Friday, January 17, 2014

One of the Worst: President Woodrow Wilson

In some areas, there is not much that needs to be said here about the misdeeds of President Woodrow Wilson as so many have detailed them already and from widely different political backgrounds and viewpoints. For monarchists, much of the criticism of Wilson has focused on his actions during and after the First World War. There is certainly much to criticize. However, my problem with the most extreme of that type of criticism is that, in exaggerating the influence of a man who was involved only at the very end of the war and whose views were often ignored when it was over, too many equally or more guilty parties escape unscathed. The First World War was a disaster of epic proportions but it was not a war that the United States or Wilson had anything to do with starting nor was the botched peace settlement entirely of his own making. Later, after the fact when it was too late to do any good, Wilson himself admitted he was totally out of his element and had no idea what he was talking about when he strutted over to Europe ready to lecture to all and sundry about how to solve the worlds problems. There is plenty, again, to criticize him for on that front but his counterparts in the other countries involved deserve by far the most criticism. Nonetheless, he was one of the worst presidents America has ever produced and it is Americans, rather than Europeans, who have the most grounds for which to condemn Woodrow Wilson.

First of all, some things to make all our friends on the liberal left very uncomfortable. Wilson was a Democrat and only the second Democrat to be elected President since the era of Republican domination during and after the Civil War. This happened because the Republican Party had split into conservative and progressive factions led by Taft and Teddy Roosevelt. His father was a Confederate-sympathizing Presbyterian preacher and, as President, Wilson segregated Washington DC and the federal government, demoting or firing many Blacks (whom he referred to as “Darkies”). He re-segregated the army and is often remembered for the praise he gave to the controversial Civil War film “Birth of a Nation” in which the heroes who ride to the rescue in the end are the Ku Klux Klan. Wilson’s endorsement was so positive, it was featured in the film itself. Wilson also adamantly opposed granting suffrage to women but, being a politician after all, changed this position when it became clear that his career would suffer for it. Afterwards, he favored giving women the vote. Impressed yet liberals? So, it is true, this hero of the Democrat Party and so many liberals still today was a complete racist who only grudgingly went along with giving women the right to vote and who had no qualms about invading countries that did not threaten the United States at all. What a guy.

His election came with a huge victory for the Democrats in Congress and with near absolute power President Wilson could have his way on just about everything. The American people were to see what an unfettered Democratic government looked like for the first time in the memory of most people. First he lowered or abolished tariffs and then set about putting the government in charge of the banking industry and establishing a new currency with the passage of an act creating the Federal Reserve which the government would have exclusive control over. In doing this, Wilson had said that he wanted to set business free, but not too free it seems as he next set about enacting a massive intrusion of government into the business sector with the creation of the Federal Trade Commission and the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act. He also helped out the farmers by making it easier for them to drown themselves in debt. Again, what a guy. And if that doesn’t make you love him, Americans also have President Wilson to thank for the federal income tax. I’m rather surprised his face isn’t on Mt Rushmore (which was carved by a member of the KKK so I really am surprised).

In the area of foreign relations, Wilson turned down a loan to China because he was against “dollar diplomacy” yet he didn’t seem to have a problem with violent “diplomacy”. He disapproved of the military dictatorship of President Victoriano Huerta in Mexico and tried to coerce him into retirement, declaring that there would be no peace in Mexico so long as Huerta remained in office. When Huerta refused to step down because of the disapproval of the American president, Wilson began selling weapons to his enemies (including Pancho Villa who would eventually ransack a town in the United States). Next, a group of U.S. sailors were arrested in the Mexican port of Tampico. They were eventually released and President Huerta apologized but this was not enough for President Wilson who demanded that Huerta salute the American flag in Tampico which, obviously, he was not about to do. When Huerta refused this ridiculous demand, Wilson responded by invading Mexico and occupying the port of Veracruz. This little battle cost 18 Americans their lives, four more than the number of sailors who had been arrested in Tampico -what a trade. Argentina, Brazil and Chile intervened to negotiate a peace, Huerta was forced to leave office and Wilson was happy. But, the man who replaced Huerta, Venustiano Carranza, was soon faced with rebellion as well, led by one of his former generals, the aforementioned Pancho Villa.

After Pancho Villa raided American territory, President Wilson ordered another invasion of Mexico where American troops clashed with rebel and government forces alike. The issue was never settled as American attention was soon diverted by the First World War. However, Mexico was certainly not alone in being invaded by American troops thanks to President Wilson. No, this preachy scholar who firmly believed he was the smartest man in any room, who condemned past territorial acquisitions by the United States and who would condemn, for example, the German invasion of Belgium in 1914, invaded a number of other countries himself. Aside from a totally unjustified invasion of Mexico at Veracruz, Wilson had American troops invade and occupy Nicaragua in 1914, Haiti in 1915 and Wilson put the Dominican Republic under U.S. military rule in 1916. Somehow, each of those was justified but, of course, Germany invading Belgium or Austria-Hungary invading Serbia was just plain wrong. It was after all of that, in 1917, that Woodrow Wilson took the United States into World War I after winning reelection on the slogan “he kept us out of war”.

But, before getting into that, we should also mention that a whopping three Constitutional amendments were passed during the Wilson administration. One was giving women the vote (and we know what Wilson thought about that), the other was the prohibition of alcohol which proved to be extremely lucrative for the organized crime business and finally one which provided for the direct election of U.S. Senators who had previously been appointed by state governments. This is often overlooked but it was one of the worst of the many terrible things Wilson inflicted on the United States. The Senate had been established in the first place to provide a representative body for the states of the Union. The people were represented by the House of Representatives and the states were represented by the Senate. By making Senators be directly elected, the public suddenly got double-representation and the states suddenly had none. This made it much easier for the federal government to trample on the rights of the states in the future. It would also lead to a great deal of political fighting and deadlock as the Senate ceased to be a less partisan gathering based on region rather than party and became a more puffed up version of the lower house which became particularly problematic when the same public would elect one party to power in the House and another party to power in the Senate.

Wilson declaring war on Germany
Then, of course, there is the war. It is true, Wilson stayed out almost until the very end (he specifically did not want to join the Allies so long as the Russian Empire was a member of the club) when many others (like Teddy Roosevelt) wanted to get involved from the outset. It is also true that Germany committed a calculated risk with the reintroduction of unrestricted submarine warfare and an unbelievably colossal act of stupidity with the infamous Zimmermann Telegram, however, Wilson still could have dismissed that if he had really wanted to. Most governments would not have of course, but the fact is that Mexico was not about to be any sort of threat to the United States and Germany or any of the Central Powers posed no real threat to American security or interests at all. Germany gave Wilson a reason to go to war but it could never be said it was vital or necessary to do so. Then, during those brief months of war, the American public was treated to what a little strutting dictator Wilson could be. Newspapers that were critical of the war, Great Britain, the Wilson administration or which said anything positive about Germany were shut down. People who displayed opposition to the war were arrested. So much for freedom of speech. One man was arrested for playing music by Beethoven, another was arrested for reading the Constitution of the U.S. on the street. Wilson set up an official propaganda office, enlisted celebrities to help sell war bonds, deported immigrants who opposed the war and arrested thousands of people for being critical of the government even after the war was over. He was a tyrant of the first order who would never compromise with anyone. In fact, many attribute the failure of the Senate to ratify the Versailles Treaty, at least in part, with the fact that Wilson cut the Republicans completely out of the process.

In his arrogant, scholarly way, he came to Europe when it was over famous for his “Fourteen Points”, cheered wildly in every European capital he visited. The truth, of course, was that the Fourteen Points were irrelevant from day one. The Germans actually wanted to have a peace based on them, knowing it was a better deal than what they would otherwise get but, of course, Britain and France had no intention of letting Wilson dictate the peace. Most regarded Wilson with derision as an over-educated yet uniformed, idealistic incompetent who didn’t know what he was talking about. Eventually, Wilson himself all but admitted as much. He had lots of vague, pretty sounding slogans but no real solutions to European or world problems. He also sacrificed a great deal just to see the creation of his beloved League of Nations, a useless talking shop that the United States, thankfully, refused to have any part of. In fact, the U.S. refused to sign on to both the League of Nations and the Treaty of Versailles which, in typical fashion, Wilson blamed on the influence of Germans and Irish in the United States. He left behind him a country full of unemployed veterans, striking workers and race riots but with a much bigger and more powerful federal government that future presidents would be only too willing to exploit.

Woodrow Wilson must easily rank as one of the worst presidents in American history. Arrogant, hypocritical, narrow and close-minded, he was convinced he had the answer to any and all problems which usually amounted to some grandiose turn of phrase followed by putting the government in charge and leaving someone else to deal with it. He actually emerged from the war claiming that the United States was the “savior of the world”. He blighted America with the Federal Reserve, the income tax and a level of totalitarian tyranny the likes of which had not been seen before (but would be seen increasingly in the future). He inflicted plenty of terrors on Europe, the only diminishment there being that his Allies happily ignored him most of the time and inflicted far worse. Yet, as bad as he was for America, probably the worst thing Wilson did was to clear a path for even worse things to come and politicians from both the Democrat as well as Republican Parties have built on his mistakes. He muzzled free speech and gutted freedom of the press, later presidents would put people in concentration camps, hold people without trial or take away any right to privacy. He got the government involved in banking and business practices, later presidents would take over entire industries. He started the income tax, other presidents would raise it higher and higher and expand it wider and wider. Wilson was terrible enough on his own but probably the most damaging thing he did in the long run was setting a new standard in what the President could get away with and, for the first time, setting the precedent that American military intervention could solve the world’s problems. Woodrow Wilson: Europeans hate him, Americans should hate him more.

10 comments:

  1. The sinking of the Lusitania is also often given as a reason for the entry of the U.S. into WWI (128 of the 1,198 who had died were Americans). Germany sunk it because they claimed it was carrying munitions to the British, a charge denied by the Wilson Administration. Not too many years ago divers explored the wreck of the Lusitania and what did they find? Munitions.

    In a foretaste of what was to come during the Iraq War when French Fries and French Toast were called Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast by the ones who were angry about the fact the France wanted nothing to do with the Iraq War, during WWI Sauerkraut was no longer referred to by its name in America but was instead called "Liberty cabbage."

    ReplyDelete
  2. Absolutely. Wilson was a scandle and the very source of many of the evils the US lives with today.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Could you do a post on Simon Bolivar?

    ReplyDelete
  4. I was always given to understand that Wilson finally declared for war so that he could strut his moralizibg ego on the world stage andto lend his support to instituting democracy/republicanism in place of the legitimate monarchies.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Its very hard to definitively paint someone or something as "the" worst in history (which is, no doubt, why you went with the title "One of the Worst"), but I feel perfectly comfortable calling Wilson that.

    There have been plenty of other terrible presidents, but what makes Wilson the worst of all is that he set precedent. Without him, all the terrible presidents that followed him would never have been able to be quite as terrible as they were because they wouldn't have had his example to follow. I'm thinking of two in particular that are almost carbon copies of Wilson ideologically, one of which is unfortunately all too recent.

    ReplyDelete
  6. And where did Wilson get the inspiration for many of his actions? Abraham Lincoln...

    ReplyDelete
  7. With was a full blown socialist and want all interests to be married to the state. I also heard he had a nervous breakdown when he went to Europe and everyone Booed him. Many call WWI Wilson's war and that was the that destroyed a good deal of the Worlds Monarchies.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Great posting. Wilson is still revered by some. He was a truly awful person and one that favored racism and anti women policies

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...