Monday, July 26, 2010
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was the President of the United States during World War I. He became famous as a champion for world peace and democracy. In addition to being a world statesman, he also achieved success in two other careers. He had a great influence on the course of education as a scholar, teacher, and university principal. In the world of politics, he was a leader in bringing reforms to both state and national governments. Woodrow was of medium height and thin. He wore glasses and had a high Woodrow Wilson was our first progressive president. He had high forehead, firm mouth, and jutting jaw. He was a man of firm beliefs. He became a difficult opponent once his mind was made up or someone challenged his principles. He had great energy, a magnetic personality, and high ideals, all of which helped to win loyalty from friends and political supporters. Woodrow Wilson is considered by historians as one of the most successful Presidents even though he was the first progressive President of the United States. He was elected in 1912 by a minority of voters because the Republican vote was split between President William Howard Taft and former President Theodore Roosevelt. He was reelected in 1916 because people felt that "He kept us out of war." Three months later American ships were attacked by German submarines and Wilson asked Congress to declare war. After the war was over in 1918, Wilson fought for a peace treaty that included a League of Nations. Wilson's dream of U.S. leadership of the League ended when President Warren G. Harding opposed American membership in the new organization. Woodrow Wilson was probably born on December 29, 1856, at Stauton, Virginia. The confusion over the date of his birth comes from the family Bible that shows he was born at "12 3/4 o'clock" at night on December 28. His mother said that he was born "about midnight on the 28th." Wilson used December 28 as his birthday. He was born the third of four children and the first son. He was named Thomas Woodrow Wilson for his maternal grandfather and was known as "Tommy" as a child, but soon after he graduated from college he dropped the Thomas. Woodrow grew up in an atmosphere of religious piety and scholarly interests because he was surrounded by people who were deeply religious, believed in Presbyterian doctrines, and stressed the importance of education. His father and maternal grandfather were Presbyterian ministers. His paternal ancestry is Scotch-Irish and his maternal ancestry is Scotch. He was about four years old when the Civil War started and so grew up in the atmosphere caused by the Civil War. Wilson started school at age 9 because many of the schools were closed during the war. He eventually attended Princeton and the University of Virginia Law School. He opened a law office in 1882 in Atlanta, Georgia, but by the spring of 1883 he realized that he didn't want to be a lawyer. He decided to be a college teacher and began a graduate study in history and political science at Johns Hopkins University. He received his Ph.D. degree in June 1886. Woodrow married Ellen Louise Axson on June 24, 1885, and three daughters were born to the couple. Mrs. Wilson was the most influential person in Woodrow's life and devoted most of her time to making their home comfortable. Woodrow enjoyed playing and reading with his daughters. Woodrow was an associate professor of history at Bryn Mawr College for three years. He then became professor of history and political economy at Wesleyan University where he also coached football. In 1890 Princeton University invited him to become professor of jurisprudence and political economy. There he became a popular and distinguished lecturer. He became president of the university on June 9, 1902. Wilson decided to change careers and decided to run for Governor of New Jersey. He resigned from Princeton on October 20, 1910, to campaign for governor. As governor he pushed through the legislature a series of reforms that transformed New Jersey from one of the most conservative states into one of the most progressive ones. Wilson's reforms in New Jersey gained him national attention, particularly from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. He won the Democratic nomination, which meant almost certain victory for the White House because the Republican Party was split between conservative President William Howard Taft and progressive Theodore Roosevelt. The popular vote was overwhelmingly for Wilson and Roosevelt and was considered to be a clear endorsement for a liberal reform program. Wilson was the last President to ride to his inauguration in a horse-drawn carriage. The Wilsons did not give an inaugural ball because neither of them enjoyed large social affairs. Wilson gave the first regular presidential press conference just eleven days after his inauguration. Wilson asked Congress to pass a series of reforms including a new tariff bill and reform of the banking and currency laws. Congress passed a bill in 1913 to establish a central banking system designed to provide a new currency and to help the flow of capital through twelve reserve banks. All of this was to happen under the direction of a Federal Reserve Board. Congress established the Federal Trade Commission in 1914 to investigate and stop unfair trade practices. That same year under direction from Wilson Congress passed the Clayton Antitrust Act that increased the power of the federal government to police unfair practices of big business. Other reform bills were adopted by Congress in 1916. They included the Adamson Act (established the eight-hour working day for railroad employees), the Child Labor Act (limited work hours for children), and a new program of federal regulation of industry. Congress placed heavy taxes on wealthy people and started programs to improve rural education and rural roads. The Wilson Administration was also involved in many foreign affairs. They included the repeal of the Panama Tolls Act (American ships could no longer use the Panama Canal toll -free.), preparing the Philippines for independence, and a crisis in relations between the United States and Mexico. Wilson also took over most of the control of revolution-torn Nicaragua, sent troops to occupy Haiti, and put the Dominican Republic under American control. World War I started in August 1914, and Wilson managed to keep America out of the battle - until after he was re-elected in 1916. In an eight-month period of time between November 1913 and July 1914, two of the Wilson daughters were married and Mrs. Wilson became very ill. She died on August 6, 1914, after a short illness. Wilson was so sad that he almost lost his will to live. He met Edith Bolling Galt in March 1915. She was the widow of a jeweler in Washington. They were married on December 18, 1915, in her home in Washington, D.C. Wilson gave to Congress what is considered to be his greatest speech and entitled it Fourteen Points. This speech undermined German morale during the final months of the World War I and gave Germany a basis upon which to appeal for peace. The Fourteen Points are: 1) Open covenants of peace - no secret international agreements in the future; 2) Freedom of the seas outside territorial waters in peace and in war; 3) removal of all possible economic barriers and establishment of equal trade conditions among nations; 4) Reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety; 5) Free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims; 6) Evacuation of German troops from all Russian territory giving Russia an opportunity to independently determine its own political development and national policy and welcoming Russia into the society of free nations; 7) Evacuation of German troops from Belgium and the rebuilding of that nation; 8) Evacuation of German troops from all French territory and the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France; 9) Readjustment of Italian frontiers along the clearly recognized lines of nationality; 10) Limited self-government for the peoples of Austria-Hungary; 11) Evacuation of German troops from Romania, Serbia, and Montenegro, and independence guaranteed for the Balkan countries; 12) Independence for Turkey, but an opportunity to develop self-government for other nationalities under Turkish rule, and guarantees that the Dardanelles be permanently opened as a free passage to ships of all nations; 13) Independence for Poland; 14) "A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike." Wilson was the first President to cross the Atlantic Ocean while in office when he attended the Paris Peace Conference in early 1919 following the end of World War I. At the peace conference he campaigned for the adoption of his Fourteen Points because he considered them important for world peace. He won support for only part of the treaty provisions he wanted. In order to gain support for the League of Nations and other provisions in the Fourteen Points, he compromised on several major issues. These concessions weakened his moral position in the eyes of the world but insured establishment of the League of Nations. The Constitution required that two-thirds of the Senators approve peace treaties, and Wilson soon discovered that the Senate was not going to ratify the League of Nations without some amendments to the provisions. He returned to Paris in March 1919 where conference delegates accepted several of his provisions. He returned to the USA only to discover active public debate on the peace terms and mounting congressional opposition to the treaty and the League of Nations. The President decided to take his case for the League to the American people and planned a speaking tour through the Midwest and the West. His doctor did not approve the trip, but Wilson went anyway. On September 25 after Wilson spoke at Pueblo, Colorado, he collapsed from fatigue and nervous tension. He cancelled the remainder of his tour and returned to Washington, D.C. where he suffered a paralytic stroke on October 2. Wilson remained an invalid for the remainder of his life. He did not resign the Presidency even though he was so ill that he was not functioning as the President should. He watched helplessly as he lost his fight for the treaty. In the 1920 presidential campaign, the Democratic platform endorsed the League, and the Republican platform opposed it. The Republican nominee, Warren G. Harding, overwhelmingly defeated his opponent. The League of Nations was dead as far as the United States was concerned. Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize on December 10, 1920, for his work in establishing the League of Nations and seeking a fair peace agreement. Wilson's term of office ended in March 1921. Wilson regained partial use of his arms and legs, but his physical condition did not permit any actual work in the law partnership he formed. He lived in quiet retirement in Washington where he spent his time seeing an occasional movie or play, listening to books and magazines read aloud to him, and sometimes lunching with friends. He was confident that he would be proved correct by future events regarding the terms of the peace treaty and the League of Nations. Wilson grew "tired of swimming upstream" and died in his sleep on February 3, 1924. He was buried two days later in the Washington Cathedral, the only President to be buried in Washington, D.C. Facts and quotes for this post came from an article by John M. Mulder in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 21, pp 320-330.