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Woodrow Wilson - US Presidents in History

The American president during World War I, Wilson's role during the war and the subsequent peace talks still have consequences today.

5. Early Life

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, who would become the 28th President of the United States of America, was born on the 28th of December, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia. Before Woodrow was one year old, his family moved to Augusta, Georgia. Growing up in Georgia, he played baseball and toured Augusta and Columbia with cousins. Woodrow, who also had weak eyesight, suffered from dyslexia which impaired his learning abilities. Due to the scarcity of schools in his native South, he received much of his early education from his father, who taught him religion, British history, and literature, according to data from the Miller Center. Woodrow also received some tutoring from former Confederate soldiers who set up primitive schools in the area following the Civil War. At the age of 16, Woodrow enrolled in Davidson College near Charlotte, and excelled in writing, public speaking, English, Latin, Mathematics, and Greek. He would later study at the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins University, and Princeton University. After a distinguished career as an academic and lecturer, he would rise through the scholarly ranks to eventually become President of Princeton University in New Jersey.

4. Rise to Power

Woodrow entered politics in 1910, after he was approached by New Jersey Democratic Party representatives on account of his honesty. He agreed to the nomination on condition of "no strings attached". Party bosses thought Woodrow would be easy to manipulate but, after winning the nomination, he declared his independence from them, much to their chagrin. He defeated the Republican opponent, and declared war on the corrupt practices in politics. His zeal caught the eye of the nation’s Democratic Party leaders in 1911, notably that of William Jennings Bryan. Bryan’s support for Woodrow helped him garner the Democratic Party's Presidential nomination. He was elected President in 1912, defeating Theodore Roosevelt, Howard Taft, and Eugene Debs.

3. Contributions

Woodrow Wilson's tenure in the US Presidency saw women receive the right to vote through the passing of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. The Federal Reserve System and the Internal Revenue Service were established to carry out financial agendas and collect taxes, respectively, and the national observance of Mother’s Day began. As President, Woodrow was the first to deliver what has today become known as the State of Union Address. He also signed into law a bill that secured an eight-hour workday for railroad employees in form of the Adamson Act. This paved the way for shortened workdays for industrial employees.

2. Challenges

President Wilson also served during the events of the First World War, including the entry of the United States into the European theater of war. In a bid to prevent future wars, Woodrow proposed his 14 Points. He believed these would help prevent future wars, given they were made the basis of postwar peaceful diplomatic policies. The points included the abolishment of trade restrictions and secret alliances, limiting armaments, setting the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires on the basis of national self-determination and independence, evacuating German-occupied portions of France and Belgium, welcoming the revolutionary Bolshevik government of Russia (now the Soviet Union) into the diplomatic community of Western powers, and creating a League of Nations to maintain peace. He was a major player during the Paris peace conference talks ending World War I, but while the resulting treaties of Versailles, Trianon, Saint-Germain, and Sèvres followed some of his 14 points they were in other ways largely divergent from his initial objectives. Indeed, after returning from Europe the US Senate voted against Versailles, which left Woodrow drained. He suffered a stroke in 1919, and for the last 17 months of his term he conducted official business through his wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson.

1. Death and Legacy

Woodrow Wilson died at home on the 3rd of February in 1924. He finally succumbed to complications from the stroke he had suffered in 1919 as he was touring the nation to seek support for the League of Nations. Experts believe his vision of the League of Nations helped pave the way for the creation of the United Nations after World War II. His domestic programs stabilized and humanized the industrial system's human resource policies, according to the Miller Center. His administration passed the first federal child labor laws in the US as well, though the Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in 1918. This being said, Wilson's legacy today is also heavily disputed, particularly as a result of his domestic policies within the United States and his attitude towards the African-American community.

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