Dr. Thomas Woodrow Wilson Biography - (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was the 45th state Governor of New Jersey (1911-1913) and later the 28th President of the United States (1913-1921). He was the second Democrat to serve two consecutive terms in the White House after Andrew Jackson.
Be sure to check out additional information including The Woodrow Wilson Presidency, and the role of Woodrow Wilson World War 1.
Early life and education - Woodrow Wilson Biography
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton, Virginia in 1856 to Reverend Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson and Janet Woodrow. His ancestry was Scotch-Irish going back to Strabane, in modern-day Northern Ireland. Wilson grew up in Augusta, Georgia and always claimed that his earliest memory was of hearing that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming. Wilson's father and mother were originally from Ohio, but sympathized with the South in the Civil War. They treated wounded Confederate soldiers at their church and let their son go out and see Jefferson Davis paraded in handcuffs by victorious Union armies. Wilson would forever recall standing "for a moment at General Lee's side and looking up into his face." (To End All Wars, pg 3)
Despite suffering from dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Wilson was able to achieve academically through determination and self-discipline, but never quite overcame his dyslexia. Wilson attended Davidson College for one year and then transferred to Princeton University, graduating 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.
Political Writings and Academic Career - Woodrow Wilson Biography
Woodrow Wilson came of age in the decades after the Civil War, when Congress was supreme - "the gist of all policy is decided by the legislature" - and corruption rampant. Instead of focusing on individuals in explaining where American politics went wrong, Wilson focused on the American constitutional structure. (Congressional Government 180)
Under the influence of Walter Bagehot's "The English Constitution," Wilson saw the American Constitution as pre-modern, cumbersome, and open to corruption. Before the vigorous presidencies of the turn of the Twentieth Century, Wilson even favored a parliamentary system for the United States. Writing in the early 1880's in a journal edited by Henry Cabot Lodge, WIlson wrote
"I ask you to put this question to yourselves, should we not draw the Executive and Legislature closer together? Should we not, on the one hand, give the individual leaders of opinion in Congress a better chance to have an intimate party in determining who should be president, and the president, on the other hand, a better chance to approve himself a statesman, and his advisors capable men of affairs, in the guidance of Congress?" (the Politics of Woodrow Wilson, 41-48)
Wilson started "Congressional Government," his best known political work, as an argument for a parliamentary system, but Wilson was impressed by Grover Cleveland, and "Congressional Government" emerged as a critical description of America's system, with frequent negative comparisons to Westminster. Wilson himself claimed "I am pointing out facts, - diagnosing, not prescribing, remedies." (Congressional Government. 205)
Wilson believed that America's intricate system of checks and balances was the cause of the problems in American governance. Wilson said that the divided power made it impossible for voters to see who was accountable for ill-doing. If government behaved badly, Wilson asked,
". . . how is the schoolmaster, the nation, to know which boy needs the whipping? . . . Power and strict accountability for its use are the essential constituents of good government. . . . It is, therefore, manifestly a radical defect in our federal system that it parcels out power and confuses responsibility as it does. The main purpose of the Convention of 1787 seems to have been to accomplish this grievous mistake. The `literary theory' of checks and balances is simply a consistent account of what our constititution makers tried to do; and those checks and balances have proved mischievous just to the extent which they have succeeded in establishing themselves . . . [the Framers] would be the first to admit that the only fruit of dividing power had been to make it irresponsible.” (ibid, 186-7)
The longest section of "Congressional Government" is on the House of Representatives, where Wilson pours out scorn for the Committee system. Power, Wilson wrote, "is divided up, as it were, into forty-seven seigniories, in each of which a Standing Committee is the court baron and its chairman lord proprietor. These petty barons, some of them not a little powerful, but none of them within reach the full powers of rule, may at will exercise an almost despotic sway within their own shires, and may sometimes threaten to convulse even the realm itself." (ibid, 76) Wilson said that the committee system was fundamentally undemocratic, because committee chairs, who ruled by seniority, were responsible to no one except their constituents, even though they determined national policy.
In addition to their undemocratic nature, Wilson also believed that the Committee System facilitated corruption.
the voter is, moreover, feels that his want of confidence in Congress is justified by what he hears of the power of corrupt lobbyists to turn legislation to their own uses. He hears of enormous subsidies begged and obtained . . . of appropriations made in the interest of dishonest contractors; he is not altogether unwarranted in the conclusion that these are evils inherent in the very nature of Congress, there can be no doubt that the power of the lobbyist consists in great part, if not altogether, in the facility afforded him by the Committee system. (ibid, 132)
But by the time Wilson finished "Congressional Government", Grover Cleveland was president, and Wilson had his faith in the United States government affirmed. By the time he was president, Wilson had seen vigorous presidencies from McKinley and Roosevelt, and Wilson no longer entertained thoughts of parliamentary government at home. In his last scholarly work in 1908, "Constitutional Government of the United States," Wilson said that the presidency "will be as big as and as influential as the man who occupies it." By the time of his presidency, Wilson merely hoped that presidents could be party leaders in the same way prime ministers were. Wilson also hoped that the parties could be reorganized along ideological, not geographic, lines. "Eight words," Wilson wrote, "contain the sum of the present degradation of our political parties: No leaders, no principles; no principles, no parties." (Frozen Republic, 145)
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 on Monday, 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.
Political career - Woodrow Wilson Biography
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.
Incapacity - Woodrow Wilson Biography
On Thursday, September 25, 1919, Wilson suffered a mild stroke that went unannounced to the public. A week later, on Thursday, October 2, Wilson suffered a second, far more serious stroke that nearly totally incapacitated him. Although the extent of his disability was kept from the public until after his death, Wilson was purposely kept out of the presence of Vice-President Thomas R. Marshall, his cabinet or Congressional visitors to the White House for the remainder of his presidential term.
While Wilson was incapacitated, Wilson's second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, served as steward, selecting issues for his attention and delegating other issues to his cabinet heads. This was to date the most serious case of presidential disability in American history, and was cited as a key example why ratification of the 25th amendment was seen as important. The amendment, which provides for installation of the Vice President as Acting President in case of presidential disability, was ratified in 1967.
He did not run for the presidency in 1920 primarily because he had been elected twice, keeping with tradition. He was the last president to follow the two-term tradition set by George Washington, because the next president to be elected to two terms, FDR, broke it, by being elected to four terms.
In 1921, Wilson and his second wife retired from the White House to a home in the Embassy Row section of Washington, DC. Wilson died there on Sunday, February 3, 1924. Mrs Wilson stayed in the home another 37 years, dying on Thursday, December 28, 1961.
OFFICE NAME TERM
President Woodrow Wilson 1913–1921
Vice President Thomas R. Marshall 1913–1921
Secretary of State William J. Bryan 1913–1915
Robert Lansing 1915–1920
Bainbridge Colby 1920–1921
Secretary of the Treasury William G. McAdoo 1913–1918
Carter Glass 1918–1920
David F. Houston 1920–1921
Secretary of War Lindley M. Garrison 1913–1916
Newton D. Baker 1916–1921
Attorney General James C. McReynolds 1913–1914
Thomas W. Gregory 1914–1919
A. Mitchell Palmer 1919–1921
Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson 1913–1921
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels 1913–1921
Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane 1913–1920
John B. Payne 1920–1921
Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston 1913–1920
Edwin T. Meredith 1920–1921
Secretary of Commerce William C. Redfield 1913–1919
Joshua W. Alexander 1919–1921
Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson 1913–1921
Supreme Court appointments
Wilson appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
James Clark McReynolds (1914)
Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1916)
John Hessin Clarke (1916)
Miscellaneous facts - Woodrow Wilson Biography
Woodrow Wilson was a member of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternal organization.
Woodrow Wilson's ancestral home is at Strabane, Northern Ireland.
Woodrow Wilson grew up in Augusta, Georgia.
Woodrow Wilson was president of the American Political Science Association from 1910 to 1911.
Wilson sailed for Versailles on Wednesday, December 4, 1918 for the World War I peace talks, which made him the first US president to travel to Europe while in office.
Wilson House, an undergraduate dormitory at Johns Hopkins University, is named in his honor.
While a student at Hopkins, Wilson carved his initials (WW'86) into the underside of a massive oak table in the History Department. Dark with age, they can still be seen today.
Wilson's portrait appeared on the U.S. $100,000 bill, issued in 1934. This bill was used only for transactions between the Federal Reserve and Treasury.
The city of Bratislava (now capital of Slovakia, Europe) was named "Wilsonovo mesto" (Wilson City) after U.S. President Wilson for a short period of time after World War I. This was to commemorate President Wilson's support for creating the independent state of Czechoslovakia. For the same reason, the central railway station in Prague bears the name "Wilsonovo nádraží" (Wilson station).
Wilson has been the subject of books by two particularly noteworthy authors. Herbert Hoover's The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson is extremely sympathetic, and remains the only book written by one ex-President about another one. Sigmund Freud and William Bullitt's Thomas Woodrow Wilson: A Psychological Study is devastatingly unsympathetic, and was unpublished for 30 years after Freud's death.
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