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American Experience - Woodrow Wilson
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Narrator
In 1915, the Great Powers of Europe were engaged in the most brutal war mankind had ever fought. After just six months of fighting, more than a million young men had been killed.

President Woodrow Wilson was trying to keep America out of the cataclysm - but he was crippled by a crisis in his personal life. His wife Ellen had died just as the war began. Wilson, who had always relied on a strong woman for support, was utterly bereft.

Historian: Thomas Knock
Not long after Ellen died, the week that the war broke out, he made a comment that he wished somebody might shoot him. He was that miserable over the loss of Ellen, he was terribly lonely.

Narrator
Wilson's deep need for female companionship stood in stark contrast to his cold and aloof public image.

Historian: Louis Auchincloss
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.

Narrator
Wilson's intense drive had seen him through the worst trial of his life. While President of Princeton, the blood vessels in one eye had burst. Fearing that his high blood pressure might kill him, doctors urged him to retire. But Wilson ignored them.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
Here is a man who's relatively young who already has an advanced disease. The fact of the matter is the piper was going to have to be paid at some point. He was living on borrowed time.

Narrator
Wilson had defied the odds to become President of the United States, by promising to give all Americans a chance to share in the wealth created by the new industrial age.

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.

Narrator
Now Europe was exploding in flames. Haunted by his childhood experience of the horrors of the Civil War, Wilson became obsessed with creating a new world order.

Historian: Jay Winter
No one else had tried to fundamentally recast the international order in a way that would make war impossible. His was to be a revolutionary peace, one that would transform the world. You can't imagine a higher goal than that.

Narrator
But Wilson's pursuit of his dream would almost kill him.

One afternoon in early 1915, as President Woodrow Wilson approached the elevator in the White House, its doors opened to reveal a striking woman in walking clothes and muddy boots. The fifty-nine year old President wasted no time getting acquainted with Edith Bolling Galt, a 42-year-old widow.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
She was a friend of a female relative of Wilson's who was living at the White House. They'd just happened to wander in when Wilson came back from a golf game, and this chance meeting and he was absolutely dazzled, just plain dazzled.

Narrator
Edith Bolling Galt was a woman ahead of her time - confident and independent.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
She was a wealthy widow, you know her husband been dead a few years. She wore clothes from Paris. She drove her own little electric car around Washington. After the first dinner Edith has at the White House with Woodrow, she writes to a friend, saying, you know, I dined tonight with the President. You don't get the sense of a woman whose been swept off her feet.

Narrator
Most Americans believed it was inappropriate for any man, and especially the President, to be dating so soon after his wife's death. Wilson had to do his courting in secret.

Day after day, the President's chauffeur-driven Pierce Arrow rolled at 20 miles an hour through the Virginia countryside.

Woodrow Wilson You are so vivid; you are so beautiful! I have learned what you are and my heart is wholly enthralled.

Historian: Thomas Knock
Woodrow Wilson was a very vital, passionate man. They'd go for long drives along the Potomac, and they'd sit in the backseat, and they would talk, and they would hug each other and kiss.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
In a way, what woman wouldn't be flattered by attracting the President? Here is the most important man in the country. He's bright, he's witty, he's warm. And he's President.

Narrator
Wilson's long drives with Edith terrified his advisors, who feared that the relationship would be discovered and Wilson's re-election put at risk.

Their fears were realized when a rumor raced through Washington that the President of the United States had been seen necking with a woman in his car.

Then, The Washington Post society columnist revealed that "the President has been 'entertaining' Edith Bolling Galt regularly." But due to a misprint, the article stated "the President has been "entering" Edith Bolling Galt regularly." The entire edition of the paper had to be recalled.

With gossip spreading across the country, Wilson was desperate to make the relationship respectable. Only three months after meeting Edith, he asked her to marry him.

But Edith was shocked at the proposal - and turned him down.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
It wasn't considered proper to marry so soon. So I think part of that was Edith's feeling. And part was just what woman would change her life so completely in five weeks. Remember, she was used to going to Europe when she wanted, she had plenty of money, she, she had the best of Washington society, and she could travel wherever she wanted. She wasn't too taken with the idea of living in the White House.

Narrator
For the moment, Woodrow Wilson would have to cope with life as a single man.

In August 1914, it took only one day to show the world how horrific the European war would be. Wearing nineteenth century uniforms of bright red trousers and blue coats, French troops marched in formation across open ground toward the invading German Army. Machine guns mowed them down. 27,000 French soldiers were killed.

Woodrow Wilson wanted to avoid the conflict at all costs.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
He believed that if the United States could stay out, that we could be the great reconciler, the great mediator. And in order to do that, we can't get involved in something like this horrible war. It's destructive, it's the antithesis of civilization, and what's more, he deeply suspected the motives of all the belligerents in there.

Narrator
Wilson also knew that America's vast immigrant population had divided interests in the war. He feared that if the U.S. joined the fight, it might split the country.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
We have to remember that the moment Wilson assumes the Presidency is the moment when there were more immigrants relative to the general population than in any other moment in American history, including our own. And many of those immigrants came from the countries of the Austrian/Hungarian Empire and from Germany, and it was anybody's guess where their loyalties might lie.

Historian: Jay Winter
Wilson wanted no part of that because he saw that it was potentially the case that a European war would tear the fragile, very delicate web of American unity right apart.

Narrator
But while America and its President were effectively avoiding the war, there were powerful forces threatening to drag them in.

Historian: Walter LaFeber
By 1915, he found that the American economy doesn't work in a neutral way. That in order for the American economy to work they had to sell goods to the belligerents - the people who were fighting in Europe. And it just so happened, that most American banking ties were with the British and the French, and as a result, Wilson finds himself by 1915, he is essentially locked in on the British French side.

Narrator
On a sunny afternoon in May of 1915, the British luxury liner Lusitania was nearing the end of its voyage from New York to England.

A German submarine sighted the vessel. It fired one torpedo. The great ship exploded and sank in twenty-two minutes.

Historian: Thomas Knock
The sinking of the Lusitania shocked Americans, because it seemed like an act of almost wanton murder on the high seas. This was not a military ship or even a merchant ship. It was a passenger liner with men, women, and children, non-combatants, and among them, of course, a hundred and twenty-eight Americans that went down among the, the twelve hundred who died.

Narrator
Germany's aggression on the high seas stoked nationalist cries for America to enter the war. Wilson's bitter rival, former President Theodore Roosevelt, was eager for the United States to wield a "big stick" on the world stage. When Wilson failed to retaliate against the Germans, TR called the President a "prime-jackass" and threatened to "skin him alive if he doesn't go to war."

Republican Congressmen, led by Henry Cabot Lodge were also furious with the President. "Wilson is afraid," Senator Lodge declared. "He flinches in the presence of danger, physical and moral."

Wilson's true feelings about the conflict were reflected in a newly erected Civil War monument that the President passed each time he journeyed to the capitol.

Woodrow Wilson I come from the South and I know what war is, for I have seen its terrible wreckage and ruin. It is easy for me as President to declare war. I do not have to fight, and neither do the gentlemen on the Hill who now clamor for it. It is some poor farmer's boy, or the son of some poor widow - who will have to do the fighting and dying.

Narrator
In the spring of 1915, Woodrow Wilson still had his eyes on Edith Bolling Galt. Though she had not agreed to marry him, she was willing to continue seeing him. And when the war kept Wilson closeted with his advisors at the White House, she sent him letters by secret courier.

Edith Bolling Galt My precious weary pilot, I will kiss the tired eyes that have strained so to see the right course through the blackness ahead, and try to shut out the tumult that is raging around you on every side by whispering in your listening ears: "I love you, my precious Woodrow."

Historian: John Milton Cooper
There's an old saying, that power is the greatest aphrodisiac. Wilson certainly used the Presidency as a way of wooing the Widow Galt. He shared his thoughts with her. He shared secrets of state with her. He would show her the documents about the Lusitania, about the submarine. He used the Presidency as a way of winning this woman.

Narrator
By fall, Wilson was on the verge of popping the question again. Suddenly, their love was put in jeopardy by the President's relationship with another woman.

Nine years earlier, on the island of Bermuda, Wilson had had an affair with a socialite named Mary Peck. Now, as the Presidential election approached, Wilson learned that the Republicans were planning to make his infidelity an issue in the campaign.

Woodrow decided he had no choice but to tell Edith about his affair with Peck, and warn her that she might now be caught up in a major scandal.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
When Woodrow confessed to Edith that he had this relationship with Mary Peck, she really had second thoughts, as I think any woman would. And she gave, I guess she must've begun thinking how many other people knew about this, what kind of scandal might be involved, how many other women there might be. She really began to take another look at this man, because this was a side of him that she did not know.

Narrator
On September 22nd, Edith retreated to her home to decide on the future of their relationship. As she deliberated, a letter from Woodrow arrived, begging her forgiveness.

Woodrow Wilson I know I have no rights, but I also know that it would break my heart and my life if I could not call you my darling.

Narrator
Finally, Edith made her reply.

Edith Bolling Galt Dearest, I am not afraid of any gossip or threat with your love as my shield... I now see straight into the heart of things and am ready to follow the road where love leads.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
Well at the end of a long night's thinking, Edith comes around and decides that she really does want to marry Woodrow. And I think, frankly, historians are divided about how much of it was really great love, and how much of it was the attraction of the power of the White House.

Narrator
On the 9th of October 1915, the couple made their first public appearance together at the World Series in Philadelphia.

Two months later, as a marine band played the wedding march, the couple was married in a small ceremony in Edith's home.

Though there were still public murmurs of disapproval, Wilson's three daughters welcomed Edith into the family, firm in their belief that their mother Ellen would have approved.

With her marriage to one of the most powerful men in the world, Edith Wilson knew she was embarking on a remarkable journey. "You will lay your hand in mine," she wrote, "and with the other turn the pages of history."

In 1916, while struggling to keep the nation neutral, Wilson had to campaign for reelection.

His Republican opponent was Charles Evans Hughes, a former Governor of New York and Supreme Court Justice. In private, Theodore Roosevelt called Hughes a "bearded iceberg." But TR's deep-seated hatred for Woodrow Wilson drove him onto the campaign trail, where he extolled Hughes, and attacked the President. "No one displays more despicable baseness than Wilson," Roosevelt declared, "who is without a touch of the heroic in his cold, selfish and timid soul."

Historian: Thomas Knock
Wilson was acutely aware of the way other people perceived him, the public at large, that he was a, "a human thinking machine" that ice water ran through his veins, and, that bothered him a bit. Every now and then when he'd be out on the "hustings" and give a speech, and he got fired up, and somebody from the audience would yell, "You tell them, Woody." He loved it.

Narrator
The President reached out to a wide range of progressives: From laborers and farmers to ethnic minorities and women suffragists who already had the vote in the west.

Historian: Victoria Bissell Brown
Social Justice Progressives, by 1916, came to feel that Woodrow Wilson was somebody that they could work with. He was not yet their perfect candidate, but they also perceived him as the candidate who was the most likely to keep the country out of war.

Narrator
Edith relished campaigning in a way Wilson's first wife never had. But she also became an issue in an increasingly dirty campaign. Republican women held so-called "Indignation Meetings" to protest Wilson's pursuit of Edith so soon after the death of his first wife. And bawdy jokes about Edith began to circulate.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
One joke that did evidently persist, the question was, "What did Mrs. Galt do when the President of the United States proposed to her?" And the answer was, she fell out of bed. Which in 1915 would've been extremely risqué, I guess it would be risqué even today, but 1915, that was pretty risqué a story to pass around about the President.

Narrator
Wilson believed that the tense international situation called for a Chief Executive who had the full support of the American people. He decided that if he lost the election, he and his Vice President would immediately resign. Vice President Thomas Marshall was not told of the plan.

The early returns showed Hughes winning most of the eastern states. That night, Wilson went to bed thinking he had lost. The next morning, he and Edith awoke to more bad news.

On such difficult occasions, Wilson drew support from his Presbyterian faith, and he was prepared to accept the loss as God's will. "The news did not seem in the least to disturb him," Edith recalled.

Then, as polling results trickled in from the western states, the tide turned. By only a few thousand votes, Wilson managed to win the crucial state of California, and the election.

On the afternoon of January 31st, 1917, the president received a diplomatic communiqué: the German Government had declared all-out submarine warfare against American ships in the Atlantic.

Then, a telegram was intercepted that revealed Germany was trying to persuade Mexico to declare war against the US by offering the states of Texas, Arizona and New Mexico as potential war prizes.

Historian: Thomas Knock
The fact that Germany is sinking American ships, that it's plotting with Mexico to bring on the war with the United States, causes Wilson to lose all faith in the good intentions of the German government.

Narrator
Wilson called for an extraordinary session of Congress to receive "a communication concerning grave matters of national policy." After days of agonizing, he had decided to declare war.

Now he faced the monumental task of telling Americans why, after three years of advocating neutrality, he had changed his mind. He had to explain what was at stake that was worth fighting and dying for.

On April 2nd, Wilson stood before a joint session of Congress and asked for a declaration of war against Germany.

Woodrow Wilson It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars. But the right is more precious than peace and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts, for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples. The world must be made safe for democracy.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
It's the greatest Presidential speech, I think, since Lincoln's second inaugural address. Wilson believed that the United States was a very special nation - that we were really conceived in liberty, and that we had a mission in the world to try to make it a better place. To try to make it more peaceful, more just, more democratic.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
He's often accused there being hopelessly romantic and idealistic. I would, I would argue all to the contrary that Wilson, number one, had no real alternative but to cast the war on this plane of idealism because none of his country's vital interests were really at stake. So he had somehow to convince the public that something was at stake here and what was at stake was the nature of the democratic experiment itself, worldwide.

Narrator
The address was met with wild applause, and Wilson's justification for going to war was greeted with enthusiasm.

"The old isolation is finished," The New York World declared, "we are no longer aloof from the rest of the world . . . whatever happens now concerns us, and from none of it can be withheld the force of our influence."

When he was struggling keep the country neutral, Wilson had lamented the suspension of civil liberties during the Civil War. "War means autocracy," he had warned. "To fight you must be brutal and ruthless."

Now, America was at war once more and Wilson declared, "Woe to the man who seeks to stand in our way."

Historian: David M. Kennedy
Wilson's fears about the disloyalty of many elements of American society, particularly recent immigrants, all came rather nastily to the floor, almost immediately after the declaration of war. And he allows his attorney general to undertake some very aggressive prosecutions of the ethnic and immigrant press, to search out and suppress any dissident views about the, the waging of the war. It's not a lovely chapter in the history of American civil liberties.

Narrator
The Wilson Administration began urging American citizens to act as vigilantes and report anyone "who spreads pessimistic stories, cries for peace, or belittles our effort to win the war."

From concert halls to schools, Beethoven and Brahms, along with all works of German literature, were banned. In Chicago, schoolchildren were enlisted to publicize the decree.

In addition, thousands of Americans were arrested for opposing the war on moral and ethical grounds. One of them was Eugene Debs, four-time Socialist candidate for President. After Debs made a speech against the war, he was sentenced to ten years in prison.

Historian: Victoria Bissell Brown
The Wilson Administration supported and passed an Espionage Act and later a Sedition Act, both of which limited free speech in this country. Under the provisions of that act, the Wilson Administration could arrest anyone that spoke out against the war, anyone who spoke out against Wilson's policies, anyone who spoke out against conscription.

Narrator
On September 30th, 1917, in an event staged for newsreel cameras, President Wilson presided over the first draft since the Civil War. With hundreds of thousands of young men destined for the killing fields of Europe, Wilson and his advisors were deeply worried about how the country would react. They launched the Committee for Public Information, a propaganda agency charged with whipping up support for the war. Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin were enlisted in the effort.

Edith Wilson did her part. Like millions of other Americans, she signed a pledge to conserve food for the war effort, and displayed the familiar pledge card in the window of the White House. Edith also joined the Red Cross, and passed out cigarettes and chewing gum to thousands of soldiers at Washington's Union Station.

To publicize a Red Cross effort to increase wool production, Edith opened the White House lawn to dozens of grazing sheep.

Most of the country was soon firmly behind their President and the war.

In late 1917, the first American troops arrived in Europe. After two months of training, they were thrown into battle.

But there were far too few of them to turn the tide. The stalemate with Germany dragged on, and now Americans, too, were dying.

One of the casualties was a member of a family that Woodrow Wilson knew well: Theodore Roosevelt's son, Quentin, was a pilot whose plane had crashed behind German lines. Wilson had the grim responsibility of notifying his old rival by telegram that his youngest son was dead.

The President was haunted by the mounting casualties. In his lifetime, the rifles and cannons of the Civil War had become the machine guns, tanks and airplanes of the world war. He became convinced that there was only one hope for the human race: to make this the last war.

Woodrow Wilson There are times when words seem empty and only actions seem great. Such a time has come.

Narrator
The President sent for his closest advisor, Colonel Edward House. Beneath his veneer of Texas charm, House was a master political operator. "He is an intimate man," an acquaintance said, "even when he is cutting a throat." After his first meeting with House, Wilson had declared, "My dear friend, we have known each other always."

Historian: Louis Auchincloss
You can't get away from Wilson's own statements that he and House were the same person. He made remarks that are almost mystic. And he said "If Colonel House said it then I say it." House was socially minded, politically minded, could talk to anybody, always saw the other man's point of view, always had a compromise in one hand. Wilson was stiff, idealistic, hated to compromise, hated small talk. And together they made a sort of perfect president.

The task Wilson had in mind for House was to help create a new world order based on democracy.

Historian: Jay Winter
Wilson's notion that democracy was not only good for America but also good for the world is fundamentally important in Wilson's declaring war in 1917 because the cause of war and the cause of the suffering was the existence of aristocratic, militaristic regimes, whose interests had nothing to do with the people. Give the power to the people Wilson believed and wars would be impossible. A democratic world would be a world without war.

Narrator
Colonel House secretly organized a group of historians, political scientists and geographers to study the European situation in depth. Known as "The Inquiry," the group analyzed ways to avoid war in the future.

In early January 1918, the President called the Colonel back to the White House. It was time to take the information compiled by "The Inquiry" and turn it into a concrete proposal. Fearing leaks from his cabinet, Wilson kept the meeting secret.

Colonel Edward House Saturday was a remarkable day. At a quarter past ten I set to work with the President. We took it systematically, first outlining general terms such as open diplomacy, freedom of the seas, and a general association of nations. Then we began on Belgium, France, and other territorial adjustments.

At half past twelve o'clock, we finished remaking the map of the world.

Narrator
Their plan had fourteen simple points. The first thirteen described a world where conflicts would be settled without war. The last point described the organization that would make peaceful coexistence possible, a new international forum called the League of Nations.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
In Wilson's mind, if the sacrifices of blood and treasure that Americans had to pay in World War I were ever going to be justified, it had to be with an outcome that didn't simply end the fighting but created a new international order - and this meant creating a new institution, which would restructure the way international diplomacy and international relations were conducted, and that of course is the League of Nations.

Historian: Jay Winter
Wilson's vision of how to achieve peace was based upon his belief that you set up institutions that don't resolve all problems but create a framework in which tensions can be absorbed and war can be avoided. This is something he did all his life. Find an institutional framework and have it as a way of making the world safer.

Narrator
Wilson's Fourteen Points were translated into a dozen languages. They were transmitted by wireless radio into Russia and Austria-Hungary. Leaflets were airdropped into German territory from airplanes and balloons, and were even stuffed into empty artillery shells and lobbed over the German lines. In one of the first international advertising campaigns, Wilson's ideas for a new world order were spread around the globe.

In 1906, the blood vessels in one of Wilson's eyes had burst, causing a temporary loss of vision. Now there were ominous signs that the condition was again becoming a threat.

Edith watched her husband with growing concern.

Edith Wilson When every nerve was tense with anxiety during the war, there would come days when he was incapacitated by blinding headaches which no medicine could relieve. We made the room cool and dark, and when at last merciful sleep would come, he would lie for hours in this way, apparently not even breathing. Many a time, I stole in to listen-to see if he were really alive.

Narrator
Wilson's headaches were a sign that high blood pressure was gradually hardening the arteries in his brain.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
In 1917 he began to experience, fairly severe headaches implying that his blood pressure was very much out of control. Tie that in with the disease process back in 1906 which clearly identifies the hypertension. You put those two things together and you see that you've got a continuum to a problem that's been going on and has been unaddressed, and the potential risk for strokes and the like, is of great concern.

Narrator
Wilson's physician, a Navy medical officer named Dr. Cary Grayson, was deeply worried about the President's health. Grayson accompanied the President wherever he went and constantly nagged him to relax and exercise more.

With his days of playing baseball long behind him, the President's favorite sport was now golf. He was known to play rain or shine. He even painted his ball red in order to see it in the snow. But for all his eagerness, he was a classic duffer. "Golf," Wilson said, was "an ineffectual attempt to put an elusive ball into an obscure hole with implements ill-adapted to the purpose."

It was, in fact, Edith who became a superior golfer, the best of any First Lady in history. Her diaries were soon sprinkled with entries such as, "Played golf with W. and Grayson. Beat them both."

By late spring of 1918, over 500,000 U.S. troops were in France, with 250,000 more arriving every month. Fearing that they would soon be overwhelmed by the Americans, the German High Command launched a massive, last-ditch offensive to try and win the war.

Beginning on May 28th, the German troops clashed with the American forces along a hundred mile front. Over one million American soldiers fought. 120,000 were killed or wounded. But the American and Allied Armies stopped the Germans, and forced them into a steady retreat. With all hope of victory gone, Germany's Kaiser abdicated.

Eager to end the war, the new German chancellor wrote the American President, saying that his nation was willing to stop fighting if a peace treaty was based on Wilson's Fourteen Points.

Historian: Jay Winter
This gives Wilson extraordinary power because he can threaten the allies that if they don't agree to his terms to conduct negotiations with the Germans, then he'll conduct, then he will make a separate peace with them. What he's able to do is to declare that the war is at an end even though the allies aren't happy with it.

Narrator
When news of Wilson's armistice was announced, celebrations erupted in cities around the world.

With his dreams of a new world order seemingly within his grasp, Wilson turned his attention to a far more mundane matter: winning the midterm election.

The President asked American voters to give him a mandate to pursue world peace. But his wartime arrests and censorship had alienated the very progressives who were the most ardent advocates of peace.

In addition, African Americans who had once voted for Wilson were outraged at his support of segregation. The President's White House screening of the film "Birth of a Nation," which portrayed the Ku Klux Klan in a heroic light, did not help matters.

Historian: David Levering Lewis
He certainly was very much a man of his times. What he did say was that he was going to lead his time in the right direction. That is really the signature of Woodrow Wilson's Presidency. In the area of race, however, the direction was backward and not forward.

Narrator
Women's groups were also angry at the President, because of his lukewarm support of universal suffrage and the harsh treatment of White House protesters.

Historian: Victoria Bissell Brown
He did not think that women should be chaining themselves to the White House fence. His reaction was not very gentlemanly, and not very democratic. Those women were beaten and abused in jail and, in protest, women went on hunger strike. And Woodrow Wilson allowed those women to be force fed, by having tubes shoved down their throats, and liquid nutrition poured down those tubes.

Narrator
Desperately trying to rally the Democrats, Wilson campaigned in harsh, partisan tones. The strategy backfired. The Republicans won a majority in both Houses of Congress. Shortly before his death, Theodore Roosevelt managed a parting shot. The world should take note, he warned, that Wilson had "no authority whatever to speak for the American people."

On December 4, 1918, Woodrow Wilson set sail from New York harbor on the George Washington. Undaunted by his losses at home, he was on his way to Europe, determined that the peace treaty with Germany retain his visionary blueprint for world peace, the Fourteen Points. The voyage was a welcome rest. Under the watchful eye of Dr. Grayson, Wilson enjoyed the salt air, games of shuffleboard, and especially the company of Edith.

Secretary of State Robert Lansing and Colonel House begged Wilson not to go, afraid that if he failed he would be humiliated, both at home and abroad. But Wilson was undeterred.

Historian: Jay Winter
Wilson's aim in the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 was probably higher than any statesman in the modern period. No one else had tried to fundamentally recast the international order in a way that would make war impossible. His was to be a revolutionary peace, one that would transform the world. You can't imagine a higher goal than that.

Historian: Walter LaFeber
Wilson said to a friend on his way over, I would not be able to do this if I did not think I were an instrument of God. And the reception that he got from millions of people in Europe who looked at him literally as a political savior reaffirmed for him that he was going to be an instrument of God.

Narrator
American voters may not have given their President a ringing endorsement, but the citizens of the great cities of Europe did, turning out by the hundreds of thousands to cheer him. Standing amid the crowds, journalist Ray Baker was troubled by the intensity of their hopes for Wilson.

Ray Stannard Baker I have, curiously, a feeling of doom in the coming to Europe of Wilson...He is now approaching the supreme test of his triumph and his popularity...No man has long breathed such a rarefied atmosphere and lived. All the old ugly depths-hating change, hating light-will suck him down.

Narrator
Wilson came to Paris believing America's crucial role in convincing the Germans to sign the armistice had earned him the right to dictate the terms of the peace treaty.

Woodrow Wilson It is not too much to say we saved the world. And I do not intend to let those Europeans forget it. They were beaten when we came in and they know it.

Narrator
British and French leaders saw things entirely differently. They believed that they had paid the price for the victory - with the blood of more than two million young men. Desperate for Wilson to understand what they had suffered, they invited him to tour the war zone. But Wilson refused. "They want me to see red," he told Edith, "but I think there should be one man at the peace table one has not lost his temper."

It was the first of many disagreements between Wilson and the Allies.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
Wilson arrives in Paris to take up his part in the peace negotiations in 1918 and he looks across the table and he sees that he's negotiating here with two true sharks. Georges Clemenceau, the Premier of France, and Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, men who were hard and determined to get the best deal they possibly could for their countries and had no tolerance whatsoever for Wilson's idealistic pronouncements about having to reform the whole character of the international system.

Narrator
"God gave us the Ten Commandments, and we broke them," Georges Clemenceau declared. "Wilson gives us Fourteen Points, we shall see."

Historian: Jay Winter
His contempt for Wilson was very deep and he believed that this was a man who mistook words for realities and would do everything he could to provide Wilson with all the space for speeches and none of the space for achievements.

Narrator
If Clemenceau thought little of Wilson's ideas, others were exhilarated by them. Arab leaders wanted the American President to press for their freedom from the British Empire. W.E.B. Dubois, the outspoken African-American leader, implored Wilson to speak out for Africa. And a young Vietnamese student who would later call himself Ho Chi Minh gave Wilson's delegation a letter requesting independence for his country.

Historian: Walter LaFeber
When Wilson talked about self-determination, open covenants openly arrived at these were things that people in Asia or Africa or African Americans in the United States had never heard before. Here is a person who is willing to take a position on principles that will help them and, and guarantee the quality that they've been searching for generations. But Wilson discovers, when he gets to Europe, is that the world's much more complex than this and he gets caught up in a whole series of issues which he cannot control.

Narrator
Britain and France were determined to take revenge on Germany. Italy wanted control over much of Yugoslavia. Japan wanted former German colonies in China. One by one Wilson was forced to give way on his Fourteen Points. But he would not compromise on one point: the League of Nations.

Historian: Jay Winter
It was the moment when you set up an institution, through which over time the conflicts between nations, which were bound to arise, would be resolved. So for him there was one fundamental outcome that had to emerge from the peace negotiations, and that was a commitment to a League of Nations. Everything else was secondary.

Narrator
Wilson spent long hours deep in consultation with Colonel House. Edith, for years resentful of her husband's close relationship with House, grew increasingly jealous. To fill the time, she visited hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and gave words of support to wounded soldiers. And occasionally, Edith would quietly go on a shopping spree to the great fashion houses.

Historian: Betty Boyd Caroli
Edith in Paris made a big splash. Her French clothes, her confidence, and later when she traveled in Italy, there was an American soldier who wrote home and said, Mrs. Wilson was every bit as fashionable as the Italian queen.

Narrator
Finally, the committee chaired by the American President finished its proposal for the League of Nations. Wilson scheduled a presentation for all the peace conference delegates for February 14th.

Edith was desperate to attend, but French Premier Clemenceau refused her request. Eventually, she wore the old Frenchman down - on condition that she arrive before the delegates, remain hidden behind a curtain during the event, and stay until everyone had left.

As the delegates crowded into the hall, Edith watched her husband from a tiny, hidden alcove.

Edith Wilson As he stood there-slender, calm, and powerful in his argument-I seemed to see the people of all depressed countries-men, women and little children-crowding round and waiting upon his words. Afterwards, the members rushed to grasp his hand.

Narrator
Hours after his triumphant presentation, Wilson left France, confident that his vision for the League had cleared its greatest hurdles. As soon as he arrived in Washington, Wilson met with key Republicans, led by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. They were outraged at being excluded from the treaty negotiations and determined to voice their opposition to giving up U.S. sovereignty to an international organization.

The meeting only made matters worse. One senator said afterward that he felt as if he had been "wandering with Alice in Wonderland and had tea with the Mad Hatter." Wilson, for his part, was convinced that the Republicans were too selfish and short-sighted to grasp his vision. To him, the League was the only hope for a twentieth century free of war.

Historian: Jay Winter
That higher demand produced a sense that compromise was impossible. And in many respects this is a characteristic Calvinist view. Once you get into the Lord's work of making peace, then great causes have great enemies.

Narrator
After just ten days at home, Wilson sailed back to France, anxious to finish work on the treaty. The second trip had none of tonic effect of the first. Over-tired and over-wrought, the President came down with a bad cold. But it wasn't an infection that had caused his complaint, he told Dr. Grayson.

Woodrow Wilson You made an error in my diagnosis. It is true I have a headache, neuralgia, sore-throat, tooth-ache, fever and a chill, but my trouble is that I am suffering from a retention of gases generated by the Republican Senators-and that's enough to poison any man.

Narrator
On March 13, 1919, Wilson arrived back in France aboard the George Washington. As soon as the ship docked, Colonel House went to the President's stateroom to brief Wilson on what had happened while he was gone.

House informed him that in order to obtain British and French consent to the treaty, he had agreed to delete all mention of the League of Nations. The President was stunned. Edith recalled that when her husband emerged from the meeting, he looked as if he had aged ten years. "House has given away everything I had won before we left Paris," he told her.

For years, the men had been extremely close, but now the President felt betrayed. Egged on by Edith, Wilson began to freeze House out. After June of that year, the two men would never speak again. Having lost confidence in his most trusted advisor, under attack by the Senate, and at odds with the Allies, Wilson felt he had no one to rely on but himself.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
He was having to work harder, under greater strain, than he'd ever done in his life. I mean, these are fourteen, fifteen hours a day, day after day after day.

Historian: John Morton Blum
These attitudes worked on him temperamentally. They worked on him in ways they work on anybody who finds himself or herself in a tense situation struggling every day with a few other people to produce a common artifact they can all admire. What happens is, those conditions make your blood pressure go up. And in Wilson's case that was dangerous.

Narrator
For two weeks, the President worked furiously, until he had won back what House had bargained away. Then on the afternoon of April 3, as Wilson met with the leaders of France, Britain and Italy, he became violently ill.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
April 3rd he is felled by a severe viral illness manifested by temperatures up to 103, diarrhea, and a very severe productive cough. At that point he became delusional, particularly at night and many individuals associated with him at the time became aware that he was having disorders of perception.

Narrator
The next morning, Ike Hoover, one of Wilson's personal aides, sensed that the combination of fever and high blood pressure was causing the President to hallucinate.

Ike Hoover He was suddenly a different man, unreasonable, unnatural, simply impossible. His suspicions were intensified, his perspective distorted. His feelings about Colonel House now became an obsession. And he became obsessed with the idea that every French employee about the place was a spy for the French government. The President was sicker than the world ever knew.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
He's really not thinking appropriately, he's having a delusional state and medically he did have what you define what he had as delirium.

Narrator
After three days, the President's fever subsided, but not his blood pressure.

On June 28, 1919, the world's attention turned to the Palace of Versailles, where the treaty finally would be signed. Most of Wilson's Fourteen Points were either badly weakened or missing altogether, and the Allies were demanding payments that might bankrupt Germany for a generation. The German delegates felt angry and betrayed.

Historian: Walter LaFeber
The problem with Wilson is that he had promised too much. He cannot reconcile his rhetoric to reality. The Germans came to Wilson and said we surrendered on the basis of the Fourteen Points. Now you deliver on the Fourteen Points. And Wilson could not deliver. The French and the British would not let him deliver.

Narrator
The Germans had no choice. They signed the Treaty of Versailles. Wilson signed too. He had only one achievement to point to - the League of Nations - but he was counting on it to make up for all his failures.

Before leaving France, the President made a Memorial Day visit to a cemetery where the bodies of six thousand young Americans lay buried.

Woodrow Wilson Here, the men of America gave that greatest of all gifts, the gift of life. And here stand I, consecrated in spirit to the men who were once my comrades and who are now gone, and who have left me under eternal bonds of fidelity.

Narrator
Wilson now faced the greatest fight of his life: to convince the U.S. Senate to approve the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations.

But his political skills were dwindling away - casualties of the changes in his personality brought on by his illness.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
What began to occur after that point is an accentuation of the one side which was the "self-righteous, shall not compromise, no man shall put me down type of scenario," versus the "let's work together as team," which he left behind. And so what we began to see was an accentuation of his personality traits. He became a caricature of himself, if you will.

Historian: Jay Winter
Wilson's politics narrowed as his arteries became blocked. He became a man who simply could not physically or politically function in the way that he had done before. His vision of the world was the same. But his sense of what he would have to do in order to reach his goals became narrower and narrower and narrower.

Narrator
In his debilitated state, Wilson underestimated the key opponent of his League, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge.

Historian: Thomas Knock
I think it's safe to say that Woodrow Wilson and Henry Cabot Lodge hated each other's guts. Henry Cabot Lodge relished the political situation that Wilson found himself in after the 1918 mid-term elections. The Republicans controlled the Senate by one, which was enough. It meant that Henry Cabot Lodge was going to chair the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and preside over Wilson's great document.

Historian: David M. Kennedy
Wilson was asking for not only a major change in the international system itself, but for no less major change in the way the United States would conduct its own international business in partnership with other people, with other nations. This was a gigantic departure.

Narrator
With Lodge's attacks on the League taking a heavy toll, it soon became clear that Wilson did not have the votes in the senate that he needed. The President realized that unless he took drastic measures, he would lose his League of Nations.

Historian: Thomas Knock
And at last he decided that the only alternative that he had was a direct appeal to the people. So he heads out on, what was really the equivalent of a full-fledged Presidential campaign.

Narrator
In September of 1919, the President set out on a 10,000-mile tour of the United States. He was determined to create a nationwide outpouring of support for the League. Both Edith and Dr. Grayson begged him not to go.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
That trip was probably the worst thing he could have done, given the state of his health. He is trying to pack a tremendous amount of public persuasion into a terribly short period of time. It is in some ways an act of desperation.

Narrator
Columbus, Ohio. St. Louis, Missouri. Tacoma, Washington. The cities came and went in a blur.

Wilson warned that the League was the only hope for reconciliation among Germany, Britain and France. Without it, he prophesied that there would be a "second World War."

Woodrow Wilson I do not hesitate to say that the war we have just been through, though it was shot through with terror of every kind, is not to be compared with the war we would have to face next time. What the Germans used were toys as compared with what they would use in the next war.

Historian: Jay Winter
On the train, convincing the American people that the position he took on the peace treaty was valid, was one of Wilson's highest moments. He was able to find again that rapport with the ordinary voter that he had had earlier in his Presidency. He was able to explain to people coming by the hundreds, by the thousands, to watch him go by, why it mattered so much for him to go over the heads of the Senate, in order to speak to the American people about peace and about the future. About their children's world and their children's, children's world. This is a moment when he had it within his hands to make his politics real.

Narrator
Public support for the treaty began to grow. "The spirit of the crowd seemed akin to fanaticism," The New York Times reported. "The throng joined in a continuous and riotous uproar."

But after 5,000 miles of travel and speeches in 16 cities, Wilson once again began to suffer severe headaches.

Edith Wilson He grew thinner and the headaches increased in duration and intensity until he was almost blind during the attacks. With each revolution of the wheels, my anxieties for my husband's health increased.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
The incredible stress of the trip with each speech that had to be given, all of the traveling, everyone was vitally concerned about Wilson's health and recognizing he was failing, all but Wilson. The fact of the matter is the piper was going to have to be paid at some point. He was living on borrowed time.

Narrator
On Sept. 25th, the First Lady and a smiling but exhausted President met a crowd of several thousand in Pueblo, Colorado. As he spoke, he seemed magically to regain his strength. Edith described it as "the most vigorous and touching speech he made on the entire tour."

Woodrow Wilson Again and again, my fellow citizens, mothers who lost their sons in France have come to me and, taking my hand, have (not only) shed tears upon it, but they have added, "God bless you, Mr. President!" Why, my fellow citizens, should they weep upon my hand and pray God to bless me? I ordered their sons overseas. I consented to them being put in the most dangerous parts of the battle line, where death was certain.

But they rightly believe that their sons saved the liberty of the world. They believe that this sacrifice was made in order that other sons should not be called upon to die. I wish some of the men who are now opposing the settlement could feel the moral obligation that rests upon us not to go back on those boys, but to see this thing through to the end and make good their redemption of the world.

Narrator
Later that day, Edith entered her husband's room and saw the terrible price that he had paid for making his speech.

Edith Wilson I found him sitting on the side of his bed, with his head resting on the back of a chair in front of him. He said the pain had grown unbearable and he thought I had better call Dr. Grayson. But nothing the doctor could do gave relief. Finally, about five in the morning, my husband fell asleep.

Narrator
The next morning, Dr. Grayson told the President that he might die if he continued. "No, no," Wilson responded, "I must keep on."

Edith Wilson It remained for me to "hold up the mirror to nature" and show him that the fight was over.

Narrator
The remainder of the trip was canceled and the President's train sped back to Washington.

Four days after Wilson's return to Washington, the worst fears of Edith and Dr. Grayson finally came to pass.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
Grayson is summoned to the President's bedroom, emerges from the bedroom, throws up his hands and says, "My God, the President is paralyzed." And indeed he was on his left side, the entire left side of his body.

Narrator
Dr. Grayson quickly diagnosed that Wilson had suffered a massive stroke. He recommended releasing a full statement of the President's condition to the nation.

But Edith forbade it, and Dr. Grayson fell in line.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
Grayson and Edith Wilson decide at this point the wagons must be circled, because the great warrior has fallen - that no one needs to know this. So what was done at that point with press releases to be dealt with, what would you do? Well, what you would you say basically is that the president is incapacitated for right now. However, it's nervous indigestion. There's not too much to be feared. The words, however, paralyzed were never utilized. You never heard the term stroke. And from that point on the American public was kept effectively in the dark.

Narrator
Secretary of State Lansing learned the truth, and told Edith and Grayson that the constitution called for the appointment of the Vice President. They ignored him. One week later, when Wilson took a turn for the worse, Vice President Thomas Marshall was informed that the President might die at any moment. Marshall sat speechless, staring at his hands.

For more than a month, Wilson did little more than sleep and eat. The wheels of government ground to a halt; the Cabinet met but made no decisions; foreign diplomacy was put on hold.

Historian: John Milton Cooper
Wilson's stroke caused the worst crisis of Presidential disability in American history. And it was handled terribly. Essentially, Mrs. Wilson became a kind of regent. She controlled access to him. She was very specific, that she never made a decision on her own; she did not try to usurp anything there. But we all know that whoever controls access to the President, to some extent, controls the President, is the President.

Narrator
Ike Hoover watched as Mrs. Wilson became, in effect, the President of the United States.

Ike Hoover If there were some papers requiring his attention, they would be read to him -but only those that Mrs. Wilson thought should be read to him. . . . Likewise; word of any decision the President had made would be passed back through the same channels.

Narrator
Six weeks after the stroke, Wilson's ability to speak returned. But he was still unable to write or walk. As the White House cover-up continued, Republicans became suspicious that the President was not fit for office. They designated two Senators, a Republican and a Democrat, to go see the President.

Edith and Dr. Grayson carefully prepared for the visit. They concealed his paralyzed left arm under a blanket, and lit the room so that the President was in a deep shadow. "We're praying for you, Mr. Wilson," Republican Senator Albert Fall declared. "Which way, Senator?" Wilson grimly retorted, "Which way?"

The President passed the test. The New York Times reported that the meeting "silenced for good the many wild and often unfriendly rumors of Presidential disability." The public would never know the full extent of Wilson's illness. But his political health could not be stage managed so easily.

Senator Lodge introduced a series of amendments to the League charter that severely limited American commitments to the organization. Edith could not get her embittered husband to accept the compromises.

Five months after Wilson's stroke, the League of Nations went down to final defeat in the Senate. Upon hearing the news, he replied, "It probably would have been better if I had died last fall."

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. Since it meant that all those deaths had been in vain and that nothing had been accomplished by the American intervention in the war itself. At that moment he must have felt very much like an Old Testament prophet who saw that he would never reach the Promised Land, a bit like Moses on the mountain top looking onto Canaan and realizing that he'll never get across the river.

Narrator
A frail Wilson muddled through the last year of his Presidency. His favorite activity was watching newsreels from his time in office, with old friends like Ray Baker.

Ray Stannard Baker Finally, the show was over, the film had run its course. All that glory had faded away with a click and a sputter. It was to us sitting there as though the thread of life itself had snapped. We drew long breaths, and turned to see the stooped figure of the President. He turned slowly and shuffled out of the doorway. Alone.

Narrator
In 1921, Woodrow Wilson retired to a house on S Street in Washington D.C. Here he received visits from his daughters and grandchildren, and listened to baseball games on the radio. For his efforts to bring a just end to the war, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. But the former President felt that his life's work had been rejected by his own countrymen.

Historian: David Kennedy
Wilson, in his final days and years, was a truly tragic figure who had aspired to the greatest of heights of accomplishment and brought terribly low, both politically, failing to get the League of Nations, and then his health, just cruelly broken in his final years. It must have been a very sad time for him.

Historian: Dr. Bert Park
In the last days of his life, though he had the physical deficits, the real, disturbing aspect were these wide swings in emotion, including, crying spells for which there was no underlying reason that one could discern. And for a man of Wilson's intellect and his pride, what a tragedy to see what disease had wrought over a twenty-year period.

Narrator
In 1921, on Armistice Day, the third anniversary of the end of the war, Wilson rode in a somber procession for the burial of the Unknown Soldier. As his carriage passed, a murmur of recognition arose from the crowd, then a wave of applause swept down the parade route.

Narrator
The former President returned home to find twenty thousand people milling outside. Wilson finally appeared on his doorstep, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, he spoke a single sentence, "I can only say, 'God Bless You."

Historian: John Milton Cooper
A lot of his friends, his daughters, were surprised at how calm and how serene he became. He said, "If we'd gone into the League of Nations, if we'd adopted my program," he said, "it would have been only a personal triumph on my part." He said, "The people weren't ready for it." He said, "Now, when we do this, it will be because the people want it, because they are ready for it." And he had his own way of putting it, too, he said, "God knew. God knew what to do better than I did."

Narrator
On Sunday, February 3, 1924, another crowd gathered on S Street. Woodrow Wilson was dead. His body was carried to the Washington Cathedral for burial. President Calvin Coolidge, members of Congress and heads of foreign government attended the ceremony. Edith requested Senator Lodge to forgo his official invitation. Colonel House was not invited.

Familiar passages of Scripture that Wilson had read throughout his life were spoken over his remains. As the ceremony ended, the choir sang out "The strife is over . . . the battle done."



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