Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 28th President of the United States, from 1913 to 1921. A leader of the Progressive Movement, he served as President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910, and then as the Governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913. With Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party candidate Theodore Roosevelt and Republican nominee William Howard Taft dividing the Republican Party vote, Wilson was elected President as a Democrat in 1912. Like his arch-rival Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Wilson is the only president to hold a Ph.D.
In his first term as President, Wilson persuaded a Democratic Congress to pass a massive increase in the size and scope of government including the Federal Reserve Act, Federal Trade Commission Act, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Federal Farm Loan Act and an income tax. Wilson brought many white Southerners into his administration, and tolerated their expansion of segregation in many federal agencies.
Narrowly re-elected in 1916, he had full control of American entry into World War I, and his second term centered on World War I and the subsequent peace treaty negotiations in Paris. He based his re-election campaign around the slogan, “He kept us out of war”, but U.S. neutrality was challenged in early 1917 when the German government began unrestricted submarine warfare despite repeated strong warnings. In April 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war.
During the war, Wilson focused on diplomacy and financial considerations, leaving the waging of the war itself primarily in the hands of the Army. On the home front in 1917, he began the United States’ first draft since the American Civil War, raised billions of dollars in war funding through Liberty Bonds, set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union cooperation, supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act, took over control of the railroads, and suppressed anti-war movements. While he did not encourage the wave of anti-German sentiment sweeping the country in 1917-18, he did nothing to stop it.
In the late stages of the war, Wilson took personal control of negotiations with Germany, including the armistice. In 1918, he issued his Fourteen Points, his view of a post-war world that could avoid another terrible conflict. In 1919, he went to Paris to create the League of Nations and shape the Treaty of Versailles, with special attention on creating new nations out of defunct empires. In 1919, during the bitter fight with the Republican-controlled Senate over the U.S. joining the League of Nations, Wilson collapsed with a debilitating stroke. He refused to compromise, effectively destroying any chance for ratification. The League of Nations was established anyway, but the United States never joined.
A Presbyterian of deep religious faith, Wilson appealed to a gospel of service and infused a profound sense of moralism into his idealistic internationalism, now referred to as “Wilsonian“. Wilsonianism calls for the United States to enter the world arena to fight for democracy, and has been a contentious position in American foreign policy.
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