Woodrow Wilson


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Early life, education, and governorship

Before he was two, the family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Wilson's earliest memory was of playing in his yard and standing near the front gate of the Augusta parsonage at the age of three, when he heard a passerby announce in disgust that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming. He became minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, and the family lived there until Ruiz writes that Wilson's "admiration for the parliamentary style of government, and the desire to adapt some of its features to the American system, remained an enduring element of Woodrow Wilson's political thought.

After less than a year, he abandoned his legal practice to pursue the study of political science and history. After graduation, she pursued portrait art and received a medal for one of her works from the Paris International Exposition. She happily agreed to sacrifice further independent artistic pursuits in order to keep her marriage commitment, and in she and Wilson married.

Their first child, Margaret , was born in April , and their second child, Jessie , was born in August In late , Wilson entered Johns Hopkins University , a new graduate institution in Baltimore modeled after German universities. Ely , and J. Franklin Jameson. In early , Houghton Mifflin published Congressional Government , which received a strong reception; one critic called it "the best critical writing on the American constitution which has appeared since the Federalist Papers.

He sought to inspire "genuine living interest in the subjects of study" and asked students to "look into ancient times as if they were our own times. During his academic career, Wilson authored several works of history and political science and became a regular contributor to Political Science Quarterly , an academic journal. These petty barons, some of them not a little powerful, but none of them within reach [of] the full powers of rule, may at will exercise an almost despotic sway within their own shires, and may sometimes threaten to convulse even the realm itself.

Wilson's second publication was a textbook, entitled The State , that was used widely in college courses throughout the country until the s. Saunders, seemed to indicate that Wilson "was laying the groundwork for the modern welfare state. His third book, entitled Division and Reunion , was published in In June , Princeton trustees promoted Professor Wilson to president, replacing Patton, whom the trustees perceived to be an inefficient administrator.

To emphasize the development of expertise, Wilson instituted academic departments and a system of core requirements. Students were to meet in groups of six under the guidance of teaching assistants known as preceptors.

Wilson's efforts to reform Princeton earned him national notoriety, but they also took a toll on his health. Modern medical opinion surmises Wilson had suffered a stroke—he later was diagnosed, as his father had been, with hardening of the arteries. He began to exhibit his father's traits of impatience and intolerance, which would on occasion lead to errors of judgment.

Their visits together became a regular occurrence on his return. Wilson in his letters home to Ellen openly related these gatherings as well his other social events. According to biographer August Heckscher , Wilson's friendship with Peck became the topic of frank discussion between Wilson and his wife. Wilson historians have not conclusively established there was an affair; but Wilson did on one occasion write a musing in shorthand—on the reverse side of a draft for an editorial: "my precious one, my beloved Mary. Having reorganized the school's curriculum and established the preceptorial system, Wilson next attempted to curtail the influence of social elites at Princeton by abolishing the upper-class eating clubs.

Wilson wanted to integrate a proposed graduate school building into the campus core, while West preferred a more distant campus site. In , Princeton's board accepted a gift made to the graduate school campaign subject to the graduate school being located off campus. Wilson became disenchanted with his job due to the resistance to his recommendations, and he began considering a run for office. Prior to the Democratic National Convention , Wilson dropped hints to some influential players in the Democratic Party of his interest in the ticket.

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While he had no real expectations of being placed on the ticket, he left instructions that he should not be offered the vice presidential nomination. Party regulars considered his ideas politically as well as geographically detached and fanciful, but the seeds had been sown. Party leaders believed that Wilson's academic reputation made him the ideal spokesman against trusts and corruption, but they also hoped his inexperience in governing would make him easy to influence.

At the state party convention, the bosses marshaled their forces and won the nomination for Wilson. He submitted his letter of resignation to Princeton on October He quickly shed his professorial style for more emboldened speechmaking and presented himself as a full-fledged progressive. Lewis by a margin of more than , votes. Wilson began formulating his reformist agenda, intending to ignore the demands of his party machinery.

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Smith asked Wilson to endorse his bid for the U. Senate, but Wilson refused and instead endorsed Smith's opponent James Edgar Martine , who had won the Democratic primary.


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Martine's victory in the Senate election helped Wilson position himself as an independent force in the New Jersey Democratic Party. A corrupt practices law and a workmen's compensation statute that Wilson supported won passage shortly thereafter. Wilson's legislative assault against party leaders split the state party and earned the enmity of Smith and others. Wilson became a prominent presidential contender immediately upon his election as Governor of New Jersey in , and his clashes with state party bosses enhanced his reputation with the rising Progressive movement.

House in to manage the campaign. Speaker of the House Champ Clark of Missouri was viewed by many as the front-runner for the nomination, while House Majority Leader Oscar Underwood of Alabama also loomed as a challenger. Clark found support among the Bryan wing of the party, while Underwood appealed to the conservative Bourbon Democrats , especially in the South. Marshall of Indiana, and several Southern delegations shifted their support from Underwood to Wilson. Wilson finally won two-thirds of the vote on the convention's 46th ballot, and Marshall became Wilson's running mate.

Wilson faced two major opponents in the general election: one-term Republican incumbent William Howard Taft , and former Republican President Theodore Roosevelt , who ran a third party campaign as the "Bull Moose" Party nominee. A fourth candidate was Eugene V. Debs of the Socialist Party. Roosevelt had broken with his former party at the Republican National Convention after Taft narrowly won re-nomination, and the split in the Republican Party made Democrats hopeful that they could win the presidency for the first time since the presidential election.

Roosevelt emerged as Wilson's main challenger, and Wilson and Roosevelt largely campaigned against each other despite sharing similarly progressive platforms that called for an interventionist central government.

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Brandeis , he developed his New Freedom platform, focusing especially on breaking up trusts and lowering tariff rates. Wilson engaged in a spirited campaign, criss-crossing the country to deliver numerous speeches. Taft won In the concurrent congressional elections , Democrats retained control of the House and won a majority in the Senate. Roosevelt became Assistant Secretary of the Navy.


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  • House; Berg writes that, "in access and influence, [House] outranked everybody in Wilson's Cabinet. Wilson introduced a comprehensive program of domestic legislation at the outset of his administration, something no president had ever done before. Democrats had long seen high tariff rates as equivalent to unfair taxes on consumers, and tariff reduction was President Wilson's first priority.

    Quick Facts

    Passage of Underwood's tariff bill in the Senate would prove more difficult than in the House, partially because some Southern and Western Democrats favored the continued protection of the wool and sugar industries, and partially because Democrats had a narrower majority in that chamber. After weeks of hearings and debate, Wilson and Secretary of State Bryan managed to unite Senate Democrats behind the bill.

    La Follette , voting for it. Wilson signed the Revenue Act of also known as the Underwood Tariff into law on October 3, The Revenue Act of reduced the average import tariff rates from approximately 40 percent to approximately 26 percent [] and restored a federal income tax for the first time since Wilson did not wait to complete the Revenue Act of before proceeding to the next item on his agenda—banking. By the time Wilson took office, countries like Britain and Germany had established government-run central banks , but the United States had not had a central bank since the Bank War of the s.

    Wilson sought a middle ground between progressives such as Bryan and conservative Republicans like Nelson Aldrich , who, as chairman of the National Monetary Commission , had put forward a plan for a central bank that would give private financial interests a large degree of control over the monetary system. Owen crafted a compromise plan in which private banks would control twelve regional Federal Reserve Banks , but a controlling interest in the system was placed in a central board filled with presidential appointees.

    Wilson convinced Bryan's supporters that the plan met their demands for an elastic currency because Federal Reserve notes would be obligations of the government.

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    After Wilson convinced just enough Democrats to defeat an amendment put forth by bank president Frank A. Vanderlip that would have given private banks greater control over the central banking system, the Senate voted 54—34 to approve the Federal Reserve Act. Having passed major legislation lowering the tariff and reforming the banking structure, Wilson next sought antitrust legislation to enhance the Sherman Antitrust Act of Wilson's labor policy focused on using the Labor Department to mediate conflicts between labor and management.

    Wilson was widely praised for averting a national economic disaster, but conservatives denounced the law as a sellout to the unions and a surrender by Congress to an imperious president. Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston worked with Congressman Asbury Francis Lever to introduce the bill that became the Smith—Lever Act of , which established government subsidies allowing farmers voluntarily experiment with farming techniques favored by agricultural experts. Proponents of the Smith—Lever Act overcame many conservatives' objections to the act by adding provisions to bolster local control of the program, such as oversight by local colleges.

    By , three-quarters of the agriculture-oriented counties in the United States took part in the agricultural extension program. Wilson embraced the long-standing Democratic policy against owning colonies, and he worked for the gradual autonomy and ultimate independence of the Philippines , which had been acquired from Spain in the Spanish—American War.

    How He Made the Presidency So Powerful

    Wilson increased self-governance on the islands by granting Filipinos greater control over the Philippine Legislature. The Jones Act of committed the United States to the eventual independence of the Philippines; independence would take place in The act created the Senate of Puerto Rico , established a bill of rights, and authorized the election of a Resident Commissioner previously appointed by the president to a four-year term.

    The act also granted Puerto Ricans U. After the purchase, the islands were renamed as the United States Virgin Islands. Immigration was a high priority topic in American politics during Wilson's presidency, but he gave the matter little attention. The act's goal was to reduce immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe by requiring literacy tests, and it was the first U. Wilson appointed three individuals to the United States Supreme Court while president.

    He appointed James Clark McReynolds in ; McReynolds would serve until , becoming a member of the conservative bloc of the court. Ultimately, Wilson was able to convince Senate Democrats to vote for Brandeis, and Brandeis would serve until Wilson sought to move away from the foreign policy of his predecessors, which he viewed as imperialistic, and he rejected Taft's Dollar Diplomacy.

    The Wilson administration sent troops to occupy the Dominican Republic and intervene in Haiti , and Wilson also authorized military interventions in Cuba , Panama , and Honduras. The canal provided relatively swift passage between the Pacific Ocean with the Atlantic Ocean , presenting new economic opportunities to the U.

    Navy to quickly navigate between the two oceans. Shortly before Wilson took office, conservatives retook power through a coup led by Victoriano Huerta. Navy personnel who had accidentally landed in a restricted zone near the northern port town of Tampico , Wilson dispatched the Navy to occupy the Mexican city of Veracruz. A strong backlash against the American intervention among Mexicans of all political affiliations convinced Wilson to abandon his plans to expand the U.

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