Significance of Woodrow Wilson as President

I. Woodrow Wilson was the 28th President of the United States. He served as President from 1913 until 1921 and was the President who reluctantly took the U. S. into World War I and led the U. S. out of the War. Wilson was the President of Princeton beginning in 1902 and then served as the governor of New Jersey from 1910 until he went to the White House in 1913.

Serving as a democrat, Wilson won less than 50% of the popular vote, but had 435 electoral votes due in part to a Republican Party divided by political differences between former Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Wilson's predecessor in the White House, the incumbent President William Howard Taft (who later became Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, the only President to serve in that capacity). The Republican split resulted in three political parties in the election of 1912, Wilson's Democratic Party, the Republican Party of incumbent President Taft and the Progressive Party of former President Theodore Roosevelt.

He earnestly tried to keep the U. S. out of the European War and he is largely responsible for subsequent U. S. efforts to spread democracy. (Garraty, 1966)  Wilson held the rather idealistic view that the U. S. would fight for and spread democracy around the world. (Scott, 1918)  This controversial view has served as the centerpiece for U. S. foreign policy for most of the twentieth century and continues to be the battle cry for our present involvement in Iraq where President Bush and U. S. officials have sought to create a U. S. style democracy in an area of the world where fundamental Islamic governments are more evident.

Wilson served two terms in the White House, from March 1913 through March 1921 and led the country through World War I. Some of his actions had bearing on World War II and Vietnam as well, not to mention today's efforts to spread democracy to the Middle East and beyond. Although Wilson barely won the popular vote in 1912, he was re-nominated in 1916 and won by an even smaller margin in 1916 and won 277 electoral votes to 254 electoral votes for his opponent. During his second campaign, Wilson ran on the campaign slogan that "He kept us out of the war," but soon after his second term began in 1917, that slogan became irrelevant.

(Mulder et al. , 1997)  Wilson's first term involved great effort to keep the U. S. out of the war; his second term was almost totally centered on leading the nation through World War I which began barely one month after Wilson's second term commenced. Born in Staunton, VA on December 28, 1856, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister who briefly served as a chaplain to the Confederate army and believed in and defended slavery even though his grandfather was an abolitionist.

Born just before the start of the Civil War and growing up during the Civil War, he saw the violence of War and disliked it. This distaste for war carried over in his efforts to avoid WW I. He spent much of his time from 1914 through early 1917 trying to keep America out of the European war, but opposition against his efforts in anticipation of the threat of War, particularly opposition led by former President Theodore Roosevelt, and repeated attacks on allied ships by German submarines ultimately forced Wilson to lead the U. S. into the European War. Wilson was an academician and a scholar. (Mulder et al, 1997) 

Although Wilson appears to have been dyslexic, he overcame this disability and achieved academically. He went to Davidson in North Carolina, then transferred to and graduating from Princeton before attending law school at the University of Virginia (UV). Although he didn't graduate from the UV law school, he opened his first law practice in Atlanta at the beginning of 1882, passed the Georgia bar exam in October 1882 and later studied law in order to enter politics.

He eventually earned a Ph. D. in history and political science from Johns Hopkins in 1886. By that time, he had abandoned his law practice to begin an academic career. Although Wilson's years in office were dominated by his efforts to keep the U. S. out of the war in Europe and a war between the U. S. and Mexico, his years in the White House are marked by other events as well. As regards the war effort, his first term was entirely spent keeping the U. S. out of the European War and his second term was spent getting the U. S. through it and restoring peace.

Although both of President Wilson's terms in the White House, but especially his second term, were overshadowed by WWI, he made other contributions as well, especially in areas of economics. His policies broke the "big-lawsuit" tradition of former Presidents Roosevelt and Taft and ultimately broke "unfair" trade practices by big business. During his Administration, policies were put in place that would hold the individual officers of corporations responsible if their companies broke the law.

(Margulies, 1966)  He also was responsible for the Federal Reserve Act, perhaps one of the most important pieces of legislation during the Wilson Era. 1  Wilson's contribution to the Act weakened the influence of powerful New York Banks by decentralizing the Federal Reserve System into 12 districts. The new Federal Reserve System ultimately played an important role in financing the war effort of the Allies in WWI.