Wilson, Woodrow Essay, Research Paper
Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States (1913-21), secured a
legislative program of progressive domestic reform, guided his country
during WORLD WAR I, and sought a peace settlement based on high moral
principles, to be guaranteed by the LEAGUE OF NATIONS.
Early Life and Career
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Va., on Dec. 28, 1856. He was
profoundly influenced by a devoutly religious household headed by his
father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a Presbyterian minister, and his mother,
Janet Woodrow Wilson, the daughter of a minister. Woodrow (he dropped the
Thomas in 1879) attended (1873-74) Davidson College and in 1875 entered the
College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), graduating in 1879.
Wilson studied (1879-80) at the University of Virginia Law School, briefly
practiced law in Atlanta, and in 1883 entered The Johns Hopkins University
for graduate study in political science. His widely acclaimed book,
Congressional Government (1885), was published a year before he received
the doctoral degree. In 1885 he married Ellen Louise Axson; they had three
Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr College (1885-88) and Wesleyan University
in Connecticut (1888-90) before he was called (1890) to Princeton as
professor of jurisprudence and political economy. A popular lecturer,
Wilson also wrote a score of articles and nine books, including Division
and Reunion (1893) and his five-volume History of the American People
(1902). In 1902 he was the unanimous choice of the trustees to become
Princeton’s president. His reforms included reorganization of the
departmental structure, revision of the curriculum, raising of academic
standards, tightening of student discipline, and the still-famous
preceptorial system of instruction. But Wilson’s quad plan–an attempt to
create colleges or quadrangles where students and faculty members would
live and study together–was defeated. Opposed by wealthy alumni and
trustees, he also lost his battle for control of the proposed graduate
The Princeton controversies, seen nationally as a battle between
democracy and vested wealth, propelled Wilson into the political arena.
George Harvey, editor of Harper’s Weekly, with help from New Jersey’s
Democratic party bosses, persuaded Wilson to run for governor in 1910.
After scoring an easy victory, he cast off his machine sponsors and
launched a remarkable program of progressive legislation, including a
direct-primary law, antitrust laws, a corrupt-practices act, a workmen’s
compensation act, and measures establishing a public utility commission and
permitting cities to adopt the commission form of government.
Success in New Jersey made him a contender for the Democratic
presidential nomination. Although Wilson entered the 1912 Democratic
National Convention a poor second to Speaker of the House Champ Clark, his
strength increased as Clark’s faded, and he won the nomination after 46
ballots. Offering a program of reform that he called the New Freedom,
Wilson ran against a divided Republican party. In November, with only 42
percent of the popular vote, he won 435 electoral votes to 88 for
Progressive candidate Theodore Roosevelt and 8 for the Republican
candidate, President William Howard Taft.
Progressive as President
By presenting his program personally before the Democratically
controlled Congress, employing personal persuasion as well as patronage,
and appealing to the American public with his stirring rhetoric, Wilson won
passage of an impressive array of progressive measures. The Underwood
Tariff Act (1913), the first reduction in duties since the Civil War, also
established a modest income tax. The Federal Reserve Act (1913) provided
for currency and banking reform. Antitrust legislation followed in 1914,
when Congress passed the Federal Trade Commission Act and the CLAYTON
ANTI-TRUST ACT. In 1915, Wilson supported the La Follette Seamen’s bill,
designed to improve the working conditions of sailors. The following year
he signed the Federal Farm Loan Act, providing low-interest credit to
farmers; the Adamson Act, granting an 8-hour day to interstate railroad
workers; and the Child Labor Act, which limited children’s working hours.
In foreign policy, Wilson was faced with greater problems than any
president since Abraham Lincoln. He attempted to end U.S. dollar diplomacy
and promote the mediation of disputes. He rejected a loan to China on the
grounds that it impaired Chinese sovereignty, and he helped thwart Japanese
designs on the Chinese mainland. He approved Secretary of State William
Jennings BRYAN’s efforts to minimize the danger of war through a series of
“conciliation treaties” and joined him in an unsuccessful attempt to
negotiate a Pan-American pact guaranteeing the integrity of the Western
Hemisphere. In attempting to deal with revolutionary Mexico, Wilson first
sought to promote self-government by refusing to recognize the military
usurper Victoriano HUERTA and forcing him to allow free elections. When
Huerta resisted, Wilson tried to force him out by ordering (April 1914)
limited American intervention at Veracruz and by supporting
constitutionalist Venustiano CARRANZA. Mediation by Argentina, Brazil, and
Chile helped to prevent a general conflict and led to Huerta’s resignation
in July 1914.
A year later, Wilson recognized Carranza’s provisional government, and
in 1916 he intervened again after Carranza’s rival, guerrilla leader Pancho
VILLA, had raided a town in New Mexico, killing several Americans. In 1915
and 1916 he reluctantly sent troops to Haiti and Santo Domingo to establish
After the outbreak of the European war in August 1914, Wilson
struggled with considerable success to fulfill the obligations of
neutrality, to keep trade channels open, and to prevent any abridgement of
U.S. rights, all in the face of the British blockade of Germany and the
latter’s introduction of submarine warfare. He warned Germany in February
1915 that it would be held to “strict accountability” for the loss of
American lives in the sinking of neutral or passenger ships. After the
LUSITANIA was sunk in May 1915 (with the loss of 128 Americans), he
negotiated with such firmness that Secretary Bryan, fearing a declaration
of war, resigned in protest. In September 1915, Wilson won pledges from
Germany to provide for the safety of passengers caught in submarine
attacks, and in May 1916 the Germans agreed to abandon unrestricted
Running on his record of reform and with the slogan “He kept us out of
the war,” Wilson sought reelection in 1916 against Republican Charles Evans
Hughes. The president won a narrow victory, receiving 277 out of 531
When Germany renewed all-out submarine warfare in 1917, Wilson severed
diplomatic relations. In April he asked Congress for a declaration of war,
asserting that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”
As war president, Wilson made a major contribution to the modern
presidency as he led Americans in a spectacular mobilization of the
nation’s resources. Establishing a series of war agencies, he extended
federal control over industry, transportation, labor, food, fuel, and
prices. In May 1917 he forced through Congress a Selective Service bill
under which 2.8 million men were drafted by war’s end. He sought and
received legislative delegation of increased powers, thus leaving for his
successors the precedents and tools to meet future crises.
Wilson the Peacemaker
From 1914, Wilson had sought ways to mediate the conflict. In 1915 and
1916 he sent his advisor and confidant, Col. Edward M. HOUSE, to Europe to
work toward a negotiated peace and postwar cooperation. In the spring of
1916, Wilson joined the call for a postwar association of nations; on Jan.
22, 1917, he called for a peace without victory and reaffirmed his support
for a league of nations.
With the United States in the war, Wilson hoped to have a stronger
influence on the peace settlement. On Jan. 8, 1918, he presented his
FOURTEEN POINTS, a comprehensive statement of war aims. It became at once a
war weapon and a peace program, inspiring the peoples of the Allied powers
while undermining the confidence of the Germans. Germany made its peace
overture in the hope of obtaining just treatment under Wilson’s proposals.
Wilson headed the American delegation to the PARIS PEACE CONFERENCE.
He erred seriously, however, by not developing bipartisan support for his
peace plans; he did not appoint a prominent Republican to the delegation,
and he called on voters to reelect a Democratic Congress in 1918 as a vote
of confidence. Most contests were decided on local issues, and when
Republicans captured both houses of Congress, his leadership seemed
Wilson was hailed as a hero upon his arrival in Europe. At the
conference (January-June 1919) Allied leaders Georges CLEMENCEAU, David
LLOYD GEORGE, and Vittorio ORLANDO favored a traditional settlement. Wilson
worked tirelessly for a peace along the lines of his Fourteen Points; only
his shrewd bargaining prevented even harsher terms from being imposed on
Germany. Wilson characterized the Versailles Treaty as the best obtainable
compromise and put his hopes in the League of Nations, an integral part of
the treaty, as the institution through which inequities could be later
Senate Republicans, led by Henry Cabot Lodge, refused to approve the
peace treaty without significant modifications of the U.S. commitment to
the League. Wilson accepted some compromise but then turned to the people.
In a national speaking tour he eloquently defended the League and U.S.
membership as essential to lasting world peace. Long months of exhausting
labor had weakened the president, however, and he collapsed on Sept. 25,
1919, following a speech in Pueblo, Colo.
A week later Wilson suffered a stroke that left him partially
incapacitated for the remainder of his life. From his bed he continued to
oppose severe restrictions to the League. The Senate, meanwhile, rejected
the treaty in November 1919 and March 1920. Wilson urged that the 1920
presidential election be a referendum on the League. Republican Warren G.
Harding, who had established a reputation as an opponent of the League, won
in a landslide.
In December 1920, Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for 1919. The
former president and his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, whom he
married in 1915, after the death of his first wife, continued to make their
home in Washington, D.C. Wilson died there on Feb. 3, 1924.
Baker, Ray S., Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters, 8 vols. (1927-39; repr. 1968);
Bell, Herbert C. F., Woodrow Wilson and the People (1945);
Blum, John M., Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality (1956);
Bragdon, Henry W., Woodrow Wilson: The Academic Years (1967);
Cooper, John M., The Warrior and the Priest (1983);
Ferrell, Robert H., Woodrow Wilson and World War I: Nineteen Seventeen to
Nineteen Twenty-one (1986);
Heckscher, August, Woodrow Wilson (1991);
Latham, Earl, ed., The Philosophy and Policies of Woodrow Wilson (1975);
Levin, N. Gordon, Woodrow Wilson and World Politics (1968);
Link, Arthur S., Wilson, 5 vols. (1947-65), Woodrow Wilson: A Brief
Biography (1963), and Woodrow Wilson and a Revolutionary World,
Hirst, David W., et al., eds., The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, 55 vols. (1966-86);
Walworth, Arthur, Woodrow Wilson, 3d ed. (1978).
NAME: Woodrow Wilson 28th President of the United States (1913-21) Nickname:
“Schoolmaster in Politics” Born: Dec. 28, 1856, Staunton, Va. Education: College
of New Jersey (now Princeton University; graduated 1879) Profession: Teacher,
Public Official Religious affiliation: Presbyterian Marriage: June 24, 1885, to
Ellen Louise Axson (1860-1914); Dec. 18, 1915, to Edith Bolling Galt (1872-1961)
Children: Margaret Woodrow Wilson (1886-1944); Jessie Woodrow Wilson (1887-
1933); Eleanor Randolph Wilson (1889-1967) Political Affiliation: Democrat
Writings: George Washington (1896); A History of the American People (5 vols.,
1902); Constitutional Government in the United States (1908); Papers of Woodrow
Wilson (1966- ), ed. by Arthur S. Link, et al. Died: Feb. 3, 1924, Washington,
D.C. Buried: National Cathedral, Washington, D.C. Vice-President: Thomas R.
Cabinet Members:^ Secretary of State: William J. Bryan (1913-15); Robert Lansing
(1915-20); Bainbridge Colby (1920-21) Secretary of the Treasury: William G.
McAdoo (1913-18); Carter Glass (1918-20); David F. Houston (1920-21) Secretary
of War: Lindley M. Garrison (1913-16); Newton D. Baker (1916-21) Attorney
General: James C. McReynolds (1913-14); Thomas W. Gregory (1914-19); Alexander M.
Palmer (1919-21) Postmaster General: Albert S. Burleson Secretary of the Navy:
Josephus Daniels Secretary of the Interior: Franklin K. Lane (1913-20); John B.
Payne (1920-21) Secretary of Agriculture: David F. Houston (1913-20); Edwin T.
Meredith (1920-21) Secretary of Commerce: William C. Redfield (1913-19); Joshua
W. Alexander (1919-21) Secretary of Labor: William B. Wilson