Manage episode 360848138 series 2929640
Born to Scots-Irish immigrants and raised in the Confederate South, Woodrow Wilson came into his own as a student at Princeton University. Armed with a Ph.D, he launched his career a historian and professor of political science and soon returned to Princeton, where he quickly became its most popular lecturer and was eventually named its president. His ambitious tenure garnered him national attention, and some Democratic party kingmakers saw him as an attractive candidate for national political office. Wilson had long harbored dreams of becoming a statesman, and in 1910 he allowed New Jersey's Democratic political machine to make him New Jersey's governor. Promptly repudiating the machine, he signed into law many progressive reforms and positioned himself to run for president in 1912. Up against a bitterly divided Republican party, Wilson coasted to an electoral college landslide victory. As president, he aggressively lobbied Congress to enact his New Freedom agenda (and turned a blind eye as his cabinet introduced widespread segregation into the federal bureaucracy), but his presidency reached a turning point in the summer of 1914 when the death of his wife coincided with the outbreak of the First World War in Europe. He resisted calls for the U.S. to enter the conflict and was re-elected in 1916 on the slogan "He Kept Us Out Of War," but in 1917 he felt forced to join the war in order to make the world "safe for democracy" (though his war effort was tinged by a sweeping suppression of civil liberties on the home front). Upon the Allied victory, Wilson hoped to shape a new world order with his idealistic Fourteen Points peace plan, but settled for a punitive peace propped up by a League of Nations. He failed to persuade a reluctant America to join the League and--after he suffered a debilitating stroke--his second wife led a conspiracy to hide his condition from the American people for the final year-and-a-half of his presidency. Clinging to fantasies of a third term, Wilson descended into bitterness and died soon after leaving office.