations in all matters of right or privilege; that peace cannot securely or justly rest upon an armed balance of power; that governments derive all their just powers from the consent of the governed and that no other powers should be supported by the common thought, purpose or power of the family of nations; that the seas should be equally free and safe for the use of all peoples, under rules set up by common agreement and consent, and that, so far as practicable, they should be accessible to all upon equal terms; that national armaments shall be limited to the necessities of national order and domestic safety; that the community of interest and of power upon which peace must henceforth depend imposes upon each nation the duty of seeing to it that all influences proceeding from its own citizens meant to encourage or assist revolution in other states should be sternly and effectually suppressed and prevented.
I need not argue these principles to you, my fellow countrymen; they are your own part and parcel of your own thinking and your own motives in affairs. They spring up native amongst us. Upon this as a platform of purpose and of action we can stand together. And it is imperative that we should stand together. We are being forged into a new unity amidst the fires that now blaze throughout the world. In their ardent heat we shall, in God's Providence, let us hope, be purged of faction and division, purified of the errant humors of party and of private interest, and shall stand forth in the days to come with a new dignity of national pride and spirit. Let each man see to it that the dedication is in his own heart, the high purpose of the nation in his own mind, ruler of his own will and desire.
I stand here and have taken the high and solemn oath to which you have been audience because the people of the United States have chosen me for this august delegation of power and have by their gracious judgment named me their leader in affairs.
I know now what the task means. I realize to the full the responsibility which it involves. I pray God I may be given the wisdom and the prudence to do my duty in the true spirit of this great people. I am their servant and can succeed only as they sustain and guide me by their confidence and their counsel. The thing I shall count upon, the thing without which neither counsel nor action will avail, is the unity of America—an America united in feeling, in purpose and in its vision of duty, of opportunity and of service.
We are to beware of all men who would turn the tasks and the necessities of the nation to their own private profit or use them for the building up of private power.
United alike in the conception of our duty and in the high resolve to perform it in the face of all men, let us dedicate ourselves to the great task to which we must now set our hand. For myself I beg your tolerance, your countenance and your united aid.
The shadows that now lie dark upon our path will soon be dispelled, and we shall walk with the light all about us if we be but true to ourselves—to ourselves as we have wished to be known in the counsels of the world and in the thought of all those who love liberty and justice and the right exalted.
Quotes to Note
- "We are a composite and cosmopolitan people." Although the United States had close cultural ties to Great Britain, millions of Americans immigrants were of German descent. At the beginning of the war, there was no clear indicator of which side the United States should support.
- "we have been deeply wronged..." Wilson is referring mainly to the sinking of the British ship Lusitania by a German submarine. More than 1,100 people died in the sinking, including 128 Americans. He is also referring to the practice of both German and British ships of stopping U.S. merchant ships and confiscating their cargo.
- "We stand firm..." Less than a month after this speech, on April 2, 1917, Wilson would ask Congress to declare war on Germany, saying "The world must be made safe for democracy."
Woodrow Wilson (Thomas Woodrow Wilson), 1856–1924, 28th President of the United States (1913–21), b. Staunton, Va.
He graduated from Princeton in 1879 and studied law at the Univ. of Virginia. Admitted (1882) to the bar, he practiced in Atlanta, Ga., for a year before going to Johns Hopkins to study political science and jurisprudence. In 1885, he published Congressional Government, a significant work. After receiving (1886) his Ph.D. degree, he taught history and political economy at Bryn Mawr (1885–88) and Wesleyan Univ. (1888–90).
In 1890 he became professor of jurisprudence and political economy at Princeton and gained a reputation for his eloquent orations. Popular with the student body, Wilson, a descendant of Presbyterian ministers on both sides of his family, was elected (1902) president of Princeton, becoming its first nonclerical head. He strove to raise academic standards, reorganized the curriculum, and introduced the preceptorial system of instruction, which provided for more individualized education.
His attempt to change the social and living facilities by eliminating the elite eating clubs for upperclassmen and introducing the quadrangle system, where students from all of the classes would live and eat together, was less successful. It aroused great hostility, which reached a climax in his bitter struggle with the group headed by Dean Andrew F. West. Wilson lost, but with prompting from George B. M. Harvey, a New York publisher with strong connections in the Democratic party, he ran for governor of New Jersey in 1910 soon after resigning his post at Princeton.
Governor of New Jersey
With the aid of the New Jersey Democratic machine, Wilson secured the gubernatorial nomination and, breaking with the machine to espouse progressive policies, went on to win the election. Despite much resistance from the regular Democrats, Wilson forced through the New Jersey legislature such reforms as an employer's liability act, the direct primary, a corrupt-practices act, and revitalization of the state public utilities commission.
Wilson's resolute and progressive gubernatorial record brought him to the forefront of national politics. Although Champ Clark was the leading contender for the presidential nomination at the Democratic convention in 1912, he could not muster the necessary two-thirds vote, and after he had exhausted his strength, Wilson won on the 46th ballot. He was helped by the switch to his side of William Jennings Bryan (prompted by Edward M. House). The split in the Republican party, which divided into the regular Republicans supporting William Howard Taft and the Progressive party backing Theodore Roosevelt, gained the election for Wilson, who captured 435 electoral votes.
Wilson revived the custom, abandoned in 1801, of addressing Congress in person and immediately called for a series of reforms, which he had called the "New Freedom" in his presidential campaign. During his administration the tariff was drastically decreased (1913; see Underwood, Oscar Wilder); the Federal Reserve System was instituted (1913); the La Follette Seamen's Act, regulating labor conditions aboard ship, became law (1915); the Adamson Act, establishing an eight-hour day for railroad employees, was enacted (1916); and the Federal Farm Loan Act, providing for loans to cooperative farm associations, was passed (1916). Wilson continued the policy of curbing monopoly by creating (1914) the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and expose unfair practices of corporations, pushed the passage (1914) of the Clayton Antitrust Act, and instituted antitrust proceedings in 92 cases. In addition, child labor was abolished, and a graduated income tax and a federal inheritance tax were introduced. The Seventeenth Amendment, providing for the direct popular election of U.S. Senators, the Eighteenth Amendment, which instituted prohibition, and the Nineteenth Amendment, by which women received the vote, were all launched while Wilson was President.
In foreign affairs the Wilson administration was faced with mounting difficulties. In Mexico, a revolution brought (Feb., 1913) Victoriano Huerta to the presidency. Wilson refused to recognize Huerta on the grounds that he had gained power by assassinating his predecessor, and instead resorted to a policy of "watchful waiting." In 1914, this policy ended when U.S. marines landed in Veracruz in retaliation for the arrest of U.S. sailors in Tampico. Mediation by Argentina, Brazil, and Chile prevented war but failed to settle the aggravated situation. After Huerta was driven from power, new troubles arose from the internal situation in Mexico. The raid of Francisco ( "Pancho" ) Villa across the U.S. border resulted in the punitive expedition (1916) into Mexico led by John J. Pershing. Border incidents continued, and relations between the two countries remained unfriendly. During this period, Wilson also sent U.S. troops to Haiti (1915), the Dominican Republic (1916), and Cuba (1917), and established protectorates over the first two. In his East Asian policy, notably his refusal (1913) to support loans to China by American bankers, Wilson openly rejected "dollar diplomacy."
World War I
The outbreak of World War I in Europe overshadowed all other problems. Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, who scrupulously favored neutrality, resigned (1915) and was succeeded by Robert Lansing, who tended to favor intervention on the side of the Allies. Wilson during his first term nevertheless sought by all diplomatic means to maintain an impartial neutrality. American public opinion, however, increasingly mounted against Germany, and the sinking (May 7, 1915) of the Lusitania by a German submarine aroused a storm of protest. After the sinking (Mar. 24, 1916) of the American vessel Sussex, Wilson issued an ultimatum to which Germany responded with a pledge to cease its unrestricted submarine attacks. Trouble over shipping also occurred with Great Britain in its effort to enforce the blockade of Germany. In the 1916 election, the Democratic campaign slogan, "He kept us out of war," helped return Wilson to the White House; Charles Evans Hughes was defeated by a very close margin. Wilson immediately attempted to mediate between the warring nations, but without success. Relations with Germany became more and more tense, especially after the announcement (Jan. 31, 1917) by Germany of a renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare.
On Feb. 3, Wilson broke diplomatic relations with Germany. Several more U.S. vessels were sunk, and on Apr. 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. In his war message Wilson stated that "the world must be made safe for democracy" and that the United States would wage war for liberty and peace. War was declared Apr. 6. Wilson's speeches, elaborating his war aims, did much to consolidate U.S. opinion behind his policies as the country mobilized. In addition to the establishment of a fighting force, war industries were placed under government control and the President was given wide powers over the production and distribution of food and fuel. Late in Dec., 1917, Wilson put the railroads under government operation. The Committee on Public Information was established to propagandize for the war.
The Fourteen Points and the Peace Conference
In Jan., 1918, prompted by the publication by the Bolshevik revolutionary government in Russia of secret treaties that revealed the imperialistic war aims of the Allies, Wilson presented the Fourteen Points to Congress; these outlined the basic provisions that he believed the peace settlement must cover. As the war drew to a close and preparations were begun for a peace conference, Wilson was generally looked upon in Europe as the savior of the future. In the United States, however, he suffered an electoral setback in Nov., 1918, after appealing for the return of a Democratic Congress as an endorsement of his foreign policy; the Republicans captured both houses of Congress.
Shortly afterward (December) Wilson set sail for Europe as head of the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference; his attendance broke all American precedents. Angry at Republican criticism, Wilson did not include any active Republican, or any Senator, on the peace commission. Wilson was received in Europe with warm ovations and set about trying to create a new world society, which would be governed by the "self-determination of peoples," which would be free from secret diplomacy and wars, and, most important, which would have an association of nations to maintain international justice.
At the peace conference he became involved in long and bitter wrangles with Georges Clemenceau, David Lloyd George, Vittorio Orlando, and the other representatives of European powers. The resulting treaty (see Versailles, Treaty of) was far from being the fulfillment of his dream, although he did secure the adoption of the covenant establishing the League of Nations. Wilson accepted the treaty as being the best obtainable.
Disillusionment and Death
At home, opposition to the League had been growing, and when Wilson returned (July, 1919) with the signed treaty, his accomplishments at Paris were received with mixed feelings. In the Senate, quarrels over the ratification of the treaty and the proposed amendments broke out immediately. In the group that emerged as opponents of the League, Henry Cabot Lodge was outstanding. Nevertheless, despite the agitation of a handful of "irreconcilables," the Senate would probably have ratified the treaty if certain reservations protecting U.S. sovereignty had been added. Wilson, however, refused to compromise and sought popular support by making a speaking tour of the United States. He was on his way east from the Pacific coast when fatigue and strain brought on a sudden physical breakdown in Sept., 1919, and forced him to cancel his trip.
On Oct. 2, 1919, Wilson suffered a stroke, which incapacitated him for several months. He never entirely recovered, and for the remainder of his second term, Wilson, bitterly disillusioned and emotionally unstable, was essentially detached from the political scene. It has been postulated that he was so ill that his wife, Edith Bolling Wilson, made virtually all his political decisions for him. He continued to be uncompromising in his refusal to accept reservations on the League. Three years after the expiration of his term Wilson died. His character and policies have been the subject of acrimonious debate, but even those who have doubted his wisdom have recognized him as one of the pivotal figures of American and world history. In 1920 he was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his Fourteen Points and for securing the adoption of the Convenant of the League of Nations as part of the Treaty of Versailles.
Wilson's writings on history and jurisprudence include Division and Reunion, 1829–1889 (1893), George Washington (1896), A History of the American People (5 vol., 1902), and Constitutional Government in the United States (1908). These books are distinguished by a wide knowledge of constitutional law and by the severe and polished literary style that also characterizes An Old Master and Other Political Essays (1893) and Mere Literature and Other Essays (1893). Wilson's addresses, messages, and speeches, the last to be completely written by the president himself, are considered among the finest by an American, and have been published and republished in various collections; see L. S. Turnbull, Woodrow Wilson: A Selected Bibliography of His Published Writings, Addresses, and Public Papers (1948, repr. 1971). The definitive edition of Wilson's papers was ed. by A. S. Link et al. (69 vol., 1966–94).
The Woodrow Wilsons (1937), by E. W. McAdoo (his daughter) and M. Y. Gaffrey, is an intimate account of his family life. See also biographies by J. M. Blum (1956), S. B. McKinley (1957), H. Hoover (1958), A. Link (5 vol., 1947–65), A. Heckscher (1992), J. W. S. Nordholt (1992), L. Auchincloss (2000), J. M. Cooper, Jr. (2009), and A. Scott Berg (2013); R. S. Baker, Woodrow Wilson and the World Settlement (3 vol., 1922; repr. 1960) and Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters (8 vol., 1927–39, repr. 1968); T. A. Bailey, Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace (1944, repr. 1963) and Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (1945); J. Daniels, The Wilson Era (1946); E. H. Buehrig, Woodrow Wilson and the Balance of Power (1955, repr. 1968) and Wilson's Foreign Policy in Perspective (1957, repr. 1970); H. W. Bragdon, Woodrow Wilson: The Academic Years (1967); A. Link, ed., Woodrow Wilson: A Profile (1968); L. E. Ambrosius, Woodrow Wilson and the American Diplomatic Tradition (1987); J. M. Cooper, Jr., Breaking the Heart of the World: Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the League of Nations (2001).
Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Va., on Dec. 28, 1856. His father, a Presbyterian minister, communicated his moral austerity to his son, resulting in an inflexibility that sometimes revealed itself. Wilson attended Davison University in North Carolina for a brief time but graduated from Princeton in 1879. In his senior year he published an important essay in the International Review, revealing his early interest in American government. He studied law briefly and, though he did not complete the course, practiced for a time in Atlanta, Ga., without much success. He pursued graduate studies at Johns Hopkins University, receiving his doctorate in 1886.
In his doctoral thesis Wilson analyzed the American political system, pointing to the fracturing of power that flowed from the committee system in Congress. This thesis foreshadowed his intense belief in the role of the presidency as the only national office and in the duty of the president to lead the nation. He was to put these views into practice when he occupied the White House.
From 1886 to 1910 Wilson was in academic life—as a professor of political science at Bryn Mawr, Wesleyan, and Princeton and, after 1902, president of Princeton. A magnificent teacher, Wilson was a strong and imaginative college executive. His establishment of the preceptorial system at Princeton was an important contribution to university education that emphasized intimacy between teacher and student. He also fought for democracy in education.
Governor of New Jersey
By 1910 Wilson had established a wide reputation but had also aroused many enmities at Princeton. Thus he was ready to accept when, in 1910, the Democratic party in New Jersey offered him the nomination for governor. He was elected by a large plurality.
As governor, Wilson demonstrated masterly leadership, pushing through the legislature a direct primary law, a corrupt-practices act, an employers' liability act, and a law regulating the public utilities. His success made him a prominent candidate for the presidency in 1912. He was nominated, after a long convention battle, and easily elected in November. At the same time the Democratic party secured a substantial majority in both houses of Congress.
First Term as President
Once elected, Wilson proceeded to put into practice his theory of presidential leadership. In the first 2 years of his presidency he dominated Congress and secured legislation of long-term historical significance. The tariff was revised downward, initiating a policy which was to be of substantial importance later. The Federal Reserve Act created a banking system under governmental control. The Federal Trade Commission Act, directed against monopoly, created a body which has had an important role in preventing overwhelming concentration of power in industry.
Wilson from the beginning confronted difficult questions of foreign policy. In Mexico a revolution was taking place, but just before Wilson's inauguration a military dictator, Victoriano Huerta, seized the presidency. Wilson refused to recognize Huerta, setting a course sympathetic with the struggle of the Mexican masses for social reform. He prevented Huerta from consolidating power, and in 1914 he ordered the occupation of Veracruz to prevent the dictator from receiving arms from abroad. He was saved from the possibility of war by the proffered mediation of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile; and Huerta was overthrown. But the Mexican question continued causing trouble.
Beginning of World War I
In August 1914 World War I broke out in Europe. The basis of Wilson's policy was the preservation of neutrality. But there can be little doubt that in his heart he sympathized with France and Great Britain and feared the victory of imperial Germany. The warring powers soon began interfering with American trade. The British more and more restricted American commerce, but the Germans proclaimed a new kind of warfare, submarine warfare, with the prospect of American ships being sunk and their passengers and crew being lost. Wilson took German policies more seriously, not only because of his innate partiality for the British, but because German policies involved the destruction of human life, whereas the British interfered only with trade. As early as February 1915, in response to a German declaration instituting the U-boat war, the President declared that Germany would be held to "strict accountability" for the loss of American lives.
For a time thereafter Wilson took no action. But on May 7, 1915, the liner Lusitania was sunk, with over a hundred American lives lost. The President addressed a stiff note to Germany but clung to the hope that the war might be ended by the good offices of the United States. He engaged in a debate with Berlin and, after other painful submarine episodes, got Germany to abandon the U-boat war in 1916.
Wilson then addressed himself to Great Britain but made little headway. In the meantime the presidential campaign of 1916 was approaching. He was renominated virtually by acclamation; the Democratic platform praised him for keeping the country out of war. He won in a very close campaign. It is important to note that though the President profited from his stand in preserving peace, and though the Democratic politicians made the most of the slogan "He kept us out of war," Wilson promised nothing for the future.
Second Term as President
Wilson's efforts to bring the belligerents together were ineffectual. When the German government cast the die for unlimited warfare on the sea, Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Berlin but continued to hope that a direct challenge could be avoided. No president has ever taken more seriously the immense responsibility of leading the American people into war. But on April 2, 1917, Wilson demanded a declaration of war against Germany from Congress, and Congress responded by overwhelming majorities.
There is every reason to regard Wilson as a great war president. He put politics aside, appointing a professional soldier to head American forces in Europe. Fully as important, he appealed to American idealism in a striking way. Though he believed that the defeat of Germany was necessary, he held out hope that at the end of the war a League of Nations might be established which would make impossible the recurrence of another bloody struggle. As early as April 1916 he had begun to formulate his views on this. He advocated an association of nations which would act together against any nation which broke the peace. There was much support for his point of view.
Throughout the war Wilson insisted on two things: the defeat of German militarism and the establishment of peace resting on just principles. In January 1918 he gave his speech of the Fourteen Points. In the negotiations that autumn he made the acceptance of these points the primary condition on the part of his European associates and of the Germans as well. Wilson was at the apogee of his career in November 1918, when the armistice was signed. No American president had ever attained so high a position in world esteem, and millions looked to him as the prophet of a new order.
But difficulties loomed. The 1918 elections returned a Republican majority to Congress. The President himself stimulated partisanship by his appeal to elect a Democratic legislature. Though he selected able men for his delegation to the forthcoming peace conference at Paris, he did not think of conciliating the Republican opposition. By insisting on going to Paris in person and remaining there until the treaty was finished, he cut himself off from American opinion.
Versailles and the League Covenant
At the peace conference Wilson strove to realize his ideals. He was able to win the negotiating powers' consent for drafting the Covenant of the League of Nations. This provided for a League Council of the five Great Powers and four elective members and for an Assembly in which every member state would have a vote. The signatories bound themselves to submit disputes to either arbitration or conciliation through the Council. If they failed to do this, they would be subjected to economic and possibly to military sanctions. They were also to agree to respect and preserve the territorial integrity and political independence of the members of the League.
Wilson fought also for what he conceived to be a just peace. On territorial questions he strove to apply the principle of nationality; he fought successfully against French ambitions to detach the Rhineland from Germany and against the Italian desire for Dalmatia, a province peopled by Yugoslavs. Many of the new boundaries of Europe were to be determined by plebiscite. At times, however, the principle of nationality was violated. On the question of reparations Wilson was unsuccessful in limiting German payments in amount and time, and he accepted a formula which was subject to grave criticism. In the Orient, much against his will, he was compelled to recognize the claims of Japan (which had in 1914 entered the war on the side of the Allies) to economic control of the Chinese province of Shantung (formerly in the hands of Germany).
The Treaty of Versailles was not to stand the test of time. In detaching substantial territories from Germany and in fixing Germany with responsibility for the war, it furnished the basis for that German nationalism which was to come to full flower with Adolf Hitler.
Wilson returned to the United States with a political battle ahead. There was much partisanship in the opposition to him but also a genuine dislike of the Treaty of Versailles and honest opposition to "entanglement" in world politics. He erred in demanding ratification of the treaty without modification. He made his appeal in a countrywide tour. He was hailed by tremendous crowds and greeted with immense enthusiasm, but his health gave way, and he was compelled to go back to the White House. A stroke temporarily incapacitated him.
The Senate in November rejected unconditional ratification but adopted the treaty with reservations which the President refused to accept. In January a compromise was attempted. But Wilson spoiled these efforts by taking the issue into the 1920 presidential campaign. That campaign resulted in an overwhelming Republican victory and the election of Warren G. Harding as president. The new chief executive never sought to bring the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate or to bring the United States into the League, which was by now actually in existence. Wilson's presidency ended in a stunning defeat.
Evaluation of Wilson's Policies
Despite his failure to secure American adherence to the League, the long-run judgment on the President must be that he was one of the few great presidents of the United States. In his first term he exerted a presidential leadership that has rarely been equaled and won legislation of far-reaching importance. In his policy toward Germany he faithfully interpreted the majority opinion of the nation, neither rushing passionately into war at the possible cost of national unity nor hesitating to face the issue once it seemed clear. He was a war leader of the first magnitude. In his campaign for a world order, moreover, he has lasting significance. He bequeathed to his generation, and that which followed, a passionate faith in the possibility of such an order.
The Charter of the United Nations reflects in no small degree Woodrow Wilson's aspirations. Whether such an order as he dreamed will ever eventuate in fact is a question that must be left to the prophets. But if a day comes when men seek the means of settling their disputes in international organization, the failure of Woodrow Wilson will appear a transitory thing, and his idealism and his vision will receive their due praise from posterity.
Wilson was twice married. His first wife bore him three daughters. She died in the White House shortly after the outbreak of World War I. In 1916 he married Edith Bolling Galt, who survived him by many years. He died on Feb. 3, 1924.
The foremost biographer of Wilson is Arthur S. Link, whose still uncompleted definitive work, Wilson (5 vols., 1947-1965), takes Wilson's life up to 1917; Link's work is a monumental, detailed record of Wilson's times. The biography by Arthur Walworth, Woodrow Wilson (2 vols., 1958; 2d rev. ed., 2 vols. in 1, 1964), presents a fine understanding of Wilson the man. Henry Wilkinson Bragdon, Woodrow Wilson: The Academic Years (1967), describes Wilson's years as writer, teacher, and scholar, and George C. Osborn, Woodrow Wilson: The Early Years (1968), relates his prepolitical years generally.
A critical study of Wilson is John M. Blum, Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality (1956). Other biographies include William Allen White, Woodrow Wilson (1924); H. Hale Bellot, Woodrow Wilson (1955); John A. Garraty, Woodrow Wilson: A Great Life in Brief (1956); and Silas Bent McKinley, Woodrow Wilson (1957). See also Eleanor Wilson McAdoo, The Woodrow Wilsons (1937). A synoptic view of Wilson's personality emerges from Arthur S. Link, ed., Woodrow Wilson: A Profile (1968), an anthology by persons who knew Wilson or who assessed his impact during their lifetimes. The papers of Wilson's confidant, Edward Mandell House, The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, arranged by Charles Seymour (4 vols., 1926-1928), provide intimate glimpses of Wilson.
Specialized studies include excellent works by Thomas A. Bailey dealing with the peace treaty and the struggle that followed, Woodrow Wilson and the Lost Peace (1944) and Woodrow Wilson and the Great Betrayal (1945); Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910-1917 (1954) and Wilson the Diplomatist (1957); the well-documented study of Wilson's relations with Congress during World War I by Seward W. Livermore, Politics Is Adjourned: Woodrow Wilson and the War Congress, 1916-1918 (1966); and Norman Gordon Levin, Jr., Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution (1968). The elections of 1912 and 1916 are covered in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed., History of American Presidential Elections (4 vols., 1971). □
Born: December 28, 1856
Died: February 3, 1924
American president, governor, and educator
Woodrow Wilson was admired as a writer, a scholar, and an educator more than two decades before he became president. He spent twenty-four years working in the academic world as a professor, then as a college president, before he was elected governor of New Jersey. Two years later he was elected president of the United States, led the country through World War I (1914–18) and was the primary architect of the League of Nations.
Stephen Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, on December 28, 1856, the son of Joseph and Jeanie Wilson. His father was a Presbyterian minister. Wilson briefly attended Davison University in North Carolina, but transferred to Princeton University and graduated there in 1879. He received his doctorate in 1886 from Johns Hopkins University.
In his doctoral thesis Wilson analyzed the American political system, and criticized what he believed was a breakdown of power in Congress, which was caused by the committee system. He believed that the president ought to solely lead the nation, a view that did not change once he was in the White House.
From 1886 to 1910 Wilson was in academic life—as a professor of political science at Bryn Mawr College, Wesleyan University, and Princeton. In 1902, he was named president of Princeton. He strongly favored an educational system that promoted a close relationship between teachers and students.
From academia to politics
By 1910 Wilson had established such a solid reputation as an educator that the Democratic party in New Jersey offered him the nomination for governor. After winning the election, Governor Wilson showed strong leadership, pushing through legislation dealing with such issues as employers' liability and public utilities. His success made him a prominent candidate for the presidency in 1912. He was nominated on the forty-sixth ballot, and went on to soundly defeat former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and current president William Howard Taft (1857–1930) in the November election.
First term as president
In the first two years of his presidency Wilson dominated the Democratic-controlled Congress and secured legislation of great historical significance. The tariff (duties or a kind of tax) was revised downward, beginning a policy that was to be of substantial importance later. The Federal Reserve Act created a banking system under governmental control. The Federal Trade Commission Act created a body that has had an important role in preventing monopolies (an overwhelming concentration of power in an industry).
Early on Wilson faced difficult questions of foreign policy. Wilson refused to recognize Mexico's new military dictator president, Victoriano Huerta, and worked for social reform in that country. In 1914 Wilson ordered the occupation of Veracruz to prevent Huerta from receiving arms from abroad. War was averted when the countries of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile mediated. Huerta was soon overthrown.
Beginning of World War I
In August 1914 World War I broke out in Europe. This was a particularly difficult time for Wilson. In addition to the beginning of the war, his wife, Ellen Axson Wilson (1860–1914) died. The grieving president kept himself busy with his work and confided in his three daughters and a few close friends. His grief lightened early the following year, when he met Edith Bolling Galt (1872–1961). The couple married in December 1915.
Wilson kept the United States out of the war based on a policy of neutrality (taking no side). But there is little doubt that he sympathized with France and Great Britain and feared the victory of imperial Germany. The warring countries soon began interfering with American trade. The British restricted American commerce, but the Germans proclaimed a new kind of warfare, submarine warfare, with the prospect of American ships being sunk and their passengers and crew being lost. Wilson took German policies more seriously, because they involved the potential destruction of human life, whereas the British interfered only with trade. As early as February 1915, in response to a German declaration instituting the U-boat war, the president declared that Germany would be held to "strict accountability" for the loss of American lives.
For a time thereafter Wilson took no action. But on May 7, 1915, the liner Lusitania was sunk, with over a hundred American lives lost. The President addressed a stiff note to Germany. After other painful submarine episodes, Wilson convinced Germany to abandon the U-boat war in 1916.
In the meantime the presidential campaign of 1916 was approaching. Wilson was easily renominated and went on to win a close election against the Republican candidate, former Supreme Court justice (and future chief justice) Charles Evans Hughes (1862–1948). Part of Wilson's success came from the Democratic platform that touted the president's ability to keep the United States at peace. "He kept us out of war" was a successful pro-Wilson slogan, though Wilson never promised anything about the country's future involvement in the war.
Second term as president
Wilson's efforts to bring the warring countries together were not successful. When the German government sought unlimited warfare on the sea, Wilson severed diplomatic relations with that nation but continued to hope that a direct challenge could be avoided. But on April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, and Congress overwhelmingly approved.
Wilson believed that the defeat of Germany was necessary, but he held out hope that at the end of the war a League of Nations might be established that would make impossible the recurrence of another bloody struggle. As early as April 1916 the president had begun to formulate his views on this. He was in favor of an association of nations that would act together against any nation that disrupted peace. There was much support for his point of view.
Throughout the war Wilson insisted on two things: the defeat of German militarism and the establishment of peace resting on just principles. In January 1918 he proposed the "Fourteen Points" that would need to be met in order to secure an armistice (cease fire) and begin serious peace negotiations. In the negotiations that autumn he made the acceptance of these points the primary condition on the part of his European associates and of the Germans as well. In November 1918 Wilson succeeded; an armistice was signed. Throughout the world Wilson was looked at with great esteem.
But difficulties loomed. The 1918 elections returned a Republican majority to Congress. The president himself stimulated partisanship by his appeal to elect a Democratic legislature. Though he selected able men to accompany him to the forthcoming peace conference in Paris, France, he did not think of accommodating the Republican opposition. By insisting on going to Paris in person and remaining there until the treaty was finished, he cut himself off from American opinion.
Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations
At the peace conference Wilson strove to realize his ideals. He worked on drafting the Covenant of the League of Nations. This would provide for a League Council of the five great world powers and four elective members and for an assembly in which every member state would have a vote. Disputes would either go to arbitration or be decided amongst council members. If they failed to do this, they would be subjected to economic and possibly to military sanctions. They were also to agree to respect and preserve the territorial integrity and political independence of the members of the League.
At the talks that eventually led to the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson argued successfully for fairness on many issues, but he had to compromise on two vital points: France and England insisted on huge war reparations (payments for damages) against Germany; and Japan, which had joined the Allies late in the war, was allowed to keep control of a province of China it had invaded. Wilson deeply opposed both resolutions, but he compromised to keep alive his vision for the League of Nations.
The Treaty of Versailles was not to stand the test of time. In detaching substantial territories from Germany and in fixing Germany with responsibility for the war, it furnished the basis for that German nationalism which was to strengthen with Adolf Hitler (1889–1945).
Wilson returned to the United States with a political battle ahead. Many disliked the Treaty of Versailles and opposed the "world politics" concept of the League of Nations. He erred in demanding ratification of the treaty without any changes. He made his appeal in an exhausting countrywide tour. He was hailed by large, enthusiastic crowds, but his health gave way, forcing him back to the White House. A stroke temporarily incapacitated him.
The Senate rejected unconditional ratification but adopted the treaty with reservations that Wilson refused to accept. In January 1920 a compromise was attempted. But Wilson spoiled these efforts by including the issue in the 1920 presidential campaign. In the fall election the Republican candidate, U.S. senator Warren G. Harding (1865–1923) of Ohio, easily defeated a fellow Ohioan, Governor James M. Cox (1870–1957). The new chief executive never sought to bring the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate or to bring the United States into the League, which was by now actually in existence. Wilson's presidency ended in a stunning defeat. Despite this disappointing end to Wilson's eight years in the White House, many historians view him as one of the country's great presidents. Wilson died on February 3, 1924.
For More Information
Clements, Kendrick A. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
Clements, Kendrick A. Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman. Rev. ed. Chicago: I. R. Dee, 1999.
Ferrell, Robert H. Woodrow Wilson and World War I: 1917–1921. New York: Harper, 1986.
Levin, Phyllis Lee. Edith and Woodrow: The Wilson White House. New York: Scribner, 2001.
As president, Wilson was often accused by his political enemies of being cowardly and pacifistic, but he used armed force in support of diplomatic goals seven times between April 1914 and November 1918—more often than any other president. Most historians recognize that he had a sophisticated understanding of the value and limitations of force in international relations, and that he was an effective commander in chief.
Wilson thought that the United States must take an active part in promoting the worldwide spread of democratic ideals, international law, and the cooperation of peaceloving nations. He preferred to achieve these goals through diplomacy and moral persuasion, but he did not shrink from the use of military force. He believed that the president must absolutely control foreign policy, including the decision to use or refrain from using armed force, but he also believed that policymakers should not meddle in military operations once they had begun, just as military commanders should not dictate policy.
Wilson's first uses of force were in Latin America, a region traditionally viewed by the United States as within its sphere of influence. In April 1914, he authorized the occupation of Veracruz, Mexico, to avenge an insult to some American sailors and to pressure the Mexican dictator into resigning. He refused to allow the expansion of intervention beyond this one city, however, and relied mainly on negotiations to achieve his aims. Two years later, he authorized a punitive expedition into Mexico in search of border raiders but again entrusted his main objective—restraining the Mexican Revolution—to negotiators rather than soldiers. Other U.S. military involvement, in Haiti in 1914 and the Dominican Republic in 1915, was limited to the minimum force necessary to establish order while American occupiers tried to develop local support for democratic self‐government.
When World War I began in August 1914, Wilson at first shared the feeling of most Americans that neutrality was the proper policy for the United States. He also hoped, by keeping America neutral, to have an opportunity to mediate the conflict. He opposed expansion of the army and navy and employed his diplomatic skills to maximize American trade. In 1915 and 1916, he sent his friend Edward M. House to Europe to promote peace talks.
The beginning of German submarine warfare early in 1915 undermined the president's optimism, and that autumn he came out for enlarging the army and navy. In May 1916, he suggested that the United States might join a postwar association of nations dedicated to collective security. That autumn, after his reelection, he launched a new peace effort in Europe, and upon its failure, proposed his own peace terms in the “Peace Without Victory” speech on 22 January 1917. This initiative also failed when the Germans announced unrestricted submarine warfare.
Wilson severed diplomatic relations with Germany on 3 February 1917, but before seeking a declaration of war he first explored armed neutrality. On 2 April, he at last asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany, justifying the request as a defense of neutral rights and, more important, as an opportunity for the United States to defeat autocracy and mold a peace based on democracy and collective security.
After Congress declared war on 6 April, Wilson named Gen. John J. Pershing commander of the American Expeditionary Force to be sent to France, and gave him full authority to decide when, where, and how American troops were to be used. Likewise, the president gave his full backing to the plans of Adm. William S. Sims to concentrate virtually the whole naval effort on developing a convoy system to defeat the German submarine threat. To coordinate U.S. military policy with that of the British and French, he appointed Edward House and the retiring chief of staff of the army, Gen. Tasker H. Bliss, to sit on a permanent inter‐Allied conference. House and Bliss understood that their role was to smooth differences with the Allies and to give U.S. military commanders maximum freedom within the coalition.
In April 1917, German leaders were confident that American armies would arrive too late to affect the outcome of the conflict. They were wrong. Within a year the United States had mobilized and transported a large army of fresh troops to Europe in time to help deal the decisive blow. That achievement was partly a testimony to Wilson's decision to let his commanders do their jobs without political interference, but even more it was proof of the enormous productivity of the American economy.
Wilson was keenly aware that victory in the war depended upon the maintenance of solidarity among the Allies. To promote unity, he agreed to the creation of an Inter‐Allied Supreme War Council to coordinate military policy, and to the appointment of French Gen. Ferdinand Foch as supreme military commander over all Allied forces. He also agreed to allow expeditions of American soldiers to take part in Allied forces that landed at Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostok. At first, they were intended to help keep Russia in the war, then to protect Allied military supplies from German seizure after the Bolsheviks made a separate peace with Germany, and to support the withdrawal of Czech prisoners of war for assignment to the western front. Although hostile to the Bolsheviks, Wilson was skeptical of this intervention because he believed it would arouse Russian hostility. He eventually yielded to maintain Allied solidarity and to restrain the ambitions of the other Allies, who seemed interested in territory (Japan) or counterrevolution (Britain and France).
By October 1918, German leaders realized that they had catastrophically underestimated the importance of American intervention. Faced with imminent defeat, they suggested to President Wilson an armistice on the basis of his “Fourteen Points” speech of 8 January 1918. Wilson used the German overture to force the Allies and General Per shing to agree that the Fourteen Points would be the basis for a cease‐fire and the starting point for negotiation of the peace treaty. Thus by November 1918, when the armistice was signed, it appeared that Wilson had been remarkably successful in using American military power not only to force his peace program on the enemy but to impose it on the Allies as well. Only later, after the guns fell silent, would many of his hard‐won gains slip away.
Wilson led the American delegation to the peace talks in Paris in the spring of 1919 and submitted the resulting Treaty of Versailles to the U.S. Senate in July. But the Senate rejected it, and the president, crippled by a stroke that October, served out the last years of his term an embittered invalid isolated in the White House.
[See also Caribbean and Latin America, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Commander in Chief, President as; Mexican Revolution, U.S. Military Involvement in the; World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course; World War I: Postwar Impact.]
Arthur S. Link , Wilson, 5 vols., 1947–65.
Robert H. Ferrell , Woodrow Wilson and World War I, 1917–1921, 1985.
Frederick S. Calhoun , Power and Principle: Armed Intervention in Wilsonian Foreign Policy, 1986.
Arthur S. Link and and John Whiteclay Chambers II , Woodrow Wilson as Commander in Chief, in The United States Military Under the Constitution of the United States, 1789–1989, ed. Richard H. Kohn, 1991.
Thomas J. Knock , To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order, 1992.
Kendrick A. Clements , The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, 1992.
Kendrick A. Clements
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), political scientist and 28th president of the United States, made his professional contributions to political science between 1879, when he was a senior at Princeton, and 1908, when he published Constitutional Government in the United States. Between these dates, he also attended the University of Virginia Law School, practiced law for a year in Atlanta, Georgia, and then abandoned the bar for graduate work at Johns Hopkins University, where he received the doctorate of philosophy in 1886. Wilson taught history and political science at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University before he returned to Princeton in 1890 as professor; in 1902 he became president of the university. After his academic career, Wilson had a second distinguished career as governor of New Jersey and president of the United States, the only two political offices for which he ever campaigned.
In the development of political science as a discipline distinct from history and moral philosophy, Wilson’s work is a bridge between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Although, like John W. Burgess and Theodore Dwight Woolsey, he was interested in systematic statements about political theory, Wilson, more than they, attempted to build upon empirical evidence. His most important work in this vein, The State (1889), was one of the first books on comparative government written in the United States, although it is not, by twentieth-century standards, a behavioral study and is empirical in only a secondhand sense. Little of The State is based upon direct observation of foreign systems. As Wilson’s Preface indicates, the principal materials for his comparative study were borrowed from a German yearbook on public law (Handbuch des öffentlichen Rechts der Gegenwart) edited by Heinrich Marquardsen of the University of Erlangen. Insofar as its theory is concerned, The State owes something to the concepts of process and evolution associated with Darwin and to the sociology of Herbert Spencer: for example, Wilson believed that the modern state had emerged from competition between earlier, more primitive forms of social organization, a struggle in which the fittest customs and the best religions had prevailed. [See. the biography of Spencer.]
As a political scientist, Wilson was primarily interested in the study of the government of the United States. Here, as in the field of comparative government, he was a pioneer. An article published when he was a senior in college and titled “Cabinet Government in the United States” (1879) has serious shortcomings as a piece of empirical work, but Wilson seems to have been the first American political scientist to examine critically the functions of Congress and its inner working, although such discussion was not uncommon in the opinion press of the day. Wilson did not obtain his material either by the method of direct observation or by research into original documents; his statements about Congress were based on his insight, now accepted as undeniable, that the American political system cannot operate well without vigorous presidential leadership. Although other sources have been credited with shaping Wilson’s thought on executive leadership through political parties (e.g., Henry Jones Ford, Rise and Growth of American Politics, 1898), his earliest and most enduring debt was to Walter Bagehot, whose work The English Constitution described the model which, in the 1880s, Wilson thought the United States should emulate. Wilson’s argument for cabinet government in the 1879 article was expanded in another article, “Committee or Cabinet Government” (1884), and he then published a book on the roles of Congress and the president in the American system, under the title Congressional Government (1885). In this book Wilson expressed considerable pessimism about the weakening effects on the presidency of the separation of powers, the committee system in Congress, and the nomination of presidential candidates by party convention; eventually, he became less pessimistic, and in the Preface to the fifteenth edition of Congressional Government, published in 1900, he thought that the war with Spain had shown that the president had unique powers. By 1908, in Constitutional Government in the United States, he was sanguine about the capability of a strong man to act as a strong president and no longer felt that the chief executive was doomed to ineffectuality by the limitations of the constitutional system and the political party structure.
Still another field in which Wilson pioneered was public administration. In 1887 he published an article titled “The Study of Administration,” which seems to have attracted little notice at the time but which, some sixty years later, was to be mentioned by Dwight Waldo as “the most distinguished essay —of such brief compass, at least—in the history of American public administration” (Wilson  1953, p. 64). In this essay Wilson made the distinction, no longer generally accepted, between administration and politics. He acknowledged his indebtedness for this distinction to European writers on politics and law, notably Johann Kaspar Bluntschli. In later statements, Wilson made it clear that although he believed that administrators were not in principle involved in the political process, he was strongly opposed to the creation of a bureaucratic elite not subject to democratic controls.
Although Wilson’s reputation in history as a progressive reformer is well sustained by the domestic programs of the “New Freedom” and by his initiative in the establishment of a permanent League of Nations, he was, paradoxically, quite conservative in temper. He admired Edmund Burke as well as Walter Bagehot, saw political process as organic growth, and showed a sensitivity to the historical aspects of political phenomena. In economic matters, he was for a long time an admirer of the Manchester liberals; in civil rights, he supported segregation; and he was unenthusiastic about extending the franchise to women. In his larger political views, he rejected the Whig theory of politics, which he described in Constitutional Government in the United States as “a sort of unconscious copy of the Newtonian theory of the universe.” The trouble with this theory was that it treated government as a machine, not a living thing. He believed that political theory is “accountable to Darwin,” not to Newton.
Wilson was saved from a passive determinism by his strong religious convictions. He was the son of a Presbyterian minister and his political activism was rooted in the Calvinist drive to serve God and to understand his will through rational effort. According to this religious view of life, God is best served by serving man.
An abiding sense of moral purpose lent energy to the program of domestic reforms which Wilson pressed forward with vigor and skill between 1913 and 1917; to his leadership of the war effort in 1917 and 1918; and to his vision of a moral world in eternal peace in 1919 and 1920. In his administrations as president of the United States, Wilson established the style for the office which subsequent presidents have regarded as the standard for strong leadership. He continued to enact the various presidential roles of the past—those of party leader and voice of the people, for example— and he developed new ones: the president as protector of the peace, as chief legislator and diplomat, as planner of the economy, and as a leader of free nations. As Rossiter has noted, it has been asserted by many historians that in Wilson’s first term the “American Presidency, and with it our whole system of government, reached its highest peak of democracy, efficiency, and morality” ( 1960, p. 104).
[For the historical context of Wilson’s work, see the biographies ofBagehot; Burke; Spencer. Directly related to Wilson’s interests arePolitics, Comparative; Presidential Government; Public Administration.]
(1884) 1925 Committee or Cabinet Government. Volume 1, pages 95-129 in Woodrow Wilson, The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Edited by Ray S. Baker and William E. Dodd. New York: Harper. → First published in Volume 3, Series 2, of the Overland Magazine.
(1885) 1961 Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics. New York: Meridian.
(1887) 1953 The Study of Administration. Pages 65-75 in Dwight Waldo (editor), Ideas and Issues in Public Administration: A Book of Readings. New York: McGraw-Hill. → See page 64 for Dwight Waldo’s introduction to Wilson’s article.
(1889) 1918 The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics. Boston: Heath.
(1908) 1917 Constitutional Government in the United States. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
A Day of Dedication: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Woodrow Wilson. New York: Macmillan, 1965.
The Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Vol 1. Edited by Arthur S. Link. Princeton Univ. Press, 1966. → Additional volumes are in preparation.
The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Edited by Ray S. Baker and William E. Dodd. 6 vols. New York: Harper, 1925-1927.
Baker, Ray S. (1922) 1960 Woodrow Wilson and World Settlement: Written From His Unpublished and Personal Material. 3 vols. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.
Buehrig, Edward H. 1957 Wilson’s Foreign Policy in Perspective. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.
Hollingsworth, William W. 1918 Woodrow Wilson’s Political Ideals as Interpreted From His Works. Princeton Univ. Press.
Hoover, Herbert C. 1958 The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kerney, James 1926 The Political Education of Woodrow Wilson. New York and London: Century.
Latham, Earl (editor) 1958 The Philosophy and Policies of Woodrow Wilson. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Link, Arthur S. 1947-1965 Wilson. 4 vols. Princeton Univ. Press.
Rossiter, Clinton L. (1956) 1960 The American Presidency. 2d ed. New York: Harcourt.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856, the third child of a religious Virginia family. His father was a minister, his mother a minister's daughter. When he was two, the family moved to Augusta, Georgia .
Wilson was a shy boy and slow to mature. He did not learn to read until he was eleven or twelve. When a subject interested him, however, he was quick to learn about it. At seventeen, Wilson entered Davidson College in North Carolina , where he did well. He finished just one year of college there before his father changed jobs and moved the family to Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilson's parents wanted their son to move with them.
Wilson stayed home for one year and returned to school in 1875, this time at the College of New Jersey (renamed Princeton University in 1896). He excelled in his studies as he overcame his shyness and was elected to student leadership offices, earning a reputation as a gifted public speaker. It was during his Princeton years that young Wilson took an interest in politics and history. By the time of his graduation in 1879, he was one of the most highly respected students on campus.
Enters law school
Following his father's wishes, Wilson began studying law in 1880. He attended the University of Virginia Law School for a year and a half, after which he expressed doubts about pursuing a law career. Again to please his father, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and opened a law practice in 1882.
Unhappy in his profession, in 1883 Wilson entered the graduate program in political science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland . Around this same time he met Ellen Louise Axson, and the two exchanged letters and visited one another while Wilson was in school. They married in June 1885. Also that year Wilson published his book Congressional Government, which earned wide acclaim for its analysis of Congress's workings. Wilson took a job teaching history at Bryn Mawr, a women's college in Pennsylvania.
The future president taught at Bryn Mawruntil 1888, when he accepted a position atWesleyan University in Connecticut , where hebecame a very popular professor. In 1890Wilson, then thirty-four years old, left Wesleyan to return to Princeton, becoming a professor of jurisprudence and political economy. He arrived at the university already well known for his book and various articles as well as his teaching style.
Wilson and his wife had three daughters by this time. He published another book in 1893, Division and Reunion, on the Civil War era. The book solidified his reputation as a historian.
Wilson was elected president of Princeton in 1902 and began implementing reforms he hoped would improve the school's performance. He reorganized departments and changed class offerings. One major change he ushered in was the hiring of more than forty young teachers—known as preceptors—to act as informal advisors to the undergraduate students. The preceptorial system is still in place at Princeton in the twenty-first century.
Wilson battled trustees and wealthy alumni (Princeton graduates) in other areas of reform. He was overruled when he tried to reorganize the actual structure of the university. Wilson made powerful enemies in that conflict, but his well-publicized battles brought him to national attention. He was seen as a progressive, someone who fought for the common people. So great was his popularity that he won the Democratic Party's nomination for New Jersey governor in 1910. Wilson won the election and served for two years.
Wilson proved to be a remarkable leader, and his stint as governor earned him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1912. His campaign was based on the promise of national reforms that stressed individualism and states' rights. He called his program the New Freedom, and it helped him beat President William Howard Taft (1857–1930; served 1909–13) and former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) to win the election and become the twenty-eighth president.
A time of conflict
Wilson stepped into the presidency during a tense time. In February 1913, one month before he was sworn in, a revolution broke out in Mexico. Wilson opposed Mexico's dictator, Victoriano Huerta, and ended the fighting in 1917 by invading Mexico.
World War I broke out in Europe in 1914. It was the first war in which armies used new technology that allowed the killing of enemy soldiers more quickly and in greater number. The war progressed slowly, with unprecedented numbers of men dying in a type of fighting called trench warfare.
Wilson was determined to keep the United States neutral and out of the fighting. His professional life, however, was deeply affected by tragedy in his personal life when his wife died in the summer of 1914. Wilson faced his struggles with courage and managed to keep America from going to war until 1917. He won reelection with the slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” but on April 2, 1917, Germany, disregarding the United States's neutrality, sank several American ships. Four days later, America entered World War I. Wilson explained to the nation that American involvement was necessary to “make the world safe for democracy.”
America was not prepared for war. To help mobilize the country, Wilson passed a selective service bill through Congress that led to nearly three million men joining the U.S. Army through a military draft by the end of the war. He appointed General John J. Pershing (1860–1948) to command the country's soldiers.
Even as war was being waged overseas, Wilson searched for ways to make peace. In January 1918 he outlined in a speech to Congress a program he called Fourteen Points. Among his demands were arms (weapons) reduction, open diplomatic and economic relations (as opposed to secret treaties and trade strategies), self-government for certain people, and the establishment of a League of Nations to oversee world affairs. Germany eventually requested peace under the terms of the Fourteen Points later that year.
A cease-fire agreement was signed on November 11, 1918, but the terms of the peace still had to be determined. Wilson traveled to Paris, France, in 1919 to work out the details of what would be known as the Treaty of Versailles . While Wilson wanted the final treaty to follow the Fourteen Points, his allies from Britain, France, and Italy were more interested in seeking vengeance against Germany. In the end, Germany was forced to admit guilt for the war, give up huge amounts of territory, disarm, and pay reparations (payments to the victorious countries to help cover the costs of the war).
Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. At home, however, the Senate was opposed to ratifying the peace treaty. After traveling more than eight thousand miles and delivering forty speeches in just over three weeks, hoping to win public support for the treaty, Wilson's health was failing. After giving a speech in Pueblo, Colorado , on September 25, the president collapsed in his railroad car. The train made its way back to Washington, D.C. , where Wilson suffered a massive stroke on October 2. Unable to rise from his bed because of partial paralysis, Wilson was never able to return full-time to his official duties.
Wilson did not have the strength to fight for passage of the peace treaty, let alone run for reelection. He demanded that the treaty be the main issue in the 1920 election, but the Democratic nominee, James Cox, lost to Republican Warren Harding (1865–1923; served 1921–23), who opposed the treaty. Under Harding's leadership, the country did not join the League of Nations, nor did it sign the Versailles Treaty.
Wilson was cared for by his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, until his death on February 3, 1924.
Wilson, Thomas Woodrow
WILSON, THOMAS WOODROW
Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), the twenty-eighth president of the United States, left a great legacy of domestic legislation that profoundly affected both American business and American workers. Most of that legacy was created during the first two years of his eight-year, two-term service in the White House.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, in 1856, into the family of a Presbyterian minister. Wilson dropped the use of his first name after he graduated from college, and was known thereafter as Woodrow Wilson. Wilson grew up in an atmosphere of religious piety and scholarly interests. By the time he was two years old, the family had moved to Augusta, Georgia, where Wilson grew into young manhood. While he was growing up, his father took the young Wilson to many industrial and agricultural sites, where he learned directly about the conditions of ordinary working people.
Wilson began his professional life in a law office in Atlanta, Georgia, but by 1883, at age 27, he decided he wanted to be a college teacher instead of an attorney. He subsequently began to study history and politics at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, where he obtained a Ph.D. in political science. Wilson thrived as a teacher and later as a professor and scholar. In 1902, at age 42, he was elected president of Princeton University.
His efforts and successes at Princeton University attracted wide public notice. Leaders in the Democratic Party of New Jersey sought him out as a candidate for governor. He was indeed elected governor of New Jersey in 1910. In that office, he enacted a primary election law, a corrupt-practices act, a public utilities act, employee liability law, and various school-reform laws. His work in New Jersey eased many of the burdens of the average working person and also began to reduce corrupt business operations.
Those who worked in national politics did not overlook Wilson's progressive work in New Jersey. He was encouraged to run for federal office, and in 1912, in a race against Republican William Howard Taft (1857–1930), and Progressive Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), Woodrow Wilson, a Democratic candidate, was elected to the presidency in a political landslide.
Beginning his presidency in 1913, Wilson quickly began to pursue his domestic political agenda. In October of his first year in office, Wilson's Congress passed the Underwood Tariff Act which lowered the unfair tax rates of imported items like wool, sugar, iron ore, steel rails, and many other important items.
Next he began his most crucial domestic reforms, including the creation of a Federal Reserve Board, later called the Federal Reserve System, to help control money policies in the United States and to insure fairness in all transactions. The creation of the Board is generally regarded as the most far-reaching piece of legislation covering banking and currency in the nation's history.
In 1914 Wilson had established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to halt unfair business trade practices. The Clayton Anti-Trust Act was also passed to police unfair practices in business. Wilson's Adamson Act established an eight-hour work day for railroad employees, while his Child Labor Act limited the work hours of children and began a new program of federal regulation in industry.
After two years of successful domestic legislation, Wilson ran into global problems with the start of World War I (1914–1918). Under his leadership, the United States declared war against Germany in 1917 in what he called an effort to keep "the world . . . safe for democracy." For the duration of his presidency Wilson worked on efforts dealing with international issues. Much of his important domestic legislation, which focused on controlling big business and easing the burdens of working people in America, was obscured by his interventions during World War I and his pioneering efforts in the creation of the League of Nations in the post-war era.
Though Wilson is largely regarded as the great war-president who led the United States in World War I (1914–1918) and whose efforts to create the international peace organization the League of Nations led later to its more-stable successor, the United Nations, it is arguable that Wilson's greatest achievements were made by his domestic policies. Such policies and programs began to effectively control the lopsided concentration of power in American business. Woodrow Wilson's first administration successfully enacted many of the progressive federal laws that controlled outrageously high tariffs, monopolistic and illegal industrial practices, and the federal control of the banking system. At the early stages of his presidency, Wilson was also successful in achieving progressive legislation to stabilize the balance between business interests and the interests of American workers, both industrial and agricultural.
Wilson, "tired of swimming upstream," as he put it, died in his sleep in 1924. He suffered a series of strokes for many years before his death.
See also: Clayton Anti-Trust Act, Federal Reserve System, Underwood Tariff, World War I
Clements, Kendrick. The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson. Kansas City: University of Kansas Press, 1992.
Clements, Kendrick. Woodrow Wilson, World Statesman. New York: Twayne, 1987.
Heckscher, August. Woodrow Wilson. New York: Scribner, 1991.
Link, Arthur. Wilson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947–1965.
Wilson, Woodrow 1856–1924
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was the twenty-eighth president of the United States of America. He served as president from March 4, 1913, until March 3, 1921. Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, on December 28, 1856, and died in Washington, D.C., on February 3, 1924.
Wilson was the son of a prominent Presbyterian minister and grew up in Georgia and South Carolina. Wilson attended Davidson College in North Carolina and was graduated from Princeton University in 1879. He studied law at the University of Virginia and earned a PhD in political science from Johns Hopkins in 1886. He later taught at Princeton and became its president in 1902.
Well-known for his support of progressive causes and his academic reforms at Princeton, Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey as a Democrat in 1910. Wilson attracted favorable national attention from progressive Democrats for his eloquence, integrity, and opposition to machine politics and from southern Democrats for his support of a “states’ rights” position that argued that Southern states should be free to pursue their own policies of racial segregation. Supported by former Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan, Wilson received the Democratic presidential nomination of 1912. Calling his progressive platform the New Freedom, Wilson emphasized a more competitive, decentralized economy, lower tariffs, and states’ rights. Wilson was elected president with 42 percent of the popular vote when most voters divided their support between Republican president William H. Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party’s nominee and a former Republican president.
Wilson revolutionized the rhetorical role of the American president by personally addressing Congress about his legislative proposals and, later, conducting national speaking tours to promote his foreign policy. Wilson, however, also strengthened racial segregation in Washington, D.C., and admired the romanticized portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan in the silent film Birth of a Nation. In domestic policy, Wilson secured passage of major economic reform legislation. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 decentralized and stabilized the national money supply by broadly distributing federal bank notes among several reserve banks. The Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 promoted consumer protection and regulated interstate business behavior in order to eliminate, punish, and deter anticompetitive practices. Promoted by Wilson in order to prevent a national railroad strike, the Adamson Act of 1916 required an eight-hour workday for railroad workers.
Having adopted some of the Progressive Party’s 1912 platform through his legislation, Wilson was narrowly reelected in 1916 after he secured California’s electoral votes. His neutrality in World War I (1914–1918), summarized by the campaign slogan “He Kept Us Out of War,” also helped his reelection. After Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 and tried to form an anti-American alliance with Mexico, Wilson secured a declaration of war from Congress on April 6, 1917.
Wilson believed that U.S. military and diplomatic efforts should be devoted to making World War I the “war to end all wars” and the war “to make the world safe for democracy.” In a speech to Congress on January 8, 1918, Wilson announced his Fourteen Points as the basis for establishing a just, lasting peace in Europe. These principles and objectives included national self-determination, freedom of the seas, and the creating of a League of Nations to enforce the peace after World War I. Unfortunately for Wilson, Britain and France opposed major elements of the Fourteen Points, especially national self-determination, which threatened their empires. Nonetheless, the League of Nations was included in the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, which officially ended World War I. For his diplomatic efforts, Wilson received the Nobel Peace Prize of 1919.
Some of Wilson’s critics perceived his egotistical, self-righteous refusal to compromise with Republican senators, especially Henry Cabot Lodge, to be the primary reason why the Senate rejected an active role for the United States in the League of Nations. While conducting a national speaking tour to increase public support for the League of Nations, Wilson suffered a severe stroke on October 2, 1919. The extent and nature of Wilson’s physical and mental disability were kept hidden from the vice president, cabinet, Congress, and the press by his second wife, Edith Wilson. As the Republicans prepared for landslide victories in the 1920 presidential and congressional elections, the nation experienced a Red Scare, labor disputes, and high inflation. After he left the White House in 1921, Wilson continued to live in Washington, D.C., until his death in 1924.
SEE ALSO League of Nations; Nobel Peace Prize; United Nations; World War I
Link, Arthur S. 1954. Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era, 1910–1917. New York: Harper. Reprint, Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 1989.
Sean J. Savage