Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was an American politician and academic who served as the 28th president of the United States from 1913 to 1921. A member of the Democratic Party, Wilson served as the president of Princeton University and as the governor of New Jersey before winning the 1912 presidential election. As President, Wilson changed the nation's economic policies and led the United States into World War I in 1917. He was the leading architect of the League of Nations, and his progressive stance on foreign policy came to be known as Wilsonianism.
|28th President of the United States|
March 4, 1913 – March 4, 1921
|Vice President||Thomas R. Marshall|
|Preceded by||William Howard Taft|
|Succeeded by||Warren G. Harding|
|34th Governor of New Jersey|
January 17, 1911 – March 1, 1913
|Preceded by||John Franklin Fort|
|Succeeded by||James Fairman Fielder (acting)|
|13th President of Princeton University|
October 25, 1902 – October 21, 1910
|Preceded by||Francis Patton|
|Succeeded by||John Aikman Stewart (acting)|
Thomas Woodrow Wilson
December 28, 1856
Staunton, Virginia, U.S.
|Died||February 3, 1924 (aged 67)|
Washington, D.C., U.S.
|Resting place||Washington National Cathedral|
|Awards||Nobel Peace Prize (1919)|
Wilson grew up in the American South, mainly in Augusta, Georgia, during the Civil War and Reconstruction. After earning a Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University, Wilson taught at various colleges before becoming the president of Princeton University and a spokesman for progressivism in higher education. As governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913, Wilson broke with party bosses and won the passage of several progressive reforms. To win the presidential nomination he mobilized progressives and Southerners to his cause at the 1912 Democratic National Convention. Wilson defeated incumbent Republican William Howard Taft and third-party nominee Theodore Roosevelt to easily win the 1912 United States presidential election, becoming the first Southerner to do so since 1848.
Wilson allowed the continuing imposition of segregation inside the federal bureaucracy. His first term was largely devoted to pursuing passage of his progressive New Freedom domestic agenda. His first major priority was the Revenue Act of 1913, which lowered tariffs and began the modern income tax. Wilson also negotiated the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, which created the Federal Reserve System. Two major laws, the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, were enacted to promote business competition and combat extreme corporate power.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the U.S. declared neutrality as Wilson tried to negotiate a peace between the Allied and Central Powers. He narrowly won re-election in the 1916 United States presidential election, boasting how he kept the nation out of wars in Europe and Mexico. In April 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany in response to its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare that sank American merchant ships. Wilson nominally presided over war-time mobilization and left military matters to the generals. He instead concentrated on diplomacy, issuing the Fourteen Points that the Allies and Germany accepted as a basis for post-war peace. He wanted the off-year elections of 1918 to be a referendum endorsing his policies, but instead the Republicans took control of Congress. After the Allied victory in November 1918, Wilson went to Paris where he and the British and French leaders dominated the Paris Peace Conference. Wilson successfully advocated for the establishment of a multinational organization, the League of Nations. It was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles that he signed. Wilson had refused to bring any leading Republican into the Paris talks, and back home he rejected a Republican compromise that would have allowed the Senate to ratify the Versailles Treaty and join the League.
Wilson had intended to seek a third term in office but suffered a severe stroke in October 1919 that left him incapacitated. His wife and his doctor controlled Wilson, and no significant decisions were made. Meanwhile, his policies alienated German and Irish Democrats and the Republicans won a landslide in the 1920 presidential election. Scholars have generally ranked Wilson in the upper tier of U.S presidents, although he has been criticized for supporting racial segregation. His liberalism nevertheless lives on as a major factor in American foreign policy, and his vision of ethnic self-determination resonated globally.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born to a family of Scots-Irish and Scottish descent, in Staunton, Virginia. He was the third of four children and the first son of Joseph Ruggles Wilson and Jessie Janet Woodrow. Wilson's paternal grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Strabane, County Tyrone, Ireland in 1807, settling in Steubenville, Ohio. His grandfather James Wilson published a pro-tariff and anti-slavery newspaper, The Western Herald and Gazette. Wilson's maternal grandfather, Reverend Thomas Woodrow, moved from Paisley, Scotland to Carlisle, England, before migrating to Chillicothe, Ohio in the late 1830s. Joseph met Jessie while she was attending a girl's academy in Steubenville, and the two married on June 7, 1849. Soon after the wedding, Joseph was ordained as a Presbyterian pastor and assigned to serve in Staunton. Thomas was born in The Manse, a house of the Staunton First Presbyterian Church where Joseph served. Before he was two, the family moved to Augusta, Georgia.
Wilson's earliest memory was of playing in his yard and standing near the front gate of the Augusta parsonage at the age of three, when he heard a passerby announce in disgust that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming. Wilson's parents identified with the Southern United States and were staunch supporters of the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Wilson's father was one of the founders of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) after it split from the Northern Presbyterians in 1861. He became minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, and the family lived there until 1870. From 1870 to 1874, Wilson lived in Columbia, South Carolina, where his father was a theology professor at the Columbia Theological Seminary. In 1873, Wilson became a communicant member of the Columbia First Presbyterian Church; he remained a member throughout his life.
Wilson attended Davidson College in North Carolina for the 1873–74 school year, but transferred as a freshman to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). He studied political philosophy and history, joined the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, and was active in the Whig literary and debating society. He was also elected secretary of the school's football association, president of the school's baseball association, and managing editor of the student newspaper. In the hotly contested presidential election of 1876, Wilson declared his support for the Democratic Party and its nominee, Samuel J. Tilden. After graduating from Princeton in 1879, Wilson attended the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was involved in the Virginia Glee Club and served as president of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. After poor health forced his withdrawal from the University of Virginia, he continued to study law on his own while living with his parents in Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilson was admitted to the Georgia bar and made a brief attempt at establishing a legal practice in Atlanta in 1882. Though he found legal history and substantive jurisprudence interesting, he abhorred the day-to-day procedural aspects. After less than a year, he abandoned his legal practice to pursue the study of political science and history.
Marriage and family
In 1883, Wilson met and fell in love with Ellen Louise Axson, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister from Savannah, Georgia. He proposed marriage in September 1883; she accepted, but they agreed to postpone marriage while Wilson attended graduate school. Ellen graduated from Art Students League of New York, worked in portraiture, and received a medal for one of her works from the Exposition Universelle (1878) in Paris. She agreed to sacrifice further independent artistic pursuits in order to marry Wilson in 1885. She learned German so that she could help translate works of political science that were relevant to Wilson's research. Their first child, Margaret, was born in April 1886, and their second, Jessie, in August 1887. Their third and final child, Eleanor, was born in October 1889. In 1913, Jessie married Francis Bowes Sayre Sr., who later was High Commissioner to the Philippines. In 1914, Eleanor married William Gibbs McAdoo, the Secretary of the Treasury under Wilson and later a senator for California.
In late 1883, Wilson enrolled at the recently established Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for doctoral studies. Built on the Humboldtian model of higher education, Johns Hopkins was inspired particularly from Germany's historic Heidelberg University in that it was committed to research as a central part of its academic mission. Wilson studied history, political science, German, and other areas. Wilson hoped to become a professor, writing that "a professorship was the only feasible place for me, the only place that would afford leisure for reading and for original work, the only strictly literary berth with an income attached." Wilson spent much of his time at Johns Hopkins writing Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics, which grew out of a series of essays in which he examined the workings of the federal government. He received a Ph.D. in history and government from Johns Hopkins in 1886, making him the only U.S. president who possessed a Ph.D. In early 1885, Houghton Mifflin published Congressional Government, which received a strong reception; one critic called it "the best critical writing on the American constitution which has appeared since the Federalist Papers."
In 1885, Wilson accepted a teaching position at Bryn Mawr College, a newly established women's college on the Philadelphia Main Line. Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr College from 1885 until 1888. He taught ancient Greek and Roman history, American history, political science, and other subjects. There were only 42 students, nearly all of them too passive for his taste. M. Carey Thomas, the dean, was an aggressive feminist and Wilson was in a bitter dispute with the president about his contract. He left as soon as possible, and was not given a farewell.
In 1888, Wilson left Bryn Mawr for all-male Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. At Wesleyan he coached the football team, founded a debate team, and taught graduate courses in political economy and Western history.
In February 1890, with the help of friends, Wilson was appointed by Princeton to the Chair of Jurisprudence and Political Economy, at an annual salary of $3,000 (equivalent to $86,411 in 2020). He quickly gained a reputation as a compelling speaker. In 1896, Francis Landey Patton announced that the College of New Jersey would henceforth be known as Princeton University; an ambitious program of expansion followed with the name change. In the 1896 presidential election, Wilson rejected Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan as too far to the left. He supported the conservative "Gold Democrat" nominee, John M. Palmer. Wilson's academic reputation continued to grow throughout the 1890s, and he turned down multiple positions elsewhere including at Johns Hopkins and the University of Virginia.
Wilson published several works of history and political science and was a regular contributor to Political Science Quarterly. Wilson's textbook, The State, was widely used in American college courses until the 1920s. In The State, Wilson wrote that governments could legitimately promote the general welfare "by forbidding child labor, by supervising the sanitary conditions of factories, by limiting the employment of women in occupations hurtful to their health, by instituting official tests of the purity or the quality of goods sold, by limiting the hours of labor in certain trades, [and] by a hundred and one limitations of the power of unscrupulous or heartless men to out-do the scrupulous and merciful in trade or industry." He also wrote that charity efforts should be removed from the private domain and "made the imperative legal duty of the whole," a position which, according to historian Robert M. Saunders, seemed to indicate that Wilson "was laying the groundwork for the modern welfare state." His third book, Division and Reunion (1893) became a standard university textbook for teaching mid- and late-19th century U.S. history.
President of Princeton University
In June 1902, Princeton trustees promoted Professor Wilson to president, replacing Patton, whom the trustees perceived to be an inefficient administrator. Wilson aspired, as he told alumni, "to transform thoughtless boys performing tasks into thinking men." He tried to raise admission standards and to replace the "gentleman's C" with serious study. To emphasize the development of expertise, Wilson instituted academic departments and a system of core requirements. Students were to meet in groups of six under the guidance of teaching assistants known as preceptors.[page needed] To fund these new programs, Wilson undertook an ambitious and successful fundraising campaign, convincing alumni such as Moses Taylor Pyne and philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie to donate to the school. Wilson appointed the first Jew and the first Roman Catholic to the faculty, and helped liberate the board from domination by conservative Presbyterians. He also worked to keep African Americans out of the school, even as other Ivy League schools were accepting small numbers of blacks.[a]
Wilson's efforts to reform Princeton earned him national notoriety, but they also took a toll on his health. In 1906, Wilson awoke to find himself blind in the left eye, the result of a blood clot and hypertension. Modern medical opinion surmises Wilson had suffered a stroke—he later was diagnosed, as his father had been, with hardening of the arteries. He began to exhibit his father's traits of impatience and intolerance, which would on occasion lead to errors of judgment. When Wilson began vacationing in Bermuda in 1906, he met a socialite, Mary Hulbert Peck. According to biographer August Heckscher, Wilson's friendship with Peck became the topic of frank discussion between Wilson and his wife, although Wilson historians have not conclusively established there was an affair. Wilson also sent very personal letters to her which would later be used against him by his adversaries.
Having reorganized the school's curriculum and established the preceptorial system, Wilson next attempted to curtail the influence of social elites at Princeton by abolishing the upper-class eating clubs. He proposed moving the students into colleges, also known as quadrangles, but Wilson's Quad Plan was met with fierce opposition from Princeton's alumni. In October 1907, due to the intensity of alumni opposition, the Board of Trustees instructed Wilson to withdraw the Quad Plan. Late in his tenure, Wilson had a confrontation with Andrew Fleming West, dean of the graduate school, and also West's ally ex-President Grover Cleveland, who was a trustee. Wilson wanted to integrate a proposed graduate school building into the campus core, while West preferred a more distant campus site. In 1909, Princeton's board accepted a gift made to the graduate school campaign subject to the graduate school being located off campus.
Wilson became disenchanted with his job due to the resistance to his recommendations, and he began considering a run for office. Prior to the 1908 Democratic National Convention, Wilson dropped hints to some influential players in the Democratic Party of his interest in the ticket. While he had no real expectations of being placed on the ticket, he left instructions that he should not be offered the vice presidential nomination. Party regulars considered his ideas politically as well as geographically detached and fanciful, but the seeds had been sown. McGeorge Bundy in 1956 described Wilson's contribution to Princeton: "Wilson was right in his conviction that Princeton must be more than a wonderfully pleasant and decent home for nice young men; it has been more ever since his time".
Governor of New Jersey (1911–1913)
By January 1910, Wilson had drawn the attention of James Smith Jr. and George Brinton McClellan Harvey, two leaders of New Jersey's Democratic Party, as a potential candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial election. Having lost the last five gubernatorial elections, New Jersey Democratic leaders decided to throw their support behind Wilson, an untested and unconventional candidate. Party leaders believed that Wilson's academic reputation made him the ideal spokesman against trusts and corruption, but they also hoped his inexperience in governing would make him easy to influence. Wilson agreed to accept the nomination if "it came to me unsought, unanimously, and without pledges to anybody about anything."
At the state party convention, the bosses marshaled their forces and won the nomination for Wilson. He submitted his letter of resignation to Princeton on October 20. Wilson's campaign focused on his promise to be independent of party bosses. He quickly shed his professorial style for more emboldened speechmaking and presented himself as a full-fledged progressive. Though Republican William Howard Taft had carried New Jersey in the 1908 presidential election by more than 82,000 votes, Wilson soundly defeated Republican gubernatorial nominee Vivian M. Lewis by a margin of more than 65,000 votes. Democrats also took control of the general assembly in the 1910 elections, though the state senate remained in Republican hands. After winning the election, Wilson appointed Joseph Patrick Tumulty as his private secretary, a position he would hold throughout Wilson's political career.
Wilson began formulating his reformist agenda, intending to ignore the demands of his party machinery. Smith asked Wilson to endorse his bid for the U.S. Senate, but Wilson refused and instead endorsed Smith's opponent James Edgar Martine, who had won the Democratic primary. Martine's victory in the Senate election helped Wilson position himself as an independent force in the New Jersey Democratic Party. By the time Wilson took office, New Jersey had gained a reputation for public corruption; the state was known as the "Mother of Trusts" because it allowed companies like Standard Oil to escape the antitrust laws of other states. Wilson and his allies quickly won passage of the Geran bill, which undercut the power of the political bosses by requiring primaries for all elective offices and party officials. A corrupt practices law and a workmen's compensation statute that Wilson supported won passage shortly thereafter. For his success in passing these laws during the first months of his gubernatorial term, Wilson won national and bipartisan recognition as a reformer and a leader of the Progressive movement.
Republicans took control of the state assembly in early 1912, and Wilson spent much of the rest of his tenure vetoing bills. Nonetheless, he won passage of laws that restricted labor by women and children and increased standards for factory working conditions. A new State Board of Education was set up "with the power to conduct inspections and enforce standards, regulate districts' borrowing authority, and require special classes for students with handicaps." Shortly before leaving office, Wilson signed a series of antitrust laws known as the "Seven Sisters," as well as another law that removed the power to select juries from local sheriffs.
Presidential election of 1912
Wilson became a prominent 1912 presidential contender immediately upon his election as Governor of New Jersey in 1910, and his clashes with state party bosses enhanced his reputation with the rising Progressive movement. In addition to progressives, Wilson enjoyed the support of Princeton alumni such as Cyrus McCormick and Southerners such as Walter Hines Page, who believed that Wilson's status as a transplanted Southerner gave him broad appeal. Though Wilson's shift to the left won the admiration of many, it also created enemies such as George Brinton McClellan Harvey, a former Wilson supporter who had close ties to Wall Street. In July 1911, Wilson brought William Gibbs McAdoo and "Colonel" Edward M. House in to manage the campaign. Prior to the 1912 Democratic National Convention, Wilson made a special effort to win the approval of three-time Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan, whose followers had largely dominated the Democratic Party since the 1896 presidential election.
Speaker of the House Champ Clark of Missouri was viewed by many as the front-runner for the nomination, while House Majority Leader Oscar Underwood of Alabama also loomed as a challenger. Clark found support among the Bryan wing of the party, while Underwood appealed to the conservative Bourbon Democrats, especially in the South. In the 1912 Democratic Party presidential primaries, Clark won several of the early contests, but Wilson finished strong with victories in Texas, the Northeast, and the Midwest. On the first presidential ballot of the Democratic convention, Clark won a plurality of delegates; his support continued to grow after the New York Tammany Hall machine swung behind him on the tenth ballot. Tammany's support backfired for Clark, as Bryan announced that he would not support any candidate that had Tammany's backing, and Clark began losing delegates on subsequent ballots.Wilson gained the support of Roger Charles Sullivan and Thomas Taggart by promising the vice presidency to Governor Thomas R. Marshall of Indiana. and several Southern delegations shifted their support from Underwood to Wilson. Wilson finally won two-thirds of the vote on the convention's 46th ballot, and Marshall became Wilson's running mate.
In the 1912 general election, Wilson faced two major opponents: one-term Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, and former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt, who ran a third party campaign as the "Bull Moose" Party nominee. The fourth candidate was Eugene V. Debs of the Socialist Party. Roosevelt had broken with his former party at the 1912 Republican National Convention after Taft narrowly won re-nomination, and the split in the Republican Party made Democrats hopeful that they could win the presidency for the first time since the 1892 presidential election.
Roosevelt emerged as Wilson's main challenger, and Wilson and Roosevelt largely campaigned against each other despite sharing similarly progressive platforms that called for an interventionist central government. Wilson directed campaign finance chairman Henry Morgenthau not to accept contributions from corporations and to prioritize smaller donations from the widest possible quarters of the public. During the election campaign, Wilson asserted that it was the task of government "to make those adjustments of life which will put every man in a position to claim his normal rights as a living, human being." With the help of legal scholar Louis D. Brandeis, he developed his New Freedom platform, focusing especially on breaking up trusts and lowering tariff rates. Brandeis and Wilson rejected Roosevelt's proposal to establish a powerful bureaucracy charged with regulating large corporations, instead favoring the break-up of large corporations in order to create a level economic playing field.
Wilson engaged in a spirited campaign, criss-crossing the country to deliver numerous speeches. Ultimately, he took 42 percent of the popular vote and 435 of the 531 electoral votes. Roosevelt won most of the remaining electoral votes and 27.4 percent of the popular vote, one of the strongest third party performances in U.S. history. Taft won 23.2 percent of the popular vote but just 8 electoral votes, while Debs won 6 percent of the popular vote. In the concurrent congressional elections, Democrats retained control of the House and won a majority in the Senate. Wilson's victory made him the first Southerner to win a presidential election since the Civil War, the first Democratic president since Grover Cleveland left office in 1897, and the first president to hold a Ph.D.
After the election, Wilson chose William Jennings Bryan as Secretary of State, and Bryan offered advice on the remaining members of Wilson's cabinet. William Gibbs McAdoo, a prominent Wilson supporter who would marry Wilson's daughter in 1914, became Secretary of the Treasury, and James Clark McReynolds, who had successfully prosecuted several prominent antitrust cases, was chosen as Attorney General. Publisher Josephus Daniels, a party loyalist and prominent white supremacist from North Carolina, was chosen to be Secretary of the Navy, while young New York attorney Franklin D. Roosevelt became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Wilson's chief of staff ("secretary") was Joseph Patrick Tumulty, who acted as a political buffer and intermediary with the press. The most important foreign policy adviser and confidant was "Colonel" Edward M. House; Berg writes that, "in access and influence, [House] outranked everybody in Wilson's Cabinet."
New Freedom domestic agenda
Wilson introduced a comprehensive program of domestic legislation at the outset of his administration, something no president had ever done before. He had four major domestic priorities: the conservation of natural resources, banking reform, tariff reduction, and equal access to raw materials, which would be accomplished in part through the regulation of trusts. Wilson introduced these proposals in April 1913 in a speech delivered to a joint session of Congress, becoming the first president since John Adams to address Congress in person. Wilson's first two years in office largely focused on the implementation of his New Freedom domestic agenda. With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, foreign affairs would increasingly dominate his presidency.
Tariff and tax legislation
Democrats had long seen high tariff rates as equivalent to unfair taxes on consumers, and tariff reduction was their first priority. He argued that the system of high tariffs "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 hands of private interests." By late May 1913, House Majority Leader Oscar Underwood had passed a bill in the House that cut the average tariff rate by 10 percent and imposed a tax on personal income above $4,000. Underwood's bill represented the largest downward revision of the tariff since the Civil War. It aggressively cut rates for raw materials, goods deemed to be "necessities," and products produced domestically by trusts, but it retained higher tariff rates for luxury goods. Passage of tariff bill in the Senate was a challenge. Some Southern and Western Democrats wanted the continued protection of their wool and sugar industries, and Democrats had a narrower majority in the upper house. Wilson met extensively with Democratic senators and appealed directly to the people through the press. After weeks of hearings and debate, Wilson and Secretary of State Bryan managed to unite Senate Democrats behind the bill. The Senate voted 44 to 37 in favor of the bill, with only one Democrat voting against it and only one Republican voting for it. Wilson signed the Revenue Act of 1913 (called the Underwood Tariff) into law on October 3, 1913. The Revenue Act of 1913 reduced tariffs and replaced the lost revenue with a federal income tax of one percent on incomes above $3,000, affecting the richest three percent of the population. The policies of the Wilson administration had a durable impact on the composition of government revenue, which would now primarily come from taxation rather than tariffs.
Federal Reserve System
Wilson did not wait to complete the Revenue Act of 1913 before proceeding to the next item on his agenda—banking. By the time Wilson took office, countries like Britain and Germany had established government-run central banks, but the United States had not had a central bank since the Bank War of the 1830s. In the aftermath of the nationwide financial crisis in 1907, there was general agreement to create some sort of central banking system to provide a more elastic currency and to coordinate responses to financial panics. Wilson sought a middle ground between progressives such as Bryan and conservative Republicans like Nelson Aldrich, who, as chairman of the National Monetary Commission, had put forward a plan for a central bank that would give private financial interests a large degree of control over the monetary system. Wilson declared that the banking system must be "public not private, [and] must be vested in the government itself so that the banks must be the instruments, not the masters, of business."
Democrats crafted a compromise plan in which private banks would control twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks, but a controlling interest in the system was placed in a central board filled with presidential appointees. Wilson convinced Democrats on the left that the new plan met their demands. Finally the Senate voted 54–34 to approve the Federal Reserve Act. The new system began operations in 1915, and it played a key role in financing the Allied and American war efforts in World War I.
Having passed major legislation lowering the tariff and reforming the banking structure, Wilson next sought antitrust legislation to enhance the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. The Sherman Antitrust Act barred any "contract, combination...or conspiracy, in restraint of trade," but had proved ineffective in preventing the rise of large business combinations known as trusts. An elite group of businessmen dominated the boards of major banks and railroads, and they used their power to prevent competition by new companies. With Wilson's support, Congressman Henry Clayton, Jr. introduced a bill that would ban several anti-competitive practices such discriminatory pricing, tying, exclusive dealing, and interlocking directorates. As the difficulty of banning all anti-competitive practices via legislation became clear, Wilson came to back legislation that would create a new agency, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), to investigate antitrust violations and enforce antitrust laws independently of the Justice Department. With bipartisan support, Congress passed the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, which incorporated Wilson's ideas regarding the FTC. One month after signing the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914, Wilson signed the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, which built on the Sherman Act by defining and banning several anti-competitive practices.
Labor and agriculture
Wilson thought a child labor law would probably be unconstitutional but reversed himself in 1916 with a close election approaching. In 1916, after intense campaigns by the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) and the National Consumers League, the Congress passed the Keating–Owen Act, making it illegal to ship goods in interstate commerce if they were made in factories employing children under specified ages. Southern Democrats were opposed but did not filibuster. Wilson endorsed the bill at the last minute under pressure from party leaders who stressed how popular the idea was, especially among the emerging class of women voters. He told Democratic Congressmen they needed to pass this law and also a workman's compensation law to satisfy the national progressive movement and to win the 1916 election against a reunited GOP. It was the first federal child labor law. However, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918). Congress then passed a law taxing businesses that used child labor, but that was struck down by the Supreme Court in Bailey v. Drexel Furniture (1923). Child labor was finally ended in the 1930s. He approved the goal of upgrading the harsh working conditions for merchant sailors and signed LaFollette's Seamen's Act of 1915.
Wilson called on the Labor Department to mediate conflicts between labor and management. In 1914, Wilson dispatched soldiers to help bring an end to the Colorado Coalfield War, one of the deadliest labor disputes in American history. In 1916 he pushed Congress to enact the eight-hour work day for railroad workers, which ended a major strike. It was "the boldest intervention in labor relations that any president had yet attempted."
Wilson disliked the excessive government involvement in the Federal Farm Loan Act, which created twelve regional banks empowered to provide low-interest loans to farmers. Nevertheless, he needed the farm vote to survive the upcoming 1916 election, so he signed it.
Territories and immigration
Wilson embraced the long-standing Democratic policy against owning colonies, and he worked for the gradual autonomy and ultimate independence of the Philippines, which had been acquired in 1898. Wilson increased self-governance on the islands by granting Filipinos greater control over the Philippine Legislature. The Jones Act of 1916 committed the United States to the eventual independence of the Philippines; independence would take place in 1946. In 1916, Wilson purchased by treaty the Danish West Indies, renamed as the United States Virgin Islands.
Immigration from Europe practically ended when the World War began and he paid little attention to the issue. However, unlike the Republicans, Wilson looked favorably on the new immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and twice vetoed laws to restrict their entry, but Congress overrode the second veto.
Wilson nominated three men to the United States Supreme Court, all of whom were confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He nominated James Clark McReynolds in 1914; he was an arch-conservative who served until 1941. In 1916, Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis to the Court, setting off a major debate in the Senate over Brandeis's progressive ideology and his religion; Brandeis was the first Jewish nominee to the court. Ultimately, Wilson was able to convince Senate Democrats to vote for Brandeis, who served as an arch-liberal until 1939. Also in 1916, Wilson appointed John Hessin Clarke, a progressive lawyer who served until his resignation in 1922.
First-term foreign policy
Wilson sought to move away from the foreign policy of his predecessors, which he viewed as imperialistic, and he rejected Taft's Dollar Diplomacy. Despite expressing that, he frequently intervened in Latin American affairs, saying in 1913: "I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men." In 1901 he had written that "underdeveloped countries" should be brought to accept and embrace the social order and norms of the industrialized countries. Among those norms was the concept of free enterprise. As the situation in Mexico devolved into civil war, this meant specifically no expropriations or confiscations of property and the continuation of the privileges extended to U.S. business interests during the 31 years of rule by Porfirio Díaz. The Wilson administration sent troops to occupy the Dominican Republic, intervene in the Mexican Revolution, and intervene in Haiti, and Wilson also authorized military interventions in Cuba, Panama, and Honduras.
Wilson took office in March 1913 and he inherited a complex political situation. The Mexican Revolution had begun in 1911 after rebels seeking a free and fair election in 1910 overthrew the 31-year political dictatorship of General Porfirio Díaz. Díaz resigned in May 1911, an interim government took power, and elections were held, bringing Francisco I. Madero to office in November 1911. Madero quickly lost the various factions that had brought him to power and his conservatively opposition took aim at his presidency. Shortly before Wilson took office, Mexican conservatives, in collusion with the U.S. Ambassador Henry Lane Wilson, seized power and murdered democratically-elected President Madero and his vice president. The coup was led by General Victoriano Huerta. Wilson rejected the legitimacy of Huerta's "government of butchers," refusing to recognize his government, and demanded Mexico hold democratic elections. The U.S. had informally adhered to a policy of recognition of governments that were constitutional. In his view, Huerta's was not. He wrote days after his own inauguration that "cooperation is possible only when supported at every turn by the orderly processes of just government based upon law, not upon arbitrary or irregular force"
A coalition of Mexicans rose up against Huerta, the largest faction was the "Constitutionalists," who sought the restoration of rule of law under the Mexican Constitution of 1857, led by Governor of Coahuila Venustiano Carranza. Wilson eventually lifted his arms embargo to Mexico, allowing the revolutionaries to better arm themselves. After Huerta arrested U.S. Navy personnel who had accidentally landed in a restricted zone near the northern port town of Tampico, Wilson dispatched the Navy to occupy the Mexican port city of Veracruz. A strong backlash against the U.S. intervention among Mexicans of all political positions brought Mexico and the U.S. to the edge of war. The U.S. agreed to a peace conference, mediated by the ABC Powers (Argentina, Brazil, and Chile) held in Canada to broker a withdrawal. The May 1914 Niagara Falls peace conference ended the impasse. The intervention helped convince Huerta to resign the presidency and go into exile. The revolutionary faction led by Venustiano Carranza established control over a significant proportion of Mexico, but Wilson did not want him to be the victor, and seriously considered backing former Constitutionalist general Pancho Villa, who was inclined to cooperate with the U.S. After considerable calculations, which included the situation in Europe and Germany's apparent attempt to foment war between the U.S. and Mexico, Wilson recognized Carranza's government in October 1915.
Carranza continued to face various opponents within Mexico, including his former ally, General Pancho Villa, whom Wilson had earlier described as "a sort of Robin Hood." In early 1916, having been soundly beaten by Carranza's best general in 1915, Villa's army disintegrated, but still Villa operated in northern Mexico. He raided the town of Columbus, New Mexico, killing or wounding dozens of civilian residents and causing an enormous nationwide American demand for his punishment. Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing and 4,000 troops across the border to capture Villa, violating Mexico's territorial sovereignty. By April, Pershing's forces had broken up and dispersed Villa's bands, but Villa remained at liberty in his home territory. Pershing continued his pursuit deep into Mexico. Carranza accused the U.S. of a punitive invasion, leading to several incidents that nearly led to war. Tensions subsided after Mexico agreed to release several American prisoners, and bilateral negotiations began under the auspices of the Mexican-American Joint High Commission. Eager to withdraw from Mexico without capturing of killing Villa as tensions rose in Europe, Wilson ordered Pershing to withdraw, and the last U.S. Army personnel left Mexico in February 1917.
The 1914 Bryan–Chamorro Treaty attempted to convert Nicaragua into a de facto protectorate, and the U.S. stationed soldiers there throughout Wilson's presidency. The treaty gave the U.S. the exclusive right to build a canal across Nicaragua, in an attempt to prevent a rival power from constructing a canal to compete with the Panama Canal. Although the treaty negotiated under the Taft Administration, Wilson was enthusiastic about completing the agreement. He added language similar to the Platt Amendment in Cuba, whereby the U.S. maintained control. The U.S. Senate rejected that provision and the treaty was ratified in June 1916. r In 1917, the U.S. finally acquired by purchase the Danish Virgin Islands, which was justified for security reasons of keeping a potential base of German activity in the Western Hemisphere as World War I raged.
Neutrality in World War I
World War I broke out in July 1914, pitting the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and later Bulgaria) against the Allied Powers (Britain, France, Russia, Serbia, and several other countries). The war fell into a long stalemate with very high casualties on the Western Front in France. Both sides rejected offers by Wilson and House to mediate an end the conflict. From 1914 until early 1917, Wilson's primary foreign policy objectives were to keep the United States out of the war in Europe and to broker a peace agreement. He insisted that all U.S. government actions be neutral, stating that Americans "must be impartial in thought as well as in action, must put a curb upon our sentiments as well as upon every transaction that might be construed as a preference of one party to the struggle before another." As a neutral power, the U.S. insisted on its right to trade with both sides. However the powerful British Royal Navy imposed a blockade of Germany. To appease Washington, London agreed to continue purchasing certain major American commodities such as cotton at pre-war prices, and in the event an American merchant vessel was caught with contraband, the Royal Navy was under orders to buy the entire cargo and release the vessel. Wilson passively accepted this situation.
In response to the British blockade, Germany launched a submarine campaign against merchant vessels in the seas surrounding the British Isles. In early 1915, the Germans sank three American ships; Wilson took the view, based on some reasonable evidence, that these incidents were accidental, and a settlement of claims could be postponed until the end of the war. In May 1915, a German submarine torpedoed the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania, killing 1,198 passengers, including 128 American citizens. Wilson publicly responded by saying, "there is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right". Wilson demanded that the German government "take immediate steps to prevent the recurrence" of incidents like the sinking of the Lusitania. In response, Bryan, who believed that Wilson had placed the defense of American trade rights above neutrality, resigned from the Cabinet. In March 1916, the SS Sussex, an unarmed ferry under the French flag, was torpedoed in the English Channel and four Americans were counted among the dead. Wilson extracted from Germany a pledge to constrain submarine warfare to the rules of cruiser warfare, which represented a major diplomatic concession.
Interventionists, led by Theodore Roosevelt, wanted war with Germany and attacked Wilson's refusal to build up the army in anticipation of war. After the sinking of the Lusitania and the resignation of Bryan, Wilson publicly committed himself to the what became known as the "preparedness movement", and began to build up the army and the navy. In June 1916, Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916, which established the Reserve Officers' Training Corps and expanded the National Guard. Later in the year, Congress passed the Naval Act of 1916, which provided for a major expansion of the navy.
The health of Wilson's wife, Ellen, declined after he entered office, and doctors diagnosed her with Bright's disease in July 1914. She died on August 6, 1914. Wilson was deeply affected by the loss, falling into depression. On March 18, 1915, Wilson met Edith Bolling Galt at a White House tea. Galt was a widow and jeweler who was also from the South. After several meetings, Wilson fell in love with her, and he proposed marriage to her in May 1915. Galt initially rebuffed him, but Wilson was undeterred and continued the courtship. Edith gradually warmed to the relationship, and they became engaged in September 1915. They were married on December 18, 1915. Wilson joined John Tyler and Grover Cleveland as the only presidents to marry while in office.
Presidential election of 1916
Wilson was renominated at the 1916 Democratic National Convention without opposition. In an effort to win progressive voters, Wilson called for legislation providing for an eight-hour day and six-day workweek, health and safety measures, the prohibition of child labor, and safeguards for female workers. He also favored a minimum wage for all work performed by and for the federal government. The Democrats also campaigned on the slogan "He Kept Us Out of War," and warned that a Republican victory would mean war with Germany. Hoping to reunify the progressive and conservative wings of the party, the 1916 Republican National Convention nominated Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes for president; as a justice he had been totally out of politics in 1912. Though Republicans attacked Wilson's foreign policy on various grounds, domestic affairs generally dominated the campaign. Republicans campaigned against Wilson's New Freedom policies, especially tariff reduction, the new income taxes, and the Adamson Act, which they derided as "class legislation."
The election was close and the outcome was in doubt with Hughes ahead in the East, and Wilson in the South and West. The decision came down to California. On November 10, California certified that Wilson had won the state by 3,806 votes, giving him a majority of the electoral vote. Nationally Wilson won 277 electoral votes and 49.2 percent of the popular vote, while Hughes won 254 electoral votes and 46.1 percent of the popular vote. Wilson was able to win by picking up many votes that had gone to Roosevelt or Debs in 1912. He swept the Solid South and won all but a handful of Western states, while Hughes won most of the Northeastern and Midwestern states. Wilson's re-election made him the first Democrat since Andrew Jackson (in 1832) to win two consecutive terms. The Democrats kept control of Congress.
Entering the war
In January 1917, the Germans initiated a new policy of unrestricted submarine warfare against ships in the seas around the British Isles. German leaders knew that the policy would likely provoke U.S. entrance into the war, but they hoped to defeat the Allied Powers before the U.S. could fully mobilize. In late February, the U.S. public learned of the Zimmermann Telegram, a secret diplomatic communication in which Germany sought to convince Mexico to join it in a war against the United States. After a series of attacks on American ships, Wilson held a Cabinet meeting on March 20; all Cabinet members agreed that the time had come for the United States to enter the war. The Cabinet members believed that Germany was engaged in a commercial war against the United States, and that the United States had to respond with a formal declaration of war.
On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany, arguing that Germany was engaged in "nothing less than war against the government and people of the United States." He requested a military draft to raise the army, increased taxes to pay for military expenses, loans to Allied governments, and increased industrial and agricultural production. He stated, "we have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion... no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and freedom of the nations can make them." The declaration of war by the United States against Germany passed Congress with strong bipartisan majorities on April 6, 1917. The United States would later declare war against Austria-Hungary in December 1917.
With the U.S. entrance into the war, Wilson and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker launched an expansion of the army, with the goal of creating a 300,000-member Regular Army, a 440,000-member National Guard, and a 500,000-member conscripted force known as the "National Army." Despite some resistance to conscription and to the commitment of American soldiers abroad, large majorities of both houses of Congress voted to impose conscription with the Selective Service Act of 1917. Seeking to avoid the draft riots of the Civil War, the bill established local draft boards that were charged with determining who should be drafted. By the end of the war, nearly 3 million men had been drafted. The navy also saw tremendous expansion, and Allied shipping losses dropped substantially due to U.S. contributions and a new emphasis on the convoy system.
The Fourteen Points
Wilson sought the establishment of "an organized common peace" that would help prevent future conflicts. In this goal, he was opposed not just by the Central Powers, but also the other Allied Powers, who, to various degrees, sought to win concessions and to impose a punitive peace agreement on the Central Powers. On January 8, 1918, Wilson delivered a speech, known as the Fourteen Points, wherein he articulated his administration's long term war objectives. Wilson called for the establishment of an association of nations to guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of all nations—a League of Nations. Other points included the evacuation of occupied territory, the establishment of an independent Poland, and self-determination for the peoples of Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.
Course of the war
Under the command of General Pershing, the American Expeditionary Forces first arrived in France in mid-1917. Wilson and Pershing rejected the British and French proposal that American soldiers integrate into existing Allied units, giving the United States more freedom of action but requiring for the creation of new organizations and supply chains. Russia exited the war after signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918, allowing Germany to shift soldiers from the Eastern Front of the war. Hoping to break Allied lines before American soldiers could arrive in full force, the Germans launched the Spring Offensive on the Western Front. Both sides suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties as the Germans forced back the British and French, but Germany was unable to capture the French capital of Paris. There were only 175,000 American soldiers in Europe at the end of 1917, but by mid-1918 10,000 Americans were arriving in Europe per day. With American forces having joined in the fight, the Allies defeated Germany in the Battle of Belleau Wood and the Battle of Château-Thierry. Beginning in August, the Allies launched the Hundred Days Offensive, pushing back the exhausted German army. Meanwhile, French and British leaders convinced Wilson to send a few thousand American soldiers to join the Allied intervention in Russia, which was in the midst of a civil war between the Communist Bolsheviks and the White movement.
By the end of September 1918, the German leadership no longer believed it could win the war, and Kaiser Wilhelm II appointed a new government led by Prince Maximilian of Baden. Baden immediately sought an armistice with Wilson, with the Fourteen Points to serve as the basis of the German surrender. House procured agreement to the armistice from France and Britain, but only after threatening to conclude a unilateral armistice without them. Germany and the Allied Powers brought an end to the fighting with the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918. Austria-Hungary had signed the Armistice of Villa Giusti eight days earlier, while the Ottoman Empire had signed the Armistice of Mudros in October. By the end of the war, 116,000 American soldiers had died, and another 200,000 had been wounded.
With the American entrance into World War I in April 1917, Wilson became a war-time president. The War Industries Board, headed by Bernard Baruch, was established to set U.S. war manufacturing policies and goals. Future President Herbert Hoover led the Food Administration; the Federal Fuel Administration, run by Harry Augustus Garfield, introduced daylight saving time and rationed fuel supplies; William McAdoo was in charge of war bond efforts; Vance C. McCormick headed the War Trade Board. These men, known collectively as the "war cabinet", met weekly with Wilson. Because he was heavily focused on foreign policy during World War I, Wilson delegated a large degree of authority over the home front to his subordinates. In the midst of the war, the federal budget soared from $1 billion in fiscal year 1916 to $19 billion in fiscal year 1919. In addition to spending on its own military build-up, Wall Street in 1914-1916 and the Treasury in 1917-1918 provided large loans to the Allied countries, thus financing the war effort of Britain and France.
Seeking to avoid the high levels of inflation that had accompanied the heavy borrowing of the American Civil War, the Wilson administration raised taxes during the war. The War Revenue Act of 1917 and the Revenue Act of 1918 raised the top tax rate to 77 percent, greatly increased the number of Americans paying the income tax, and levied an excess profits tax on businesses and individuals. Despite these tax acts, the United States was forced to borrow heavily to finance the war effort. Treasury Secretary McAdoo authorized the issuing of low-interest war bonds and, to attract investors, made interest on the bonds tax-free. The bonds proved so popular among investors that many borrowed money in order to buy more bonds. The purchase of bonds, along with other war-time pressures, resulted in rising inflation, though this inflation was partly matched by rising wages and profits.
Wilson called on voters in the 1918 off-year elections to elect Democrats as an endorsement of his policies. However the Republicans won over alienated German-Americans and took control. Wilson refused to coordinate or compromise with the new leaders of House and Senate—Senator Henry Cabot Lodge became his nemesis.
In November 1919, Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer, began to target anarchists, Industrial Workers of the World members, and other antiwar groups in what became known as the Palmer Raids. Thousands were arrested for incitement to violence, espionage, or sedition. Wilson by that point was incapacitated and was not told what was happening.
Aftermath of World War I
Paris Peace Conference
After the signing of the armistice, Wilson traveled to Europe to lead the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, thereby becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office. Senate Republicans and even some Senate Democrats complained about their lack of representation in the American delegation, which consisted of Wilson, Colonel House,[b] Secretary of State Robert Lansing, General Tasker H. Bliss, and diplomat Henry White. Save for a two-week return to the United States, Wilson remained in Europe for six months, where he focused on reaching a peace treaty to formally end the war. Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando made up the "Big Four," the Allied leaders with the most influence at the Paris Peace Conference. Wilson had an illness during the conference, and some experts believe the Spanish flu was the cause.
Unlike other Allied leaders, Wilson did not seek territorial gains or material concessions from the Central Powers. His chief goal was the establishment of the League of Nations, which he saw as the "keystone of the whole programme." Wilson himself presided over the committee that drafted the Covenant of the League of Nations. The covenant bound members to respect freedom of religion, treat racial minorities fairly, and peacefully settle disputes through organizations like the Permanent Court of International Justice. Article X of the League Covenant required all nations to defend League members against external aggression. Japan proposed that the conference endorse a racial equality clause; Wilson was indifferent to the issue, but acceded to strong opposition from Australia and Britain. The Covenant of the League of Nations was incorporated into the conference's Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war with Germany, and into other peace treaties.
Wilson's other main goal at Paris was to use self-determination as the primary basis when the Conference had to draw new international borders in Central Europe and the Balkans, including Poland, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia. The problem was that all possible solutions involved overlapping hostile ethnic groups. In pursuit of his League of Nations, Wilson conceded several points to France to humiliate, punish and weaken Germany. For his peace-making efforts, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize.
Ratification debate and defeat
Ratification of the Treaty of Versailles required the support of two-thirds of the Senate, a difficult proposition given that Republicans held a narrow majority in the Senate after the 1918 elections. Republicans were outraged by Wilson's failure to discuss the war or its aftermath with them, and an intensely partisan battle developed in the Senate. Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge supported a version of the treaty that required Wilson to compromise. Wilson refused. Some Republicans, including former President Taft and former Secretary of State Elihu Root, favored ratification of the treaty with some modifications, and their public support gave Wilson some chance of winning the treaty's ratification.
The debate over the treaty centered around a debate over the American role in the world community in the post-war era, and senators fell into three main groups. The first group, consisting of most Democrats, favored the treaty. Fourteen senators, mostly Republicans, were known as the "irreconcilables" as they completely opposed U.S. entrance into the League of Nations. Some of these irreconcilables opposed the treaty for its failure to emphasize decolonization and disarmament, while others feared surrendering American freedom of action to an international organization. The remaining group of senators, known as "reservationists," accepted the idea of the League, but sought varying degrees of change to ensure the protection of American sovereignty and the right of Congress to decide on going to war. Article X of the League Covenant, which sought to create a system of collective security by requiring League members to protect one another against external aggression, seemed to force the U.S. to join in any war the League decided upon. Wilson consistently refused to compromise, partly due to concerns about having to re-open negotiations with the other treaty signatories. When Lodge was on the verge of building a two-thirds majority to ratify the Treaty with ten reservations, Wilson forced his supporters to vote Nay on March 19, 1920, thereby closing the issue. Cooper says that "nearly every League advocate" went along with Lodge, but "This effort failed solely because Wilson admittedly rejected all reservations proposed in the Senate." Thomas A. Bailey calls Wilson's action "the supreme act of infanticide":
The treaty was slain in the house of its friends rather than in the house of its enemies. In the final analysis it was not the two-thirds rule, or the "irreconcilables," or Lodge, or the "strong" and "mild" reservationists, but Wilson and his docile following who delivered the fatal stab.
To bolster public support for ratification, Wilson barnstormed the Western states, but he returned to the White House in late September due to health problems. On October 2, 1919, Wilson suffered a serious stroke, leaving him paralyzed on his left side, and with only partial vision in the right eye. He was confined to bed for weeks and sequestered from everyone except his wife and his physician, Dr. Cary Grayson. Dr. Bert E. Park, a neurosurgeon who examined Wilson's medical records after his death, writes that Wilson's illness affected his personality in various ways, making him prone to "disorders of emotion, impaired impulse control, and defective judgment." Anxious to help the president recover, Tumulty, Grayson, and the First Lady determined what documents the president read and who was allowed to communicate with him. For her influence in the administration, some have described Edith Wilson as "the first female President of the United States." Link states that by November 1919, Wilson's "recovery was only partial at best. His mind remained relatively clear; but he was physically enfeebled, and the disease had wrecked his emotional constitution and aggravated all his more unfortunate personal traits.
Throughout late 1919, Wilson's inner circle concealed the severity of his health issues. By February 1920, the president's true condition was publicly known. Many expressed qualms about Wilson's fitness for the presidency at a time when the League fight was reaching a climax, and domestic issues such as strikes, unemployment, inflation and the threat of Communism were ablaze. In mid-March 1920, Lodge and his Republicans formed a coalition with the pro-treaty Democrats to pass a treaty with reservations, but Wilson rejected this compromise and enough Democrats followed his lead to defeat ratification. No one close to Wilson was willing to certify, as required by the Constitution, his "inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office." Though some members of Congress encouraged Vice President Marshall to assert his claim to the presidency, Marshall never attempted to replace Wilson. Wilson's lengthy period of incapacity while serving as president was nearly unprecedented; of the previous presidents, only James Garfield had been in a similar situation, but Garfield retained greater control of his mental faculties and faced relatively few pressing issues.
When the war ended the Wilson Administration dismantled the wartime boards and regulatory agencies. Demobilization was chaotic and at times violent; four million soldiers were sent home with little money and few benefits. In 1919, strikes in major industries broke out, disrupting the economy. The country experienced further turbulence as a series of race riots broke out in the summer of 1919. In 1920, the economy plunged into a severe economic depression, unemployment rose to 12 percent, and the price of agricultural products sharply declined.
Red Scare and Palmer Raids
Following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and similar attempts in Germany and Hungary, many Americans feared the possibility of terrorism in the United States. Such concerns were inflamed by the bombings in April 1919 when anarchists mailed 38 bombs to prominent Americans; one person was killed but most packages were intercepted. Nine more mail bombs were sent in June; injuring several people. Fresh fears combined with a patriotic national mood sparking the "First Red Scare" in 1919. Attorney General Palmer from November 1919 to January 1920 launched the Palmer Raids to suppress radical organizations. Over 10,000 people were arrested and 556 aliens were deported, including Emma Goldman. Palmer's activities met resistance from the courts and some senior administration officials. No one told Wilson what Palmer was doing. Later in 1920 the Wall Street bombing on September 16, killed 50 and injured hundreds in the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil up to that point. Anarchists took credit and promised more violence to come; they escaped capture.
Prohibition and women's suffrage
Prohibition developed as an unstoppable reform during the war, but the Wilson administration played only a minor role. The Eighteenth Amendment passed Congress and was ratified by the states in 1919. In October 1919, Wilson vetoed the Volstead Act, legislation designed to enforce Prohibition, but his veto was overridden by Congress.
Wilson personally opposed women's suffrage in 1911 because he believed women lacked the public experience needed to be good voters. The actual evidence of how women voters behaved in the western states changed his mind, and he came to feel they could indeed be good voters. He did not speak publicly on the issue except to echo the Democratic Party position that suffrage was a state matter, primarily because of strong opposition in the white South to Black voting rights. In a 1918 speech before Congress, Wilson for the first time backed a national right to vote: "We have made partners of the women in this war....Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of privilege and right?" The House passed a constitutional amendment providing for women's suffrage nationwide, but this stalled in the Senate. Wilson continually pressured the Senate to vote for the amendment, telling senators that its ratification was vital to winning the war. The Senate finally approved it in June 1919, and the requisite number of states ratified the Nineteenth Amendment in August 1920.
Despite his medical incapacity, Wilson wanted to run for a third term. While the 1920 Democratic National Convention strongly endorsed Wilson's policies, Democratic leaders refused, nominating instead a ticket consisting of Governor James M. Cox and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Republicans centered their campaign around opposition to Wilson's policies, with Senator Warren G. Harding promising a "return to normalcy." Wilson largely stayed out of the campaign, although he endorsed Cox and continued to advocate for U.S. membership in the League of Nations. Harding won a landslide, winning over 60% of the popular vote and every state outside of the South. Wilson met with Harding for tea on his last day in office, March 3, 1921. Due to his health, Wilson was unable to attend the inauguration.
Final years and death (1921–1924)
After the end of his second term in 1921, Wilson and his wife moved from the White House to a town house in the Kalorama section of Washington, D.C. He continued to follow politics as President Harding and the Republican Congress repudiated membership in the League of Nations, cut taxes, and raised tariffs. In 1921, Wilson opened a law practice with former Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby. Wilson showed up the first day but never returned, and the practice was closed by the end of 1922. Wilson tried writing, and he produced a few short essays after enormous effort; they "marked a sad finish to a formerly great literary career." He declined to write memoirs, but frequently met with Ray Stannard Baker, who wrote a three-volume biography of Wilson that was published in 1922. In August 1923, Wilson attended the funeral of his successor, Warren Harding. On November 10, 1923, Wilson made his last national address, delivering a short Armistice Day radio speech from the library of his home.
Wilson's health did not markedly improve after leaving office, declining rapidly in January 1924. Woodrow Wilson died on February 3, 1924, at the age of 67. He was interred in Washington National Cathedral, being the only president whose final resting place lies within the nation's capital.
Wilson was born and raised in the South by parents who were committed supporters of both slavery and the Confederacy. Academically, Wilson was an apologist for slavery, the southern redemption movement and one of the foremost promoters of lost cause mythology.
Wilson was the first Southerner elected president since Zachary Taylor in 1848 and the only former subject of the Confederacy. Wilson's election was celebrated by southern segregationists. At Princeton, Wilson actively dissuaded the admission of African-Americans as students. Several historians have spotlighted consistent examples in the public record of Wilson's overtly racist policies and the inclusion of segregationists in his Cabinet. Other sources claim Wilson defended segregation on ”scientific“ grounds in private and describe him as a man who “loved to tell racist 'darky' jokes about black Americans.”
During Wilson's presidency, D. W. Griffith's pro-Ku Klux Klan film The Birth of a Nation (1915) was the first motion picture to be screened in the White House. Though he was not initially critical of the movie, Wilson distanced himself from it as public backlash mounted and eventually released a statement condemning the film's message while denying he had been aware of it prior to the screening.
Segregating the federal bureaucracy
By the 1910s, African-Americans had become effectively shut out of elected office. Obtaining an executive appointment to a position within the federal bureaucracy was usually the only option for African-American statesmen. It has been claimed Wilson continued to appoint African-Americans to positions that had traditionally been filled by blacks, overcoming opposition from many southern senators. Such claims deflect most of the truth however. Since the end of Reconstruction, both parties recognized certain appointments as unofficially reserved for qualified African-Americans. Wilson appointed a total of nine African-Americans to prominent positions in the federal bureaucracy, eight of whom were Republican carry-overs. For comparison, Taft was met with disdain and outrage from Republicans of both races for appointing "a mere thirty-one black officeholders", a record low for a Republican president. Upon taking office, Wilson fired all but two of the seventeen black supervisors in the federal bureaucracy appointed by Taft. Wilson flatly refused to even consider African-Americans for appointments in the South. Since 1863, the U.S. mission to Haiti and Santo Domingo was almost always led by an African-American diplomat regardless of what party the sitting president belonged to; Wilson ended this half century old tradition, though he did continue appointing black diplomats to head the mission to Liberia.
Since the end of Reconstruction, the federal bureaucracy had been possibly the only career path where African-Americans “experienced some measure of equity” and was the life blood and foundation of the black middle-class. Wilson's administration escalated the discriminatory hiring policies and segregation of government offices that had begun under President Theodore Roosevelt, and had continued under President Taft. In Wilson's first month in office, Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson urged the president to establish segregated government offices. Wilson did not adopt Burleson's proposal, but he did allow Cabinet Secretaries discretion to segregate their respective departments. By the end of 1913, many departments, including the Navy, Treasury and UPS, had segregated work spaces, restrooms, and cafeterias. Many agencies used segregation as a pretext to adopt a whites-only employment policy, claiming they lacked facilities for black workers. In these instances, African-Americans employed prior to the Wilson administration were either offered early retirement, transferred or simply fired.
Response to racial violence
In response to the demand for industrial labor, the Great Migration of African Americans out of the South surged in 1917 and 1918. This migration sparked race riots, including the East St. Louis riots of 1917. In response to these riots, but only after much public outcry, Wilson asked Attorney General Thomas Watt Gregory if the federal government could intervene to "check these disgraceful outrages." However, on the advice of Gregory, Wilson did not take direct action against the riots. In 1918, Wilson spoke out against lynchings, stating, "I say plainly that every American who takes part in the action of mob or gives it any sort of continence is no true son of this great democracy but its betrayer, and ...[discredits] her by that single disloyalty to her standards of law and of rights." In 1919, another series of race riots occurred in Chicago, Omaha, and two dozen other major cities in the North. The federal government did not become involved, just as it had not become involved previously.
Wilson is generally ranked by historians and political scientists as an above average president. In the view of some historians, Wilson, more than any of his predecessors, took steps towards the creation of a strong federal government that would protect ordinary citizens against the overwhelming power of large corporations. He is generally regarded as a key figure in the establishment of modern American liberalism, and a strong influence on future presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Cooper argues that in terms of impact and ambition, only the New Deal and the Great Society rival the domestic accomplishments of Wilson's presidency. Many of Wilson's accomplishments, including the Federal Reserve, the Federal Trade Commission, the graduated income tax, and labor laws, continued to influence the United States long after Wilson's death. Many conservatives have attacked Wilson for his role in expanding the federal government. In 2018, conservative columnist George Will wrote in The Washington Post that Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson were the "progenitors of today's imperial presidency."
Wilson's idealistic foreign policy, which came to be known as Wilsonianism, also cast a long shadow over American foreign policy, and Wilson's League of Nations influenced the development of the United Nations. Saladin Ambar writes that Wilson was "the first statesman of world stature to speak out not only against European imperialism but against the newer form of economic domination sometimes described as 'informal imperialism.'" His foreign policy toward Latin America continued the legacy of interventionism to protect the U.S. sphere of influence, which was not modified until Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Good Neighbor Policy.
Notwithstanding his accomplishments in office, Wilson has received criticism for his record on race relations and civil liberties, for his interventions in Latin America, and for his failure to win ratification of the Treaty of Versailles.
Despite his southern roots and record at Princeton, Wilson became the first Democrat to receive widespread support from the African American community in a presidential election. Wilson's African-American supporters, many of whom had crossed party lines to vote for him in 1912, found themselves bitterly disappointed by the Wilson presidency, his decision to allow the imposition of Jim Crow within the federal bureaucracy in particular. Ross Kennedy writes that Wilson's support of segregation complied with predominant public opinion. A. Scott Berg argues Wilson accepted segregation as part of a policy to "promote racial progress... by shocking the social system as little as possible." The ultimate result of this policy would be unprecedented levels of segregation within the federal bureaucracy and far fewer opportunities for employment and promotion being open to African-Americans than before. Historian Kendrick Clements argues "Wilson had none of the crude, vicious racism of James K. Vardaman or Benjamin R. Tillman, but he was insensitive to African-American feelings and aspirations." In the wake of the Charleston church shooting, some individuals demanded the removal of Wilson's name from institutions affiliated with Princeton due to his stance on race.
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library is located in Staunton, Virginia. The Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in Augusta, Georgia, and the Woodrow Wilson House in Washington, D.C., are National Historic Landmarks. The Thomas Woodrow Wilson Boyhood Home in Columbia, South Carolina is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Shadow Lawn, the Summer White House for Wilson during his term in office, became part of Monmouth University in 1956. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1985. Prospect House, Wilson's residence during part of his tenure at Princeton, is also a National Historic Landmark. Wilson's presidential papers and his personal library are at the Library of Congress.
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., is named for Wilson, and the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton was named for Wilson until Princeton's Board of Trustees voted to remove Wilson's name in 2020. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is a non-profit that provides grants for teaching fellowships. The Woodrow Wilson Foundation was established to honor Wilson's legacy, but it was terminated in 1993. One of Princeton's six residential colleges was originally named Wilson College. Numerous schools, including several high schools, bear Wilson's name. Several streets, including the Rambla Presidente Wilson in Montevideo, Uruguay, have been named for Wilson. The USS Woodrow Wilson, a Lafayette-class submarine, was named for Wilson. Other things named for Wilson include the Woodrow Wilson Bridge between Prince George's County, Maryland and Virginia, and the Palais Wilson, which serves as the temporary headquarters of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva until 2023 at the end of leasing. Monuments to Wilson include the Woodrow Wilson Monument in Prague.
In 1944, 20th Century Fox released Wilson, a biopic about the 28th President. Starring Alexander Knox and directed by Henry King, Wilson is considered an "idealistic" portrayal of the title character. The movie was a personal passion project of studio President and famed producer Darryl F. Zanuck, who was a deep admirer of Wilson. The movie received mostly praise from critics and Wilson supporters and scored ten Academy Awards nominations, winning five. Despite its popularity amongst elites, Wilson was a box office bomb, incurring an almost $2 million loss for the studio. The movie's failure is said to have had a deep and long lasting impact on Zanuck and no attempt has been made by any major studio since to create a motion picture based around the life of Woodrow Wilson.
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- The New Freedom: A Call for the Emancipation of the Energies of a Generous People. New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1913. —Speeches
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- Though a handful of elite, Northern schools did admit African-American students, at the time, most colleges refused to accept black students. Most African-American college students attended black colleges and universities such as Howard University.
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- Wright, Esmond. "The Foreign Policy of Woodrow Wilson: A Re-Assessment. Part 1: Woodrow Wilson and the First World War" History Today. (Mar 1960) 10#3 pp 149–157
- Wright, Esmond. "The Foreign Policy of Woodrow Wilson: A Re-Assessment. Part 2: Wilson and the Dream of Reason" History Today (Apr 1960) 19#4 pp 223–231
- Archer, Jules. World citizen: Woodrow Wilson (1967) online, for secondary schools
- Frith, Margaret. Who was Woodrow Wilson? (2015) online. for middle schools
- Ambrosius, Lloyd. Wilsonianism: Woodrow Wilson and his legacy in American foreign relations (Springer, 2002).
- Cooper, John Milton, ed. Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson: Progressivism, Internationalism, War, and Peace (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008)
- Cooper, John Milton. "Making A Case for Wilson," in Reconsidering Woodrow Wilson (2008) ch 1.
- Janis, Mark Weston. "How Wilsonian Was Woodrow Wilson?," Dartmouth Law Journal (2007) 5:1 pp. 1–15 online
- Kennedy, Ross A. "Woodrow Wilson, World War I, and an American Conception of National Security." Diplomatic History 25.1 (2001): 1–31.
- Kennedy, Ross A., ed. A Companion to Woodrow Wilson (2013).
- Johnston, Robert D. "Re-Democratizing the Progressive Era: The Politics of Progressive Era Political Historiography." Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 1.1 (2002): 68–92.
- Saunders, Robert M. "History, Health and Herons: The Historiography of Woodrow Wilson's Personality and Decision-Making." Presidential Studies Quarterly 24#1 pp. 57–77. online
- Saunders, Robert M. In Search of Woodrow Wilson: Beliefs and Behavior (1998)
- Seltzer, Alan L. "Woodrow Wilson as" Corporate-Liberal": Toward a Reconsideration of Left Revisionist Historiography." Western Political Quarterly 30.2 (1977): 183–212.
- Smith, Daniel M. "National interest and American intervention, 1917: an historiographical appraisal." Journal of American History 52.1 (1965): 5–24. online
- About Woodrow Wilson – Wilson Center
- Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum
- White House biography
- Woodrow Wilson on Nobelprize.org – Woodrow Wilson did not deliver a Nobel Lecture.
Speeches and other works
- Full text of a number of Wilson's speeches, Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Works by Woodrow Wilson at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Woodrow Wilson at Internet Archive
- Works by Woodrow Wilson at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Woodrow Wilson Personal Manuscripts
- The Ida Tarbell interview with Woodrow Wilson (Collier's Magazine, 1916)
- "Woodrow Wilson collected news and commentary". The New York Times.
- "Life Portrait of Woodrow Wilson", from C-SPAN's American Presidents: Life Portraits, September 13, 1999
- Woodrow Wilson at IMDb
- Woodrow Wilson: A Resource Guide from the Library of Congress
- Extensive essays on Woodrow Wilson and shorter essays on each member of his cabinet and First Lady from the Miller Center of Public Affairs
- Woodrow Wilson Links Archived November 3, 2019, at the Wayback Machine (Compiled by David Pietrusza)
- Woodrow Wilson: Prophet of Peace, a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places lesson plan