"Absolute identity with one's cause is the first and great condition of successful leadership."
— Woodrow Wilson
"The world must be made safe for democracy."Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was the president of the United States, 1913-1921. First elected in 1912 beating two former presidents - incumbent Republican Taft, and Progressive Party candidate Teddy Roosevelt (a former Republican). Re-elected to his second term largely on the slogan, "He Kept Us Out Of War"; shortly into that term he got us into war. Suffered a stroke in 1919 and spent the rest of his term with his wife effectively running the government for him, rather than handing over power to the (widely viewed as clownish and ineffectual) Vice President. This was a possible factor for the 19th Amentment to the Constitution (women's suffrage) being ratified during this time (though Wilson had announced his support before the stroke). Later the 25th Amendment (presidential succession) was definitely ratified with Wilson's stroke used as an instrumental (but negative) example.note Although modern perceptions of Wilson remember him more for his foreign policy and involvement in the First World War, Wilson's first term was largely domestically-oriented. It should be noted that these policies before the war were significant to say the least (whether for better or for worse). Like his predecessors, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, Wilson was president during the so-called Progressive Movement of the early 1900s, a liberal reaction against the staunchly conservative excesses of the Gilded Age that had preceded it. Also like Roosevelt and Taft, Wilson brought his own policies regarding big businesses and trusts to the presidency. Unlike Roosevelt and Taft, both of whom were inclined to support government confrontation of trusts, Wilson's "New Freedom" approach favored small businesses bolstered by competition laws to prevent unfair consolidation by trusts. In theory, Wilson's New Freedom was intended to limit government intervention in the affairs of business. However, in practice, Wilson also established the Federal Trade Commission along with the Federal Reserve, both of which are key regulatory agencies that remain important economic regulatory agencies for the federal government to this day. However, larger events abroad would eventually come to overshadow Wilson's domestic affairs. World War One broke out two years after the election of Woodrow Wilson. At the time, American public opinion was largely opposed to any sort of serious involvement by the United States. It was by and far not an American affair, and as the war worsened and became a truly global conflict stretching from the fields of France and Flanders in the West all the way to German colonies in the Pacific, American opposition to entering the war only increased. However, as the war dragged on and the Central Powers grew increasingly more desperate to defeat the Allies, it became clear that American neutrality was not to last. German policies, "unrestricted submarine warfare" in particular, were a point of contention in German-American relations. After the sinking of the Lusitania, a British passenger liner which was carrying American passengers, a diplomatic crisis erupted between the US and Germany. In the end, Wilson kept his cool, and the crisis died down without war between the US and Germany. However, the Lusitania would not be the only vessel carrying Americans to be sank by German vessels, and ultimately what would push the US into a war against Germany would come in the form of a telegram sent by German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann to the Mexican government. The telegram reflected sentiments in German leadership at the time that America's involvement in the conflict in Mexico at the time was something large enough to distract America's attention and prevent the possibility of an American entry into WWI. Thus, Zimmermann's telegram promised Mexico that if it attacked the United States, Germany would pledge support and return the territories that had been taken from Mexico by America in the Mexican-American War. For Wilson and for America, this was the final straw. The Lusitania had angered people, but ultimately, sentiment had been against intervention at the time. Now, Germany had crossed the line. Woodrow Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war upon Germany, and the rest is history. He holds the dubious honour of being one of only two 20th century presidents to win twice without ever gaining 50% of the vote (the other was Bill Clinton). In 1912, Wilson won only 41.8% of the vote, the lowest margin of votes a winning candidate received since the American Civil War. His 1916 victory was much more respectable but still only represented 49.2%. Wilson was arguably the first president who was a trained politician; he was educated in diplomacy, governance, and statecraft. Whenever he couldn't find a job in those fields, he scuttled back to Princeton to teach them. He was president of Princeton for some time, and even before then he had been a professor there—his works are considered foundational to the establishment of political science as a separate academic discipline. He was elected Governor of New Jersey in 1910 on the strength of his academic record and his leadership at Princeton; his ascent to the Presidency was helped by his competence in Trenton. Wilson's Fourteen Points would form the basis for the later Treaty Of Versailles, which the US never actually ratified. In addition, his Fourteen Points served as one of the inspirations for the League of Nations, which the US also never joined. Wilson won a Nobel Peace Prize while still in office. Wilson's reputation has declined slightly since his lifetime, possibly due to his views on race and the constitutional murkiness of his post-stroke incapacity. (Basically, his second wife, Edith Wilson, essentially ran the country for a period of time, deciding what he was told and who he would see, rather than having power pass to Vice President Thomas Marshall. In a way, she can be considered the unofficial first female President.) Though still viewed highly by academics, who often rate him in the top ten presidents (albeit usually at around seventh place), the public is less keen on him. A 2007 poll found that only 56% of Americans had a favorable impression of him, as against 84% for Theodore Roosevelt and a surprisingly high 57% for the seemingly-forgotten Taft. Wilson's legacy as time has passed is largely a mixed one. While many of Wilson's ideas are admired and many of the agencies and policies he created are still important parts of American policy today, Wilson also had some notably poor policies. Although he did not have a segregationist background, he appointed Southern Democrats to many political positions and tolerated their spreading of segregation to parts of the civil service and armed forces. He could be at times a very self-assured, prideful individual whose disposition made him a difficult character to deal with. This aspect of his personality, combined with the fact that Wilson suffered perhaps the most ill-timed stroke in American history, helped make sure that the United States failed to join the League of Nations, and in so doing, fundamentally weaken the organization as a governing international body when strong action would be needed to deal with future issues such as the rise of fascist regimes in Europe and the rearmament of Germany. While Wilson had in his past demonstrated a consistent ability to compromise with the most intransigent of opposition (if quarreling, embittered European nations at Versailles were anything to go by), opinion in Congress, largely dominated by anti-League Republicans, was not amenable to Wilson's plans as he had spurned them at the Treaty of Versailles (mostly out of a personal hatred for "Senate Majority Leader" Henry Cabot Lodge,* the obvious choice for a Republican member of the US delegation). Wilson went on a massive nationwide campaign to appeal directly to the American people, and by extension Congress' constituents, so as to drum up support for the Fourteen Points. Wilson's doctor had advised him not to overexert himself on the campaign, but Wilson did anyway and suffered a debilitating stroke that largely incapacitated him for the rest of his presidency. This, combined with an already intractable political situation that desperately needed executive action to resolve, in effect destroyed any chance the USA would ever have of joining the League of Nations. While nobody can ever know for sure what would have happened if the USA had joined the League of Nations and if the tensions and conflicts that eventually lead to another world war could have been prevented by such an event, everyone knows what happened when the USA failed to join the League. The League largely proved itself to be a toothless, impotent organization hopelessly matched up against issues it could not hope to resolve and would not stand up to the likes of ambitious, aggressive leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini. The League's successor, the United Nations, was designed in many ways to avoid the weaknesses that had plagued the League of Nations, even though the failures of the UN and the common criticisms addressed to it were largely the same as those that had been addressed to the League in years past (too weak, couldn't always enforce its rulings, etc.). Domestically, Wilson's legacy is also called into question by the passage of the Espionage and Sedition Acts and what history would come to call the First Red Scare. The former were pieces of legislation passed by Congress (but approved of by Wilson) that, to make an incredibly complicated bill very simple: meted out punishments such as imprisonment for people who did so much as criticize the American government or its war effort. Many protesters who were otherwise peaceful were locked up in jail, notably the Socialist Eugene Victor Debs, who was not deterred by his imprisonment and ran for president from his jail cell. Wilson's policies of repression at home continued with the Red Scare of the latter years of his second administration. Mostly persecuted by then Attorney General Palmer, the Red Scare rounded up radical leftists and others viewed as threatening to national security, many wound up being deported from the United States. Wilson was the first president to give the State of the Union address in person since John Adams in 1799. Thomas Jefferson had ended the practice of speaking in person and instead had a clerk read out the speech in Congress as he had felt it to resemble the British monarch's speech from the throne. Wilson used to be on the $100,000 dollar bill, but these have been discontinued since 1969. He also made Mother's Day a holiday, making him quite easily the favorite president of the Hallmark company. For some of the other controversies surrounding Wilson, see the analysis page.
Tropes associated with Woodrow Wilson:
Wilson in fiction: