Woodrow Wilson

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Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States.

Contents

Early Years

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in 1856 in Staunton, Virginia. Growing up in Georgia and South Carolina for a major part of his early life, he was greatly influenced by the Civil War and southern racism, as well as by the Presbyterianism of his father, a minister and teacher.

Woodrow Wilson suffered from bad health all of his life. As a young child, he was dyslexic and could not read until he was nine years old. As an adult, he suffered from constant nausea, constipation, and heartburn. He even used a pump to fight stomach acid with water.

Collegiate Career

Because of his health problems, he withdrew quickly from his first college, Davidson in North Carolina, although he graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1879. He also studied law at the University of Virginia from 1879-1880 and tried to become a lawyer in Georgia, passing the bar in 1882, but he never succeeded in the venture.

Wilson is the only U.S. President to hold a Ph.D., which he received from Johns Hopkins in 1886, after he published his dissertation entitled Congressional Government. The book is still admired as a study of legislation in the U.S. Federal Government.

Ivy league University Profesor and University President

Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania and Wesleyan in Connecticut before becoming a professor of political economy and jurisprudence at Princeton University in the 1890s. He wrote many books and essays during this time, and was named the President of Princeton in 1902.

Governor in 1910 and President in 1912

Wilson accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party for Governor of New Jersey and won in a landslide in 1910. His ambitious, reforming agenda of progressive interests, including that of protecting the people from monopolization, earned him recognition around the country, and the party's nomination for President in 1912. His "New Freedom" platform aimed to revive the economy and was well accepted, and he easily won the presidency, thanks to the coordination failure preswented by the three-way race created by Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party and the Republican Party's nomination of the extremely unpopular William Taft. Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican electoral majority. The Democrats also won Congress thanks in part to his coattails from his plurality popular vote victory.

Election of 1912 Candidates (state), Political Party, Electoral College Votes, Popular Vote

  • T. Woodrow Wilson (NJ) and Thomas R. Marshall (IN), Democratic Party, 435, 6,293,152
  • Theodore Roosevelt (NY) and Hiram W. Johnson (CA), Progressive Party, 88, 4,119,207
  • William H. Taft (OH) and James S. Sherman (NY) Nicholas M. Butler (NY), Republican Party, 83, 486,333
  • Eugene V. Debs (IN) and Emil Seidel (WI), Socialist Party, 0, 900,369
  • Eugene W. Chafin (IL)and Aaron S. Watkins (OH), Prohibition Party, 0, 207,972

Foreign Policy Presidency

Like most modern American presidents, Woodrow Wilson would claim to hate war. However that pretty rhetorical sentiment did not prevent him from using the U.S. military repeatedly in foreign affairs. In 1915 Wilson ordered a U.S. military occupation Haiti that would become the longest in U.S. history, lasting until 1934. In 1916 Wilson sent a U.S. Expeditionary Force under Gen. Pershing into northern Mexico in a fruitless search for Mexican bandit/folk hero Pancho Villa after Villa attacked American cities. Wilson also ordered a miltiary occupation of the Dominican Republic that would last until 1924, and the miltiary occupation of Cuba from 1917 until 1923. Finally, Wilson continued the previous adminsitration's occupation of Nicaragua, which would last until 1925.

American public opinion was largely opposed to entrance into the First World War and opposition to the war continued depite the war fever that eventually seized segments of public opinion. Wilson could not take the United States into the war for two years, even campaigning with the slogan "He kept us out of war" during his re-election bid in 1916. Wilson won the election, but abandoned U.S. neutrality entering the war on the side of the British and the French when the Germans began egaging in unrestricted submarine warfare against U.S. ships which were supplying both sides of the conflict with goods. The aditional discoverery of a German plot to foster a Mexican invasion of Texas gave Wilson the grievances to ask Congress for a declaration of war in 1917. By 1918, Wilson had created his Fourteen Points, meant to create a world of peace and cooperation, capped with the creation of the League of Nations. At the Paris Peace Conference, France and Germany signed this agreement, named the Treaty of Versailles (of 1919). However, thanks to a Republican Congress, the United States did not and instead signed a different agreement with Germany. Nonetheless, because of his Versailles efforts, Wilson won the Nobel Prize and was hailed as a savior of peace in Europe.

During his exhausting campaign for the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side and prevented him from getting the United States to fulfill his plans for the League of Nations. The stroke also kept him from campaigning for a third term. In the 1920 election, Warren Harding defeated the Democratic candidate James M. Cox.

Wilson's racism and willingness to compromise with the victorious Western European colonial powers meant that the self-determination he expoused at the end of the First World War was largely confined to white Europeans. Czechs and Poles might receive their freedom in the peace treaty but not Vietnamese or Filipinos. (Wilson opposed granting independence to The Philippines.) The failure of the Treaty of Versailles to respond to the aspirations of Asians and Africans suffering under colonialism helped to encourage communism throughout what would later be called the Third World.

Like the British, Wilson's government backed the anti-communist White armies seeking to restore Czarism against a the revolution in Russia. U.S. and British troops jointly occupied the far northern Russian ports of Archangel and Murmansk in 1918-1919. U.S. and Japanese troops jointly occupied the Russian port of Vladilostok from 1918 to 1920.

During his exhausting campaign for the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson suffered a stroke that paralyzed his left side and prevented him from getting the United States to fulfill his plans for the League of Nations. The stroke also kept him from campaigning for a third term. In the 1920 election, Warren Harding defeated the Democratic candidate James M. Cox.

Domestic Presidency

By the time Wilson had been elected President, he was already an experienced progressive reformer. Thanks to a Democratic majority in Congress, he is credited with passing one of the most impressive legislative programs in history, including lower tariffs, antitrust legislation, the Federal Trade Commission Act, and the Federal Reserve Act, which created twelve Federal Reserve banks and a board to oversee them. Through this initial progressive agenda, Wilson stabilized the American economy by 1914, just in time for World War I. Later, in 1916, he would pass another impressive line of reforms, taking on child labor and other progressive domestic policy ideas. Unfortunately he also passed the Republican's Prohibition Act, which helped to entrench and enrich organized crime. Wilson opposed the extension of voting rights to African-Americans in the American South. He also worried that waves of immigration from southern and easterm Europe would undermine U.S. political traditions. No doubt he included racial segregation uder the category of "political tradition." The unpopularity of the First World War and rising working class militancy in the United States--a wave of strikes in 1919--motivated Wilson to adopt repressive legislation and unleash the repressive apparatus of the U.S. government. From 1919 to 1921 Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer orchestrated what were soon called the "Palmer Raids" to arrest thousands of political dissidents. Some were sentenced to prison terms and others were deported. The Democratic majority in Congress participated in the political repression by refusing to seat the elected socialist U.S. Representative from Wisconsin: Victor Berger.

Retirement and Death

Wilson retired to Washington, DC and died in 1924, watching the Republicans repudiate many of his ideas. He and his second wife are both interred in Washington National Cathedral.

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