Back When Democratic Presidents Were the Racists
Scott Berg. Wilson. New York: G.F. Putnam’s Sons, 2013.
Woodrow Wilson stated he was interested in “all feminine attractions”. Theodore Roosevelt refused to smear Wilson with allegations Wilson had an affair, in part fearing it would make the President appear more appealing to some voters. Wilson was a romantic, having written thousands of love letters to his wife. Wen she died, he remarried 18 months later. He also wrote many letters to her
Wilson liked jokes, puns, and limericks. He was very religious and believed God guided his rapid rise to political fame.
Wilson was reelected President in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war.” He was the first Democrat elected in two successive elections since Andrew Jackson in 1832.
Wilson was the first President to leave the nation while in office, traveling to Europe.
Wilson’s father was a minister. He believed all were God’s children. Woodrow Wilson taught Sunday School in Augusta, Ga. to young Blacks. Blacks were allowed to attend Wilson’s father church, though they had to sit in the balcony.
Wilson became a college professor. He did not allow students to take notes during the first half hour so they would pay attention to his general ideas. One student recall Wilson as “a Southerner who had no special sympathy for Negroes as human beings.”
Wilson earned a Ph.D. from Princeton. He began teaching, wrote several books on government, and was noted as a great speaker. His course enrolled the most students at Princeton. 1896, he suffered what he called “writer’s cramps” which today would appear likely a small stroke.
In 1898, Wilson tried yet did not received the Presidency of the Base Ball Association.
The Princeton Board of Trustees convinced Princeton’s President to leave in return for six years salary and the President of the Theological Seminary. Wilson became the first non-ordained minister to be Princeton’s President.
Wilson advanced new ideas for collegiate learning, giving sciences equivalent weight to literature, philosophy, and politics. He expanded the Biology, Economics, and History departments, as well as adding a graduate school, a law school, an electrical engineering school, and a Museum of Natural History as well as new dormitories and dining halls. He traveled to numerous cities seeking to raise the $12.5 million hs expansion required.
Some New Jersey Democratic politicians mentioned Wilson for the President, which was then a far fetched idea. Some then mentioned him for the U.S. Senate, which would have been difficult for a Democrat to win. Wilson stated he would not run.
Wilson declined to racially integrate Princeton. Wilson wrote in 1897 that “time is the only legislator in such a matter.” Wilson spoke of Blacks as inferior and lazy. It is noted some would consider these centrist views of race at that time.
Wilson met with Democratic leader Colonel George King in Wilson’s Old Lyme, Ct. house. Wilson stated he would not seek but would not resist the nomination for New Jersey Governor. William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper, the New York Journal, denounced Wilson as Wall Street’s choice even before Wilson had decided to run.
Democratic leaders wanted Wilson to oppose Prohibition. Wilson stated he felt it should be a local option and he refused to change his views. He agreed to listen to party leaders but did not commit to abide by them. This appeared to b enough for party leaders to accept Wilson. Wilson was nominated on the first ballot Wilson gave fifty campaign speeches and was elected.
As Governor, Wilson supported and helped enact a Corrupt Practices Act, regulated public utilities, enacted an Employers Liability Act, and helped pass an elections bill, the Elmer H. Geron Bill, a State Senator who had studied under Wilson, that regulated voter registration, balloting, and created a direct primary for all elected public and party officials. He asked a party leader who opposed the bill to leave his office.
Wilson ran for the Presidency. The early favorites for the Democratic nomination were Champ Clark and Oscar Underwood. Wilson was the only candidate to declare his opposition to making conservative and Tammany Hall’s choice Alton Parker as Committee Temporary Charman. While Parker won, Wilson’s position earned him respect among many progressives. Clark led in the first ballot with Wilson second. Clark increased to a majority (two thirds was needed for the nomination) on the tenth ballot. Wilson prepared his exit plan. William Jennings Bryan, though, refused to support Clark on the 14th ballot. Wilson was nominated when Indiana switched from its Govenor Thomas Marshall to Wilson. A party leader recommended to Wilson that Marshall be Wilson’s running mate. Wilson wanted the convention to decide and was informed by party leaders that the convention was seeking to aide by his choice. Wilson agreed to Marshall without knowing the leaders had already dealt the Vice Presidency to Marshall in return for the switch to Wilson. Wilson considered Marshall “a small calibe man” yet realized he could help win votes.
William Jennings Bryan advised Wilson to win by taking progressive states and not worrying if he couldn’t win New York.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican Party by also running. Eugene Debs gained notice as the Socialist Party nominee and was respected by Wilson.
Wilson created a Democratic Party Finance Committee. The Democratic Party National Committee Vice Chairman William Gibbs McAdoo wrote “I have long been convinced that financing Presidential campaigns by private contributions should be prohibited. It is the seed of innumerable evils.”
Wilson wanted his stand on trusts to be clearly seen as different from Roosevelt’s position. Louis Brandeis advised Wilson on the trusts issues and the evils of monopoly. Wilson was strongly in favor of regulated competition. Roosevelt was seen as supported by big trusts that would be controlled by government.
Taft’s Vice Preisdnet, James Sherman, died six days before the election. There wasn’t time to replace him. The Republican National Committee later declared Electoral votes be cast instead for Nicolas Murray Butler, the President of Columbia University.
WIlson won with 42%. Roosevelt received 27%, Taft 23%, and Debs 6%, Wilson won an electoral vote landslide. The election turnout (58.8%) was the lowest percent turnout for a Presidential election in 76 years. Democrats won a majority in the U.S. House.
WIlson appointed U.S. Rep. Albert Burleson, segregationist as Postmaster General, the largest Federal government employer and patronage office. This appointment pleased House Majority Leader Oscar Underwood, who also chaired the Ways and Means Committee.
Wilson refused to recognize Mexico’s new government, considering the butchers. He knew it was a “wise” choice protecting American interests but it would not be the “right” choice.
Wilson followed advice from Brandeis for Federal supervision of banks.
There were confrontations between Americans and Mexicans. In one clash at Veracruz, 19 Americans and 100 Mexicans were killed.
War broke out in Europe. Germany sunk the ship Lusitania with American passengers onboard. Germany explained the ship was carrying ammunition guns, and Canadian troops and illegally using Americans as shields. Wilson found this explanation “wholly unsatisfactory”.
A battle left 9 Americans dead and 25 taken prisoner. Wilson pondered if he could have withdrawn American troops from Mexico earlier as it appeared then the Villistra threat had been neglected. Wilson concluded he could not have withdrawn the troops earlier.
Wilson stated he would sever diplomatic relations with Germany if it kept attacking neutral vessels.
Wilson vow of peace especially helped him in the 1916 election where women could vote as women voted soundly for Wilson. Wilson won a second term.
Wilson outlined his idea for peace. Poland should be independent, the Turkish Empire torn apart, Belgium and Serbia returned as nations, and Russia allowed a southern seaport without which they would likely go to war over. Wilson presented this vision which included “freedom of the seas.”
Germany declared all ships, neutral or not, near England, France, and Italy could be sunk. A limited route for specific American ships was created. Wilson responded that violating the laws of the sea could lead to U.S. actions.
Germany sought to create an anti-U.S. alliance with Mexico and Japan. Mexico was promised money plus Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.
The U.S. declared war.
McAdoo and the Wilson Administration increased taxes on industries profiting on the war increased the unearned income tax, and created large taxes on luxuries.
Wilson favored women’s suffrage yet believed it should be determined by each state.
During war, Wilson considered supporting his political agenda as a sign of patriotic support. He achieved women’s suffrage and the Sedition Act. There were many objections to the Sedition Act yet it was strongly supported within government. The Industrial Workers of the World and the Socialist Party became suspect because they were against the U.S. entering the war. Socialist leader Eugene Debs was arrested for speaking against the war. He was found guilty and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. Wilson supported the imprisonment, arguing Debs had free speech before the war but no during war. 1,500 were arrested in 1918 for criticizing the war. 2,500 “enemy aliens” were interred.
France and England wanted to invade Russia when it became Bolshevik. Wilson was against this.
Wilson proposed a League of Nations in hopes it would create and preserve world peace. Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge, who chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, was opposed.
Japan sides with England and expected to receive territory in China and North Pacific islands Germany owned. Wilson believed this land dispute should be placed under the League of Nations.
William Bullitt offered to go to Moscow on a fact finding mission. Wilson agreed to this. Wilson felt Russia’s internal affairs were their own yet felt there may be ways to provide outside assistance to the Russian people.
Wilson wanted Fiume as a free international port. It was located between Italy and Croatia serving Austria-Hungary with a large Italian population. There were more Italians than Croatians in Fiume.Wilson appealed for public support for his position
Italy and Japan were upset by the League of National and left it.
William Bullitt returned from Moscow and advised tht Lenis wanted an armistice and wanted recognition for its Communist government of former Russian territory (now the Baltics). Bullitt advised that Lenin’s government be recognized. Wilson was unconvinced.
Herbert Hoover warned the League of Nations made economic demands on Germany that would wreck it economy. John Maynard Keynes criticized the focus on reparations rather than rehabilitating the defeated countries. Germany knew the battles would resume if they did not sign the treaty yet the German Social Democratic Party argued against signing. In England, Lloyd George and Liberal and Labor Party leaders argued for moderating the penalties as they recognized economic instabilities could produce problems.
Many Congressional Republicans opposed the Treaty primarily to damage Wilson politically. Senator Lodge insisted on a public reading of the 264 page Treaty which created a week delay,
Wilson suffered from memory loss and couldn’t remember recent events and sometimes game wrong information about the Treaty. He was emotionally drained from fight for the Treaty while the nation was experiencing rapid food price increases, race rios, and the threat of railroad strikes.
Wilson appealed to the public, speaking in several cities. He suffered a stroke, a fact hidden from the public. It was announced to the public he has physical exhaustion.
The Senate turned down a Treated agreed to even by the enemy The Senate vote was 53 to 38. Wilson dismissed his Secretary of State Robert Lansing for not supporting the Treaty strongly enough. Widespread newspaper editorial positions criticized Wilson for pushing out Lansing.
Labor and management kept things peaceful between them for the war effort. After the war, growing issues between them exploded. Many strikes resulted.
Mail bombs were sent to numerous political and economic leaders. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer blamed international Communism for plotting to overthrow the U.S. government. J. Edgar Hoover was hired to lead the General Intelligence Division to gather information on “a virtually invisible---and possibly imaginary enemy” and have them deported. Over 600 suspected radicals were arrested yet no bombs were found on them. 249 anarchists including Emma Goldman were deported to Russia.
Wilson refused to pardon Debs. He considered Debs a traitor.
Wilson believed he could run for a third term and envisioned being nominated at the Democratic Convention. He did not recognize his serious physical limitations. The party nominated James Cox.
Terrorists exploded bombs on Wall Street on September 16, 1920, killing 38 with about 400 injured. This was to then the worst case of terrorism in the U.S.
Warren Harding defeated Cox by 60% to 34$ and an Electoral victory of 404 to 127. Eugene Debs, running from prison, received 900,000 votes. Many Republican leaders claimed the outcome was a protest against Wilson’s League of Nations.
Under Harding, the U,S. signed the Treaty in 1921 that included many changes in Wilson’s Treaty which Senator Lodge favored. Harding commuted Deb’s sentence.