AMERICAN EXPERIENCE's acclaimed Presidents series continues with a two-part profile of one of the most effective Democrat incumbents of the 20th century -- Woodrow Wilson.
Born in 1856, Wilson lived through the American Civil War as a child and grew up to be history professor and president of Princeton University. He then entered politics as governor of New Jersey in 1911 and just a year later was elected the 28th president of the United States (the only one ever to have a PhD). With a clear mandate, Wilson pushed through an extensive legislative agenda, mostly aimed at stimulating the US economy. He initially kept the US out of World War I, even using that as a re-election slogan in 1916. However, German aggression forced him to change his stance to that of a bold war leader, generating funds, men and materiel for battle.
In 1918, Wilson led the peace negotiations with Germany, and set about building the League of Nations -- the forerunner to the UN -- to prevent future conflicts. It was while working on this project, in 1919, that he suffered a stroke, and competed his term in office issuing orders via his (second) wife, Edith, from his sick bed. Wilson was not all sweetness and light, however. Black voters who flocked to his cause in 1912 felt betrayed by his support for segregationist policies and support for the southern white cause, while Irish immigrants, especially those who fled to the US after the Easter Rising of 1916, felt he had reneged on a deal to push for an independent Ireland after helping Britain in the war.