Professor Dave here, let’s talk about Woodrow Wilson. Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President
of the United States, held progressive views, though as a Southerner, he also held some
regressive racial views. He resolutely attempted to keep the United
States out of World War I, but when Germany repeatedly broke its promises not to sink
American vessels, public outrage forced him into declaring war. For his sponsorship of the League of Nations,
Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize, the second of three American presidents so
honored while in office. Born in Virginia, he spent his early years
in Georgia and South Carolina. Wilson earned a PhD in political science at
Johns Hopkins University, and was a professor at various institutions before becoming President
of Princeton University. In 1910, he was the New Jersey Democratic
Party’s gubernatorial candidate and was elected the 34th Governor of New Jersey. In the 1912 presidential election, Wilson
benefited from a split in the Republican Party and won the presidency, gaining a large majority
in the Electoral College and a 42 percent plurality of the popular vote in a four-candidate field. He was the first Southerner elected president
since Zachary Taylor and was a leading force in the Progressive Movement, bolstered by
his Democratic Party’s winning control of both the White House and Congress in 1912. Wilson reintroduced the spoken State of the
Union, which hadn’t been used since 1801. In May 1913, the Underwood Tariff passed in
the House, in the Senate in September, and was signed by Wilson three weeks later. The revenue lost by the lower tariff was replaced
by a new federal income tax, authorized by the 16th amendment. With the passage of the Adamson Act, mandating
an 8-hour workday for railroads, Wilson averted a national railroad strike and economic crisis. In implementing economic policy, Wilson had
to reconcile the sharply opposing views of the agrarian Southern Democrats led by William
Jennings Bryan, a populist Congressman, and the pro-business Northern Democrats, led by
urban political bosses. As he took up the first item of his so-called
“New Freedom” agenda, lowering tariffs, he cleverly unified the disparate elements
of his party. This agenda also beefed up antitrust regulation
and reformed the banking system. Wilson declared the banking system must be
“public not private, must be vested in the government itself so that the banks must be
the instruments, not the masters, of business.” He sought middle ground between conservative
Republicans, led by Senator Nelson W. Aldrich, and the powerful left wing of the Democratic
party, led by Bryan, who denounced private banks and Wall Street. Bryan wanted a government-owned central bank
that could print paper money as required by Congress. A compromise was found and sponsored by Democratic
Congressmen Carter Glass and Robert Owen, allowing private banks to control the 12 regional
Federal Reserve Banks. The catch was that a central board was to
control interest in the system, and would be appointed by the president with Senate approval. Having 12 regional banks, with designated
geographic districts, was meant to weaken the influence of the powerful New York banks,
a demand of Bryan’s allies in the South and West, and was a key factor in winning
Glass’ support. The Federal Reserve Act passed in December
1913, and Wilson named prominent bankers to direct the new system. While power was supposed to be decentralized,
the New York branch dominated the Fed as the “first among equals”. The new system began operations in 1915 and
played a major role in financing the Allied and American forces during the First World War. Wilson began pushing for legislation that
culminated in the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. In doing so, Wilson broke with his predecessors’
practice of litigating the antitrust issue in the courts, known as trust-busting; the
new Federal Trade Commission provided a new regulatory approach, to encourage competition
and reduce perceived unfair trade practices. In addition, he pushed through Congress the
Clayton Antitrust Act making certain business practices illegal. After the assassination of Mexican President
Francisco Madero in 1913, Wilson rejected the legitimacy of his successor, General Victoriano
Huerta, denouncing his “government of butchers” and demanded that Mexico hold democratic elections. Wilson’s unprecedented approach meant no
recognition and doomed Huerta’s prospects. This imperialistic approach to the spread
of democracy and capitalism came to be known as Wilsonian idealism, and this was the basis
for American intervention in Latin America until 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt ended
moralistic approaches to the region. After Huerta arrested U.S. Navy personnel
in the port of Tampico, Wilson sent the US Navy to occupy Vera Cruz. War between the United States and Mexico was
averted through negotiations, and in 1916 Wilson’s reelection campaign boasted he
had “kept us out of war.” Huerta fled Mexico and Venustiano Carranza
came to power, though his lieutenant, Pancho Villa, presented a more serious threat in
1916 when he raided Columbus, New Mexico, and killed eighteen Americans. A national outcry followed, demanding his capture. Wilson ordered General John Pershing and four
thousand troops across the border to capture Villa. By April, Pershing’s forces had broken up
and dispersed Villa’s bands, though Villa himself remained on the loose, and Pershing
continued his pursuit deep into Mexico. Carranza then accused the U.S. of invasion,
and further incidents led to the brink of war by late June when Wilson demanded an immediate
release of American soldiers held prisoner. They were released, tensions subsided, and
bilateral negotiations began. Though the chase after Villa was a small military
affair, it had important long-term implications by escalating anti-American sentiment in Mexico. On the American side, it made Pershing a national
figure and led to Wilson choosing him to command the American forces in World War I. Wilson was the only Democrat besides Grover
Cleveland to be elected president since 1856, and the first Southerner since 1848. He recognized his Party’s need for high-level
federal support, and Wilson worked closely with Southern Democrats. In Wilson’s first month in office, Postmaster
General Albert S. Burleson brought up the issue of segregating workplaces in a cabinet
meeting and asked Wilson to establish this in government restrooms, cafeterias and workspaces. Treasury Secretary William G. McAdoo also
permitted lower-level officials to racially segregate employees in the workplaces of those
departments. By the end of 1913 many departments, including
the Navy, had workspaces segregated by screens, while restrooms and cafeterias were also segregated,
although no executive order had been issued. Though Wilson was viewed as a Progressive
on most issues, in racial matters there is no question that, even by the standards of
his day, the academic Virginian was a stone-cold racist. He was committed to turning back the limited
gains African-Americans had made after Reconstruction. Wilson contributed to the biased reimagining
of the Reconstruction years as a period when the corrupt North helped savage blacks rule
over white Southerners until they were overthrown at the end of the century. He purged African-Americans from federal positions
around the country, and instituted widespread re-segregation. With this action, he destroyed the one major
source of decent, well-paying jobs for blacks, and their exclusion from Federal jobs caused
enormous financial difficulty for the African-American community nationwide. Wilson defended his administration’s segregation
policy, suggesting segregation removed “friction” between the races, but the change in federal
practices was protested widely. The effective segregation of the Federal government
continued in place for two decades before the tide began to shift in the 1930s under FDR. First lady Ellen Wilson’s failing health,
due to kidney failure, worsened in the spring of 1914. After a fall, she was bedridden, then rallied
briefly, but Wilson wrote “my dear one grows weaker and weaker, with a pathetic patience
and sweetness.” He was at her bedside when she died in August
of 1914. Wilson endured six months of depression, while
at the same time, World War I broke out in Europe, and would irrevocably change his presidency. From 1914 until early 1917, Wilson’s primary
objective was to keep America out of the war in Europe, and his policy was “the true
spirit of neutrality, which is the spirit of impartiality and fairness and friendliness
to all concerned.” Wilson made numerous offers to mediate and
sent envoys with peace overtures but the Allies and the Central Powers dismissed these offerings. Republicans, led by Teddy Roosevelt, criticized
Wilson’s refusal to build up the U.S. Army in anticipation of war, but Wilson retained
the support of many who had no desire to be drawn into the European slaughter. In March 1915, Wilson met Edith Bolling Galt,
a southern widow, and he fell in love. In May, Wilson proposed, they became engaged
in the fall of 1915, and married in December. Wilson’s new marriage rejuvenated his personal
aspirations for re-election, and Edith Wilson became a close collaborator with her husband. Executive decisions just prior to the 1916
campaign also enabled Wilson to bolster his political mastery. At the same time, Wilson appointed Louis Brandeis
to the Supreme Court, its first Jewish justice. Wilson faced former New York Governor Charles
Evans Hughes in the presidential election of 1916. By a narrow margin, he became the first Democrat
since Andrew Jackson elected to two consecutive terms, winning on the phrase, “He kept us
out of war.” But his second term was dominated by American
entry into World War I. As hard as he tried to stay out, Wilson was
drawn into the war by events beyond his control. In early 1915, Germany declared the waters
around Great Britain to be a war zone. Wilson protested, demanding strict accountability
for the safety of neutral ships. When the commercial British steamship Falaba
was sunk in March 1915 by a German submarine with the loss of 111 lives, including an American,
Wilson chose to avoid risking escalated involvement in the war over one life. In the spring of 1915, a German submarine
torpedoed an American tanker, and Wilson, based on reasonable evidence, accepted that
the incident was accidental. But when a German submarine torpedoed and
sank the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania in May 1915, over a thousand died, including
many Americans. Though Wilson sent a subdued note to the Germans
in protest, the evasive German reply aroused enormous indignation in the United States. Then a White Star liner was torpedoed with
two American casualties. The U.S. threatened a diplomatic break unless
Germany repudiated its action. The German ambassador replied that the “liners
will not be sunk by our submarines.” But in March of 1916, an unarmed French ferry
was torpedoed in the English Channel and four Americans were killed, despite the German
promises. The president demanded the Germans reject
their unlimited submarine warfare and Wilson was hailed when Germany pledged to limit their
U-boat warfare to the rules of cruiser warfare. This final concession now had to be honored
by Germany or suffer a war with the United States. Wilson never wavered from his belief that
the war was the result of corrupt European power politics. He made his final offer to mediate peace on
December 18th, 1916. The Central Powers replied that since victory
was certain, and the Allies demanded dismemberment of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Turkish
Empires, no desire for peace existed, and the offer lapsed. Early in 1917, the German ambassador, with
tears in his eyes, informed the American Secretary of State of his nation’s renewed policy
of unrestricted submarine warfare. But Wilson’s reaction was simply to sever
diplomatic relations; he still hoped to avoid involvement in the war, saying, “We are
the sincere friends of the German people and earnestly desire to remain at peace with them. We shall not believe they are hostile to us
unless or until we are obliged to believe it.” But the Germans continued to sink American
ships and Teddy Roosevelt privately fumed, telling associates, “If he does not go to
war, I shall skin him alive!” Finally, Wilson realized the clamor for war
had reached a fever pitch and when he called a cabinet meeting in March, the vote was unanimous
in favor of going to war. In March 1917, the American public learned
about the Zimmermann Telegram, a German communication with Mexico inviting them to join the war
as an ally. Germany promised that if they won the war,
they would support Mexican efforts at reclaiming Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The American public was furious, and Wilson
addressed a special session of Congress on April 2nd, 1917. Declaring that Germany’s actions had rendered
his neutrality policy untenable, he asked Congress for a declaration of war, to make
“the world safe for democracy.” The declaration was granted, and America was at war. Though the U.S. conducted military operations
with the Allies, it was without a formal alliance. Military strategy was left to General John
J. Pershing while Wilson secured billions of dollars in loans for Britain and France. By the summer of 1918, ten thousand freshly
trained American troops would arrive in France every day. On the home front, Wilson raised income taxes
and borrowed billions of dollars through public purchase of Liberty Bonds. Earlier, Wilson had asked Congress for what
became the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, suppressing anti-draft activists. The crackdown was intensified by Attorney
General A. Mitchell Palmer to include expulsion of non-citizen radicals during the First Red
Scare of 1919-1920. The German government, Wilson said, “means
to stir up enemies against us at our very doors.” He then also warned “if there should be
disloyalty, it will be dealt with a firm hand of repression.” March 1917 also brought the first of two revolutions
in Russia, which affected the importance of the U.S. involvement in the war. The Bolshevik Revolution in November meant
the new Communist government would pull out of the war, allowing the Germans to allocate
more troops to the Western front, making American soldiers crucial to Allied victory in 1918. By August 1918, a million American troops
had reached France. The Germans launched an offensive on the Western
front and the Allies initiated a counter offensive at Somme. As a result, the Germans had lost the military
initiative, and in October, the new German Chancellor requested a general armistice. In a speech to Congress on January 8th, 1918,
Wilson had articulated America’s long-term post-war objectives, known as the Fourteen Points. The first six points dealt with diplomacy,
freedom of the seas, and settlement of colonial claims. Then there were territorial issues, and the
final point, the establishment of an association of nations to guarantee the independence and
territorial integrity of all nations, a League of Nations. The speech was translated into many languages
for global dissemination. Wilson spent six months in Paris for the Peace
Conference that negotiated the postwar world, thereby becoming the first U.S. president
to travel to Europe while in office. During the first four weeks of the Conference,
Wilson took a commanding role, establishing priorities, securing accommodation on major
issues, and won preliminary acceptance of the League of Nations. The United States, long an isolationist nation,
had emerged as the premiere global power. He promoted his plan in France, and then at
home in February. Wilson became more forceful as he praised
the League in speeches, and the enduring image of him as a grim, unsmiling, and unforgiving
figure dates from this time. While the general public along with editorial
writers, churches, and peace groups generally favored the League, the Republicans vowed
to defeat the League and discredit Wilson, who had failed to address the one audience
that mattered – Congress. Many feel this was his crucial mistake, one
that cost Wilson the support he needed for his idealistic vision. After his visit home, and while en route back
to France, Wilson suffered an illness; the ensuing months brought a decline in health
as well as power and prestige. On his return it was immediately clear the
conference had struggled in his absence, and Wilson attempted to regain the lost ground. Wilson accepted three proposed amendments
that he thought would considerably increase its acceptability to the Europeans – the right
of withdrawal from the League, exemption of domestic issues from the League, and the inviolability
of the Monroe Doctrine. Wilson very reluctantly accepted these amendments,
which was why he was later more inflexible during the Senate negotiations, feeling he
had already given away too much. On April 3rd, 1919, Wilson fell violently
ill with the flu during a conference meeting, but he recovered, narrowly thwarting an influenza
pandemic that killed an estimated 50 million worldwide. Though his symptoms receded within a couple
of days, those around him noticed a lasting deterioration. The charter of the proposed League of Nations
was incorporated into the conference’s Treaty of Versailles. After the conference concluded, Wilson grandiosely
proclaimed, “At last the world knows America as the savior of the world!” For his peace-making efforts, Wilson was awarded
the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. But not everyone saw Wilson as the great hero. Economist John Maynard Keynes claimed that
Wilson was not well-regarded at the Conference, and said “he was in many respects, perhaps
inevitably, ill-informed as to European conditions. And not only was he ill-informed, but his
mind was slow and unadaptable. There can seldom have been a statesman of
the first rank more incompetent than the President in the agilities of the council chamber.” Keynes’ views became the prevailing judgment
of the conference for decades. Returning home, Wilson discovered that opposition
to the Treaty had hardened. Despite his poor health, Wilson decided to
barnstorm the Western states, to rally support. In a reversal of his earlier position, Wilson
repeatedly stressed Germany’s guilt for the war, saying the treaty “seeks to punish
one of the greatest wrongs ever done in history, the wrong which Germany sought to do to the
world and to civilization. She attempted an intolerable thing, and she
must be made to pay.” Wilson had to cut his trip short in September
1919 after collapsing from exhaustion in Pueblo, Colorado. He then became an invalid in the White House
after suffering a near-fatal stroke on October 2nd. He was closely monitored by his wife Edith,
who insulated him from negative news and downplayed for him and others the gravity of his condition. The opposition to the treaty in the Senate
centered on whether the League would diminish the sovereignty of Congress to declare war. The two-thirds majority needed to ratify the
Treaty proved unattainable and the Treaty was defeated, a bitter blow to Wilson’s
dream of a world forum for peace. Though Wilson’s wife delegated most matters
to his cabinet, he temporarily resumed attendance at cabinet meetings. By February 1920, the president’s true condition
was publicly known. Many expressed qualms about Wilson’s fitness
for the presidency at a time when the League fight was reaching a climax, and domestic
issues such as strikes, unemployment, inflation, and the threat of Communism were ablaze. No one close to him, including his wife, his
physician, or personal assistant, was willing to take responsibility to certify, as required
by the Constitution, his “inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office”. Because of this and other questions regarding
a president’s incapacitation while in office, Congress would eventually adopt the 25th Amendment,
ratified in 1967, to clarify and firmly establish the line of succession to the presidency. One of the other major products of Wilson’s
presidency was prohibition. This was the ban on alcohol that been growing
in popularity during the war, and Wilson played a role in its passage. A combination of the temperance movement,
hatred of everything German including beer, as well as activism by churches and women,
led to ratification of an amendment to achieve Prohibition in the United States. A Constitutional amendment passed both houses
in December 1917. By January 16th, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment
had been ratified by 36 of the 48 states it needed, and on October 28th of that year,
Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act. Wilson felt Prohibition was unenforceable,
but Congress overrode his veto. Prohibition began on January 16th, 1920; the
manufacture, importation, sale, and transport of alcohol were prohibited, though the actual
consumption of alcohol was not. Individuals could maintain a private stock
that existed before Prohibition went into effect. Wilson moved his private supply to the wine
cellar of his Washington residence after his term of office ended. Following years of advocacy for suffrage on
the state level, in 1918 Wilson endorsed the Nineteenth Amendment, whose ratification in
1920 provided an equal right to vote for women across the United States, over Southern opposition. Wilson was a devoted Presbyterian and he infused
his views of morality into his domestic and international policies. His ideology of internationalism is now referred
to as “Wilsonian”, an activist foreign policy calling on the nation to promote global democracy. His influence can be seen in the disparate
policies of future presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and even George W. Bush. His Progressive legislation amplified what
Teddy Roosevelt had begun and foretold similar policies that would later be developed by
Franklin Roosevelt. His desire to stay out of the European War
as long as possible was admirable, even though his desire for punitive retaliation against
Germany was a decisive factor in the rise of the Nazi Party and the Third Reich. Though his abominable Civil Rights record
will forever stain his legacy, it is also his great failure, the League of Nations,
which arose from the ashes of World War II as the United Nations. Through the UN, Wilson’s dream of a forum
of world peace would be realized at last.