Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson: The President During World War I

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, left an indelible mark on American history, navigating the nation through a pivotal period marked by war and transformation. Born on December 28, 1856, in Staunton, Virginia, Wilson emerged as a prominent political figure, scholar, and statesman. His two terms in office (1913-1921) were marked by significant domestic reforms, a commitment to international diplomacy, and his leadership during World War I. This article by Academic Block delves into the life, political career, and lasting impact of Woodrow Wilson, exploring the complex and multifaceted legacy of this visionary leader.

Early Life and Academic Background

Woodrow Wilson’s early life laid the foundation for his later intellectual and political pursuits. He spent his childhood in the South during a tumultuous period marked by the Civil War and Reconstruction. The son of a Presbyterian minister, Wilson developed a deep sense of morality and duty, principles that would guide him throughout his life.

After attending Davidson College in North Carolina, Wilson transferred to Princeton University, where he distinguished himself as an exceptional student. He graduated in 1879 and went on to study law at the University of Virginia. However, his true passion lay in the realm of academia, and he eventually pursued a Ph.D. in political science and history at Johns Hopkins University, where he completed his doctoral dissertation on congressional government.

Wilson’s academic achievements set the stage for his career in higher education. He became a professor at Bryn Mawr College and later at Wesleyan University. His insightful writings on political science garnered attention, establishing him as a respected scholar in the field.

Governor of New Jersey

In 1910, Woodrow Wilson transitioned from academia to politics, running for and winning the governorship of New Jersey. As governor, Wilson implemented progressive reforms, earning a reputation as a pragmatic and forward-thinking leader. His success in New Jersey caught the attention of the Democratic Party, leading to his nomination as the party’s candidate for the presidency in the election of 1912.

The Progressive Agenda

The 1912 election was a turning point in American politics, with Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt (running on the Progressive Party ticket), and incumbent President William Howard Taft competing for the presidency. Wilson’s campaign centered on a progressive agenda that sought to address economic inequality, improve labor conditions, and reform the banking system.

Once elected, President Wilson wasted no time in pursuing his ambitious legislative program, known as the New Freedom. This program aimed to dismantle the so-called “triple wall of privilege”: tariffs, banks, and trusts. Wilson successfully pushed for the passage of the Underwood-Simmons Act, which significantly lowered tariff rates, and the Federal Reserve Act, establishing the Federal Reserve System to regulate the nation’s banking and monetary system.

Antitrust Legislation and the Federal Trade Commission

Wilson also prioritized antitrust legislation, seeking to curb the power of monopolies and protect consumers. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 addressed various antitrust issues and included provisions to safeguard labor rights. Additionally, Wilson signed the Federal Trade Commission Act into law, creating the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to monitor and investigate unfair business practices.

Women’s Suffrage and Progressive Reforms

While Wilson’s progressivism is evident in economic and regulatory policies, it is important to note that his commitment to progressive ideals extended to social issues as well. In 1919, Wilson declared his support for the women’s suffrage movement, endorsing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote.

The 19th Amendment marked a significant achievement for the suffrage movement, and Wilson’s support was instrumental in advancing this cause. However, it is essential to recognize that Wilson’s endorsement was not driven solely by a deep commitment to gender equality. He calculated that supporting suffrage would garner political support and contribute to his broader progressive agenda.

Foreign Policy

Woodrow Wilson’s presidency coincided with a period of significant global upheaval, including the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Initially adopting a policy of neutrality, Wilson faced increasing challenges as the war unfolded. The sinking of the British ocean liner Lusitania by a German submarine in 1915, resulting in the loss of American lives, strained U.S.-German relations.

Despite these challenges, Wilson was reelected in 1916 with the campaign slogan “He Kept Us Out of War.” However, his commitment to peace would be tested in the years that followed.

The Fourteen Points and the League of Nations

As the war continued and the United States became more deeply involved, Wilson outlined his vision for a just and lasting peace in his famous “Fourteen Points” speech delivered to Congress in January 1918. These principles included calls for open diplomacy, free trade, arms reduction, and the establishment of a League of Nations—an international organization aimed at preventing future conflicts.

The League of Nations was a central component of Wilson’s vision for a new world order. He believed that collective security and diplomatic cooperation could prevent the recurrence of global conflicts. Despite facing opposition at home and abroad, Wilson played a pivotal role in the establishment of the League, and the Covenant of the League of Nations was included in the Treaty of Versailles in 1919.

The Treaty of Versailles and Senate Opposition

The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, formally ended World War I. However, the treaty faced considerable opposition in the United States Senate. Wilson’s vision for international cooperation clashed with the isolationist sentiments of some senators, notably the Republican majority led by Henry Cabot Lodge.

In a moment that would shape the course of American history, Wilson embarked on a nationwide tour in 1919 to rally public support for the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles. However, the grueling tour took a toll on his health, and he suffered a severe stroke, leaving him incapacitated for weeks.

Despite the personal sacrifice, Wilson’s efforts were in vain. The Senate rejected the treaty in 1920, and the United States did not join the League of Nations. The country returned to a policy of unilateralism and limited involvement in international affairs.

His Works

Woodrow Wilson’s presidency was marked by a series of ambitious development projects and progressive reforms aimed at addressing various issues in the United States. Some notable initiatives during his tenure include:

Federal Reserve Act (1913): Wilson signed the Federal Reserve Act into law, creating the Federal Reserve System. This decentralized banking system aimed to provide financial stability, prevent bank panics, and regulate the money supply.

Underwood-Simmons Act (1913): The Underwood-Simmons Act significantly reduced tariff rates, promoting free trade and addressing economic inequality by making imported goods more affordable for American consumers.

Clayton Antitrust Act (1914): Wilson supported and signed the Clayton Antitrust Act into law, strengthening antitrust measures to curb the power of monopolies and protect consumers and small businesses.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act (1914): The FTC Act established the Federal Trade Commission, an agency tasked with investigating and preventing unfair business practices, promoting competition, and protecting consumers.

Adamson Act (1916): This legislation established an eight-hour workday for railroad workers and additional pay for overtime. It addressed labor issues and improved working conditions for a significant segment of the workforce.

Keating-Owen Act (1916): Although later declared unconstitutional, the Keating-Owen Act was an early attempt to regulate child labor. It prohibited the interstate sale of goods produced by child labor.

La Follette Seamen’s Act (1915): The La Follette Seamen’s Act aimed to improve working conditions for sailors, setting standards for their treatment, safety, and wages.

Smith-Lever Act (1914): The Smith-Lever Act established the Cooperative Extension Service, facilitating the dissemination of agricultural and home economics research to farmers and rural communities.

Adamson Act (1916): This legislation established an eight-hour workday for railroad workers and additional pay for overtime. It addressed labor issues and improved working conditions for a significant segment of the workforce.

Jones Act (1916): The Jones Act granted U.S. citizenship to residents of Puerto Rico and established a civil government on the island.

Last Years

The final years of Woodrow Wilson’s life were marked by personal challenges and declining health. After leaving the presidency in 1921, Wilson faced a world that had drastically changed during his time in office. Despite his profound contributions to domestic and international affairs, he grappled with political setbacks, health issues, and the evolving landscape of post-World War I America.

Retirement and Literary Pursuits: After leaving the White House, Wilson settled in Washington, D.C. His retirement years were not characterized by idleness; instead, Wilson turned to writing and reflection. He penned his memoir, “A Personal Memoir of the Presidency,” in which he provided insights into his experiences and decisions as the leader of the nation during a tumultuous period.

Beyond memoirs, Wilson wrote extensively on topics such as international relations and political philosophy. His work “The New Freedom” delved into the ideas that underpinned his progressive agenda, providing a comprehensive exploration of his political philosophy.

League of Nations and Nobel Peace Prize: While Wilson’s dream of the United States joining the League of Nations faced defeat in the Senate, his efforts were not entirely in vain. In 1920, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in shaping the League and his attempt to promote peace after World War I. The award highlighted the international recognition of Wilson’s aspirations for a more cooperative and peaceful world order.

Health Struggles: Woodrow Wilson’s health took a severe downturn in the years following his presidency. In October 1919, he suffered a debilitating stroke during a cross-country tour to garner public support for the League of Nations. The stroke left him partially paralyzed and incapacitated. Despite the severity of his condition, Wilson’s wife, Edith, managed to shield the extent of his illness from the public and even some members of the government.

During his recovery, Wilson remained largely secluded, and the presidency effectively transitioned to a more collaborative effort involving his wife and close aides. Wilson’s diminished physical abilities, however, did not quell his intellectual curiosity, and he continued to engage in correspondence and literary pursuits.

Death and Legacy

Woodrow Wilson passed away on February 3, 1924, at his home in Washington, D.C. His death marked the end of an era and the closing chapter of a presidency that had shaped the nation during a period of significant change. Despite the controversies and criticisms that surrounded his administration, Wilson’s legacy endured.

The ideals he championed, such as the League of Nations and the New Freedom, left a lasting imprint on the trajectory of American governance. The League of Nations, although the United States did not join, laid the groundwork for subsequent international organizations and cooperation.

However, Wilson’s legacy is complex and subject to interpretation. The racial tensions exacerbated during his presidency, his administration’s support for segregation, and the failure to navigate the political landscape of the Senate regarding the League of Nations have tempered the adulation for his accomplishments.

Final Words

Woodrow Wilson’s presidency marked a critical juncture in American history. His leadership during a period of profound change and global upheaval showcased both his visionary ideals and the challenges of implementing them in a complex political landscape. The domestic reforms of the New Freedom era and the international aspirations embodied in the League of Nations demonstrate the multifaceted nature of Wilson’s legacy.

As with any historical figure, Wilson’s impact is subject to interpretation and debate. His accomplishments and failures invite scrutiny, but they also reflect the complexities of governance in a rapidly evolving world. Whether viewed through the lens of domestic progressivism or international idealism, Woodrow Wilson’s presidency remains a compelling chapter in the ongoing narrative of American history. Please provide your views on this story, it will help us in improving this article. Thanks for reading.

Woodrow Wilson
28th President of the United States
Personal Details
Date of Birth : 28th  December 1856
Died : 3rd  February 1924
Place of Birth : Staunton, Virginia, U.S.
Father : Joseph Ruggles Wilson
Mother : Jessie Janet Woodrow Wilson
Spouse/Partner : Ellen Axson, Edith Bolling
Children : Margaret, Jessie, Eleanor
Alma Mater : Princeton University
Professions : Academic Politician
Career History

Served As:      28th President of the United States
Time Period:  March 4, 1913- March 4, 1921
Predecessor:  William Howard Taft
Successor:      Warren G. Harding

Served As:       34th Governor of New Jersey
Time Period:   January 17, 1911- March 1, 1913
Predecessor:  John Franklin Fort
Successor:     James Fairman Fielder

Served As:       13th President of Princeton University
Time Period:   October 25, 1902- October 21, 1910
Predecessor:  Francis Landey Patton
Successor:     John Grier Hibben

Quotes by Woodrow Wilson

“The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.”

“The world must be made safe for democracy.”

“The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.”

“Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it. The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”

“Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.”

“We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter’s evening.”

“I would rather belong to a poor nation that was free than to a rich nation that had ceased to be in love with liberty.”

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.”

“There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.”

“The seed of revolution is repression.”

Controversies related to Thomas Woodrow Wilson

Segregation in Federal Government: Wilson’s administration implemented policies that reinforced racial segregation within the federal government. This decision affected various government offices, leading to the segregation of facilities and the dismissal of African American federal employees from certain positions.

Handling of Mexican Revolution: Wilson’s response to the Mexican Revolution drew criticism. His decision to intervene militarily in Mexico, particularly the occupation of Veracruz in 1914, was controversial. It strained U.S.-Mexican relations and faced opposition both domestically and internationally.

Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918: Wilson supported and signed into law the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, which aimed to suppress dissent during World War I. Critics argue that these acts violated free speech rights, leading to the prosecution of individuals for expressing anti-war sentiments.

Suppression of Civil Liberties: Wilson’s administration faced criticism for suppressing civil liberties during the First Red Scare (1919-1920). The government, under Wilson, targeted suspected radicals, leading to arrests, deportations, and violations of due process rights.

League of Nations and Treaty of Versailles: Wilson’s push for the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles faced significant opposition in the U.S. Senate. The failure to secure Senate approval marked a controversial chapter in his presidency, with critics arguing that Wilson’s idealism clashed with political realities.

Response to Women’s Suffrage Movement: While Wilson eventually endorsed the women’s suffrage movement, his initial reluctance and the timing of his support raised questions. Some critics argue that his endorsement was a calculated political move rather than a principled stand for gender equality.

Armenian Genocide: Wilson’s response to the Armenian Genocide during World War I remains a topic of historical debate. Critics argue that his administration did not take sufficient action to address or condemn the atrocities committed against the Armenian population by the Ottoman Empire.

Economic Policies and Criticism from Progressives: Despite his progressive agenda, Wilson faced criticism from some progressive factions. Some progressives believed that his policies favored big business interests, especially with the creation of the Federal Reserve System, which they saw as reinforcing the power of private banks.

Academic References on Woodrow Wilson

“Woodrow Wilson” by Arthur S. Link: This three-volume biography is considered the definitive work on Woodrow Wilson. Arthur S. Link, a prominent historian, provides a comprehensive and detailed examination of Wilson’s life, covering his academic career, governorship, presidency, and post-presidential years.

“Woodrow Wilson: A Biography” by John Milton Cooper Jr.: John Milton Cooper Jr. offers a well-researched and balanced biography that explores Wilson’s personal life, political career, and the challenges he faced as President. The book delves into Wilson’s progressive ideals and his complex legacy.

“Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism” by Ronald J. Pestritto: Focusing on Wilson’s political philosophy, Pestritto’s book analyzes the intellectual underpinnings of Wilson’s progressivism. It explores how Wilson’s ideas influenced the trajectory of American liberalism in the 20th century.

“Woodrow Wilson: A Biography” by H. W. Brands: H. W. Brands provides a concise and accessible biography of Wilson, examining his life, presidency, and the challenges he faced on the domestic and international fronts. Brands explores Wilson’s impact on American politics and global affairs.

“Woodrow Wilson and the World of Today” by Howard A. Mumford: Published in the early 1950s, this book by Howard A. Mumford offers a retrospective analysis of Wilson’s foreign policy and the League of Nations. It provides insights into the international context of Wilson’s presidency.

“Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America’s Response to War and Revolution” by N. Gordon Levin Jr.: Levin’s work explores Wilson’s approach to international relations during World War I and the subsequent peace negotiations. It sheds light on Wilson’s vision for a new world order and the challenges he faced in implementing his ideals.

“Woodrow Wilson: Revolution, War, and Peace” edited by Arthur S. Link: This collection of essays, edited by Arthur S. Link, brings together different perspectives on various aspects of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency. Each chapter, written by different scholars, provides nuanced insights into Wilson’s policies and their implications.

“Woodrow Wilson and the Lost World of the Oratorical Statesman” by Robert Kraig Whitnell: This book explores Wilson’s oratory skills and how his speeches played a crucial role in shaping public opinion and garnering support for his policies. It provides an analysis of the rhetoric employed by Wilson during key moments of his presidency.

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