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11-08-2015, 17:56

Woodrow Wilson ( 1 856- 1 924)

Woodrow Wilson was the president of the United States from 1913 to 1921 and the political leader of his country during the years of World War I. Wilson charted a course of neutrality for the United States during the first years of the war, but his policies in defense of what he considered American rights involved his country in confrontations with the belligerent powers. He wanted to avoid American military intervention, but, at the same time, he wanted to play a political role, especially as mediator and peacemaker, in the unfolding events. In the end, Wilson led the United States into the war in early 1917, directed the mobilization of America's resources, and determined the policy of his government toward America's allies and opponents. He emerged as a leading figure in both the Armistice negotiations that ended the fighting and in the peace negotiations that established the postwar order in Europe. Thus, Wilson stands as the first American president to take the role of global leader. Woodrow Wilson was bom in Staunton, Virginia, on December 28, 1 856, the son of a Presbyterian minister. Educated at Princeton and Johns Hopkins as both a lawyer and a historian, he made his mark in the academic world as a college professor and as Princeton's president before entering politics. He won the govemorship of New Jersey in 1910, and he was elected president two years later. The Democratic Wilson pushed his own brand of Progressivism, calling for renewed govemmental efforts to restore economic competition and protection for the small producer and consumer. During the years before World War I, Wilson conducted a program of domestic reform called "the New Freedom" that, in theory, tried to limit reliance on executive regulatory agencies and to establish a more coordi nated legislative program between Congress and the presidency. His foreign policy focused on issues close to home such as the crisis in Mexico following that country's revolution of 1910, where Wilson practiced his "missionary diplomacy," a policy that encouraged democracy and progressive reform in the Western Hemisphere. Wilson's internationalism, like his domestic policy, looked to strong leadership, but it also caused him, his critics said, to meddle too much in others' affairs and to try to control events. When war broke out in July 1914, Wilson called upon his countrymen to remain neutral in thought as well as deed. Given his respect for the British system of government and institutions, Wilson favored the Allied side against the Central Powers, and the course of the war led him into sharp conflict with the German government. Although the British infringed on American rights on the high seas, the German submarine campaign against merchant shipping brought harsher condemnation from Wilson. The British threatened property, but the Germans took lives. When a German submarine sank the British passenger liner Lusitania in May 1915, killing over a thousand civilians, including 128 Americans, Wilson pressured Berlin to halt unrestricted use of the submarine. He made it clear that otherwise the United States was now sufficiently interested in the course of the conflict to enter the war against Germany. Wilson tried to act as mediator between the two sides, possibly with the hope of augmenting American global influence as well as bringing the carnage to an end. He was reelected, in a tight contest, in 1916 as the candidate who had kept America out of war. And as late as 1916, he placed limits on the buildup of American land and naval forces in order to promote the position of the United States as a neutral. With the resumption of unlimited submarine warfare by Germany in early 1917, Wilson led the United States into World War I. The submarine issue was the immediate cause, but biographers of Wilson see a larger motive: with the failure of mediation, Wilson thought that only entering the war would allow the United States an important place in shaping the peace settlement. Wilson appointed strong military leaders in the persons of General John Pershifig and Admiral William Sims to wage the war in Europe. He gave both of them, but especially Pershing, wide latitude in conducting the American role in the fighting. When the course of domestic economic mobilizafion broke down, Wilson put Bernard Baruch in a position to direct much of the U.S. economy and turned increasingly to powerful boards and commissions to coordinate AmericaiT policy and promote the war. The American president became the spokesman in the eyes of the world for the Allied side in January 1918, when he set down the outlines of a generous peace settlement in his Fourteen Points. It was a program for a new world order that many on both sides of the fighting lines found hopeful and inspiring. He took on a dominant role in the diplomacy of World War I in the closing weeks of the fighting. German leaders approached Wilson in order to negotiate an armistice. Wilson's distrust of Germany's governing elites led him to insist that Germany adopt a parliamentary form of government similar to that of Britain before the shooting could come to a stop. His call for an end to "monarchical autocrats" was a clear demand that Kaiser Wilhelm II give up the throne. Wilson left the United States for Europe in late 1918 in order to participate directly in the peace negotiations. There he found Allied leaders committed to a harsh peace. Both their own views and the pressure from their electorates led France's Georges Clemenceau and Britain's David Lloyd George away from a peace of reconciliation with Germany. In the end, Wilson gave in to many of the demands of the countries alongside which the United States had fought. But he put his imprint on the settlement in his successful calls for national self-determination and for treaty arrangements to protect national minorities. But primarily Wilson hoped that the League of Nations, a postwar association of the leading powers of the world, would serve to create a just and stable peacetime system. America's refusal to enter the League stands as the greatest disappointment Wilson saw contained in the peace settlement. Historians criticize Wilson himself, however, for his failure to lay the groundwork for American acceptance of membership. They note that the Democratic president neglected to bring leading Republican senators with him to Europe to take part in the peace negotiations. Moreover, a rigid personality that had always characterized Wilson's dealing with his political opponents made difficult any compromise with major American figures such as Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts. Wilson also failed to cultivate public opinion sufficiently to accept his brand of internationalism. Blocked by his opponents at home, Wilson tried to rally the American people. He had long been burdened by fragile health, and his railroad tour of the United States led, in October 1919, to a stroke and complete physical collapse. The United States Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles with Germany and thus refused to enter the League of Nations. Wilson's hopes that the war would lead to a world organization that included the United States were not realized. Woodrow Wilson remained an invalid for the final year and a half of his term of office, and he died in Washington, D.C., on February 3, 1924.

 

 

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