Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)

The twenty-eighth President of the United States, a devout Presbyterian and leading "intellectual" of the Progressive Era, Wilson (December 28, 1856-February 3, 1924) served as president of Princeton University then became the reform governor of New Jersey in 1910. With Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft dividing the Republican vote, Wilson was elected President as a Democrat in 1912. He proved highly successful in leading a Democratic Congress to pass major legislation including the Federal Trade Commission, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Underwood Tariff, the Federal Farm Loan Act and most notably the Federal Reserve System.

Woodrow WilsonNarrowly re-elected in 1916, his second term centered on World War I. He tried to maintain U.S. neutrality, but when Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare he wrote several admonishing notes to Germany. Subsequently he asked Congress to declare war on the Central Powers. He focused on diplomacy and financial considerations, leaving the waging of the war primarily in the hands of the military establishment. On the home front he began the first effective draft in 1917, raised billions through Liberty loans, imposed an income tax, set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union growth, supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act, took over control of the railroads, and suppressed anti-war movements. He paid surprisingly little attention to military affairs, but provided the funding and food supplies that helped the Americans in the war and hastened Allied victory in 1918.

In the late stages of the war he took personal control of negotiations with Germany, especially with the Fourteen Points and the Armistice. He went to Paris in 1919 to create the League of Nations and shape the Treaty of Versailles, with special attention on creating new nations out of defunct empires. Wilson collapsed with a debilitating stroke in 1919, as the home front saw massive strikes and race riots, and wartime prosperity turn into postwar depression. He refused to compromise with the Republicans who controlled Congress after 1918, effectively destroying any chance for ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. The League of Nations went into operation anyway, but the U.S. never joined. Wilson's idealistic internationalism, whereby the U.S. enters the world arena to fight for democracy, progressiveness, and liberalism, has been a highly controversial position in American foreign policy, serving as a model for "idealists" to emulate or "realists" to reject for the following century.¹

Quotes

"America was established not to create wealth but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal - to discover and maintain liberty among men."

"Business underlies everything in our national life, including our spiritual life. Witness the fact that in the Lord's Prayer, the first petition is for daily bread. No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach."

"By 'radical,' I understand one who goes too far; by 'conservative,' one who does not go far enough; by 'reactionary,' one who won't go at all."

"Caution is the confidential agent of selfishness."

Noteworthy Sites

¹ Woodrow Wilson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Books on Woodrow Wilson
Biography of Woodrow Wilson
Essays on Woodrow Wilson and His Administration
The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library

 


 
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