Wilson, Woodrow

Woodrow Wilson, 28th president of the United States (1913-21), secured a

legislative program of progressive domestic reform, guided his country

during WORLD WAR I, and sought a peace settlement based on high moral

principles, to be guaranteed by the LEAGUE OF NATIONS.

Early Life and Career

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Va., on Dec. 28, 1856. He was

profoundly influenced by a devoutly religious household headed by his

father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a Presbyterian minister, and his mother,

Janet Woodrow Wilson, the daughter of a minister. Woodrow (he dropped the

Thomas in 1879) attended (1873-74) Davidson College and in 1875 entered the

College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), graduating in 1879.

Wilson studied (1879-80) at the University of Virginia Law School, briefly

practiced law in Atlanta, and in 1883 entered The Johns Hopkins University

for graduate study in political science. His widely acclaimed book,

Congressional Government (1885), was published a year before he received

the doctoral degree. In 1885 he married Ellen Louise Axson; they had three


Wilson taught at Bryn Mawr College (1885-88) and Wesleyan University

in Connecticut (1888-90) before he was called (1890) to Princeton as

professor of jurisprudence and political economy. A popular lecturer,

Wilson also wrote a score of articles and nine books, including Division

and Reunion (1893) and his five-volume History of the American People

(1902). In 1902 he was the unanimous choice of the trustees to become

Princeton\'s president. His reforms included reorganization of the

departmental structure, revision of the curriculum, raising of academic

standards, tightening of student discipline, and the still-famous

preceptorial system of instruction. But Wilson\'s quad plan--an attempt to

create colleges or quadrangles where students and faculty members would

live and study together--was defeated. Opposed by wealthy alumni and

trustees, he also lost his battle for control of the proposed graduate


The Princeton controversies, seen nationally as a battle between

democracy and vested wealth, propelled Wilson into the political arena.

George Harvey, editor of Harper\'s Weekly, with help from New Jersey\'s

Democratic party bosses, persuaded Wilson to run for governor in 1910.

After scoring an easy victory, he cast off his machine sponsors and

launched a remarkable program of progressive legislation, including a

direct-primary law, antitrust laws, a corrupt-practices act, a workmen\'s

compensation act, and measures establishing a public utility commission and

permitting cities to adopt the commission form of government.

Success in New Jersey made him a contender for the Democratic

presidential nomination. Although Wilson entered the 1912 Democratic

National Convention a poor second to Speaker of the House Champ Clark, his

strength increased as Clark\'s faded, and he won the nomination after 46

ballots. Offering a program of reform that he called the New Freedom,

Wilson ran against a divided Republican party. In November, with only 42

percent of the popular vote, he won 435 electoral votes to 88 for

Progressive candidate Theodore Roosevelt and 8 for the Republican

candidate, President William Howard Taft.


Progressive as President

By presenting his program personally before the Democratically

controlled Congress, employing personal persuasion as well as patronage,

and appealing to the American public with his stirring rhetoric, Wilson won

passage of an impressive array of progressive measures. The Underwood

Tariff Act (1913), the first reduction in duties since the Civil War, also

established a modest income tax. The Federal Reserve Act (1913) provided

for currency and banking reform. Antitrust legislation followed in 1914,

when Congress passed the Federal Trade Commission Act and the CLAYTON

ANTI-TRUST ACT. In 1915, Wilson supported the La Follette Seamen\'s bill,

designed to improve the working conditions of sailors. The following year

he signed the Federal Farm Loan Act, providing low-interest credit to

farmers; the Adamson Act, granting an 8-hour day to interstate railroad

workers; and the Child Labor Act, which limited children\'s working hours.

In foreign policy, Wilson was faced with greater problems than any

president since Abraham Lincoln. He attempted to end U.S. dollar diplomacy

and promote the mediation of disputes. He rejected a loan to China on the

grounds that it impaired Chinese sovereignty, and he helped thwart Japanese

designs on the Chinese mainland. He approved Secretary of State William

Jennings BRYAN\'s efforts to minimize the danger of war through a series of

"conciliation treaties" and joined him in an unsuccessful attempt to

negotiate a Pan-American pact guaranteeing the integrity of the Western

Hemisphere. In attempting to deal with revolutionary Mexico, Wilson first

sought to promote self-government by refusing to recognize the military

usurper Victoriano HUERTA and forcing him to allow free elections. When

Huerta resisted, Wilson tried to force him out by ordering (April 1914)

limited American intervention at Veracruz and by supporting

constitutionalist Venustiano CARRANZA. Mediation by Argentina, Brazil, and

Chile helped to prevent a general conflict