Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 28th (1913-1921) President of the United States. He was the second Democrat to serve two consecutive terms in the White House after Andrew Jackson.
Early life and education
Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia, with ancestry in Strabane, Northern Ireland. He grew up in Augusta, Georgia.
Wilson graduated from Princeton University in 1879.He was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternal organization. Afterward, Wilson studied law at the University of Virginia for one year. After completing and publishing his dissertation, Congressional Government, in 1886, he received his Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University. Wilson remains the only American president to have earned a doctoral degree.
Wilson served on the faculties of Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University before joining the Princeton faculty as professor of jurisprudence and political economy in 1890. A popular teacher and respected scholar, Wilson delivered an oration at Princeton’s sesquicentennial celebration (1896) entitled “Princeton in the Nation’s Service.” In this famous speech, he outlined his vision of the university in a democratic nation, calling on institutions of higher learning “to illuminate duty by every lesson that can be drawn out of the past.”
Woodrow Wilson was unanimously elected president of Princeton University on June 9, 1902. In his inaugural address as Princeton’s president, Wilson developed these themes, attempting to strike a balance that would please both populists and aristocrats in the audience.
As president, Wilson began a fund-raising campaign to bolster the university corporation. The curriculum guidelines he developed during his tenure as president of Princeton proved among the most important innovations in the field of higher education. He instituted the now common system of core requirements followed by two years of concentration in a selected area. When he attempted to curtail the influence of the elitist “social clubs,” however, Wilson met with resistance from trustees and potential donors. He believed the system was smothering the intellectual and moral life of the undergraduates. Opposition from wealthy and powerful alumni further convinced Wilson of the undesirability of exclusiveness and moved him towards a more populist position in his politics.
Through his published commentary on contemporary political matters, Wilson developed a national reputation and, with increasing seriousness, considered a public service career. In 1910, he received an unsolicited nomination for the governorship of New Jersey, which he eagerly accepted. As governor, he developed a platform of progressive liberalism in matters of domestic political economy.
In the election of 1912, the Democratic Party nominated Wilson as their presidential candidate. William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican Party by running against each other, allowing Wilson’s victory.
On the day before Wilson’s inauguration in March 1913, members of the Congressional Union, later known as the National Women’s Party, organized a suffrage parade in Washington, D.C. to siphon attention away from inaugural events. It is said that when Wilson arrived in town, he found the streets empty of welcoming crowds and was told that everyone was on Pennsylvania Avenue watching the parade.
Suffrage was only one of the volatile issues Wilson faced during his presidency. His progressive measures for domestic reform often met with opposition, and in foreign policy he faced greater challenges than any president since Abraham Lincoln. Determining whether or not to involve the U.S. in World War I severely tested his leadership.
He kept the United States neutral in the early years of World War I, which contributed to his popular re-election in 1916. However, with increased pressure, the United States entered the conflict with a formal declaration of war against Germany on April 6, 1917.
After the Great War, Wilson worked with mixed success to assure statehood for formerly oppressed nations and an equitable peace. On January 8, 1918, Wilson made his famous “Fourteen Points” address, introducing the idea of a League of Nations, an organization that would strive to help preserve territorial integrity and political independence among large and small nations alike.
Wilson intended the Fourteen Points as a means toward ending the war and achieving an equitable peace for all the nations. He worked tirelessly to promote his plan at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The charter of the proposed League of Nations was incorporated into the conference’s Treaty of Versailles, but most of the other Fourteen Points fell by the wayside.
For his peacemaking efforts, Wilson was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize. Receiving the award was bittersweet, however, because he was unable to convince congressional opponents, such as Henry Cabot Lodge, to support the resolution endorsing U.S. entry into the League. United States membership, Wilson believed, was essential to ensuring lasting world peace.
On October 2, 1919 Wilson suffered a stroke and was seriously incapacitated his final year in office, although the extent of his disabilities was kept from the public until after his death. While Wilson was incapacitated, his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, served as steward, selecting issues for his attention and delegating other issues to his Cabinet heads.
In 1921, Wilson and his second wife retired from the White House to a home in the Embassy Row section of Washington, D.C. Wilson died there on February 3, 1924. Mrs. Wilson stayed in the home another thirty-seven years, passing away on December 28, 1961.