Woodrow Wilson

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Oct 17, 2022

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Woodrow Wilson, born Thomas Woodrow Wilson (Staunton, December 28, 1856 - Washington, DC, February 3, 1924), was an American politician and academic.

He was the 28th president of the United States (also an academic man, he served as chancellor of Princeton University. He became the third U.S. president from the Democratic Party, after Andrew Jackson and Grover Cleveland, to be re-elected for a second term. In 1919 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wilson is remembered for serving as the president of the United States at such a turbulent and crucial time in history as World War I and the immediate postwar period and playing an important role there, especially at the Paris Peace Conference, where he imposed the United States, for so long a second-ranking economic and military power, into a dominant role on the international chessboard. As a result of this new line in U.S. foreign policy, Wilson was the first U.S. president to carry the most weight among the great world leaders of the day.

However, historiography posits Wilson as an ambiguous figure, in that while on the one hand he was considered the main promoter of a new European peace and stability, something that earned him the Nobel Prize, but which in reality was never fully realized (and this will be one of the many reasons that collectively contributed to the outbreak of World War II), on the other he is remembered for his determined incitement to racial segregation and white supremacism and for his pro-imperialist policies toward America's weak and backward nations such as Mexico, Nicaragua, Haiti, Panama, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, where the U.S. military was complicit in numerous massacres.

Origins and training

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, in 1856 (he was the last U.S. president to be born in that state): his parents were Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson and Janet Woodrow. His family had Scottish-Irish ancestry and came from Northern Ireland. Wilson grew up in Augusta, Georgia State, and always stated that his first memory was the announcement that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming; Wilson's father and mother were from Ohio, but they sympathized with the Southerners in the U.S. Civil War.

They tended the wounded Confederates in their church; they let their son out to go see Jefferson Davis parade in handcuffs among the victorious Union army. Wilson would always remember standing "for a moment by General Lee's side and looking into his face," Wilson learned shorthand on his own to compensate for his difficulties and was able to succeed in his studies through determination and discipline, but he could not quite overcome it.

He attended Davidson College for one year and then transferred to Princeton University, graduating in 1879; he was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi student association. Later, he studied law at the University of Virginia for a year. After finishing and publishing his dissertation, The Congressional Government, he was awarded a doctorate (Ph.D.) in political science from Johns Hopkins University in 1886 (an engraving of his initials can still be seen in the underside of a table in the History Department). Prior to the presidential nomination of Barack Obama, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1991, Woodrow Wilson had been the only U.S. president to earn a doctor's degree.

Marriage to Ellen Axson

Wilson first met Ellen Axson, daughter of a minister of religion, in a church: he courted her unrequitedly for several weeks. Months later, in 1883, he met her again by chance at a train station and was more receptive: they were married on June 24, 1885, in Savannah, Georgia. They had three daughters, Margaret in 1886, Jessie in 1887 and Eleanor in 1889. None of them were yet married when Wilson entered the White House, but there were rapid changes: Jessie married Francis B. Sayre on November 25, 1913, while Eleanor married William G. McAdoo, the secretary of the Treasury (i.e., U.S. Treasury Secretary) on May 7, 1914.

Political writings and the beginning of an academic career

Wilson's era was the decades following the War of Secession, when the U.S. Congress was at its most powerful-"the foundations of all political activity are decided by the legislature"-and corruption rampant. Instead of focusing on individuals to explain where the problem in U.S. politics was, Wilson dwelt on the constitutional structure.

Under the influence of Walter Bagehot's work The English Constitution, Wilson judged the U.S. Constitution as pre-modern, cumbersome, and permeable to corruption. Before the strong presidencies in the early 20th century, Wilson even favored a parliamentary system for the United States. In the early 1880s, in a paper published by Henry Cabot Lodge, Wilson wrote:

Wilson began Congressionale Government, his most famous work on politics, in support of a parliamentary system, but Wilson was impressed by Grover Cleveland, and Congressionale Government came out as a critical description of the U.S. system, with frequent negative comparisons with British government. Wilson himself pointed out, "I am analyzing facts - diagnosing, not prescribing remedies." He believed that the intricate American system of measures and countermeasures (checks and balances) was the cause of the institutions' problems: in fact, he argued that having divided power made it impossible for voters to recognize who was responsible for mistakes. If the government misbehaved, Wilson demanded,

The longest section of Congressional Government is devoted to the U.S. House of Representatives, in which Wilson expresses disdain for the committee system. "Power," he wrote, "is divided, as it once was, into forty-seven lordships, in each of which a standing commission is the court baron and its chairman the lord-owner. These tiny barons, some of them no little powerful, but none of them near enough to the full powers of government, can exercise at will an almost despotic reshuffling of their counties, and may sometimes threaten to go so far as to upset the kingdom itself." Wilson said the commission system was fundamentally undemocratic because commission chairs, appointed on the basis of seniority, were accountable to no one but their own members, even though they determined the policy of national institutions.

In addition to their undemocratic nature, he also believed that the commission system facilitated corruption.

But at the time the Congressional government ended, Grover Cleveland was president, and Wilson had confidence that the U.S. government would emerge strengthened. Before becoming president himself, Wilson had witnessed the vigorous presidencies of William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, and Wilson no longer dealt with the parliamentary form of government. In his last academic work, Constitutional Government of the United States, 1908, Wilson argued that the presidency "will be as great and as influential as the man who holds the office." At the time of his presidency, Wilson simply hoped that presidents could be party leaders in the same way as a prime minister. Wilson also hoped that parties could reorganize themselves according to ideological rather than geographical principles. "Eight words," Wilson wrote, "contain the substance of the present degradation of our political parties: no leader, no principle; no principle, no party."

Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University before joining Princeton University as professor of law and political economy in 1890. Popular as a teacher and respected as an academic, he delivered a speech at Princeton's one hundred and fiftieth year celebrations (1896) entitled Princeton in the Service of the Nation (this has become a famous allusive motto of the University, sometimes expanded to Princeton in the Service of the World): in this famous speech, he outlined his vision of the university in a democratic nation, calling institutions of higher learning "to the duty of enlightening through every lesson that can be drawn from the past."

Wilson was unanimously elected chancellor of Princeton University on June 9, 1902: in his inaugural address, he developed these themes, trying to maintain a balance to satisfy both populists and aristocrats in the audience. As rector, he began a fundraising campaign to support the university: the guidelines he maintained during his Princeton rectorate proved to be among the most important innovations in higher education. He instituted a new system of basic courses followed by two years of specialization in his chosen field. When he sought to reduce the influence of elitist "social circles," however, Wilson ran into resistance from administrators and potential funders. He believed that system stifled the intellectual and moral life of students: opposition from wealthy and powerful alumni further convinced him of the undesirability of elitism and pushed him toward a more populist political position.

On June 23, 1918, he became a Fellow of the Turin Academy of Sciences.

Political career

Wilson was president of the American Political Science Association ("American Political Science Association") from 1910 to 1911. Through the publication of his commentaries on the political issues of the day, he gained a national reputation and increasingly seriously considered a career as a politician. In 1910 he received an unexpected offer to run for governor of New Jersey, which he gladly accepted: in the election he defeated Republican candidate Vivian M. Lewis by more than 80,000 votes.

The presidency

For the 1912 presidential election, the Democratic Party surprisingly nominated Wilson as its candidate-the big favorite was Champ Clark. William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt divided the Republican Party by both running, allowing Wilson to win.

On the day before his inauguration in March 1913, Elizabeth Freeman and other members of the Congressional Union, later called the National Women's Party, organized a demonstration in favor of women's suffrage in Washington to divert attention from the inauguration celebrations.When Wilson arrived in the city, it is said, he found the streets with no crowds to greet him and was told that they were all on Pennsylvania avenue watching the demonstration.

Wilson achieved immediate successes, translating his promises of "New Freedom" into law in the areas of antitrust changes, tariff overhaul, and reforms in the banking and monetary system. His action led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Trade Commission.

Suffrage was just one of the tricky issues Wilson addressed during his presidency; until Wilson announced his support for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution regarding suffrage, a group of women who called themselves the "silent sentinels" protested in front of the White House, displaying signs with words such as "Mr. President - What will you do for women's suffrage?" In domestic politics, his reform proposals were often opposed, although he succeeded in getting the Federal Reserve Establishment Act passed.

His attitude toward racial issues is generally considered a stain on his reputation: many argue that he helped create the darkest period of racism in U.S. history and that he himself was a racist. His administration instituted racial segregation in the federal government, for the first time since Abraham Lincoln began desegregation in 1863, and required photographs from job applicants to determine their race. Wilson also had a suspicious attitude toward those he called "hyphenated Americans" (hyphenated Americans: German-Americans, Irish-Americans, etc.): "Every man who carries a hyphen, carries a dagger which is ready to plunge into the vital parts of this Republic whenever possible."

Wilson's History of the American People is repeatedly cited in the film Birth of a Nation, which glorifies the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in contrast to radical Republicans during American Reconstruction. The film is based on a trilogy by Thomas Dixon, Wilson's schoolmate, whose stated goal was "to revolutionize Northern sentiment by presenting a story that would turn every man in my audience into a good Democrat!" Wilson watched the film in a special screening at the White House on February 18, 1915. Director David Wark Griffith reported to the press that Wilson had exclaimed, "It is like writing history with lightning, my only regret is that it is all so terribly true." Yet immediately after the screening, Wilson declared his disapproval of that "nefarious production." Wilson's right-hand man, Joseph Tumulty, said, "The president was ignorant of the nature of the play before he saw it, and did not for a moment express approval of it." Wilson, however, held several private viewings of the film at the White House.

The fact is that Griffith's statement was widely reported in the media and was immediately discussed: in later correspondence with Griffith, Wilson wrote to him enthusiastically about his filmmaking, without questioning the accuracy of the quote. Given the film's message, which is strongly aligned for the Democrats, and Wilson's documented views on race, it is not unreasonable to interpret that statement as an endorsement of the Klan, and the word "regret" as a reference to the film's depiction, in the film, of Reconstruction. Wilson tried to keep himself uninvolved in the debate but finally, on April 30, issued a denial that was actually very tenuous. Wilson's support for the film's historical accuracy was of great weight and contributed to the film's popularity: this in turn was one of the main factors that led, in the same year, to the reorganization (at Stone Mountain, Georgia) of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been silent since its outlawing in the 1870s.

In the last year of his first term (1916), Wilson collected an impressive array of reforms, adopting many from Theodore Roosevelt's 1912 program. Wilson signed the Federal Farm Loan Act into law, which immediately lowered interest rates for farmers, who embraced it as "the Magna Carta of American farm finance." Wilson exerted aggressive and successful pressure on Parliament for the Keating-Oven Act, which outlawed child labor; the Kern-McGillicuddy Act, which established a workers' compensation insurance system; and the Adamson Act, which improved conditions and wages for railroad workers. To prepare for the possibility of entry into the war, Wilson enlarged the army and navy through an inheritance tax and a high income tax.

Wilson was able to narrowly win his reelection in 1916, picking up many votes that had gone to Roosevelt and Eugene V. in 1912. Debs, basing his campaign on maintaining neutrality. In the years from 1914 to 1917 Wilson always tried to keep the United States out of World War I: he offered himself as a mediator, but neither the Allies nor the Central Powers took his proposals seriously. When Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare and made a daring attempt to get Mexico on its side, through the Zimmermann note, Wilson brought the United States into the war as an "allied belligerent." In the 1930s, the Nye Commission reconstructed the events leading up to entry into the war by emphasizing the role of explosives manufacturers and bankers who were exposed to England to the tune of $2.5 billion.

Wilson had Congress pass the Espionage Act in 1917 and the Sedition Act in 1918 to combat socialist, anti-British, pro-Ireland, pro-German or anti-war views. He also established the U.S. Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel (hence its popular name, Creel Committee), which filled the country with anti-German propaganda and, during the first wave of fear of communism (1917-1920), organized Palmer's actions against leftists. Wilson had socialist leader and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, for accusing the financial powers of being responsible for World War I and for criticizing the Espionage Act. Wilson also supported the American Protective League, a private pro-war organization known for its flagrant violations of civil liberties

Between 1914 and 1918 the United States intervened many times, including with invasions, in Latin America, particularly in Mexico, Haiti, Cuba and Panama; also continuing the "dollar diplomacy" inaugurated by William Howard Taft. U.S. troops remained in Nicaragua throughout the Wilson administration and were used to choose Nicaragua's president and then to force Nicaragua to sign the Bryan-Chamorro Treaty. U.S. troops in Haiti forced Haitian politicians to elect Wilson's chosen candidate as president: when Haiti refused to declare war on Germany, Wilson had the Haitian government dissolved and then imposed a new, less democratic constitution through a sham referendum. U.S. soldiers also drove small landowners off their land to work in public works, in confinement and in chains, and transferred their land to landowners; in 1919 Haitians rose up in revolt against the U.S.; the rebellion cost 3,000 lives.

Between 1917 and 1920, the U.S. supported the White Russian movement in the Russian Civil War, first financially, but later with a naval blockade and ground troops in Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostok.

World War I

In foreign policy Wilson faced greater challenges than any president since Abraham Lincoln. Deciding whether to take the country into World War I tested his leadership skills. He kept the United States neutral during the early years of the war; this contributed to his 1916 reelection: however, after mounting pressure, the United States entered the conflict with a formal declaration of war on Germany on April 6, 1917; a declaration of war on Austria-Hungary followed on December 7 of the same year.

After the Great War, Wilson strove, with varying success, to promote his idea of rearranging the world on an ethnic basis: on January 8, 1918, Wilson delivered his famous Fourteen Points speech, advancing the proposal for a League of Nations, an organization that was to strive for the maintenance of territorial integrity and political independence for both large and small nations. The most innovative point in Wilson's proposal was that of the so-called "right of self-determination" for each people, understood as an ethnic community: according to this principle, each ethnic group was to have its own nation state.

On the basis of this principle, on September 3, 1918, Secretary of State Robert Lansing delivered to Masaryk a statement from the U.S. government unreservedly recognizing the Czechoslovak National Council, led by Masaryk, as a legitimately belligerent nation government, effectively making this U.S. recognition more prominent than the earlier French and British declarations.

The role in the Paris Peace Treaties

Wilson intended the Fourteen Points as a means to end the war and achieve an equitable peace for all nations. He arrived in Versailles on December 4, 1918 for the 1919 Peace Conference (becoming the first U.S. president to make a trip to Europe while in office), and worked hard to promote his plan. Eventually, the other victorious powers (France and Britain in particular) also accepted the principles of nationality and self-determination of peoples, and the consequent dissolution of the multinational Empires (Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire). The principle of nationality was the basis for the construction of democratic Europe and nation-states.

These principles were applied mainly to Eastern Europe and the Middle East to fill the void left by the simultaneous collapse of the great absolutist empires. To accommodate Italy, however, they were not applied to South Tyrol, which was annexed to it. Despite this, President Wilson was certainly not in favor of applying the London Pact, by which he did not feel bound, disadvantaging the Italians who lived beyond what were the borders decided at the end of the Great War.

The statute of the League of Nations was included in the Treaty of Versailles, but only four of the Fourteen Points (which have since risen to twenty-three) were fully complied with.

For his work on peace treaties, Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919: the honor balanced the bitterness of his failure to persuade his opponents in Congress, such as Henry Cabot Lodge, to support the resolution committing the United States to join the League of Nations. U.S. participation, according to Wilson, was essential to maintaining lasting world peace. The Treaty of Versailles also caused severe economic problems for Germany, resulting in a fall in domestic consumption that would lead to a deep depression.Wilson's opponents believed that by supporting the treaty, they would cause an economic disaster.

Disability and death

On September 25, 1919, Wilson suffered a mild stroke, which was not made public. A week later, on October 2, Wilson suffered a second and more severe stroke that left him almost totally incapacitated. Although the severity of his impairment was kept secret until his death, Wilson was kept away from his vice president Thomas R. Marshall, his cabinet and visiting congressmen at the White House for the rest of his presidency. John Barry, in The Great Influenza, advances the hypothesis that Wilson's predisposition to these attacks was a complication derived from the 1919 Spanish flu pandemic that sometimes struck the.

During Wilson's illness, his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, served as his secretary, choosing issues to bring to his attention and delegating others to cabinet members. This is still the most serious case of presidential incapacity in U.S. history and was cited as a key example of why the 25th Amendment was considered so important. The amendment, which stipulates that it is the vice president who shall perform the duties of the president in the event of his incapacity, was ratified in 1967.

In 1921, at the end of his term, Wilson and his wife retired from the White House and settled in a house in Washington, where he died on February 3, 1924: he is buried in Washington National Cathedral. His second wife remained in their home for another 37 years, dying on December 28, 1961.


  1. Woodrow Wilson
  2. Thomas Woodrow Wilson
  3. ^ Although a handful of elite, Northern schools admitted African-American students at the time, most colleges refused to accept black students. Most African-American college students attended black colleges and universities such as Howard University.[55]
  4. ^ Citato in: "Giuseppe Mammarella", Destini incrociati, Europa e Stati Uniti 1900-2003, Bari, Editori Laterza, 2005, p. 44.
  5. ^ John Milton Cooper, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography, 2009, pp. 13–19
  6. a et b Patrick Weil, Le président est-il devenu fou ?: Le diplomate, le psychanalyste et le chef de l'Etat, Grasset, 16 mars 2022 (ISBN 978-2-246-85812-6, lire en ligne)
  7. a b c d e f g et h Rémy Porte, « Le président Wilson, un pacifiste en guerre », La Nouvelle Revue d'histoire, no 90, mai-juin 2017, p. 46-48
  8. Scott A. Berg, Wilson. Simon & Schuster (2013), 332–333[passage promotionnel].
  9. Nicole Bacharan, Dominique Simonnet, Les Secrets de la Maison blanche, Perrin 2014, pp. 108-110.
  10. a b L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 559.
  11. a b c d e f g L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 560.
  12. a b c d e f g L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 561.
  13. a b c d e L. Pastusiak: Prezydenci Stanów Zjednoczonych Ameryki Północnej. s. 562.

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