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President of the United States
Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 – February 3, 1924) was an American politician and academic who served as the 28th president of the United States from 1913 to 1921. A member of the Democratic Party, Wilson served as the president of Princeton University and as the 34th governor of New Jersey before winning the 1912 presidential election. As President, Wilson led the United States into World War I in 1917. He was the leading architect of the League of Nations, and his progressive stance on foreign policy came to be known as Wilsonianism. Scholars have generally ranked Wilson in the upper tier of U.S presidents, although he has been criticized for supporting racial segregation and white supremacy.
Wilson grew up in the American South, mainly in Augusta, Georgia, during the Civil War and Reconstruction. After earning a Ph.D. in political science from Johns Hopkins University, Wilson taught at various schools before becoming the president of Princeton University. As governor of New Jersey from 1911 to 1913, Wilson broke with party bosses and won the passage of several progressive reforms. His success in New Jersey gave him a reputation as a progressive reformer, and he won the presidential nomination at the 1912 Democratic National Convention. Wilson defeated incumbent Republican President William Howard Taft and Progressive Party nominee former president Theodore Roosevelt to win the 1912 United States presidential election, becoming the first Southerner to do so since 1848.
Upon taking office, Wilson authorized the imposition of Jim Crow within the federal bureaucracy. His first term was largely devoted to pursuing passage of his progressive New Freedom domestic agenda. His first major priority was the passage of the Revenue Act of 1913, which lowered tariffs and implemented a federal income tax. Wilson also presided over the passage of the Federal Reserve Act, which created the Federal Reserve System. Two major laws, the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act, were passed to regulate large business interests known as trusts.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Wilson maintained a policy of neutrality between the Allied and Central Powers. He narrowly won re-election in the 1916 United States presidential election, defeating Republican nominee Charles Evans Hughes. In April 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war against the German Empire in response to its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, Congress complied. Wilson presided over war-time mobilization but devoted much of his efforts to foreign affairs, developing the Fourteen Points as a basis for post-war peace. After the Allied victory in November 1918, Wilson and other Allied leaders took part in the Paris Peace Conference, where Wilson advocated for the establishment of a multinational organization. The resulting League of Nations was incorporated into the Treaty of Versailles. However, Wilson was unable to convince the U.S. Senate to ratify the treaty or allow the United States to join the League. Wilson had intended to seek a third term in office but suffered a severe stroke in October 1919 that left him incapacitated for most of what was left of his presidency. He retired from public office in 1921 and died in 1924 at the age of 67.
Last Updated: June 9, 2021