The Presidents of the United States, 1789-1914/Woodrow Wilson

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Woodrow Wilson[edit]

Also in this chapter … Mrs. Woodrow Wilson


Woodrow Wilson is descended from a Scotch-Irish ancestry noted for its culture and its intensity of religious conviction. Some of his Scot forbears died for their faith. Immediately, he comes from a line of ministers and editors. William Duane, democrat and friend of Jefferson, had a hand in the training of James Wilson, grandfather of Woodrow Wilson, who came from County Down, Ireland, lured as a youth of twenty-two to the land of opportunity in the New World. Landing at Philadelphia in the year 1808, he quickly found a congenial task in the work rooms of Duane's militant “Daily Aurora.” The joy of his new toil was enhanced by the fact that a fine Irish lass, who had sailed on the same ship with him, was watching him make his fortune; and within four years he was able to claim Ann Adams as his wife. The happy pair could not be disobedient to the enticing vision of the developing West, and in 1812 James Wilson founded the Western Herald at Steubenville, Ohio, and soon afterward the Pennsylvania Advocate at Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and divided his time between the two newspapers.

As Providence would have it, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, youngest of seven sons and three daughters, was marked to be the scholar of the family. Trained by his parents, and especially by his mother, who was a Presbyterian of the “straitest sect,” it was not surprising that he turned to the Gospel ministry as his calling. The stair steps in his education were the Steubenville Academy; Jefferson College, afterwards Washington and Jefferson College, where he took first honors; and a year each at Western Theological Seminary at Allegheny, Pennsylvania, and Princeton Seminary.

The Reverend Doctor Thomas Woodrow, English-descended but Scotch-born, some years before had left his church at Carlisle, England, to become a missionary in the New World, and had finally come to Chillicothe, Ohio. It came about that he sent his pretty and sprightly daughter, Janet, sometimes called Jessie, to the girls school at Steubenville at the same time that Joseph R. Wilson had returned to that place to teach for a couple of years in the male academy. Finding their tastes congenial and their ideals alike, these two were happily married on June 7, 1849, and after teaching rhetoric for a year at Jefferson College, and chemistry and the natural sciences for four years at Hampden Sidney College, Virginia, the young husband accepted a call to the pastorate of the Presbyterian church at Staunton, Virginia, in the year 1855, and moved there with his wife and two small daughters, Marian and Annie Josephine.

Staunton was the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson. As his father left there when he was two years old to accept a call to the important First Presbyterian church of Augusta, Georgia, he had no recollection of the home of his nativity in the beautiful valley of Virginia, but he will never for get the reception tendered him by citizens of that city upon the fifty-seventh anniversary of his birth, on December 28, 1912, when he was President-elect of the United States, and when he was quartered in the little room in the manse where he first saw the light.

Both at Augusta and at Columbia, South Carolina, where Doctor Wilson in 1870 accepted the chair of pastoral and evangelistic theology at the Southern Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Woodrow attended excellent private schools, but his real instructor was his father. Doctor Wilson was one of the brilliant leaders of the Presbyterian Church in the south. For forty years he was Stated Clerk of the Southern General Assembly. He was Moderator of the Assembly of 1879. Well-informed upon the news of the day and well-balanced and fair-minded, the father was keen to judge a new book, to analyze a political situation, to shatter a sham with irony, or to scorn a pretender. From him all the while the boy was unconsciously absorbing the ability to do the same things.

Wilson's decision as to his life purpose was formed suddenly. He had spent a year at Davidson College, North Carolina, an excellent institution with a strong faculty, and then a year at his new home in Wilmington, North Carolina, whither his father had been called from Columbia to the Presbyterian pastorate. In the early fall of 1875 he entered Princeton, then under the presidency of Doctor James McCosh. About three months had passed when young Wilson, while browsing in the library, took down a file of the Gentlemen's Magazine and turned to the series of articles entitled “Men and Manners in Parliament,” written by “The Member for Chiltern Hundreds,” the anonymous successor of Doctor Johnson. Wilson was captivated by these vivid reports of the parliamentary debates participated in by Gladstone, Disraeli, John Bright, Earl Granville, Sir William Vernon Harcourt and other figures in the public eye of England at that time. He eagerly devoured the entire series, and went on to the earnest study of English political history. He does not hesitate to confess that this was a turning point in his life and that no other circumstance did so much to make public life the purpose of his existence. In his senior year, Wilson embodied his conclusions in an article entitled “Cabinet Government in the United States,” which was instantly accepted by the International Review and published in August, 1879. His criticism was that in Congress the important legislation was shaped in committee; and secrecy, he contended, is the atmosphere in which all corruption and evil flourish. To remedy the evil of committee government, which he attributed to lack of leaders, he devised a plan whereby Cabinet members should be entitled to a seat in Congress, and the right to participate in the debates, even if it were deemed advisable not to give them the right to vote. All through his later voluminous writings, Wilson clung to this theory and put the idea into practice, so far as he could, with marked effect, when he came to be the head of the nation, by personally appearing before joint meetings of both houses of Congress and reading his messages.

One effect of Wilson's selection of a career so early in his college course was to induce him to select all his studies with a view to it, and to reject as unsuited both to his tastes and his needs the rigid and inflexible curriculum then prescribed at Princeton. As illustrating how he reached for anything which would help him in his career, he went outside the campus to learn stenography so that he might the more easily make notes during his library work. This acquirement has proved an invaluable aid to him throughout his life, and all his public papers were originally prepared in the characters of the stenographic art. He was a famous and dreaded debater, belonging to Whig Hall, at Princeton, and it was conceded that he stood the best chance to win the Lynde Debate, an extemporaneous discussion participated in by three representatives from each of the two literary societies. But when in the preliminary trial in his society he drew out of the hat a slip labeled “Protection,” requiring him to defend that side, he refused to participate in the debate at all, because he could not advocate what he did not believe.

Conceiving that the law guaranteed the surest promise of a useful career, Wilson took his law course at the University of Virginia. Meanwhile, however, he continued his studies of English government and contributed articles to the University Magazine on John Bright and Gladstone.

A year of rest with his parents at Wilmington followed his leaving college, and then young Wilson engaged in the practice of law at Atlanta, Georgia, but, after a waiting experience of eighteen months in which clients were slow in putting in an appearance, he decided that he would continue his studies in the science of government at Johns Hopkins University. They were mainly directed by Herbert B. Adams in history, and Richard T. Ely in political economy. A second year at Hopkins was spent as the holder of the Historical Fellowship. A brilliant composition at this time was a study of Adam Smith, while early in 1885 appeared his first important volume, “Congressional Government, a Study of Government by Committee.” It was the first time a thorough consideration not only of the theory but of the actual working of the Constitution of the United States had ever been prepared in book form. It was the result of ten years of absorbing study. It met with immediate success, and Ambassador Bryce in the preface to his “American Commonwealth” acknowledges his indebtedness to the work. It brought him invitations to several college chairs, and, while still continuing his Hopkins studies, he accepted the place of associate in history and political economy at the new college for the higher education of women — Bryn Mawr. Mr. Wilson's course of lectures was one of the most popular in the college. In 1886 he took his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, his work on “Congressional Government” being accepted as his thesis, and one year later the University offered him a lectureship which took him to Baltimore once a week for twenty-five weeks.

Leaving Bryn Mawr, he was two years at Wesleyan University as professor of history and political economy, during which time he wrote “The State,” and in 1890 he accepted an offer of the chair of jurisprudence and politics in Princeton University. After fifteen years the young professor who had received the inspiration for his life work in the Princeton Library was back on the campus of his Alma Mater as a member of the faculty. His lectures sprang into popularity here as well as with his earlier professorships. Princeton had never in all its brilliant history had a teacher who so captivated his classes. Upwards of four hundred students in all were in attendance, absorbing his carefully ascertained and impressively presented facts of history, or fascinated by his original views of current events. His teaching was enlightened by sprightly humor. He spoke with the greatest freedom, often with utter abandon, concerning modern events and those concerned in them, putting the students on their honor not to report him and none of them ever violated his confidences.

Twelve years went by. It was a period of development with Woodrow Wilson. His mind mellowed. There was a ripening into maturity. As he continued his studies along the line of his bent a number of new books came from his pen. They were: “The State,” “Division and Reunion,” “An Old Master,” “Mere Literature” and “George Washington.” Later still appeared his masterly “History of the American People.” As he compared the conditions of government in this day with the ideals of government set up by the fathers of the Republic, and as he noted points of failure in the realization of these ideals, he was fired with a holy zeal to champion the cause of social justice.

In June, 1902, Woodrow Wilson was elected president of Princeton University. His thorough equipment, his proven capacity for leadership, his splendid scholarship, his eloquence and popularity as a speaker, his already widespread fame, his judgment and executive ability marked him as the man of the hour. His mettle had been tested in the faculty meetings when he had quickly made himself felt in his readiness in debate over the problems affecting the welfare of the campus and the college. His discernment, his preparedness for emergency, his loyalty, had been amply proven. He was the logical man for the place — this first layman in a list of presidents reaching back for one hundred and sixty years.

By his election a man who had no peer for genuine democracy was placed in supreme power in probably the most aristocratic educational institution in the United States. And this leaven of democracy mixed in with the fine flour of college aristocracy began soon to “work.” After a year of quiet but earnest study of conditions from the new point of view of the presidency, Doctor Wilson initiated and carried through to rapid success certain reforms. After seeing to it that the actual scholarship and discipline corresponded properly to what they were scheduled in the catalogue to be, demanding genuine work to win a diploma and banishing the social pull that had theretofore existed, Doctor Wilson laid his hand to the revision of the course of study. Princeton must not only be a place of work, but of work which should be intelligent and calculated to put the worker in a position best to serve society in the twentieth century.

The new president next secured the preceptorial system. Out of one hundred and sixty-eight hours a week, fifteen hours a week in the classroom were not considered sufficient by President Wilson for the proper education of the students entrusted to Princeton's care. They were no longer to be allowed to drift aimlessly through the weeks and the years. The institution was to give better attention toward direction of their spare time. To this end preceptors were employed at a great expense — for the new system involved an annual cost of about one hundred thousand dollars — and they were to supply friendly companionship and have oversight of studies. The informal, personal contact of the students with these preceptors has been of infinite value. The new system proved its worth from the outset, and the eyes of the educational world were turned upon Princeton which was thus forging to the front with a forcefully constructive programme.

President Wilson next attempted a reorganization of the social life of the campus. For ten years he had been turning over in his mind a plan by which the exclusive clubs patronized by the wealthier of the upper classmen might be superseded by a number of “quadrangles,” dormitories in which a certain number of men from each class together with several instructors should have their domicile. This would assure a commingling of all the students, the upper classmen demonstrating the value of the college training they were receiving and the lower classmen, through personal contact, receiving an impetus and inspiration for their further college career. As it was, Princeton had a dozen “swell” club-houses, to which only students possessed of large means could afford to belong. The aggregate value of these buildings and their elegant furnishings was upwards of a million dollars. The membership averaged about fifteen seniors and fifteen juniors each, the members of these two classes alone being eligible. Some three hundred or more other members of the senior and junior classes were excluded. Freshmen and especially sophomores engaged in fierce rivalry in their efforts to “make” a club. Their spirit was the dominant character-forming influence on the Princeton campus. It can readily be imagined how eagerly the democratic heart of President Wilson was throbbing in his desire to overthrow this pernicious system so alien to the American ideal.


Presidents Woodrow Wilson Princeton Home.jpg

THE HOME OF PRESIDENT WOODROW WILSON, PRINCETON, N. J., DURING HIS PROFESSORSHIP.

BUILT BY MR. & MRS. WILSON


A committee of seven trustees presented a report at the commencement of 1907, endorsing the President's plan for “the social co-ordination of the University” and the report was accepted. There were twenty-seven trustees. Twenty-five voted for the plan and one against. One member was absent. A circular outlining the plan was sent to the clubs and was read there by hundreds of returned alumni on the Friday night before commencement of the same year 1907. A cry of protest went up and continued through the year. The Alumni Weekly carried communications attacking the President for his high-handed attempts to “make a gentleman chum with a mucker,” or to force men “to submit to dictation as to their table companions.” The trustees, frightened by the noise the alumni had raised, on October 17 requested President Wilson to withdraw the proposition.

Yet another matter of serious controversy arose with the question of the establishment of a Graduate College. Bequests made for this purpose contained conditions which seemed to require of President Wilson that he should abrogate powers which he believed it his duty to exercise, and this he refused to do. It ended in Princeton getting her magnificent Graduate College — and losing her president. Mr. Wilson felt that he could be of no more service to Old Nassau. When therefore an opportunity to serve his fellow men came with the Democratic nomination to the governorship of New Jersey, he accepted it, and doubtless gladly, for it opened the avenues of statesmanship and public service for which his whole life had been an unconscious preparation.

New Jersey had begun to feel the effects of the great political reform movement sweeping the country and Democratic leaders knew that the state could not be won for their party unless a strong, clean man led the ticket. Woodrow Wilson's splendid campaign to make Princeton a truly American institution had caught the eye of the whole country. He had been a life long Democrat. New Jersey had within her borders the very man the party needed. The state was at the mercy of the big interests. Mr. Wilson hesitated to give his consent to consider the nomination, and was outspoken in the statement that he would make no promises and if elected he must be the accepted leader of his party. This latter condition he rightly regarded as essential to the carrying out of the reforms needed. When asked whether, if he were elected, he would refuse to listen to organization leaders and acknowledge the party organization, Mr. Wilson replied in this wise: “I have always been a believer in party organizations. If I were elected Governor I should be very glad to consult with the leaders of the Democratic organization. I should refuse to listen to no man but I should be especially glad to hear and duly consider the suggestions of the leaders of my party. If on my own independent investigation, I found that recommendations for appointment made to me by the organization leaders named the best possible men, I should naturally prefer, other things being equal, to appoint them, as the men pointed out by the combined counsels of the party.” On July 15 he published a statement to the effect that he would accept the nomination if it were the desire “of a decided majority of the thoughtful Democrats of the State.” He was enthusiastically nominated and made a brilliant campaign, convincing the people everywhere of his sincerity of purpose and of his freedom from leading strings. He was elected by 49,150 plurality, which marked a notable political revolution, for Taft had carried New Jersey before by a plurality of 82,000.

A primary for United States senator had been held the same day of the election of governor. Not dreaming that Democratic success would extend to the Legislature, the Democratic primary for senator had been allowed to go by default, or at least to take care of itself. The total Democratic vote was 73,000 and James E. Martine had received 54,000 of these. After a bitter fight, in which Governor Wilson showed he was the real leader of his party and able to cope successfully with the old politicians who did not know that a new day and a new leader had arrived, the Legislature elected Mr. Martine, who had led in the primary, giving him forty votes, while James Smith, Jr., who insisted upon becoming a candidate, when he had declared before election he would not run, received only four. It was a preliminary victory which greatly encouraged the new general and his soldiery for coming battles. For battles there must needs be, because not only was there Republican opposition to contend with but some of the old Democratic organization leaders could not soon forget the Governor's triumph in the defeat of their old leader. Governor Wilson found the Legislature to be constituted as follows: Senate: Republicans 12, Democrats 9; Assembly: Republicans 18, Democrats 42. The platform on which the party had won promised four vital reforms, a direct primary bill, a corrupt practices act, a public service commission with power to fix rates, and an employer's liability and workingmen's compensation law. Bitter opposition to these reforms developed, secretly even among some Democratic members who were supposed to be pledged to them. Few believed the Governor could force them through. When informed that it would be the end of the session before they could be reached, he replied that if that were the case an extra session would be called to pass them. He invited Republican as well as Democratic members to call upon him at his offices. If they did not come he sent for them. He won over some by his logical reasoning, others by his magnetic personality. To some who were extremely stubborn he proposed canvassing their own districts with them. Once in a message he intimated that he might be compelled to name publicly the balking members but as a matter of fact he never had to do so. He never made ugly threats but he often smilingly suggested that Jersey public opinion was back of his arguments.

In a legislative session of three months, in spite of the fact that the upper house of the legislature was of the opposite party to him, Governor Wilson fulfilled every demand of the people in securing this important legislation:

(1) The reform of the election laws was achieved by a Corrupt Practices Act, which makes it impossible for any corporation to contribute in any way towards the election of any candidate, and likewise makes the use of money on election-day unlawful and difficult; direct primaries for all elective state, county and municipal offices; direct primaries for United States senator and delegates to national conventions, with popular expression for choice for president; civil service tests for election officers and personal registration for all voters; non-partisan ballots in both primaries and elections.

(2) The better regulation of corporations was accomplished by a comprehensive Public Utilities Law, fixing the responsibility on officers of corporations for all violations, and vesting power in a commission to make rates and physical valuation of public service companies.

(3) Accidents to workingmen were provided for by a workmen's compensation law, providing for automatic payments for injuries or loss of life, in all industries, and doing away with the old fellow-servant responsibility of the common law.

(4) An act was passed enabling cities to adopt the commission form of government.

(5) A law was passed providing for the complete reorganization of the complicated state school system, whereby politics was eliminated.

(6) A law was passed regulating cold storage and other laws to purify the milk supply and to keep oysters from contamination.

Governor Wilson's extraordinary success in putting reforms through the New Jersey legislature gave him a strong lead for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, and when the Democratic convention met at Baltimore on June 25, 1912, the New Jersey Executive was in a forward position as one of the people's favorites. Feeling that he was not the representative of progressive politics, the selection of Judge Parker as temporary chairman was earnestly opposed by Honorable William J. Bryan, who sent telegrams to every presidential candidate asking whether Parker was satisfactory for this position. To this telegram Wilson did not hesitate to reply without equivocation that he felt that the choice of Parker would be a mistake. That telegram, sent contrary to the dictates of the old political method of trimming, was a master stroke. It showed that Wilson was no opportunist, but was ready to declare his position when silence or straddling was recommended. Parker won, and it seemed at first as if those who opposed him were doomed to defeat. The deadlock, which lasted from June 25 until July 2, gave Bryan his opportunity, for it allowed the story of the fight that was being made for Wilson as the most militant leader of Progressive measures to find its way back to the uttermost corners of the country. The national Democracy was thrilled. The people began to telegraph their wishes to the delegates, and they strongly favored the nomination of Wilson. It is said that one hundred and ten thousand telegrams were received by delegates. Mr. Bryan himself receiving 1,112 signed by more than thirty thousand persons. Mr. Bryan became the leading spirit of the Convention and he threw his support to Governor Wilson, who made slow but steady gains until his final triumph. On the first ballot he received three hundred and twenty-four votes, and on the forty-sixth, which nominated, nine hundred and ninety.

Upon accepting the nomination for the presidency, Mr. Wilson thus succinctly summarized in his speech at Sea Girt the two great things he would undertake to do:

“There are two great things to do. One is to set up the rule of justice and of right in such matters as the tariff, the regulation of the trusts and the prevention of monopoly, the adaptation of our banking and currency laws to the varied uses to which our people must put them, the treatment of those who do the daily labor in our factories and mines and throughout all our great industrial and commercial undertakings, and the political life of the people of the Philippines, for whom we hold governmental power in trust for their service, not our own. The other, the additional duty, is the great task of protecting our people and our resources and of keeping open to the whole people the doors of opportunity through which they must, generation by generation, pass if they are to make conquest of their fortunes in health, in freedom, in peace and in contentment. In the performance of this second great duty we are face to face with questions of conservation and of development, questions of forests and water powers and mines and waterways, of the building of an adequate merchant marine, and the opening of every highway and facility and the setting up of every safeguard needed by a great, industrious, expanding nation.”

In this speech Governor Wilson contended that representative government is nothing more nor less than an effort to give voice to the great, struggling body of the masses — the learned and the fortunate, as well as the uneducated — through spokesmen chosen out of every grade and class. He declared it to be a fact which it would be dangerous to ignore that, “We stand in the presence of an awakened nation — awake to the knowledge that she has lost certain cherished liberties and has wasted priceless resources which she had solemnly under taken to hold in trust for posterity and for all mankind; and she stands confronted with an occasion for constructive statesmanship such as has not arisen since the days in which the Government was set up.” . . . “We are servants of the people, the whole people. The Nation has been unnecessarily, unreasonably at war within itself. Interest has clashed with interest when there were common principles of right and of fair dealing which might and should have bound them all together, not as rivals, but as partners. As the servants of all, we are bound to undertake the great duty of accommodation and adjustment.”

The Nominee was outspoken in his conviction that the tariff should be revised. Said he:

“Tariff duties, as they have employed them, have not been a means of setting up an equitable system of protection. They have been, on the contrary, a method of fostering special privilege. They have made it easy to establish monopoly in our domestic markets. Trusts have owed their origin and their secure power to them. The economic freedom of our people, our prosperity in trade, our untrammeled energy in manufacture depend upon their reconsideration from top to bottom in an entirely different spirit. . . . It is obvious that the changes we make should be made only at such a rate and in such a way as will least interfere with the normal and healthful course of commerce and manufacture. But we shall not on that account act with timidity, as if we did not know our own minds, for we are certain of our ground and of our object. There should be an immediate revision, and it should be downward, unhesitatingly and steadily downward.” . . .

President Wilson made an inspiring campaign, delivering a number of speeches at strategic centers in the various states. The triangular character of the race made it the most interesting in American history since Lincoln's time. Wilson got 6,293,454 of the popular vote; Roosevelt 4,119,538, and Taft 3,484,980, but the New Jersey Executive got an overwhelming majority in the Electoral College, the vote standing thus: Wilson 435, Roosevelt 88, and Taft 8.

The marrow of the man is his sincerity. His carrying out of every pledge made in New Jersey presaged his course as President. He kept the rudder true in his State in a storm that beat its fury upon the Commonwealth and threatened to divide and defeat his party, victorious for the first time in a dozen years. In his inaugural address, in which his sincere and genuine appeal to “all forward-looking men” fell upon ears that were glad to hear the pledge of the New Freedom he had come to inaugurate in our Republic, the new President showed that his campaign pledges were the sacred covenants between the new executive and the people.

His inaugural illustrated the truth that he was sailing by the chart which he himself had prepared in the campaign: After insisting that the change of government meant that the nation now sought to use the Democratic party to interpret a change in its own plans and point of view; after asserting that some old, familiar things have dropped their disguises and shown themselves alien and sinister, and that some new things have come to assume the aspect of things long believed in and familiar, he declared we had come to a work of restoration, and continued:

“We have itemized with some degree of particularity the things that ought to be altered and here are some of the chief items: A tariff which cuts us off from our proper part in the commerce of the world, violates the just principles of taxation, and makes the Government a facile instrument in the hands of private interests; a banking and currency system based upon the necessity of the Government to sell its bonds fifty years ago and perfectly adapted to concentrating cash and restricting credits; an industrial system which, take it on all sides, financial as well as administrative, holds capital in leading strings, restricts the liberties and limits the opportunities of labor, and exploits without renewing or conserving the natural resources of the country; a body of agricultural activities never yet given the efficiency of great business undertakings or served as it should be through the instrumentality of science taken directly to the farm, or afforded the facilities of credit best suited to its practical needs; water-courses undeveloped, waste places unreclaimed, forests untended, fast disappearing without plan or prospect of renewal, unregarded waste heaps at every mine. We have studied as perhaps no other nation has the most effective means of production, but we have not studied cost or economy as we should either as organizers of industry, as statesmen, or as individuals.”

The inaugural address concluded with this appeal for co-operation in the great task upon which he was entering:

“This is not a day of triumph; it is a day of dedication. Here muster, not the forces of party, but the forces of humanity. Men's hearts wait upon us; men's lives hang in the balance; men's hopes call upon us to say what we will do. Who shall live up to the great trust? Who dares fail to try? I summon all honest men, all patriotic, all forward-looking men, to my side. God helping me, I will not fail them, if they will but counsel and sustain me!”

When the 63rd Congress was called in extraordinary session the President's proclamation did not limit the purpose to tariff reduction, as many party leaders desired, but it was primarily convened to revise and reduce the tariff. The previous Republican administration had revised but not reduced, and suffered a crushing defeat in the elections of 1910 and 1912. Wilson, moreover, had before his vision the mistakes of the late President Cleveland to aid him in determining to permit no new question or no reasonings to divert him from the paramount duty of responding to the double mandate of the voters to reduce the tariff and unfetter trade. His every utterance emphasized tariff as the first great reform to be carried out. He was in frequent conference with the leaders of the House, both before Congress assembled and when it convened. He led in the Nation in making and invoking public sentiment as he had successfully led when he was Governor of New Jersey. To emphasize his tariff program and impress the argument for genuine reduction, he astonished the country by going in person and reading his message to Congress, reviving an early custom which went into innocuous desuetude because Jefferson, who had no taste and little gift for public speaking, sent his message to be read by a clerk, instead of delivering it in person. There were those who declared this return to an old order suggested a king giving orders to Congress. They predicted that the innovation smacked of a return to Federalism. But on the day that Wilson entered the House to read his message every seat was occupied. Hundreds could not gain admission. Those who witnessed the contrast between the clear enunciation and impressive presentation of his convictions and recommendations, and the old humdrum reading, when clerks droned through a message, and the tense interest when the new leader enunciated his own views and the pledges of the majority party, rejoiced at the new freedom that ushered in the delivery in the flesh of a fresh message to the American people.

Wilson was in direct touch with Mr. Underwood and other members of the Ways and Means Committee and other leaders of the House in the preparation of the Underwood Bill. He did not shirk labor or responsibility, nor assume the duty resting upon others. But, in consonance with the duty which the leadership of the dominant party, to which he had been called, demanded, he helped to shape the character of the legislation on the schedules upon which there was the most difference of opinion. He freely discussed these schedules with those who had a claim upon his consideration of their views. The sugar people were the most active and earnest in trying to secure a reversal of the program of free sugar. They sought to impress the President with the view that a protective duty, which would bring in large revenue, should remain on sugar. He heard, he conferred, he debated, and declared that free sugar must be a part of the bill, and free sugar is in the Underwood-Simmons bill. The famous Schedule K, long called the key to the protection arch, had given so much trouble to the Democrats in the prior Congress that they had to be content to levy some tax on wool, much to the regret of the many who for more than a quarter of a century had been fighting for free wool. The advocates of a tariff on wool wished to enact the same wool schedule that passed the Sixty-second Congress, but the President stood firmly for free wool, as did nearly all the newly elected Congressmen, and free wool is in the bill. The old plan of permitting the beneficiaries of the tariff to write the tariff schedules, which put money in their purses, had come to an end. The President, with the overwhelming majority of his party in Congress, subordinated every local consideration to the passage of a tariff act drafted along the lines indicated in the pre-election promises of the President. In the tariff, as in important matters in which he was interested in New Jersey, he accepted no compromise. The Tariff act of 1913 owes much of its value to the wise and courageous President in the White House. To him is largely due the credit of a united party, with a narrow margin in the Senate, refusing to change in one jot or tittle the bill agreed upon in party council and approved by the Chief Executive. In 1894, with a like slender majority in the Senate, Mr. Cleveland was unable to lead his party in the famous tariff struggle. They divided and compromised so that, when the Senate finally passed a tariff bill which the House felt forced to accept, the President refused to sign it. He declared it to represent “party perfidy and party dishonor.” But the Democratic party went into long exile as the result of party dissensions over tariff and currency legislation. There were those who predicted that history would repeat itself and that the Democratic Congress would so divide in 1913 as to invite another long exile such as the one that began in 1894 and lasted until 1912. To the President, in cordial co-operation with the leaders of his party in Congress, the historian will give the credit for the united action that insured tariff and currency legislation[1] without party dissension or serious financial disturbance.

It is well known that every revision of the tariff in the past half a century has been accompanied by a strong lobby of the interests which had commercial or industrial issues at stake. After the Underwood bill had gone to the Senate, President Wilson had occasion to inform the Senate that he had information that “a numerous, industrious and insidious lobby” was at work. The President's statement, which aroused the country, was, in full, as follows:

“I think that the public ought to know the extraordinary exertions being made by the lobby in Washington to gain recognition for certain alterations of the tariff bill. Washington has seldom seen so numerous, so industrious, or so insidious a lobby. The newspapers are being filled with paid advertisements calculated to mislead the judgment of public men not only, but also the public opinion of the country itself. There is every evidence that money without limit is being spent to sustain this lobby and to create an appearance of a pressure of public opinion antagonistic to some of the chief items of the tariff bill. It is of serious interest to the country that the people at large should have no lobby and be voiceless in these matters while great bodies of astute men seek to create an artificial opinion and to overcome the interests of the public for their private profit. It is thoroughly worth the while of the people of this country to take knowledge of this matter. Only public opinion can check and destroy it.

“The Government in all its branches ought to be relieved from this intolerable burden and this constant interruption to the calm progress of debate. I know that in this I am speaking for the members of the two Houses, who would rejoice as much as I would to be released from this unbearable situation.”

The statement, at first, was received by a portion of the press and people with incredulity but, as the lobby investigating committee, headed by Senator Overman, proceeded with its work, it became plainly evident that the President was entirely correct in his charge and in his description of the nature of the lobby. Evidence adduced showed that the sugar-growing interests spent as much as $100,000 in agitation against free sugar, though there was no proof that this particular item was illegally expended. It was in evidence that more than 1,000,000 documents had been mailed under the franks of Congressmen in opposition to free sugar. In one quarter, charges were made that a long list of members of both branches of Congress had accepted money considerations in exchange for their influence in committees of Congress which had labor legislation in charge. Undue influence was exerted upon other members, it was alleged, by means of “business, political and sympathetic” reasons. It was proven that one shameless lobbyist had impersonated, over the long-distance telephone, several of the leading members of Congress and had offered in their name to influence pending legislation. Evidence was multiplied that strong bodies of men united to defeat members of Congress who opposed the legislation they desired, or sought to put laws on the statute books not favored by them. The trail of the lobbyist was found in a score of ways. The charge of the President of the existence of “a numerous, industrious and insidious lobby” was more than established by the evidence. The President was vindicated. The President's warning and the work of the lobby committee served to put Congress and the people on their guard, and history will doubtless record that the Underwood-Simmons tariff bill was freer from attack by this old enemy of tariff reduction than any other tariff measure passed for many years.

As soon as it became certain that a tariff bill, in accordance with the promises of the Baltimore platform, would pass the extra session, the President bent his energies toward co-operating with Congress to secure the passage of a currency reform measure. The bill, which was christened with the names of Representative Glass and Senator Owen, had the sanction of the Administration.

The President undertook to overcome the feeling of those members of the Senate that remaining in session through the hot summer in order to pass the tariff bill was sufficient achievement for one session and that the currency bill could go over to the regular session. With all the earnestness of his nature, the President urged that there would never be a more favorable opportunity to pass a currency reform measure than the present. He appeared personally before Congress in joint session for the second time and read his message on the currency. “When the work to be done is so pressing and so fraught with big consequence,” he said, “we know that we are not at liberty to weigh against it any point of personal sacrifice.” In making men free to employ individual initiative by removing the trammels of the protection tariff, the President held, there will be necessary some readjustments of purpose and point of view. Then will follow a period of expansion and new enterprise, and “it is for us to determine whether it shall be rapid and facile and of easy accomplishment. This it cannot be unless the resourceful business men who are to deal with the new circumstances are to have at hand and ready for use the instrumentalities and conveniences of free enterprise which independent men need when acting on their own initiative.” One of the chief things business needs now is “the proper means by which readily to vitalize its credit, corporate and individual, and its originative brains. The tyrannies of business, big and little, lie within the field of credit. We know that. Shall we not act upon the knowledge? Do we not know how to act upon it? If a man cannot make his assets available at pleasure, his assets of capacity and character and resource, what satisfaction is it to him to see opportunity beckoning to him on every hand, when others have the keys of credit in their pockets and treat them as all but their own private possession?”

It is imperative, therefore, to act immediately and upon clear principles. “The country has sought and seen its path in this matter within the last few years — sees it more clearly now than it ever saw it before — much more clearly than when the last legislative proposals on the subject were made. We must have a currency, not rigid as now, but readily, elastically responsive to sound credit, the expanding and contracting credits of everyday transactions, the normal ebb and flow of personal and corporate dealings. Our banking laws must mobilize reserves; must not permit the concentration anywhere in a few hands of the monetary resources of the country or their use for speculative purposes in such volume as to hinder or impede or stand in the way of other more legitimate, more fruitful uses. And the control of the system of banking and of issue which our new laws are to set up must be public, not private, must be vested in the Government itself, so that the banks may be the instruments, not the masters, of business and of individual enterprise and initiative.”

The Wilson administration, in its earliest stages, was called upon to consider diplomatic questions that at once gave the people a clear understanding of its foreign policy. With firmness and dignity, unmoved by jingoism or hesitation, the President made clear his determination to make friendliness and justice to other nations the duty and mission of the Republic. In his brief inaugural, Mr. Wilson did not touch upon foreign questions but confined himself to the few economic home problems that pressed for solution. He may have thought, as did most of the people, that no international complications would come up until the needed tariff and currency legislation had been enacted, and he doubtless hoped that not even a small cloud would appear upon the horizon to threaten our cordial and friendly relations with other nations. But there soon came rumors of threatened trouble in one or more Republics to the south of us. There seemed to be a feeling that, after a long period of Republican rule at Washington, the new Administration's induction into office would encourage self-imposed officials to seek to obtain the reins of government. What should the attitude of the Administration be toward our neighbor countries in Central and South America? The President deemed the answer to that question important enough to make a declaration that attracted world-wide attention. He said:

“One of the chief objects of my administration will be to cultivate the friendship and deserve the confidence of our sister republics of Central and South America, and to promote in every proper and honorable way the interests which are common to the peoples of the two continents. I earnestly desire the most cordial understanding and co-operation between the peoples and leaders of America and, therefore, deem it my duty to make this brief statement.

“Co-operation is possible only when supported at every turn by the orderly processes of just government based upon law, not upon arbitrary or irregular force. We hold, as I am sure all thoughtful leaders of republican government everywhere hold, that just government rests always upon the consent of the governed, and that there can be no freedom without order based upon law and upon the public conscience and approval. We shall look to make these principles the basis of mutual intercourse, respect and helpfulness between our sister republics and ourselves. We shall lend our influence of every kind to the realization of these principles in fact and practice, knowing that disorder, personal intrigues, and defiance of constitutional rights weaken and discredit government and injure none so much as the people who are unfortunate enough to have their common life and their common affairs so tainted and disturbed. We can have no sympathy with those who seek to seize the power of government to advance their own personal interests or ambition. We are the friends of peace, but we know that there can be no lasting or stable peace in such circumstances. As friends, therefore, we shall prefer those who act in the interest of peace and honor, who protect private rights, and respect the restraints of constitutional provision. Mutual respect seems to us the indispensable foundation of friendships between states, as between individuals.

“The United States has nothing to seek in Central and South America except the lasting interests of the peoples of the two continents, the security of governments intended for the people and for no special group or interest, and the development of personal and trade relationships between the two continents which shall redound to the profit and advantage of both and interfere with the rights and liberties of neither.”

At the same time, the world was given to under stand that what is known as “dollar diplomacy” would not be countenanced by the Administration. During the Presidential campaign there had been much criticism of this policy and many had attributed to it a growing irritation in some of our sister republics.

The people of China had but latterly changed the form of their government into a republic, patterned after the United States. No great nation had recognized the Republic, and there was doubt whether it would maintain itself. The President determined not to join hands with other nations in a loan coupled with conditions that denied the government of China a free hand. He resolved also that as soon as the Chinese legislative branch was organized he would recognize the new Republic. The people of the United States rejoiced in the recognition, and shortly other nations followed. In extending the recognition of the greatest western Republic to the oldest nation that had put on the robes of self-government, the addresses by the new President of China and the American representative in China gave a thrill to all who believe that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. The words of President Wilson constitute the best expression of American thought. He wrote:

“The Government and people of the United States of America having abundantly testified their sympathy with the people of China upon their assumption of the attributes and powers of self-government deem it opportune at this time, when the representative National Assembly has met to discharge the high duty of setting the seal of full accomplishment upon the aspirations of the Chinese people, that I extend, in the name of my Government and of my countrymen, a greeting of welcome to the New China thus entering into the family of nations. In taking this step, I entertain the confident hope and expectation that in perfecting a republican form of government the Chinese nation will attain to the highest degree of development and well-being, and that under the new rule all the established obligations of China which passed to the Provisional Government will, in turn, pass to and be observed by the Government established by the Assembly.”

Early in the history of the Administration, the Japanese Minister lodged a protest with the Department of State against the proposed passage of an anti-alien land law bill by the California Legislature. The claim of the Japanese Government was that such a measure would violate treaty rights. “To lease land for commercial purposes” is granted to Japanese subjects in our treaty with Japan. It was claimed by the California Legislature that the Japanese were increasing their leases and their ownership of lands, particularly agricultural lands, in California. President Wilson set himself to see that the treaty rights of Japan should be respected. In a telegram to Governor Johnson, of California, the President “very respectfully but most earnestly advised against” the use of the words “ineligible to citizenship,” which were used in one or more of the bills pending. In a second telegram to Governor Johnson, he appealed to the Executive, the Legislature, and the people of California, “to act in the matter under consideration in a manner that cannot from any point of view be fairly challenged or called in question. If they deem it necessary to exclude all aliens who have not declared their intention to become citizens from the privilege of land ownership, they can do so along the lines already followed in the laws of many foreign countries including Japan itself. Invidious discrimination will inevitably draw in question the treaty obligations of the Government of the United States.” The President added that he was “confident the people and the legislative authorities of California would generously respond the moment the matter was presented to them as a question of national policy and national honor.”

Upon the receipt of a reply from Governor Johnson, President Wilson telegraphed to the Governor asking whether, on account of the difficulty from a distance of understanding fully the situation with regard to the sentiments and circumstances lying back of the pending proposition concerning the ownership of land in California, it would be agreeable to him and the Legislature to have the Secretary of State visit Sacramento for the purpose of counseling with the Governor and the members of the Legislature and co-operating in the framing of a law which would meet the views of the people of the State and yet leave untouched the international obligations of the United States.

Mr. Bryan went to California and conferred with the Governor and Legislature, but it soon be came clearly apparent that the Legislature was bent upon passing a law forbidding ownership of agricultural land by the Japanese.

Mr. Bryan's suggestions to the Legislature were the following:

1. Delay immediate action and permit the State Department to try to frame a new treaty with Japan.

2. Delay immediate action and appoint a legislative commission to investigate alien land ownership and act with President Wilson in gaining relief.

3. Enact a law similar to the Illinois statute, which allows all aliens to hold land six years.

4. Enact a law similar to the Federal statute in the District of Columbia, which applies to all aliens.

Mr. Bryan presented these suggestions with this happy statement: “Each State in the Union acts in a dual capacity. It is the guardian of local affairs of its people and in a sense the only guardian, and yet each State is a member of the Union and one of the sisterhood of States. Therefore, in acting upon questions of local conditions, the State always recognizes that it is its duty to share the responsibility with other States in actions affecting the nation's relations with foreign nations.”

The Legislature passed an act that was regarded by Japan as a discrimination against that country. For a time there was a feeling that the friendly relations long existing between the two countries would be sundered. But the policy of the Federal Administration, couched in friendly and courteous terms, convinced the Japanese people of its genuine friendship and of its sincere desire to treat that country with justice and consideration. The tense feeling in both countries was relieved by the spirit of amity and justice shown in every act and note of the Wilson administration.

A second delicate diplomatic situation with which the President had to deal concerned Mexico. The Ambassador at Mexico City, Mr. Henry Lane Wilson, was an appointee of the previous Administration, and in his desire to have this country recognize the de facto Huerta government, which followed the Madero régime, he did not represent the views of President Wilson. Ambassador Wilson was summoned to Washington to confer with the President, but a variance of views developing between him and the Administration, his resignation was eventually accepted. The situation was one of grave difficulty. The President was constrained to send a personal representative to deal with it at first hand and for this delicate mission selected ex-Governor John Lind of Minnesota, who was sent to Mexico. He was sent as adviser of the United States Embassy at Mexico City, and he began his negotiations with the Huerta administration through the United States chargé d'affaires. General Huerta showed little inclination, however, to accept the good offices tendered by this country through Mr. Lind. At this juncture, President Wilson for the third time took the Congress and people of the United States into his counsels by appearing personally before the joint session of both houses and making public his purpose and plans in dealing with the Mexican situation and with the results that followed his efforts.

His address revealed how the Huerta provisional government had rejected the friendly offices of the United States, told of its effort to aid in the establishment of peace, and of a government which could be recognized by this nation, and which would be obeyed and respected by Mexico's own people. For the first time since Washington's administration, a President appeared before Congress to discuss foreign affairs. His cordial reception by members from all sides, and the endorsement of his course by a large majority of the members of Congress, the press, and of the people of the Union, showed how strongly public opinion was behind him in his efforts. He sounded a high note when he stated at the outset:

“The peace, prosperity and contentment of Mexico mean more, much more, to us than merely an enlarged field for our commerce and enterprise. They mean an enlargement of the field of self-government and the realization of the hopes and rights of a nation with whose best aspirations, so long suppressed and disappointed, we deeply sympathize. We shall yet prove to the Mexican people that we know how to serve them without first thinking how we shall serve ourselves.”


Presidents Woodrow Wilson to James Grant Wilson.jpg

[Fac-simile letter from President Woodrow Wilson to Gen. James Grant Wilson]


Mr. Lind was sent with the following instructions:

“Press very earnestly upon the attention of those who are now exercising authority or wielding influence in Mexico the following considerations and advice:

“The Government of the United States does not stand in the same case with the other great governments of the world in respect of what is happening or what is likely to happen in Mexico. We offer our good offices, not only because of our genuine desire to play the part of a friend, but also because we are expected by the powers of the world to act as Mexico's nearest friend.

“We wish to act in these circumstances in the spirit of the most earnest and disinterested friendship. It is our purpose in whatever we do or propose in this perplexing and distressing situation not only to pay the most scrupulous regard to the sovereignty and independence of Mexico — that we take as a matter of course to which we are bound by every obligation of right and honor — but also to give every possible evidence that we act in the interest of Mexico alone, and not in the interest of any person or body of persons who may have personal or property claims in Mexico which they may feel that they have a right to press. We are seeking to counsel Mexico for her own good and in the interest of her own peace, and not for any other purpose whatever. The Government of the United States would deem itself discredited if it had any selfish or ulterior purpose in transactions where the peace, happiness, and prosperity of a whole people are involved. It is acting as its friendship for Mexico, not as any selfish interest, dictates.

“The present situation in Mexico is incompatible with the fulfillment of international obligations on the part of Mexico, with the civilized development of Mexico herself, and with the maintenance of tolerable political and economic conditions in Central America. It is upon no common occasion therefore that the United States offers her counsel and assistance. All America cries out for a settlement.

“A satisfactory settlement seems to us to be conditioned on —

“(a) An immediate cessation of fighting throughout Mexico, a definite armistice solemnly entered into and scrupulously observed;

“(b) Security given for an early and free election in which all will agree to take part;

“(c) The consent of General Huerta to bind himself not to be a candidate for election as president of the republic at this election; and

“(d) The agreement of all parties to abide by the results of the election and co-operate in the most loyal way in organizing and supporting the new administration.”

The Mexican Government was to be assured that the United States wished to play any part in this settlement which it could play honorably and consistently. It pledged itself to recognize and assist an administration so set up. Could Mexico give the civilized world a good reason for rejecting these good offices?

Mr. Lind executed his delicate mission with singular tact, firmness and good judgment, but the proposals he submitted were rejected in a note of Foreign Minister Gamboa which was laid before the Congress in printed form. This rejection the President was constrained to believe was due to misinformation, first, as to the friendly spirit of the American people in this matter, and, second, because they did not believe that the present Administration spoke for the people of the United States. “The effect of this unfortunate misunderstanding on their part,” he continued in his message, “is to leave them singularly isolated and without friends who can effectually aid them. So long as the misunderstanding continues, we can only await the time of their awakening to a realization of the actual facts. We cannot thrust our good offices upon them. The situation must be given a little more time to work itself out in the new circumstances; and I believe that only a little time will be necessary. For the circumstances are new. The rejection of our friendship makes them new and will inevitably bring its own alterations in the whole aspect of affairs. The actual situation of the authorities at Mexico City will presently be revealed.” Meantime, “we can afford to exercise the self-restraint of a really great nation which realizes its own strength and scorns to misuse it.” With increased activity on the part of contending factions in Mexico would come increased danger to non-combatants, and therefore the President earnestly urged all Americans to leave Mexico at once. We should assist them in getting away, but, at the same time, let every one who assumed authority know, in the most unequivocal way, “that we shall vigilantly watch the fortunes of those Americans who cannot get away and shall hold those responsible for their sufferings and losses to a definite reckoning.” For the rest, the President would forbid the exportation of arms or munitions of war from the United States into any part of the Republic of Mexico. His policy of justice, patience and friendship in all dealings with Mexico won the approval of the whole world. This policy, dictated by neighborly regard and freedom from any spirit of aggression, has, it is believed, gone far to make for the enduring friendship of the neighboring republics when the present unhappy struggles in Mexico have given way to honorable peace.

Mrs. Woodrow Wilson[edit]

Mrs. Woodrow Wilson is the daughter of Rev. Dr. Samuel Edward Axson, long pastor of the Presbyterian Church at Rome, Georgia. She was born at Savannah when it was the home of her grandfather, Rev. Dr. I. S. K. Axson, a distinguished Presbyterian minister.

Mrs. Wilson is a woman of rare gifts, good taste, and charm of manner. Although her paintings have been exhibited in art galleries, she likes best to be known as a home-maker and, if she has any ambition as wife of the President, it is to set an example of unostentatious living to the women of America without, however, the slightest inclination to dictate to others.

Their home, whether in the college town or in the White House, has always been a center of culture and grace, and it has, as well, been characterized by marked religious influences and the ideals of her own and her husband's forefathers. Mrs. Wilson is in earnest sympathy with legislative reform that shall secure improved conditions for working women. She has taken active interest in the effort to rid Washington of its alley evils.

From her earliest girlhood in Georgia she has been a devotee of art, and studied at the Art League in New York and at Lyme, Conn. Two of her best known works are “The Lane” and “The River,” both done from scenes at Lyme. Her pictures are noticeable for their sense of restfulness.

Three daughters were born in the Wilson home. Miss Margaret Wilson is gifted with a beautiful voice and inherits her father's love of music. Miss Jessie Wilson possesses a deep human sympathy, which found a practical outlet when she became a worker in the Lighthouse Mission in the Kensington, Philadelphia, mill district. Her engagement to Mr. Francis Bowes Sayre was announced soon after the President and his family came to Washington. Her marriage in the White House on November 25, 1913, was the thirteenth wedding to take place in the Executive Mansion. Miss Eleanor Wilson, the youngest daughter, like her mother, is devoted to art, in which she has marked talent, and has fitted herself to be an illustrator.

Two works of a biographical nature about President Wilson are: “Woodrow Wilson, the Story of His Life,” by William Bayard Hale (1912), and “Woodrow Wilson, His Career, His Statesman ship and His Public Policy,” by Hester E. Hosford (1912).


  1. The Tariff Bill was signed Oct. 3, 1913; the Currency Bill, Dec. 23, 1913.