Vice President or Congressmen

Some mention need be made of President Wilson's health. Wilson was the first and only President to be incapacitated while in office and survive incapacitated. In later years, President Eisenhower survived a stroke, but he recovered fully and, although the full details were not revealed, Eisenhower was not kept out of the public eye. By contrast, Wilson experienced a serious stroke that rendered him almost totally incapacitated. He was paralyzed on his left side, blind in his left eye and confined to a wheelchair.

He never walked again without a cane, but the full extent of his incapacity was kept from the public until after his death in 1924. Not even his Vice President, his cabinet or Congressmen who visited the White House were aware of his condition. He suffered a stroke on or after October 2, 1919 and remained in office until March, 1919, nearly a year and a half without his Vice President, the members of his cabinet, the members of Congress or the U. S. public having any knowledge of his condition.

Some even argued that Wilson intended to seek a third term in office (Wimer, 1962), something he was too ill to do. During that period, First Lady Edith Wilson, his second wife, assisted him as President, selected the issues that would receive his attention and delegating matters to his cabinet. His incapacity was one reason for the creation and passage of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the Constitution that deals with issues surrounding the succession to the Presidency. Woodrow Wilson was one of the few Presidents who lead the U. S. through a major global conflict.

Although he made great effort to keep the U. S. out of war with Mexico and the “Great War”, World War I, his efforts were not successful. He managed to keep the U. S. at peace throughout his entire first term in office, but due to the German U-boat policy and attacks, the U. S. entered the war barely one month into his second term. When the war was over, Wilson worked vigorously to find a means for a lasting peace. His efforts won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, but also lead to a stroke from which he never recovered.

Knowledge of his serious health condition was never revealed to the public, or even to Congress, his cabinet or his Vice President. He served as President incapacitated for about a year and a half, paralyzed on his left side, blind in his left eye and confined to a wheelchair. He never regained the ability to walk without a cane and died from his stroke in 1924, three years after leaving the White House.

Knowledge of his condition remained secret until after his death. Besides his efforts and contributions to keep the U. S. out of the War and to create a lasting peace after the war, he made some significant economic strides, most notably perhaps, his legislation regarding the Federal Reserve System. Unfortunately, despite his vision and efforts to create a lasting peace, he failed on several fronts. First, he was unable to mediate an amicable peace due to the British and French desire for retribution on Germany and second, he ignored H? Chi Minh's request to have representation for a free Vietnam at the Treaty of Versailles.

His inability to mediate between Britain and France for a more amicable peace ultimately led to WWII and his ignoring H? Chi Minh's request led to the U. S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Even so, President Wilson’s efforts at a lasting peace were both admirable and significant. ? Notes 1. Many historians feel that, "The Federal Reserve Act was the most important      legislation of the Wilson era and one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of the United States," Link, p. 370. ?


Garraty, John A. (1966). A Great Life in Brief. Woodrow Wilson. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. Link, Arthur S. (2002). "Woodrow Wilson" in Henry F. Graff, ed. , The Presidents: A Reference History, p 370. Margulies, Herbert F. (1996). Reconciliation and Revival. James R Mann and the House of Republicans in the Wilson Era. Westport, CT:  Greenwood Press. Miller, William D. (1991). Pretty Bubbles in the Air. Chicago, IL:  University of Illinois Press.