-Woodrow Wilson, (1856-1924), led the United States through World War I and gained lasting fame as a champion of world peace and democracy. Wilson was one of the most remarkable men in American history.
-Childhood. Woodrow Wilson was probably born on Dec. 29, 1856, at Staunton, Virginia. Confusion exists over the date because the family Bible shows it as "12 3/4 o'clock" at night on December 28. Wilson's mother said he was born "about midnight on the 28th." Wilson himself used December 28.
-Education. Wilson did not begin school until he was 9, mainly because the war had closed many schools. Also, it seems likely that Wilson suffered from a type of dyslexia (reading disability) that he eventually outgrew. But Wilson's father taught the boy much at home. On weekdays, the minister would take him to visit a corn mill, a cotton gin, or some other plant. During the war, they visited ammunition factories and iron foundries. After these trips, Wilson always had to discuss what he had seen, because his father believed the exact expression of ideas was necessary for clear understanding. At home, the Wilsons read the Bible together every day, and gathered to sing hymns on Sunday evenings.
-Lawyer. In 1882, Wilson established a law office in Atlanta, Ga. He attracted few clients, and spent much of his time reading, writing newspaper articles, and studying political problems. By the spring of 1883, Wilson realized that he was not suited to be a lawyer. He decided to become a college teacher, and began graduate study in history and political science at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
-Wilson's family. In 1883, Wilson made a business trip to Rome, Ga. There he met Ellen Louise Axson (May 15, 1860-Aug. 6, 1914), the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. They were married on June 24, 1885.
-Teacher. In the autumn of 1885, Wilson began a three-year period as associate professor of history at Bryn Mawr College, a woman's school in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He then became professor of history and political economy at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Wilson also coached football at Wesleyan, and developed one of the school's greatest teams. He told his players: "Go in to win. Don't admit defeat before you start." In 1889, Wilson published The State, one of the first textbooks in comparative government. In 1890, Princeton University invited him to become professor of jurisprudence and political economy.
-University president. At Princeton, Wilson's reputation as a scholar and teacher grew steadily. He worked constantly to express his thoughts precisely in writing. He also became a popular and distinguished lecturer. On June 9, 1902, the Princeton trustees unanimously elected Wilson president of the university. Never before had anyone but a clergyman held this position.
-Governor of New Jersey. On Oct. 20, 1910, Wilson resigned from Princeton to campaign for governor. The power and eloquence of his campaign speeches stirred voters throughout the state. He was elected by the largest majority received by a Democrat in New Jersey up to that time.
-Presidential candidate. Wilson's reforms in New Jersey brought him national attention at an opportune time. The progressive wing of the Democratic Party was seeking a presidential candidate to replace William Jennings Bryan, who had been defeated three times. By 1911, Wilson had clearly become a candidate for the nomination. He started speaking on national issues throughout the country, and progressive Democrats began to support him. Most importantly, Wilson won the confidence of Bryan, the party's official leader. The popular vote, overwhelmingly for Wilson and Roosevelt, was a clear endorsement of a liberal reform program. Wilson received 435 electoral votes; Roosevelt, 88; and Taft, 8.
-World War I begins. In August 1914, the outbreak of World War I stunned people everywhere. Most Americans joined in a single cry: "Let's stay out of it." Wilson proclaimed the neutrality of the United States. He said the nation "must be neutral in fact as well as in name ... we must be impartial in thought as well as in action."
But neutrality became easier to think about than to maintain. On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British passenger liner Lusitania, killing 128 Americans.
-Life in the White House. With the help of her three daughters, Mrs. Wilson put her greatest efforts into making the White House as much like a private home as possible. She devoted herself to welfare work and to small groups interested in literature and art.
-Election of 1916. In June 1916, the Democrats renominated Wilson and Marshall. The Republicans had healed the split in their party, and chose a ticket of Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes and former Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks. The war in Europe overshadowed all other issues in the campaign. Democrats sought votes for Wilson with the slogan, "He kept us out of war." Wilson himself appealed to those who favored peace, but he also stressed the reforms his administration had accomplished.
On election night, the outcome was confused because of delays in receiving the election returns. Wilson went to bed believing Hughes had won. Many newspapers carried stories of Wilson's "defeat." But the final count in California gave the state to Wilson by about 3,400 votes. This insured his reelection.
-Declaration of war. During the next three months, Wilson devoted all his efforts to halting the fighting in Europe. But in February 1917, the Germans began unlimited submarine warfare against all merchant shipping, including American ships. The president immediately broke off diplomatic relations with Germany. Later that month, British agents uncovered a German plot to start a war between Mexico and the United States. German submarines began to attack U.S. ships without warning in March, and enraged Americans demanded war.
Wilson decided the United States could no longer remain neutral. On the evening of April 2, the president drove to the Capitol with an escort of cavalry. As he stepped before a joint session of Congress, his face was tense and white. He spoke in a voice heavy with feeling. He said actions by Germany were "in fact nothing less than war against the government and people of the United States."
-The Fourteen Points. Wilson delivered his most important speech on Jan. 8, 1918. In this address to Congress, he named Fourteen Points to be used as a guide for a peace settlement. Five of the points established general ideals. Eight points dealt with immediate political and territorial problems. The fourteenth point called for an association of nations to help keep world peace.
-The peace settlement. After the armistice had been signed, Wilson decided to lead the United States delegation to the peace conference at Paris. He wanted to make certain that his Fourteen Points would be carried out.
-Death. Wilson continued to bear the crushing blows of defeat with dignity and calm. But he told his friends he was "tired of swimming upstream." On Feb. 3, 1924, he died in his sleep. Two days later, Wilson was buried in Washington National Cathedral. He is the only president interred in Washington, D.C.
Mulder, John M. "Wilson, Woodrow." World Book Student. World Book, 2012. Web. 22 Jan. 2012.
Has any president not liked living in the White House?