Thomas Woodrow Wilson

.. he Sussex, a French channel streamer was sunk, killing 80 civilians, some American, Wilson declared that if these attacks did not stop “the United States would have no choice but to sever diplomatic relations”5 with Germany. In the end not even Woodrow Wilson could keep the United States out of World War I. When the Germans declared unlimited submarine warfare, Wilson knew the United States would have to get involved. Still he hesitated, hoping for some event that would make an American declaration of war unnecessary. Instead two events occurred destroying all hopes of neutrality.

The first was the Zimmerman telegram. This was a message intercepted by Britain proposing a secret alliance between Germany and Mexico. The next event that pushed the US into the war was the Russian Revolution, in which Russia withdrew from the war, this meant the Allies lost a major part of their team, and without the United States, Germany would have surely won. In April 1917 Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany. He appointed able men to mobilize the economy and to command the armed forces, never interfering with either. By September 1918 Germanys army was in retreat, its civilians hungry and exhausted.

Wilsons’ real heart was in peace. He insisted on going to the Paris Peace conference himself, where he was greeted by European crowds cheering wildly. He and three other men, known as the Big Four, including Premier Vittorio Orlando of Italy, Prime Minister David Lloyd George of Britain, and Premier Georges Clemenceau of France drew up the Treaty of Versailles, based on Wilsons Fourteen Point address. Aspirations of world order were represented in his Fourteen Points: Open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, the removal of economic barriers among nations, reductions of armaments, the ending of imperialism, self-determination for national groups, the inclusion of Russia in the world community, and, most important to Wilson, the creation of an association of nations to assume collective responsibility for maintaining peace (the League of Nations). Wilson passionately wanted his Fourteen Points implemented, he wanted a treaty that would be fair to fallen enemy as well as to the victors.

After many compromises, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, including Wilsons League of Nations. Wilson formally got approval for his League of Nations, but when he returned home with the treaty, he found resistance to him and it. A group of senators refused to accept the treaty as a package, as Wilson demanded. Frustrated, Wilson decided to appeal over the senators heads to the country. He set out on a tour that took him through 30 cities in 24 days, this grueling schedule caused him to he suffer two strokes, the second one leaving his left side paralyzed.

For the next few weeks Wilson was near death, nobody was allowed to see him except for his wife who would carry messages to his bedroom and then emerge with an answer. When his mind finally cleared he was presented with Senator Lodge’s proposed fourteen reservations to his fourteen points. The treaty was rejected because neither Wilson nor Lodge was willing to compromise. Although Wilson was partially paralyzed by the stroke and suffering from other disabilities, he wanted the honor of a third nomination. If he had received it, he may have ran again, so great was his devotion to the League of Nations, which was created without the participation of the United States. The League never took off without the support of the United States behind it.

Wilsons political leadership experience was limited to his two year stint as governor of New Jersey. Nevertheless, he had no doubts about his ability to lead the nation, as he said in his inaugural address, “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!”6 Part of his effective leadership ability, was that Wilson knew how to dramatize issues and to capture public attention. He did not think average citizens were qualified to lead. The leaders task was partly to sense the wishes of the people, but it was also to shape their ideas and to act where they would not naturally act. The Presidents leadership of his party gave him more influence over Congress, but more importantly his standing as the interpreter of the countries instinctive wishes and desires made him a unique national figure. He was the first president since Thomas Jefferson to address Congress personally, which he did several times.

The president, in Wilsons view, thus had extraordinary potential powers attained from his role as political leader and interpreter of the wishes of all people. In contrast to what the people had expected when they chose Wilson as the democratic nominee, he had proved that he could be a leader and that state government could meet the challenges facing it. His academic work had shown that he was not a profound thinker, but he had a rare ability to see the essentials of issues and to delegate authority to others to handle details. While considering issues he was open-minded and eager for practical suggestions about how to achieve a goal, and once he had made up his mind he was firm and consistent. Wilson adopted an approach to Congress that proved remarkably effective. He outlined the main objectives he wanted to achieve and left legislatures to draft special bills.

He made use of public opinion to influence the legislative process by going personally to the capitol to address Congress and by making other public speeches. The significance of the Underwood tariff is debatable but the skill and flexibility Wilson showed in getting it through Congress were not. If one of his reforms stalled in Congress, he would generate pressure on the lawmakers to act by calling public attention to the delay. Through Wilsons aggressive leadership, his administration was responsible for four constitutional amendments. The eighteenth amendment, prohibiting the sales of alcoholic beverages, was controversial because many leading brewers were German, and this made the drive against alcohol all the more popular.

However, the main cause was to conserve the food supplies for the war effort. One of his greatest strengths as a leader was his ability to focus on a single issue, identifying its essential points and dealing with it quickly and efficiently. Although the eighteenth amendment was eventually repealed by the twenty-first amendment it was what the country need at the time and was effective in that sense. Wilson thought that it was the presidents’ job to understand the hopes and dreams of America, which he believed were centered on a peaceful, secure world. Establishing his Fourteen Points, and the League of Nations in particular, was Wilsons method of keeping world peace. In his address, point number fourteen, was “an international organization that Wilson hoped would provide a system of collective security.”7 Wilson earnestly wanted this to guarantee the political independence of all countries, big or small. During the first year of peace, Wilson focused on the treaty fight.

Wilsons diplomatic leadership was strong, keeping the United States out of the Great War and helping in the peace effort afterwards, and he stuck with it, trying to pass legislation that would not only benefit the United States, but the whole world as well. Wilson, far more than any other world leader of his generation raised issues that needed to be confronted and set an agenda for future domestic and international policies. The Underwood Tariff shows successful domestic policy because it inacted a favorable low tariff, in which the United States was open to compete. It also showed mastery in leadership in the course that he used pushing it through Congress. Although his administration is often associated with World War I, Wilson sought world peace with his League of Nations.

Faced with decisions and appointments and foreign conflicts, Wilson was admittedly ill-prepared. Because of his concentration on world peace he did not recognize hostility when it was aimed toward the US Wilson, with a high sense of duty and destiny, administered a heady dose of domestic reform, in his New Freedom progressive legislation; and foreign intervention, in the League of Nations. Through his strong leadership, both domestically and diplomatically, the nation came out stronger than it was before. Wilson tried to apply his own moral standards to international politics, he was convinced that the president should be the people’s leader, not merely the nations’ chief executive. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bailey, Thomas A.: The American Pageant, DC Heath and Company, 1994.

Very useful, it was an easy way to look up a fact quickly. Bailey, Thomas A.: Presidential Greatness, Thomas A. Bailey, 1966. Not very useful, hard to read. Clements, Kendrick A.: The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson, University Press of Kansas, 1939. I probably used this book the most.

Hoover, Herbert: The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1958. This book was long and drawn out. Leavell, Perry J.: World Leaders Past and Present, Wilson, Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. This was a good easy to read book. Wilson, Woodrow: The New Freedom, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1961.

Also very hard to read, but had a few good facts. “Woodrow Wilson” The World book Multimedia Encyclopedia, World Book Inc., 1996. This was a good overview of his presidency. “Woodrow Wilson” Infopedia, Future Vision Multimedia Inc., 1995. This was an okay source, not much information.

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