Biography for Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson had already been brilliantly successful, as a distinguished professor of political science and the innovative president of Princeton University, before he began his remarkable political career as governor of New Jersey and president of the United States. Born on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia, Wilson grew up in Augusta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina. In 1873, he entered Davidson College, but he was forced to drop out due to illness. Two years later, he entered Princeton University and graduated in 1879. He briefly attended the University of Virginia Law School, but once again illness intervened. He completed his law studies at home and was admitted to the Georgia bar in 1882. Dissatisfied and unsuccessful as an attorney, in 1883, Wilson decided to become a college professor like his father and enrolled in a doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University. He received his Ph.D. in political science in 1886 and after the publication of his thesis, Congressional Government, in 1887, achieved scholarly recognition. Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr College from 1885 to 1888 and Wesleyan University from 1888 to 1890. While at Wesleyan, he wrote The State. In 1890, Wilson accepted a teaching position at Princeton University. During his 12 years as a professor at Princeton, Wilson published nine scholarly books, including his largest work, History of the American People, and several dozen journal articles. The remarkable reputation he had acquired in academia was rewarded in 1902 when he was named president of the university. As president from 1902 to 1910, Wilson succeeded in reorganizing Princeton's course of studies and departmental structure and introduced the preceptoral system of education. He failed to achieve his goal of eliminating Princeton's anti-intellectual, class-based eating clubs in 1908. He also lost a much more important and bitterly fought campaign to control the location and management of the newly created Graduate College. These defeats played an important role in providing him with sufficient incentive to plunge into the race for governor of New Jersey in 1910. Col. George Harvey, editor of Harper's Weekly, had first proposed the idea of Wilson's running for governor—and eventually for president—to Wilson in 1906. With Harvey's guidance, Wilson had shortly thereafter begun to use speaking engagements to identify himself carefully with the need for progressive political reforms, lower tariffs, and control of the trusts. When Wilson was offered the Democratic nomination for governor in 1910, the party bosses assumed they were selecting a figurehead. Wilson surprised them by becoming an exceptionally vigorous and independent administrator. Before the Democratic convention in 1912, Wilson had managed to push through the New Jersey legislature a comprehensive Progressive agenda instituting direct primaries and election reform, new state regulations of public utilities, workmen's compensation, municipal reform, and reorganization of the school system. Although Wilson campaigned across the nation and entered several primaries, by the time the Democratic convention met in 1912, his chances of securing the nomination seemed bleak against Speaker of the House Champ Clark. Then the convention deadlocked, and on the 46th ballot, Wilson was chosen. Two weeks later, at the Republican convention, former president Theodore Roosevelt refused to accept defeat in his bid to win another term in the White House when President William Howard Taft was renominated. Roosevelt instead decided to seek the presidency as the candidate of the Progressive Party. During the national campaign, Wilson promised prosperity and reform based on a "New Freedom" that consisted of reducing tariffs, breaking up the trusts, and creating a sound national banking and credit system. The split of the Republican vote enabled Wilson to win with 6,296,547 votes to Roosevelt's 4,118,571 and Taft's 3,486,720. Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs won almost a million votes. Shortly after assuming office, Wilson called Congress into special session to emphasize the importance of obtaining new tariff legislation. Six months later, after a difficult battle in the Senate, Wilson finally obtained his goal. The Underwood Act increased the number of duty-free products, reduced tariff rates from 40% to 26%, and, as a rider to the bill made possible by the passage of the Sixteenth Amendment, imposed the first income tax. While the effort to secure passage of the tariff was raging, Wilson was also working to secure the passage of legislation to reform the banking system. In an address to a joint session of Congress in June 1913, he said, "It is absolutely imperative that we should give the businessmen of this country a banking and currency system. . . . We must not leave them without the [necessary] tools of action. . . ." On December 23, 1913, after another hard-fought campaign in the Senate had been won, Wilson was able to sign the Federal Reserve Act (1913) into law. The act created a national banking system composed of 12 regional banks, coordinated and regulated by a Federal Reserve Board appointed by the president. The system was also authorized to issue a new national currency, Federal Reserve notes. Wilson obtained the last piece of his three-pronged New Freedom program in 1914 when he signed a bill establishing the Federal Trade Commission. The body was designed to prevent unfair business competition. The remarkable success of the first Wilson administration on the domestic front was not matched in the foreign policy arena. Frustrated efforts to control events in the Mexican Revolution led first to the brief occupation of Veracruz in 1914 and then, during 1916-1917, to the futile expedition of U.S. forces under Gen. John J. Pershing into Mexico to catch the revolutionary leader Pancho Villa. Equally unsuccessful efforts to control events in Haiti and the Dominican Republic led to their occupation by the U.S. Marines in 1915 and 1916. After the outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914, Wilson gradually became preoccupied with foreign policy issues. Initially, the position of the administration was to adopt a policy of strict neutrality. This became increasingly difficult in the face of German submarine attacks on merchant shipping. When the British passenger ship Lusitania was torpedoed in May 1915 and more than 100 Americans died, Wilson warned Germany that such acts would provoke U.S. retaliation. After U.S. public opinion was again aroused when a second passenger liner, the Arabic, was sunk in August, the German government did finally promise Wilson that it would no longer authorize attacks on passenger ships. When Wilson protested the torpedoing of a merchant ship, the Sussex, in March 1916, the German government's promise was expanded to a pledge to obey international law in regard to attacks on merchant vessels on the high seas. Renominated in 1916, Wilson won reelection by a narrow margin with the campaign slogan "He Kept Us Out of War." Yet Wilson's hopes of mediating an end to the war were dashed early in 1917 when Germany issued a proclamation declaring its intent to pursue a policy of unrestricted submarine attacks. After the loss of more American lives with the sinking of several merchant ships, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war on April 2, 1917. "The world," he said, "must be made safe for democracy." Perhaps Wilson's most successful accomplishments during the war consisted of the appointment of Pershing to lead the American Expeditionary Force in Europe and insisting that U.S. troops fight as units independent of British and French control. Other accomplishments included obtaining passage of a new military draft law from a reluctant Congress, empowering Bernard Baruch to oversee economic mobilization as head of the War Industries Board, and taking control of the railroads. When Germany was forced to capitulate in 1918, it was Wilson who negotiated the surrender terms and then obtained Allied approval based on his famous Fourteen Points. Eight pertained to territorial adjustments; others called for open treaty negotiations, freedom of the seas, removal of economic barriers and equality of trade, reduction of armaments, and impartial adjustment of colonial claims. The most important points to Wilson were his call for the creation of the League of Nations and the concept of self-determination. In the fight to make the league a reality, Wilson would sacrifice his health and many of his other points. Determined to be remembered as the man who established the framework for permanent peace, Wilson decided to lead the U.S. delegation to the peace conference in Paris in 1919. His tumultuous greeting in Europe and description as the "apostle of peace" confirmed Wilson's resolve to see to it that the league was an integral component of any proposed peace treaty. Considering the desire for revenge of the war-weary Allies, the intricate maze of complex political and economic issues, and the hidden agendas of the other principal negotiators representing Great Britain, France, and Italy, Wilson accomplished a great deal in Paris. Although Germany was forced to relinquish its colonies, virtually eliminate its armed forces, and accept a huge war reparations burden, Wilson prevented its dismemberment. He also played an important role in the creation of a new Poland and most important of all, achieved his most cherished goal: the creation of the League of Nations. Wilson mistakenly assumed that once he won European endorsement for the treaty and support for the establishment of the league, the U.S. Senate would approve his actions. Even after he toured the nation in a dramatic appeal for popular support that so exhausted him he suffered a debilitating stroke, he could not secure the treaty's ratification in the Senate. Opposition was based on the isolationist fear that participating in the League of Nations would compromise U.S. sovereignty in conducting foreign affairs and embroil the United States in future European conflicts. Unable to lead the debate for public support due to the paralysis caused by his stroke in October 1919, Wilson nevertheless refused to compromise. He refused to discuss any plans to secure Senate votes by changing the language of the treaty to eliminate the commitment of the United States to collective security and participation in the league. The result was a stalemate that lasted until Wilson's view was repudiated with the Republican landslide victory in the 1920 elections. Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to establish the league. He retired from the White House a sick and crippled man in 1921 and lived the life of a recluse in Washington until his death several years later on February 3, 1924. Wilson left a remarkable political legacy. More than any other president of this century, Wilson defined the meaning of modern liberalism and made the Democratic Party its advocate. Labeled Progressivism at the time, this ideology called upon the government to take an active role in economic affairs, to control and regulate the economically powerful (banks, railroads, corporations—the "Interests"), and to protect the economically disadvantaged (the "People"). The Federal Reserve System, the Federal Trade Commission, the income tax amendment, support for laws supporting unions, workmen's compensation, and limitations on child labor were the results of his actions.