Wilson,Woodrow (1856-1924)


Former governor of New Jersey and twenty-eighth President of the United States (1913-1921) who advocated the progressive reforms of the New Freedom to promote free enterprise.

Wilson was born December 28, 1856, and raised in a southern family of Presbyterian pastors. In 1879, he graduated from Princeton University and entered the Law School of the University ofVirginia. In 1883, he attended Johns Hopkins University for a doctorate in political science and history. He then took successive professorships at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Wesleyan University in Connecticut, and Princeton University. From 1902 to 1910, Wilson served as president of Princeton University.

Wilson began his political career as reform governor of New Jersey (1911-1913). He supported comprehensive reform legislation that included a corrupt practice act prohibiting monopolies and insider trading, the Workingmen’s Compensation Act, municipal reform, reorganization of the school system, passage of antitrust laws, and the implementation of the direct election primary. With his record as a reformer, Wilson won the Democratic nomination for the White House in 1912 and won the presidency by campaigning for the New Freedom, a national program to unleash American economic dynamism and boost individual energies for creative competition.

As president, Wilson strengthened executive authority by endorsing an ambitious legislative agenda and securing its approval from a Democratic Congress. He called for tariff reform and, by battling both lobbyists who represented special interest groups and opposition from within his own party, he forced through Congress the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913, the first substantial downward revision of duties since before the Civil War. To reorganize the banking and credit system to free them from monopolistic control, he pushed through Congress the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 and strengthened antitrust laws to address unfair trade practices. The New Freedom ideals also found expression in Wilson’s foreign policy, which aimed to construct new international relations along liberal-internationalist lines by calling on foreign nations to copy American-type democracy and capitalism. Such diplomacy met severe challenges and almost brought the United States into war with Mexico in 1916 (after Mexico accepted correspondence from Germany that suggested a joint attack by Mexico and Germany on the United States, which would open a second front and keep the United States out of the European War). This diplomacy was partly responsible for U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 because the United States publicly revealed the correspondence and declared war on Germany before Mexico had a chance to act on the German suggestion. After the war’s end, Wilson failed to implement his Fourteen Points for international peace—save for the League of Nations, which the United States failed to participate in because it would have supranational authority over the United States, and over which he fought a losing battle against the Republican opposition in Congress. Other points that failed included one calling for self-determination for all people, a “no war guilt” clause for the German government, and a system of war reparations that would have required Germany to pay for the entire cost of World War I. Wilson suffered a nervous collapse in September 1919 while on a national speaking tour touting support for the League of Nations and never fully recovered. In December 1920, Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at Versailles in 1919. He died in Washington, D.C., on February 3,1924.

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