Since I did a post on Teddy Roosevelt’s successor and friend William Howard Taft last year, I decided to skip to Taft’s successor President Wilson.
Woodrow Wilson, whose real first name was Thomas, had an impressive rise in politics. He had only been governor of New Jersey for two years when he was approached by Democrats to run for president.
In another time period voters might have thought that the former president of Princeton University was a snob. Wilson always thought he was right. When a friend told him that there were two sides to every issue, he replied, “Yes, a right side and a wrong side.” His stubbornness would lead to trouble during his second term.
In the election of 1912, however, voters thought his commitment to high ideals refreshing. It also helped that Republican support was split between Taft and third party candidate Theodore Roosevelt.
Wilson hoped to focus on domestic issues while president. His New Freedom programs included restraints on banks and big business as well as child labor laws. Yet in other ways he resisted change. Born a Southerner, Wilson gave cabinet positions to Southerners. He violated the rights of black workers by allowing several racist members of his cabinet to segregate their offices. Wilson was also slow to support women’s suffrage, though he eventually did so.
When World War I began in Europe, Wilson wanted to maintain peace. He was re-elected as the man who kept the country out of war. In 1917 Wilson finally decided that America needed to join its allies to “make the world safe for democracy.”
After the war ended, Wilson worked hard to ensure that the First World War would also be the last. He proposed a League of Nations in which countries would pledge to protect each other in the future. He travelled to Europe for the peace talks, making him the first president to visit that continent while in office. Wilson was not happy with the peace treaty and he still needed more support for the League.
Returning to the U.S., Wilson embarked on a speaking tour to promote the League of Nations. While on his trip Wilson suffered a stroke. Wilson became an invalid for the last year of his presidency, though he communicated with lawmakers by writing letters. Unfortunately, the Senate was still debating the League of Nations. His stroke made the stubborn president even less willing to compromise, and he refused to make any concessions on his beloved League. Though the Senate rejected the League of Nations, Wilson’s ideals live on in the United Nations.