Collier's New Encyclopedia (1921)/Wilson, Thomas Woodrow

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Collier's New Encyclopedia
Wilson, Thomas Woodrow
Edition of 1921; disclaimer.

WILSON, (THOMAS) WOODROW, 28th President of the United States, was born of Scotch-Irish ancestry at Staunton, Va., Dec. 28, 1856. His father was the Rev. Joseph R. Wilson, a Southern Presbyterian minister, who gave much of his time to teaching; his mother was Jenet (Jessie) Woodrow. Educated in youth at various Southern schools and having spent about a year at Davidson College (N. C.); he went to Princeton, where he distinguished himself in debating and literary work, graduating 1879, ranking 38th in a class of 106. He studied law at the University of Virginia (1879-1881) and practiced for a year at Atlanta, Ga. (1881-2). Thence he went to Johns Hopkins University, where he studied political science (1883-5), taking the degree of Ph. D. (1886) with an unusually brilliant thesis. The next twenty-five years of his life (1885-1910) were spent almost entirely in educational work, although he always took an active interest in public affairs. From 1885 to 1888 he was associate professor of history and political economy at Bryn Mawr; from 1888 to 1890 professor of the same subjects at Wesleyan; and from 1890 to 1910 he was on the faculty of Princeton University; from 1890 to 1895 as professor of jurisprudence and political economy; from 1895 to 1897 as professor of jurisprudence; from 1897 to 1910 as professor of jurisprudence and politics. From 1902 to 1910 he was president of Princeton, being the first layman to occupy that position. During his presidency some notable reforms were brought about in the college, chief among them the introduction of the preceptorial system. Mr. Wilson set his mind so firmly on improving the scholastic standards of Princeton that among certain of the alumni it was said that he was trying to turn the dear old college into a confounded educational institution. His attempt to change the “club” system and other efforts to make Princeton more democratic led to much friction; and it is no secret that he gladly availed himself of the opportunity honorably to withdraw when on Sept. 15, 1910, there was offered to him the Democratic nomination for governor of New Jersey.

Mr. Wilson's entrance into public life was by no means unusual or sensational. He had for many years given expression to his views on public affairs and had been known as one of the most progressive and thoughtful leaders in the Democratic party. He conducted the campaign in a forceful and high-toned manner, and was elected governor by the large plurality of 49,056, although in 1908 the Republicans had carried the State by more than 82,000. He was governor of New Jersey from Jan. 17, 1911, to March 1, 1913. In this office Wilson carried through some admirable reform measures including the direct primary law, corrupt practices act, a reorganization of the school system of the State, and a model employers' liability law. But perhaps the most noteworthy feature of his administration was the better control of corporations through the bills popularly known as the “Seven Sisters,” Some of these laws have been copied by other States.

In 1911 there were many indications that Governor Wilson was being seriously considered as a Presidential candidate; and during the next year his candidacy got much popular support. On July 2, 1912, in Baltimore, in one of the most spectacular conventions ever held by the Democratic party, on the 46th ballot Woodrow Wilson received the nomination. Thomas R. Marshall, of Indiana, was nominated for Vice President. The disruption of the Republican party by the Progressive movement caused Governor Wilson to receive an extraordinary majority in the electoral college. He received 435 electoral votes; Roosevelt had 88; and Taft 8. In the popular vote Wilson had 6,286,214; Roosevelt, 4,126,020; Taft, 3,483,922.

Wilson was inaugurated March 4, 1913, with a Democratic majority in both branches of Congress. The first year of his administration was marked by the passage of much important legislation, notably the revision of the tariff by the Underwood-Simmons bill, and the reform of the currency by the Federal Reserve Act, probably, as the “Banker's Magazine” said, “the most comprehensive piece of banking legislation ever enacted in this country.” In the realm of foreign affairs the President had to face in the first months of his term grave problems in the Philippine Islands and in Mexico. In the former, where there was much unrest, he labored with some success for conciliation and harmony. The Mexican situation was one of great complexity. Wilson refused to recognize Huerta, while disavowing any desire to interfere with Mexico's affairs. He adopted the policy of “watchful waiting,” but was obliged, owing to attacks made by Mexicans on Americans, to occupy Vera Cruz in April, 1914. Wilson promptly accepted a proposal from Argentina, Brazil and Chile to mediate; and although the conference of the A, B, C powers at Niagara Falls, was without definite result, it brought about better understanding. In July, 1914, Huerta left the country; in November, the American forces evacuated Vera Cruz, and Wilson's policy accomplished much without plunging the country into war.

The remaining two years of his first administration were mainly concerned with the issues raised by the World War. As soon as the war broke out, he tendered his good offices to any and all of the warring nations. Thence he was occupied for some months in preserving America's neutrality and at the same time in defending her rights. The years were very troubled ones, marked by the sinking of the “Lusitania,” German plots, and the recall of Dumba, the Austro-Hungarian minister at Washington, and of Captains Boy Ed and Von Papen, German attachés. In December, 1915, President Wilson sent a message to Congress in which he advocated more stringent Federal laws to protect the country against such plots, and also measures of military and naval preparedness.

In July, 1916, Wilson was unanimously renominated for President by the Democratic National Convention at St. Louis; and on November 7, 1916, was re-elected, receiving 277 electoral votes to 254 cast for the Republican nominee, Charles E. Hughes. In the popular vote, Wilson had a plurality of 581,941, receiving 9,129,269 votes to 8,547,328 cast for Hughes. One of the features of the election was that the vote of California, which was decisive, was so close that the final result was not known until some days after the election.

The second administration of President Wilson was one of the most momentous in American history. In February, 1917, the German ambassador to the United States was given his passports; and in April the United States entered the war. The President who in a remarkable series of state papers had made the issues of the war clear had behind him a united people; and the American army and navy were decisive factors in securing the final military triumph of the Allied and Associated Powers. During the peace negotiations, which followed the signing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918, Wilson broke one of the traditions of the Presidential office by himself going to Paris as head of the American peace delegation. He took a very prominent part in the making of the treaty of Versailles, particulary in the section of the treaty dealing with the League of Nations. The treaty, however, met with bitter opposition in the Senate and failed of the two-thirds vote necessary for ratification. Consequently the treaty became one of the leading issues in the presidential campaign of 1920, as the Democrats under the leadership of Governor Cox, of Ohio, indorsed Wilson's position, while the Republicans led by Senator Harding, of Ohio, approved the stand of the Senate in refusing to ratify without certain reservations. In September, 1919, while on a tour of the country to win popular support for the League of Nations, Wilson had a serious physical breakdown. Mr. Wilson took no active part in the election of 1920, although he cordially supported Gov. Cox. Following the inauguration of Senator Harding, he retired to private life in Washington. He formed a partnership with Bainbridge Colby, former Secretary of State, for the practice of international law.

Mr. Wilson married Ellen Louise Axson, of Savannah, Georgia, June 24, 1885, by whom he had three daughters. She died August 6, 1914. On Dec. 18, 1915, he married Mrs. Edith Bolling Galt, of Washington.

As an author, Mr. Wilson was known by several important works on government and history. These included “Congressional Government” (1885) ; “The State” (1889); “George Washington” (1896); “A History of the American People” (1902) ; “The New Freedom” (1913). He was also an essayist of distinction, “Mere Literature and Other Essays” (1893); “On Being Human” (1916).


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