The Life of Woodrow Wilson

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Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States

Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States

The 28th President of the United States

Like Theodore Roosevelt before him, Woodrow Wilson saw the President as the personal representative of the American people.

“No one but the President seems to be expected to look out for the general interests of the country.”

While President, Wilson developed a program that asserted American leadership in the emerging new world order.

Woodrow Wilson’s Early Years

Born in 1856 to a Virginia minister, Wilson saw the horrors of war first-hand during the American Civil War, as well as afterward during the Reconstruction.

Following his graduation from Princeton, and then from the University of Virginia Law School, Wilson received his doctorate at Johns Hopkins University. Following this, Wilson embarked on an academic career. In 1885, Wilson married Ellen Louise Axson.

As a conservative political science professor, Wilson advanced quickly, eventually becoming President of Princeton in 1902.

Woodrow Wilson Enters Politics

Wilson’s rapid rise to prominence led some conservative Democrats to consider him presidential material. In 1910, Wilson ran for the Governorship of New Jersey. During the campaign, Wilson asserted his independence from the political machine that nominated him, endorsing and implementing a platform of progressive reform during his term as governor.

In 1912, Wilson became the Democratic Presidential candidate. He campaigned based on a program called The New Freedom, which placed emphasis on states’ rights and individual liberty. Even though he only won 42% of the popular vote, the bitter fighting between Roosevelt and Taft ensured that Wilson captured a significant percentage of the electoral vote.

President Woodrow Wilson

Following his election, Wilson submitted three major pieces of legislation. The first was the Underwood Act, which called for lower tariffs. Attached to this was a bill for a graduated Federal income tax. The third bill called for the creation of a Federal Reserve in order to provide the United States with a more flexible supply of money. In 1914 antitrust legislation established the Federal Trade Commission, which was mean to prohibit unfair and illegal business practices.

At the same time, World War I broke out in Europe, following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria.

More legislation followed in 1916. One bill prohibited child labour, while another limited railway workers to an eight hour work day. Due to this legislation and the fact that Wilson had kept the United States out of World War I up until that point, he narrowly won re-election.

After the election, however, Wilson went before Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany.

The entrance of the United States into the war slowly tipped the balance in the favour of Britain and France. In January, 1918, Wilson went before Congress to outline the war aims of the United States, which were called The Fourteen Points. The last of these called for the creation of, “A general association of nations…affording mutual guarantees of political independence to great and small states alike.”

Following the signing of the Armistice, in November, 1918, Wilson went to Paris to try to build a lasting peace based on The Fourteen Points. When he returned, he presented the Treaty of Versailles, which contained the Covenant of the League of Nations to the Senate, asking, “Do we dare break the heart of the world?”

However, the election had shifted the balance of power in the favour of the Republicans and the treaty was defeated in the Senate by seven votes.

Despite the warnings of his doctors, Wilson toured the country trying to drum up public support for the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations. Unfortunately, the stress of the tour brought on a stroke and Wilson nearly died as a result. He was eventually nursed back to health by his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt.

The Death of Woodrow Wilson

Following the election of Warren G Harding, Wilson left politics, moving to a home on Washington’s Embassy Row. He enjoyed going for drives and vaudeville theatre on Saturday nights. This idyllic retirement did not last long, however. Woodrow Wilson died in 1924.

Sources

Woodrow Wilson. The White House,US Government, Oct.8/09

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