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A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants.

Presidency of Woodrow Wilson

It must be a league of honor, a partnership of opinion. Intrigue would eat its vitals away; the plottings of inner circles who could plan what they would and render account to no one would be a corruption seated at its very heart. Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honor steady to a common end and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own. Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia?

Russia was known by those who knew it best to have been always in fact democratic at heart, in all the vital habits of her thought, in all the intimate relationships of her people that spoke their natural instinct, their habitual attitude toward life. The autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it had stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for justice, and for peace.

Here is a fit partner for a League of Honor. One of the things that has served to convince us that the Prussian autocracy was not and could never be our friend is that from the very outset of the present war it has filled our unsuspecting communities and even our offices of government with spies and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity of counsel, our peace within and without, our industries and our commerce.

Indeed, it is now evident that its spies were here even before the war began; and it is unhappily not a matter of conjecture but a fact proved in our courts of justice that the intrigues which have more than once come perilously near to disturbing the peace and dislocating the industries of the country have been carried on at the instigation, with the support, and even under the personal direction of official agents of the Imperial government accredited to the government of the United States.

Even in checking these things and trying to extirpate them, we have sought to put the most generous interpretation possible upon them because we knew that their source lay, not in any hostile feeling or purpose of the German people toward us who were no doubt as ignorant of them as we ourselves were but only in the selfish designs of a government that did what it pleased and told its people nothing. But they have played their part in serving to convince us at last that that government entertains no real friendship for us and means to act against our peace and security at its convenience.

That it means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors the intercepted note to the German minister at Mexico City is eloquent evidence. We are accepting this challenge of hostile purpose because we know that in such a government, following such methods, we can never have a friend; and that in the presence of its organized power, always lying in wait to accomplish we know not what purpose, there can be no assured security for the democratic governments of the world.

We are now about to accept [the] gage [the challenge] of battle with this natural foe to liberty and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power.

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We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretense about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve.

We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.

Woodrow Wilson Fellowship

We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them. Just because we fight without rancor and without selfish object, seeking nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share with all free peoples, we shall, I feel confident, conduct our operations as belligerents without passion and ourselves observe with proud punctilio the principles of right and of fair play we profess to be fighting for.

I have said nothing of the governments allied with the Imperial government of Germany because they have not made war upon us or challenged us to defend our right and our honor. The Austro-Hungarian government has, indeed, avowed its unqualified endorsement and acceptance of the reckless and lawless submarine warfare adopted now without disguise by the Imperial German government, and it has therefore not been possible for this government to receive Count Tarnowski, the ambassador recently accredited to this government by the Imperial and Royal government of Austria-Hungary; but that government has not actually engaged in warfare against citizens of the United States on the seas, and I take the liberty, for the present at least, of postponing a discussion of our relations with the authorities at Vienna.

We enter this war only where we are clearly forced into it because there are no other means of defending our rights. It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity toward a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck.

We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage between us—however hard it may be for them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts. We have borne with their present government through all these bitter months because of that friendship—exercising a patience and forbearance which would otherwise have been impossible.

We shall, happily, still have an opportunity to prove that friendship in our daily attitude and actions toward the millions of men and women of German birth and native sympathy who live among us and share our life, and we shall be proud to prove it toward all who are in fact loyal to their neighbors and to the government in the hour of test.

President Woodrow Wilson (1919)

They are, most of them, as true and loyal Americans as if they had never known any other fealty or allegiance. For a discussion of the history and nature of the presidency, see presidency of the United States of America. Wilson was the only president since Andrew Jackson to have a foreign-born parent.

Woodrow Wilson: Life Before the Presidency | Miller Center

The family left Virginia before his second birthday, as his father successively held pastorates in Augusta , Georgia , and Wilmington , North Carolina , and taught at the Columbia Theological Seminary in South Carolina. His father served during the Civil War as a chaplain with the Confederate army, and his church in Augusta was turned into a military hospital.


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The young Wilson was deeply affected by the horrors of the war. Apparently dyslexic from childhood, Wilson did not learn to read until after he was 10 and never became a rapid reader. Nevertheless, he developed passionate interests in politics and literature. At Princeton he blossomed intellectually, reading widely, engaging in debate, and editing the college newspaper.

Making the World “Safe for Democracy”: Woodrow Wilson Asks for War

While still an undergraduate, he published a scholarly essay that compared the American government with the British parliamentary system , a subject that he would develop further in his first book and apply in his own political career. After graduation from Princeton in , Wilson studied law at the University of Virginia , with the hope that law would lead to politics.

Two years of humdrum legal practice in Atlanta disillusioned him, and he abandoned his law career for graduate study in government and history at Johns Hopkins University , where in he received a Ph.


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Additionally, Wilson nominated the first Jewish person to the U. Supreme Court , Louis Brandeis , who was confirmed by the Senate in On May 7, , a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British ocean liner Lusitania , killing more than 1, people including Americans. Wilson continued to maintain U. Although the president had advocated for peace during the initial years of the war, in early German submarines launched unrestricted submarine attacks against U. Around the same time, the United States learned about the Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany tried to persuade Mexico to enter into an alliance against America.

The agreement included the charter for the League of Nations , an organization intended to arbitrate international disputes and prevent future wars.

Wilson had initially advanced the idea for the League in a January speech to the U. In September of that year, the president embarked on a cross-country speaking tour to promote his ideas for the League directly to the American people. On the night of September 25, on a train bound for Wichita, Kansas , Wilson collapsed from mental and physical stress, and the rest of his tour was cancelled. On October 2, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

Both times it failed to gain the two-thirds vote required for ratification. The League of Nations held its first meeting in January ; the United States never joined the organization. The era of Prohibition was ushered in on January 17, , when the 18th Amendment, banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol, went into effect following its ratification one year earlier.

In , Wilson vetoed the National Prohibition Act or Volstead Act , designed to enforce the 18th Amendment; however, his veto was overridden by Congress.

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Woodrow Wilson and Foreign Policy

Prohibition lasted until , when it was repealed by the 21st Amendment. Also in , American women gained the right to vote when the 19th Amendment became law that August; Wilson had pushed Congress to pass the amendment. He and a partner established a law firm, but poor health prevented the president from ever doing any serious work. Wilson died at his home on February 3, , at age Start your free trial today.