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Wilson Essay, Research Paper

In 1856, Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born to Joseph Wilson and Janet Woodrow. Because he was the son of a Presbyterian minister, the moral ideology of Woodrow Wilson had its foundation early in his life. It is this moral approach to politics that shaped American foreign policy for a great part of the twentieth century.

Wilson was elected president in 1910, as a result of Theodore Roosevelt?s Bull Moose split from the Republican Party. The idealistic governor from New Jersey believed that the time had come for him to instate moral politics on the American people. Wilson had little experience in the arena of international politics, this is quite ironic of Wilson?s presidency because, Wilson himself would be chiefly remembered as a world diplomat, and, his domestic policy would not be long cherished.

To understand Woodrow Wilson?s take on politics, one must first review his childhood and background. Born in the age of slavery, Wilson grew up as a racist. His parents both came from families of strong Presbyterian influence. Growing up his father would quiz him on the Bible as well as the orations of men such as Daniel Webster and Charles Lamb. It was also a result of his Scottish-Irish ancestry that Wilson began to inspect the British form of government, a government from which he would later try to incorporate ideas into American democracy. It was here, in his childhood, which the brickwork was laid for America?s leader in World War I. (Walworth 14)

After attending Princeton University, Wilson became the president of the University. He instituted many reforms including the defeat of the quadrangle system and a development of a graduate school. His belief was that Princeton was to transform boys performing meaningless tasks into thinking men. This goal was to be achieved by using the British model of the preceptorial program . After hearing about this new method of instruction, many vigorous young teachers flocked to Wilson praising his method. Wilson had now become the university?s Pastor. (Walworth 89)

When a new contract concerning the new graduate school was adopted, the pastor was asked to leave the university life, he was now ready to enter the political arena. Many politicians in the state of New Jersey were eager to have Wilson, a democrat, become involved in politics. Muckrakers had introduced New Jersey as a state conducive to corporations and the political machines they controlled, and the need for an honest politician was greater than ever.

At the time when Wilson began his political career, the New Jersey machine was lacking a democratic candidate that could take the place of strong progressive reformers. In the 1906 election for New Jersey?s senator, Wilson had all but conceded defeat, since the democrats had no viable chance of winning the election, or so he thought. After conversing with a Princeton classmate, Edwin Stevens, he realized that the bosses were trying to place Wilson as a candidate to cover up the real problems of the machines. (Walworth 145)

George Brinton McClellan Harvey was the editor of Harper?s Weekly Magazine during the latter part of Wilson?s tenure at Princeton. Harvey is largely responsible for the governorship of New Jersey. It was Harvey that made a deal with James Smith Jr. Harvey guaranteed that Wilson would accept the nomination if Smith used his pull in the Democratic Party to make Wilson the president of the United States (Walworth 151). Wilson reluctantly accepted the proposal from Harvey and Smith and began the march toward the presidency.

As soon as Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey, he was seen as the man who would lead the Democratic Party towards a more righteous end. As governor, Wilson turned and fought the machines that had, unbeknownst to Wilson, in effect put him in office. When Smith learned of Wilson?s alleged betrayal, he announced his candidacy for re-election to the United States Senate, Wilson publicly denounced this campaign and had once and for all, ended the reign of the New Jersey Machine.

The time for the 1912 election was near and a reluctant Woodrow Wilson accepted the challenge and the Democratic nomination. This was largely due to the crises that were blooming in the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, Wilson campaigned and toured the country giving the speeches, which he had become famous for. Wilson then secured the democratic nomination when he earned the support of the influential William Jennings Bryan . Bryan had respected Wilson and had followed him since the time of his presidential reforms at Princeton, admired and congratulated him on his quest for governor and now supported him on his campaign for the presidency, (Walworth 203)

The election of 1912 was one of great significance. The Bull Moose split of Theodore Roosevelt splintered the republican bloc, and Eugene V. Debbs would run under the Socialist ticket. The timing was right for a democrat to usurp the presidency and enter into a new era. Despite the lack of a strong republican candidate, Taft posed little threat; democrats still pressed toward the voters with vigor. After many speeches and tours around the nation, Wilson?s campaign treasury had run dry. Senator Champ Clark of Missouri now posed as Wilson?s greatest threat for the Democratic choice, and the support of William Jennings Bryan waned. (Walworth 228)

The Machine politics of Kansas City and New York?s Tamanny Hall, put the partisan Clark ahead of Wilson at the Democratic National Convention. Clark reached 556 votes; a mark that for the past 68 years meant the candidate received the nomination (Walworth 230). In n odd turn of events, after New York delegates pledged to Clark, Wilson wrote a message to be delivered to Bryan stating that he would not accept a nomination donated to him by the state of New York. Bryan then swayed the Nebraska delegates, as well as much of the West, toward Wilson with the provision that he would withdraw his support if New York pledged to Wilson. After intensely swaying votes, Wilson received the democratic nomination for the office of the president of the United States. (Walworth 234)

In the first election since Lincoln, and only the second since Jefferson, the United States had a serious third party candidate. As a result of the split in the opposite party, Wilson triumphed and led the Democratic Party to its first presidency of the century. Now that the turmoil of the domestic election was over, Wilson could aim his efforts at the reforms he hoped to impose, as well as the growing tensions in Europe.

Wilson was a progressive and his domestic policy reflected that fact. A champion of the people and their democracy, Wilson fought against “Big Business” and the political influence they had. Wilson wanted to end the era of special treatment of “Big Business”. One example of this was Wilson?s sought repeal of tariffs, which he believed created trusts through government. One such tariff was the Payne-Aldrich Tariff. (Diamond 46)

Wilson also sought to reform the banking system. He wanted to end the reign of New York bankers like J.P. Morgan. His Federal reserve bill allowed the national banking system to be governed by an altruistic public board, and not by the bankers themselves. J.P Morgan announced, only after the passing of the bill, that he would give up some of his banking dictatorships. (Diamond 104). Perhaps Wilson?s greatest triumph as a champion for the common man was his reworking and passing of the Clayton anti-trust act, a bill that Samuel Gompers called the “Magna Carta of labor.” This, in effect prohibited the justice department from prosecuting labor unions under the anti-trust laws. (Diamond 118)

As Wilson?s fight against the abuses of business continued, he began his pastoral role over the American people. This leadership towards righteousness culminated in the passing of the18th amendment to the constitution. Prohibition of the production and sale of alcohol was Wilson?s greatest achievement in the area of moral legislation. This along, with his economic reforms, was part of Wilson?s plan to create a better society, a more moral and free society. Along with this new morality came a war in Europe, this would be Wilson?s finest hour. (Diamond 127)

Wilson was an optimist of morality from the south. Always on the forefront of his agenda was domestic policy. It just so happened that due to circumstances beyond his control Wilson would have to shift from domestic pastor to the world?s priest. Europe was engaged in a bloody war that soon would involve the United States for a number of economic and ethical reasons. It was because of this war that Woodrow Wilson faced a far more complicated foreign situation than any president had before him. As the war came to an end, the chancellor of Germany had asked Wilson to negotiate a treaty amongst the major powers. Wilson agreed and, The Treaty of Versailles was on the horizon. The treaty was more than just the ideological rhetoric of Wilson, but to the European heads it was a revenge document for ravaging their homes. Wilson was treated as an outsider and often was not taken seriously. It was at this conference that Wilson presented his fourteen points, and the infamous League of Nations was set up. (Link 109)

Among Wilson?s foreign policy, the key message was the issue of self-determination. Wilson once said, “We must protect the rights of those that cannot protect themselves.” This became the basis of American foreign policy for the next twenty years. Wilson believed that it was the duty of the United States to intervene in areas where the people were fighting for their freedom from an unjust government. By U.S. intervention the peoples of this foreign land would gain their freedom and set up a new democratic government. Wilson, however, contradicted himself with this policy. In Mexico, the U.S. intervened to protect it?s own interests and prevent a Mexican revolution. The justification for this was that, “Some peoples,” Wilson believed, “were not fit to govern themselves properly” and they must be shown how to do so. (Link 24)

The League of Nations was also a product of Wilson at Versailles. His dream of a union of nations devoted to help each other in times of crisis and protect world order became somewhat of a reality. This league would become a failure in great part because the United States failed to join. The league was set up to protect the democratic countries from invasion, but was not able to form its own army. The reason that the United States failed to join the league was not that it viewed Wilson?s self-determination as an ideal unworthy of pursuit, but rather because of American pride. The United States did not believe that it should be responsible to an outside force. American sovereignty was supreme and no one, including Wilson, could say otherwise. (Link 115)

Woodrow Wilson had an interesting climb to the top of the political ladder. The professor from Princeton became the proctor of America. Through his valiant speeches about moral legislature and his shrewd attempts at negotiating on the international level, Woodrow Wilson created an American form of democracy not only run by dollars and cents, but also held accountable by morals. It is for this reason that Wilson is revered as one of the greatest presidents in this country?s history. Though much of Wilson?s ideology has washed away, much abides. Be it in Vietnam or the Persian Gulf, the idea of self-determination has influenced United States intervention (along with other factors). Looking back on the Wilson administration, one must ask, “Why was the president of the United States so involved in the freedom of others?” The answer is quite simple: The United States is a country founded by men revolting against a great power, fighting for freedom, and the chance to govern themselves. They fought not only for their economic interests, but for the right bestowed on them as men, the right to be free.

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