Biography of President Wilson and past presidents courtesy of the White House Historical Association.
woodrow wilson, leader of the progressive movement, was the twenty-eighth president of the united states (1913-1921). Following a policy of neutrality at the outbreak of World War I, Wilson led the United States into war to “make the world safe for democracy.”
Like Roosevelt before him, Woodrow Wilson considered himself the personal representative of the people. “No one but the president,” he said, “seems to be expected… to look after the general interests of the country.” he developed a program of progressive reform and asserted international leadership in building a new world order. In 1917 he proclaimed the United States’ entry into World War I as a crusade to make the world “safe for democracy.”
Wilson had seen the awfulness of war. He was born in Virginia in 1856, the son of a Presbyterian minister who was a pastor in Augusta, Georgia during the Civil War, and a teacher in burned-out Columbia, South Carolina during the Reconstruction.
After graduating from Princeton (then the University of New Jersey) and the University of Virginia School of Law, Wilson earned his J.D. from Johns Hopkins University and began an academic career. In 1885 he married Ellen Louise Axson.
Wilson advanced rapidly as a young conservative professor of political science and became president of Princeton in 1902.
His growing national reputation led some conservative Democrats to consider him a presidential candidate. he was first persuaded to run for governor of new jersey in 1910. in the campaign he asserted his independence from conservatives and the machine that had nominated him, endorsing a progressive platform, which he pursued as governor.
He was nominated for president at the 1912 Democratic convention and campaigned on a program called the New Liberty, which emphasized individualism and states’ rights. in the tripartite election he received only 42 percent of the popular vote but an overwhelming electoral vote.
Wilson maneuvered through Congress three important pieces of legislation. the first was a lower fee, the understory law; Attached to the measure was a graduated federal income tax. the passage of the federal reserve act provided the nation with a much-needed more elastic money supply. in 1914, antitrust legislation established a federal trade commission to prohibit unfair trade practices.
Another flurry of legislation followed in 1916. A new law outlawed child labor; another limited railway workers to an eight-hour day. Under this legislation and the slogan “He kept us out of war,” Wilson won re-election by a narrow margin.
But after the election, Wilson concluded that the United States could not remain neutral in world war. On April 2, 1917, he petitioned Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.
The enormous American effort slowly tipped the scales in favor of the Allies. Wilson appeared before Congress in January 1918 to state the objectives of the American war: the Fourteen Points, the last of which would establish “a general association of nations…providing mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to the states.” big and small alike.”
After the Germans signed the armistice in November 1918, Wilson went to Paris to try to build a lasting peace. he later presented to the senate the treaty of versailles, which contained the pact of the league of nations, and asked: “do we dare to reject it and break the heart of the world?”
but the 1918 election had shifted the balance in Congress in favor of the Republicans. by seven votes the treaty of versailles failed in the senate.
The president, against the warnings of his doctors, had gone on a national tour to mobilize public sentiment in favor of the treaty. exhausted, he suffered a stroke and nearly died. Tenderly nursed by his second wife, Edith Bolling Galt, he lived until 1924.
Learn more about President Wilson’s first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, who died during his tenure.
Learn more about President Wilson’s second wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson.