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American Experience - Woodrow Wilson
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Narrator
On an afternoon in the spring of 1920, Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States, was led through the White House. Wilson had suffered a devastating stroke.

Narrator
On an afternoon in the spring of 1920, Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States, was led through the White House. Wilson had suffered a devastating stroke.

Unable to perform his duties, the President instead spent his time watching old newsreels that the secret service screened for him and friends like journalist Ray Baker.

Historian: Ray Stannard Baker
The moving picture machine behind us began to click and sputter. With the first brilliantly lighted episode, we were in another world. There we were, sailing grandly into the harbor at Brest. There was the President himself, smiling upon the bridge. By magic, we were transported to Paris. There he was again, driving down the most famous avenue in the world. And there was the President at Buckingham Palace with the King of England.

Narrator
The newsreels were testimony to the man Wilson had once been.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
Well I think there's no question that he was one of the five greatest Presidents in American history. He has that rare combination, which he shares with, certainly with Jefferson and with Lincoln. That is he was a tremendously effective, practical politician, and a very deep thinker.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
Woodrow Wilson laid out the contours of American foreign policy that has been followed for better or worse ever since. Every president since has to one degree or another been a Wilsonian.

Narrator
Wilson seemed cold and aloof in public, but in private he was deeply emotional.

Historian: Thomas Knock
Wilson really needed a companion, and a lover. The relationship between Ellen and Woodrow is probably the most romantic in Presidential history.

Author: Betty Boyd Caroli
He was very academic, those steel-rimmed glasses, he always seemed very serious, but he was an extremely passionate person.

Narrator
He cultivated a reputation as an intellectual who relied on hard facts, but Wilson's greatest source of guidance was his faith.

Historian: Louis Auchincloss
He believed that he was directed by God and he frequently said so. He thought that God had made him president of the United States.

Narrator
And yet the most important mission of Wilson's life, creating a League of Nations to spread democracy, ended in failure.

Historian: Jay Winter
He was a man who believed in this extraordinarily difficult goal and when he knew that he wouldn't get there the moment must have been devastating for him.

Narrator
It was during his fight for the league, that Wilson suffered the debilitating stroke. From that moment on, it was Wilson's wife who secretly performed many of the duties of the President.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
No one really knew what was going on. The word stroke was never mentioned. Certainly the word paralyzed was never mentioned. And the American public was kept effectively in the dark

Narrator
On the banks of the Savannah River lies Augusta, Georgia. The night of May 14th, 1865, the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was brought through the town in chains, on his way to a Union prison. Many townspeople turned out to witness the somber spectacle. One was an eight year-old boy named Thomas Woodrow Wilson.

No event dominated Wilson's childhood like the Civil War. Nearly every family he knew had a relative killed or wounded. Now, as the president of the confederacy rolled past, crushed and defeated, young Tommy and everyone else who watched knew that life in the South could never be the same.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
The South, when Wilson was a boy, was the only part of the United States which has ever had a modern war. A modern total war. It had been ruined. The social structure had been just totally overturned. It's a completely overturned world. And especially for white folks, for better off white people, like the Wilson's, they've got to find a new way.

Narrator
In a land in ruins, the one institution left to pick up the pieces was the church. Tommy's father, Joseph Wilson, was a preacher at one of the most prominent congregations in the South.

Joseph Ruggles Wilson Come with me now, to lift up, after my manner, the fallen. Let us reinstate the righteous rule of the Father throughout the broken and disordered race to which you and I both belong.

Narrator
Joseph Wilson was a Presbyterian, who taught his son that God had put Christians into the world not to withdraw from it, but to make it a better place. He told Tommy that God wanted him to work tirelessly to help rebuild a country devastated by war.

Historian: Jay Winter
Growing up with a, a Presbyterian father would give a boy a sense that goodness isn't something that you measure in terms of your own personal behavior alone. Wilson's father would give him an idea that the true test was making the world a place where justice, where goodness had a better and bigger place than it had before he came on the scene. It's a difficult matter to live with, but it's one that once you get the stamp in your childhood you never lose it for the rest of your life.

Narrator
For all of his father's expectations, Tommy Wilson was not a promising student. At the age of ten, he still could not read. Some put it down to laziness, others to a lack of intelligence. But the real reason was far more complicated.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
As near as we can tell, young Tommy Wilson suffered from a form of dyslexia. Probably a mild form. And this is something that nobody knew existed in those days, the term wouldn't be, wouldn't even be coined until the middle of the Twentieth Century. Here's this difficulty, a lot of people in the family thought he was kind of slow, that this was not a very bright boy.

Narrator
"He was not like other boys," one neighbor said, "he had a queer way of going off alone."

With few friends, Tommy was deeply dependent on his relationship with his parents.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
His father never lost faith in him. It's very interesting. His father stuck with him. I think that may have had a lot to do with his being able to overcome dyslexia.

Narrator
Joseph Wilson was determined to compensate for his son's inability to read. He spent hour after hour with Tommy, drilling him in the art of debate and teaching him to perform the speeches of great orators like Daniel Webster.

Historian: John Morton Blum
His father was very important in directing Wilson towards serious use of English, with picking the precise word, speaking with eloquence, turning his attention to persuading people of his own ideas. And it was that kind of thing that captured the boy's fancy.

Narrator
His mother, Jessie, came from the Woodrows of Ohio, a well-educated, socially prominent family. Jessie did everything in her power to convince her son that he was capable of living up to the Woodrow family name.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
Tommy was Jessie Woodrow Wilson's favorite among all her children and she gave him a kind of supportive, uncritical love that I think made him strong and self-confident. For some reason or other, from a very, very early age, this is a person of tremendous self-confidence.

Narrator
When he was 16, Tommy heard about a new invention called shorthand. It was a way to bypass reading by using a "code" to record ideas on paper. Wilson practiced day after day until he had mastered it. With the boost shorthand gave his grades, he managed to gain admission to Princeton, one of the top schools in the country.

Tommy remained a slow reader. But he excelled in the areas where his real skills lay. He joined the debate team and after one victory, wrote to his father, "I have made a discovery, I have found that I have a mind.

Yet anyone observing Tommy Wilson would have thought he was majoring in baseball. As a boy he had written a detailed rulebook for the game. Now, he organized a pickup team called "The Bowery Boys." The boys played baseball every single day of the week, and sometimes twice.

Wilson's other passion was politics. He often got into arguments with his classmates over the legacy of the civil war. He believed it was time to withdraw northern troops and give control of the region back to white southerners.

"One night we sat up 'till dawn talking about it," a northern classmate said, "he taking the Southern side and getting quite bitter." Wilson wrote his parents that the taunts from northerners made him so angry he wanted to physically attack them.

The intense debates stoked Tommy's interest in a career in politics. He drilled himself daily in the art of oratory, so that, as he put it, "I would be able to lead others into my way of thinking."

Historian: John Morton Blum
Why did Wilson pick on politics and government? Well it was because he dreamed of becoming a major statesman, using politics to gain office and using office to persuade men about how to live and order their lives.

Narrator
To appear more distinguished, he began using his middle name, Woodrow, instead of Tommy. He even began handing out calling cards that said Woodrow Wilson, Senator.

Woodrow Wilson The first time I saw your face was in church one morning , in April, wasn't it? I remember thinking, "What a bright pretty face! What splendid laughing eyes! I'll lay a wager that this demure little lady has lots of life and fun in her!

Narrator
At 26, while attending church in Rome, Georgia, Wilson's eyes alighted on Ellen Axson, a minister's daughter.

Ellen was highly intelligent and a talented artist, whose work had won a medal at an exhibition in Paris.

Painting was a refuge from the harsh realities of her life. When Ellen was 21, her mother died, leaving her to care for 3 younger siblings. Then her father, who suffered from manic depression, was confined to a mental hospital, where he committed suicide.

All the while, Ellen clung to her dream of establishing an art school for women, which would enable her both to earn a living and pursue her art.

Ellen Axson It is possible that my talent for art, combined with my talent for work, might, after many years, win me a place among the first rank of American artists.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
Well one of the things that amazes me most about Ellen Wilson was not just that she seems to have been an outstanding artist, even as a young woman, but she had the independence to follow up on it. She entered juried shows, she was represented by one of the outstanding agents in New York City. Her work was acquired by some of the outstanding museums in the country. And her oils of landscapes are outstanding I think. "Autumn" is the one that most people talk about. Even at the time that Woodrow met her, she certainly understood that she had artistic potential.

Narrator
A cousin said that if Ellen ever married, the man would probably be of no consequence, since smart men were rarely interested in women who were their intellectual equals.

But Woodrow Wilson was eager for the love and support of a strong woman like Ellen - and he began revealing a side of himself to her that few people ever saw.

Historian: Louis Auchincloss
Wilson very definitely gave the impression of being a cold fish, but he was a deeply passionate man. He was passionate in his relationship with women. He was passionate in his relationship with his god. All that came from a kind of much repressed but inward highly burning fire.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
Far from being a cold fish, far from being a, a thinking machine as he once joked that people thought he was, this was a very warm, passionate, in some ways hot man. I mean, he liked women, very, very much indeed.

Narrator
Wilson launched an all-out campaign to win Ellen's love. When she went to New York to paint, he wrote her letters nearly every day.

Woodrow Wilson Soon, I will come myself, to claim you, to take possession of you-of all the time and love you can give me; to take you in my arms and hold you. I tremble with a deep excitement when I think of it.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
The letters he was writing to her were, were just filled with his love you know, with poetry, with expressions of how much she meant to him. It must have been, it must have swept her off her feet.

Narrator
In Woodrow, Ellen saw not only passion but ambition. Here was a young man who was determined to go places and she wanted to go with him.

Ellen Axson Suppose, it were as great a sacrifice to give up my art as even you imagine, my darling must know that it would be a pitiable price to pay for such a love as his.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
In the time that Ellen Wilson married Woodrow, that's what a woman did. A woman who married put all of her energy to making a home for him, to making him happy, and Woodrow took a lot of work. He was a very demanding husband.

Narrator
Ten months after they were married, Ellen gave birth to a daughter, Margaret. Jessie and Nellie soon followed. Besides caring for her daughters, Ellen focused on Woodrow's career. From the start of their courtship, she had known of his dream of winning political office. But she also knew that it would be hard for a would-be politician to support a family.

The couple agreed that Woodrow should become a professor, instead. Wilson enrolled in graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. When his doctoral thesis was published it received glowing reviews in newspapers across the country.

America's federal government was dangerously weak, Wilson argued, and needed to be strengthened.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
He got fascinated with, how do politics really work, that was his one subject entirely, throughout his life was how does power really work and in turn, how can I wield it. Wilson wanted to wield power.

Narrator
When he was just 33, Wilson was offered a full professorship at his alma mater, Princeton. He became an enormously popular teacher-in seven out of eight years, he was voted favorite professor. "We came into contact with a mind rich with knowledge," one student said. "No one could touch him as a lecturer."

At the end of his classes, Wilson was often given a standing ovation.

Professor Wilson lectures addressed the growing gap between the have's and the have-nots in America in the early 1890's. Captains of industry like the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Morgans had become fabulously wealthy, while the majority of American workers lived in poverty.

Wilson was deeply influenced by a book of photographs by Jacob Riis, titled "How The Other Half Lives." Riis' photographs had created a national sensation, by exposing the squalor in which many Americans lived.

Historian: Victoria Bissell Brown
There had been economic and political inequity in this country certainly since the Civil War. The depression of 1894 however brought to the fore in glaring terms the level of inequity that existed. When you have a depression in which 20% of the American people are unemployed, thousands of businesses are going under, thousands of banks are going under, you have to begin to question whether this corporate elite is really running the show in the most equitable and wise fashion.

Narrator
Across the nation, rapidly growing populist and socialist movements were demanding real change. But the corporate elite refused to budge. Open warfare between strikers and union busters threatened to shut down factories and coal mines. Many feared that the nation was about to descend into chaos.

Professor Wilson was one of the few who had a practical solution: give America's government new power to rein in big business.

Historian: Thomas Knock
He came to the conclusion, that the government of the United States really did have to respond to these problems. That there was a kind of social compact between the people and the government, and working people were "the people." He was a bit fearful, also, that if neither of the major parties responded more forthrightly, then we were asking for bigger trouble down the road. If you didn't let some steam out at the pot, it's going to blow up in your face.

Narrator
Wilson articles in magazines like Harper's attracted nationwide attention and offers speak to political clubs and civic organizations began to pour in.

Woodrow Wilson Modern industry has so distorted competition as to put it into the power of some to tyrannize over many and enable the rich and strong to combine against the poor and weak.

Historian: Louis Auchincloss
He apparently had an extraordinary effect on audiences. And his voice was powerful and very moving. And I think when he spoke he put his whole heart and soul into it, enjoyed it very much. I think he's probably at his best when he spoke.

Narrator
Soon, a buzz began to spread about the eloquent Mr. Wilson. Before long, he was the most famous man at Princeton. Few were surprised when, at 46, he was named president of the college.

But Joseph Wilson believed that God had even greater plans for his son. "This is only the beginning of a very great career," he told all who would listen.

The family settled into the President's house at Princeton. Soon after, Joseph Wilson moved in, too. Each evening, Woodrow regaled his father with stories from his day and sought his advice.

Then, suddenly, Joseph became seriously ill. Woodrow spent every moment he could with him and sang him to sleep each night. On January 21st, 1903 Joseph Wilson died.

Woodrow Wilson It has quite taken the heart out of me to lose my life-long friend and companion. He is gone and a great loneliness is in my heart. No generation ahead of me now! I am in the firing line.

Narrator
The family would soon suffer another loss. When Ellen's youngest brother Eddie was ten, he had come to live with Woodrow and Ellen and they came to think of him as the son they never had. In the spring of 1905, Eddie, his wife and young son drowned.

Woodrow turned to his faith to see him through the loss. But Ellen was by nature more introspective - and she could not make sense out of a god who would allow such horrible things to happen.

Eddie's death sent Ellen into a long and deep depression. Woodrow found Ellen's dark mood disconcerting and urged her to begin painting again. But even her art could not brighten Ellen's disposition.

Ellen Wilson I cannot somehow shake off for a moment the weight it has laid upon my spirits, all the more so perhaps because, for Woodrow's sake, I must not show it. He is almost terribly dependent on me to keep up his spirits and to "rest" him, as he says. If I become just for a moment blue, then he becomes blue black.

Narrator
As a girl, Ellen had been devastated by her father's depression. For the sake of her own daughters, she began making every effort to resume a normal life.

During his early years as President of Princeton, Wilson continued to receive invitations from around the nation to speak about political reform. "He was time and again overwhelmed with applause," the Baltimore Sun wrote, " and had to wait until the clapping ceased to be heard again."

Harper's Monthly declared that Wilson was a man the nation would do well to pay attention to. By any measure, the Princeton President's star was on the rise.

Then, on the morning of May 28, 1906, the Wilson household was thrown into panic. Woodrow awoke to discover that that he had lost sight in one eye. Ellen rushed him to the hospital, where doctors discovered that the blood vessels behind Wilson's left eye had hemorrhaged.

Back home, Nellie and her sisters waited anxiously for news of their father's condition.

Nellie Wilson We were at the door waiting when they returned. Father was calm, but after one look at mother's face, we knew that something dreadful had happened. Not until father had gone upstairs did she tell us that the doctor's verdict was that he must give up all his work and live a retired life. Worst of all, there was no assurance that he would ever again regain his health completely. It is impossible to describe the panic and despair that engulfed us.

Narrator
The hemorrhage had been caused by a severe case of hypertension or high blood pressure.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
Here is a man who's 49 years old, relatively young, who already has a, an advanced disease. By the time we reach 1906 this disease process has already been ongoing for at least a decade. Simply because you don't get this type of finding unless the disease has been hanging around for a long time. The problem is that it then begins to affect other organ systems. If it's left untreated, you're talking about the heart, the kidneys and most significantly the brain. And the potential for that is catastrophic ultimately.

Narrator
In 1906, the only known treatment for hypertension was rest. His doctor recommended that Wilson retire if he wished to live.

Wilson decided to take a leave from Princeton and go to Britain to recuperate. He began a strict regime of exercise, walking farther and farther each day until he was hiking up to 14 miles across the English countryside. With his sight returned and his health improved, he began to ponder his faith and his future.

Historian: John Morton Blum
The Presbyterian faith meant a great deal to Wilson from the time that he was first conscious of an idea through the rest of his life. He was a Calvinist in fact. And always a Calvinist, secure in the knowledge that he was one of the elect one of God's agents, he thought, on this earth.

Narrator
By the end of his stay in Britain, Wilson had become convinced that he had not yet fulfilled God's plan for him. He decided that he would devote himself to transforming Princeton, even if it meant risking his health.

Woodrow Wilson College should not be-as many think it is-a playground for the sons of very rich men, for they are not as apt to form definite and serious purposes, as are those who know they must whet their whits for the struggle of life.

Narrator
With the rise of a new class of fabulously wealthy Americans, Princeton had become a place where the sons of the rich could gain a bit of culture, without having to expend too much effort-a kind of country club.

Now, Wilson wanted to change all that. He proposed building a world-class graduate school in the center of campus to train the next generation of American leaders.

To help attract serious scholars, he planned to abolish Princeton's fraternity like eating-clubs, filled with the schools richest and laziest students.

But Princeton's wealthy alumni were outraged by Wilson's attacks on their son's beloved clubs and threatened to withhold their donations.

Rather than try to work out a compromise, Wilson declared war.

Historian: John Morton Blum
Wilson had never found opposition easy to handle. He had this extraordinary confidence that his was the right, that he was the special vehicle of the Lord, that he spoke the truth, so that opposition became almost in that definition sacrilegious.

Historian: Jay Winter
After all Calvinism was based upon a hatred of the gaudy riches and laziness of the Catholic church. None of that for Woodrow Wilson at Princeton. Wilson's education was moral as much as it was intellectual.

Narrator
Over the next four years, Wilson spent a great deal of time fighting the alumni, but little time building the support he needed. Eventually, his graduate school was built, but far from the main campus. The "upper-crust" eating clubs remained at the center of university social life.

Gradually, Wilson came to bitterly resent those who had opposed him.

Woodrow Wilson Certainly this is the same place to a stick that I knew four years ago, but I have changed much more than it has. I am constantly confronted by specimens of the sort I like least: restless, rich, empty-headed people. I am glad to see them disappear into the distance, but very resentful that I must have their dust in my nostrils. They and their kind are my worst enemies.

Narrator
Wilson became so frustrated that he began to think the time had come to leave Princeton and the job that had suited him so well.

Ellen Wilson was responsible for a household of ten at Princeton - including her own daughters, a niece of Woodrow's and her own adult sister and brother. Her brother Stockton was the most demanding, for he suffered from the family curse of manic depression.

During one of Stockton's breakdowns, Ellen revealed her burdens to a friend.

Ellen Wilson I used to think it didn't matter if you gave way, if no one knew. But now, I do not dare to give way a minute. Both Stockton and Woodrow need me to be strong all the time.

Narrator
But the wear and tear of always needing to be strong for others made it difficult for Ellen to be the lively companion that Woodrow craved.

To keep her husband happy, she began staging parties where Woodrow could banter with her more spirited female friends. But for Woodrow, Ellen's parties were not enough.

He decided to take a break from his battles at Princeton and go to Bermuda. Ellen stayed home to look after Stockton and her daughters.

In Bermuda, Wilson met a witty, outgoing socialite named Mary Peck.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
Woodrow Wilson was an academic with a Ph.D., who was used to being around academics, and politicians. And in walks Mary Peck, who's vivacious, beautiful, and flirtatious. I think she says something like, because he did not smoke, or skate, or swim, he was drawn to women like me who did.

Narrator
Peck introduced Wilson to her friend Mark Twain and invited Woodrow to play golf with them. Afterward, Peck invited Wilson to her home, though she too was married.

As they enjoyed the pleasures of Bermuda together, Wilson felt himself drawn more and more to her.

Woodrow Wilson There were hours when I lost all of the abominable self-consciousness that has been my bane all my life, and felt perfectly at ease. Happily myself. God was very good to me to send me such a friend, so perfectly satisfying and delightful. So delectable.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
She was a lovely, sympathetic, interesting person, interesting woman. Something happened there. Some kind of love affair began between the two of them. We don't know how far it went. Probably rather far, just given Wilson's own rather passionate nature.

Narrator
When Wilson returned home, he and Mary continued to write to each other. Eventually, Ellen learned about their correspondence.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
She confronted Wilson, but not in a fighting way. And what she was able to do was to get him to back off.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
Well Ellen must've been very upset about the relationship that Woodrow had with Mary Peck. But to maintain his path to his career, she put a good face on it. Made out that Mary was a friend of the family, and she had no objection to their friendship.

Historian: Thomas Knock
However, we do know it caused pain for all people concerned, especially Ellen. She was grief-stricken by this and Wilson was guilt-stricken. Ultimately, he decided to taper off the relationship with Mary. And Ellen eventually forgave him. And they went on from there.

Narrator
One morning in April of 1910, a well-known journalist arrived at Princeton. Ray Baker had taken on the role of scout for the progressive movement and was traveling the country in search of a new leader to fight for its agenda.

Historian: Victoria Bissell Brown
Progressives were concerned that the focus on wealth and the focus on a top elite garnering all of the wealth had taken attention away from the purpose of the United States, which was supposed to be a democratic society in which the maximum number of people joined in making decisions.

Narrator
Baker had heard about Wilson's battles at Princeton. He wondered if the outspoken professor might be a potential progressive candidate for President in 1912.

Baker spent two hours with Wilson, assessing his potential as a politician.

Ray Stannard Baker I left Princeton convinced that I had met the finest mind to be found in America public life. And yet, I concluded that he was politically impossible. Was he not wholly without practical experience? He did not know the leaders of his own party in New Jersey, or even in his own town. I did not believe in miracles.

Narrator
Baker may have been unwilling to bet on Wilson, but not the New Jersey democratic boss, "Sugar" Jim Smith. Smith was a charming Irishman, who was rumored to have taken more than his share of bribes.

He was desperate to find someone who could win the New Jersey governorship by appealing to progressive voters-but who was politically na‘ve enough to be easily manipulated.

Boss Smith offered Professor Wilson the democratic nomination for governor. Wilson immediately accepted.

But Ellen was less enthusiastic. After seeing a New York production of "Macbeth," she worried about the physical cost to her husband of unrestrained ambition.

Ellen Wilson Maybe these husbands ought not to be encouraged to get the things to which their ambitions lead them. I don't mean when the object of their ambition is wrong as in Macbeth's case, but even when it is right, it may wear out their strength and spirit and health. And yet they will never be happy unless they get it.

Narrator
In September of 1910, Woodrow Wilson began his campaign for governor.

Woodrow Wilson I endorse the splendid program of the progressives, to put things forward by fairness, by justice, by a concern for all interests.

Narrator
The election went just as Sugar Jim Smith had planned: Wilson led the democrats to a statewide sweep. Immediately after the new governor was sworn in, Sugar Jim came calling at the capitol to give Wilson his marching orders.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
There is a great irony in Wilson's entrance into politics, which is that he comes in as the tool of the bosses. They want Wilson as a Trojan horse, really. Well, turns out their Trojan horse was a real horse.

Narrator
In defiance of Smith, Wilson introduced four major reform bills: an anti-corruption law, election reform, new laws to regulate corporations, and workman's compensation.

"The whole country is watching the first session of the New Jersey legislature under Wilson with interest," the New York Times wrote, "it is the beginning of the combat between him and the old system."

Sugar Jim still controlled many of the votes in the legislature, and he was confident he would be able to teach the professor a lesson.

But when Sugar Jim's supporters gathered at a legislative caucus to plan Wilson's defeat, they were stunned when the governor arrived in person to confront them. The legislators angrily told him that his presence was unconstitutional. In response Wilson whipped a copy of the state constitution out of his pocket and cited the passage that gave him the right to be present.

Then he made an appeal to what he called "their better, unselfish natures." Every one of the new governor's reform bills passed.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
Wilson was a great surprise as a politician. He had had no elected public life before this moment. He was the darkest of dark horses. But he was a refreshing presence. He was someone who spoke clearly and emphatically, and spoke truth to power and denounced the bosses and denounced the bankers and the corporate titans and so on. In language that was precise and eloquent to a degree that few others could do.

Narrator
Wilson had served in elected office for just two years, but newspapers across the country were suddenly calling him a contender for the White House. "Why is Governor Woodrow Wilson now frequently mentioned as a Democratic candidate for the presidency?" the Rocky Mountain news asked. "We think the answer is to be found in two words: progressiveness and courage."

The Democratic Convention of 1912 took place in Baltimore. The excited delegates were convinced that the White House was within their grasp - if only they could agree on a candidate.

In three previous elections the Democrats had backed Nebraska populist William Jennings Bryan.

Historian: Michael Kazin
The Democratic Progressives had run hard behind Bryan three different times. He had lost all three times by increasing margins. And so they needed to find someone who could win. They needed somebody who would not scare the richest most powerful people in society who ran most of the newspapers in America, which was the mass media at the time. And they also wanted someone of course who was a true Progressive.

Narrator
Nine candidates had tossed their hats in the ring. The favorites were Wilson, backed by reformers in the North, and Champ Clark, darling of conservatives and big city bosses.

Though William Jennings Bryan was not running, everyone knew that it would be impossible to win the nomination without his support.

For years Bryan and Wilson had held each other in mutual contempt. But then Ellen Wilson stepped in. Though she was ambivalent about Woodrow's political ambitions, Ellen was also fiercely loyal.

Without consulting her husband, Ellen invited Bryan to dinner. That evening, Wilson, the Princeton intellectual, and Bryan, the Nebraska populist, found out they had a surprising amount in common.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
I think any wife who, who feels that she understands so well her husbands career, that she can arrange dinner guests that fit those plans, I think that shows an enormous strength and independence. And arranging a dinner with anybody as important as a, a former candidate for President, and then telling your husband to get home because you had arranged it, it shows a lot of guts.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
Ellen made it possible for Wilson to be Wilson. She was very shrewd about how to exploit opportunities. Whenever he had a great career change, whenever he had a great turning point Ellen's advice was absolutely critical.

Narrator
On June 27th, the delegates began voting in the sweltering heat of Baltimore's convention hall. Round after round of balloting produced deadlock after deadlock.

Historian: Michael Kazin
The convention of 1912 was one of the more exciting political conventions in American history, probably in world history for that matter. It was very hot, of course. It was July and it was Baltimore before the days of air conditioning, so this didn't help matters. You were involved in a circus which at any moment could break out into a fist fight.

Narrator
With no end to the deadlock in sight, Woodrow Wilson headed for the place he loved best. While he was on the 18th tee, he got word that the logjam at the convention had started to break - William Jennings Bryan was throwing his support behind Governor Wilson.

On the 46th ballot, Wilson became the Democratic nominee for President.

For all its drama, the convention was only the opening act for one of the most exciting Presidential elections America had ever seen.

Historian: John Morton Blum
To use a phrase of Theodore Roosevelt the American voters, especially middle class voters were in 1912 in an heroic mood. They were in heroic mood demanding change.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
It's one of the most significant elections in all of American history because it involves a philosophical debate about the nature of government, of a depth and a sophistication that we've never really seen in American politics.

Narrator
On the right was the Republican candidate, President William Howard Taft, running for a second term with strong support from big business. On the left was socialist Eugene Debs, who told his millions of supporters that it was time for the working class to run America.

Two candidates were trying to win the voters in the middle. One was Wilson. The other was former President Theodore Roosevelt, running as leader of his new Bull Moose Party.

Both Roosevelt and Wilson were reformers. It was the only thing they had in common.

Where Roosevelt was blustering and charismatic, Wilson often seemed cold and distant. Where Roosevelt was a baby kisser and back slapper, a reporter had once said that shaking Wilson's hand was like shaking a dead fish. Wilson was painfully aware of their differences.

Woodrow Wilson He appeals to their imagination. I do not. He is a real, vivid person who they have seen and shouted themselves horse for and voted for, millions strong. I am a vague, conjectural personality, more made up of opinions and academic prepossessions than of human traits and red corpuscles.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
Roosevelt was one of the most kinetic, almost frantic personalities of his era. Wilson was much more thoughtful, more cerebral. But beneath that veneer was quite a passionate individual, passionate about his politics and often passionate about his personal life.

Narrator
As election day neared, the Roosevelt camp came into possession of one of Mary Peck's steamy love letters to Wilson, which was apparently stolen from Wilson's luggage. Roosevelt's advisors urged him to release the letter to the press.

But Roosevelt refused. It was hopeless, he said, to convince the public that a man who looked like a drugstore clerk was, in reality, a Romeo.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
And they didn't release the letters, and I think that explains why most people have trouble seeing Woodrow Wilson as this passionate man, because he did look like the druggist on the corner, you know. He was very academic, those steel-rimmed glasses, he always seemed very serious, but he was an extremely passionate person.

Narrator
Wilson's best hope against Roosevelt was to speak to Americans in person. He crisscrossed the nation, warning his audiences that big business was cutting average Americans out of their fair share of the nation's wealth.

Woodrow Wilson We must choose whether we shall continue to have our affairs dominated and determined by small groups of men or whether we shall again assert the individual independence of the American people in the conduct of their business and their politics.

Narrator
Wilson promised Americans a "New Freedom" - a new opportunity for the average person to get ahead in the world.

Historian: Thomas Knock
The difference between Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, at that time was that Woodrow Wilson wanted to enact very tough anti-trust law, to break up the big corporations into smaller units. Then the government could sit back and have a kind of self-regulating economy, so that smaller business people, "the man on the make," he used that phrase a lot, could have an opportunity to realize their full potential. This is part of what he meant by "The New Freedom."

Narrator
Wilson spent election day at the governor's home in New Jersey. After dinner he read Ellen and his daughters a poem by Browning about the importance of accepting God's will.

Woodrow Wilson "Indeed, the special marking of the man / Is prone submission to the heavenly will / Seeing it, what it is, and why it is."

Narrator
Nellie was the first to hear the sound that signaled the outcome of the election.

Nellie Wilson I heard the first muffled tone of the bell of old Nassau Hall - another moment it was ringing like a thing possessed.

I ran to one of the front windows. In all directions, as far as I could see, there were people coming. Swarms had already invaded the little garden and were crowding around the porch. Swaying torches made grotesque circles of light. And there, a red glare shining full on his face was father, utterly, utterly unfamiliar. He was no longer my father. These people, strangers who had chosen him to be their leader, now claimed him.

Narrator
On March 3, 1913, the Wilson's arrived in Washington, to celebrate Woodrow's inauguration as President. But the family had as much to worry about as celebrate. Wilson had won just forty-three percent of the vote, hardly a mandate. Before the election, he had forecast that the life of the next president would be hell and said that the stress of the job might well kill him.

Ellen was also worried about what the strain of the presidency would do to Woodrow's blood pressure. But as Nellie helped her mother prepare for an inaugural tea at the White House, the first sign came that it was Ellen who was in trouble.

Nellie Wilson I arranged her hair and adjusted her prettiest hat at just the right angle. She hardly said a word. Then, suddenly, putting both hands over her face, she burst into tears. There was almost despair in her sudden break, something I had never seen before. I was afraid that mother was ill. As she left with father, I cried with black despair, 'It will kill them-it will kill them both.'

Narrator
On March 4th, 1913, Wilson was inaugurated the 28th President of the United States.

Soon after he took office, Wilson announced that he would do something no president in 113 years had done: address the Congress in person. Then he sat down at his typewriter, a machine which he had been one of the first Americans to embrace, and began tapping out his speech.

Woodrow Wilson I am very glad indeed to have this opportunity to address the two Houses directly and to verify for myself the impression that the President of the United States is a person, not a mere department of the Government hailing Congress from some isolated island of jealous power, sending messages, not speaking naturally and with his own voice - that he is a human being trying to cooperate with other human beings in a common service.

Narrator
As he settled into his new job, Wilson established a strict schedule. He arrived at eight each day for a breakfast of coffee, oatmeal, and two raw eggs in fruit juice - "like swallowing a newborn baby," he said. He then dictated from nine to ten a.m. and saw visitors until one. After lunch with his family, he returned to his office.

Nearly all who came to see him there were struck by the President's deep sense of mission. When the chairman of the Democratic Party came to demand a job in return for helping Wilson win the presidency, Wilson told him that it was not the Democratic Party, but God, who had made him president.

Historian: John Morton Blum
A character in any President is an important part of the way he handles his office. Now in Wilson's case let's just take one aspect of his character, his certitude. His certitude that he was right. Now certitude is a great asset, when you have to fight for what you believe in and when you convince other people that your correct. But certitude is a serious obstacle when you're trying to achieve something to which there's a good deal of opposition and where it's necessary to compromise in order to have your way.

Narrator
Wilson was fortunate that in his early days in office there was little organized opposition to his plans for change.

In a rapid fire series of bills he was able to toughen anti-trust laws, win new protections for labor unions, create the Federal Reserve System to make loans more easily available to average Americans, and give government the resources it needed to rein in big business by creating the first lasting income tax.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
The first two years of Wilson's first term are one of the most remarkable moments in modern American politics. There's more reform agenda accomplished in that brief moment than in virtually any other two year period in the 20th century. He lays down the rhetorical markers about how the state must step in to insulate citizens against the volatilities of the free market and this has defined the character of American politics ever since.

Narrator
In a second round of reforms Wilson pushed through the first law mandating an 8 hour work day and the first law banning child labor.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
There's a very nice coincidence for Wilson. In many ways, the kind of ideas that the progressives and programs that they had begun to agitate for, are exactly the kind of things that he had been studying for over twenty years. Now how do you make government more accountable? How do you make it more open? How do you exercise power both more efficiently and more openly, and more answerably, there. And the man and the moment found each other beautifully in that.

Narrator
It was an impressive record, but not an unblemished one. Many prominent African Americans had supported Wilson in 1912, because of his promise that his "New Freedoms" would apply to all Americans equally. But once he was in office, Wilson sided with the many southern Democrats in Congress and in his cabinet who favored segregation.

During his first term, the House passed a law making racial intermarriage a felony in the District of Columbia. Then Wilson's new Postmaster General overturned 50 years of integration by ordering that his Washington offices be segregated. Soon, plans were made to segregate many other federal departments.

Historian: Victoria Bissell Brown
To understand Woodrow Wilson's racial views, it is important to remember that he was a Southerner. He had been raised in a climate in which it was presumed that African American people were less evolved than Anglo Saxon people. This was not a casual assumption on his part, it was one that was ingrained in his whole being.

Narrator
In 1914, newspaper publisher William Monroe Trotter led a delegation of African Americans who had endorsed Wilson to the White House. Trotter angrily asked the President, "have you a new freedom for white Americans and a new slavery for your Afro-American fellow citizens?"

Historian: David Levering Lewis
They demand an accounting from Woodrow Wilson. They supported the man and these are the consequences and Wilson pleads misunderstanding and suggests that what is being done is really a boon and a benefit to the African Americans. It's taking away the tension in the work place, as it were. And Trotter will have none of this and voices rise and tempers rise until Wilson excuses Trotter from his presence. As Trotter leaves he does something quite extraordinary. He convenes his own press conference on the grounds of the White House and reenacts the exchanged just transpired between him and the President.

Narrator
Wilson was furious that a black man would dare to publicly question him. For the rest of his presidency, he would make no effort to improve race relations in America.

Historian: David Levering Lewis
In, in every man's life, there's the possibility of making a considerable difference. By attitude, by word spoken, by something done or not done. You'd have to say that in the area of race relations, Woodrow Wilson was deficient on all those points. He neither said what should have been said, he neither did what should have been done, nor did he understand what needed doing.

Woodrow Wilson It would be an irony of fate if my administration had to deal chiefly with foreign affairs. All of my preparation has been in domestic affairs.

Narrator
In Wilson's first month in office, Mexico erupted in revolution when its democratically-elected President was murdered by the Mexican military.

Wilson was convinced that the right thing for the United States to do was send in troops to restore democracy to Mexico.

Historian: John Morton Blum
Always the idealist, always the moralist, Wilson did have some general ideas about foreign relations to which he repaired when the crises in Mexico and in Europe arose. As always, he saw the United States as a special vehicle of the Lord to provide an example to the world of the blessings of democracy and constitutionalism.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
Wilson hadn't thought that much about foreign policy. Like, like nearly all Americans of his time, even the best educated ones, he thought about domestic affairs. It just, it just wasn't-this was not something that was on his mind that much. And he had to learn it. We have a President of the United States, who has to learn foreign policy by the seat of his pants. Mexico is his shakedown cruise.

Narrator
When the American Navy sailed into Vera Cruz, Mexicans saw it as Yankee imperialism and united to fight the invaders. The resulting battle left more than a hundred dead.

Despite the fierce Mexican opposition, Wilson remained certain that his was the right course. When rebels attacked a border town, Wilson sent more troops into Mexico, once again embroiling the United States in the chaotic revolution.

Wilson's actions sparked intense criticism. "What legal or moral right has a President of the United States to say who should be President of Mexico?" Harper's Monthly asked. "Wilson is a ridiculous creature in international matters," Theodore Roosevelt declared. "He is the very worst man we have ever had in his position."

Historian: David M. Kennedy
Wilson's intervention in Mexico, in a sense, reveals his amateurism in this area. It's a marker I think of just how indifferent he was to the rest of the world, that he, he had reflex, impulse to introduce military forces. That was a pretty ham-handed device for trying to deal with complicated politics of the Mexican revolution.

Narrator
Mexico was just the beginning of Wilson's entanglement in foreign affairs. On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a Serbian nationalist.

Austria and Germany mobilized their armies to punish the Serbs. To defend them, Russia and France called up their armies. It was clear to all that the great powers of Europe were on the verge of a catastrophic war.

Deeply influenced by his boyhood experience of the civil war, Wilson believed that such a conflict offered nothing but heartache for all caught up in it. And yet, there were powerful forces pushing him to get involved.

Historian: Jay Winter
Wilson has a problem on his hands. He is committed as an American President to defend the national interest, which interest is to stay out of that European war. At the same time, he has a multi-ethnic population in which there are millions of people whose families are fighting on both sides of a conflict at the same time as the United States becomes neutral. He therefore has an impossible political task, which is to keep the country out of the war and at the same time respond to major pulls of public opinion to get involved on one side or the other.

Narrator
For a president who was knew little about foreign affairs, it was the greatest challenge imaginable. And yet, in July of 1914, the impending disaster in Europe was by no means the first thing on Woodrow Wilson's mind.

As first lady, Ellen Wilson refused be confined to the traditional role of White House hostess. With her daughters grown and her siblings finally living on their own, she was determined to do something meaningful.

After she took a tour of the

area where Washington D.C.'s poorest residents lived, Ellen resolved to help clean up the city's slums.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
Ellen took the job of first lady to a whole new level. She tied her name to housing legislation, worked very hard to get alleys, backhouses they were called, improved so that slums would be torn down. She's the first First Lady to do that.

Narrator
After less than a year as First Lady, Ellen had to abandon her efforts - the occasional bouts of exhaustion which she had experienced since the inauguration were becoming much worse. Her doctor discovered that Ellen was suffering from a kidney ailment called Bright's Disease.

In the summer of 1914, just as Europe was spiraling towards war, Woodrow Wilson watched helplessly as his wife's health deteriorate.

Then, on August 1st, as Ellen's condition dramatically worsened, a telegram arrived informing the president that all hope for peace was gone: Germany had declared war on Russia. Nellie and her father stood vigil at Ellen's bedside.

Nellie Wilson Every time Dr. Grayson came from mother's room, we searched his face for some sign of encouragement, but we did not find it. It was like a terrible nightmare: Europe in flames, and all hope fading from our own hearts.

Narrator
Throughout their thirty years of marriage, Woodrow and Ellen had never stopped writing each other love letters.

Ellen Wilson My life has been the most remarkable life history that I ever even read about-and to think I have lived it with you! I love you, my dear, in every way you could wish to be loved. Deeply, tenderly, devotedly, passionately.

Woodrow Wilson It is very wonderful how you have loved me. I have gone my way after a fashion that made me the center of the plan. And you, who are so independent in spirit and in judgment, whose soul is also a kingdom, have been so loyal, so forgiving. Nothing but love could have accomplished so wonderful a thing.

Narrator
On August 6, with her husband at her side, Ellen Axson Wilson died.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
Wilson was absolutely devastated by Ellen's death. They had been married for almost thirty years. They had seldom been apart. She had been his closest companion, she had been his greatest emotional support. And now suddenly she was taken away, and she was taken away, at, in some ways, the worst possible moment. He's got to deal both with the breakdown of the world on the one hand, and he's got to deal with this breakdown in his personal life.

Narrator
In the days after his wife's death, the President began to exhibit the symptoms of severe depression, including confused thinking and memory loss. To an aide Wilson said that he was no longer fit to be President because he could no longer think straight.

And yet clear thinking had never been more important. Germany had just shocked the world by invading neutral Belgium, drawing Britain into the war, and making it far more likely that America, too, would be sucked in.

As he wandered alone through the White House, the President was heard by his staff to mutter one phrase, again and again.

Woodrow Wilson My God, what am I to do?



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