Woodrow Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and leader of the Progressive Movement. A Southerner with a PhD in political science, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910. He was Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913, and led his Democratic Party to win control of both the White House and Congress in 1912.

Wilson induced a Democratic Congress to pass a progressive legislative agenda, unparalleled until the New Deal in 1933. This included the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and a small income tax. Wilson also averted a railroad strike and an ensuing economic crisis through passage of the Adamson Act, imposing an 8-hour workday for railroads. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Wilson maintained a policy of neutrality. However he took a much more aggressive policy in dealing with Mexico's civil war.

Narrowly re-elected in 1916 around the slogan "He kept us out of war", Wilson's second term was dominated by American entry into World War I. In April 1917, when German submarine warfare was sinking American merchant ships, Wilson asked Congress to declare war in order to make "the world safe for democracy." The United States conducted military operations with the Allies, without a formal alliance. During the war, Wilson focused on diplomacy and financial considerations, leaving military strategy to the generals, especially General John J. Pershing. He loaned billions of dollars to Britain, France, and other Allies, allowing them to finance their own war effort. On the home front in 1917, he began the first large-scale draft, raised income taxes, and borrowed billions of dollars in war funding through the newly established Federal Reserve System and Liberty Bonds for popular subscription. He set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union cooperation, supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act and gave direct control of the railroads to the Secretary of the Treasury William McAdoo. He set up an effective draft law and by summer 1918 was sending newly trained soldiers to France at the rate of 10,000 a day.

He also suppressed anti-war movements with the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, a crackdown which was intensified by his Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer to include non-citizen antiwar activists during the First Red Scare of 1919–1920. In 1918 after years of calling for suffrage at the state level, Wilson endorsed a constitutional amendment that achieved nationwide women's suffrage in 1920 over Southern opposition. He sought and received support from many in the black community, but his record on race as President has been criticized by recent scholars. Wilson took personal control of negotiations when an armistice was requested by Germany, and in 1918 he issued his principles for peace, the Fourteen Points. In 1919 he went to Paris to promote the formation of a League of Nations and concluded the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson then suffered a severe stroke, and was unable to secure Senate ratification of the Treaty. By 1920 his disability had diminished his power and influence, and the Democratic party ignored his tentative plan to run for re-election.

A devoted Presbyterian, Wilson infused a profound sense of moralism into his internationalism, now referred to as "Wilsonian"—a contentious position in American foreign policy which obligates the United States to promote global democracy. For his sponsorship of the League of Nations, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. Wilson has consistently been ranked by scholars and the public as one of the top ten presidents.

By Dean Hanley

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