Woodrow Wilson was the 28th president of the United States. He believed in world peace. But World War I (1914-1918) and the peace settlement after the war shattered his dreams.
WHO WAS WOODROW WILSON?
Wilson was born in 1856 in Virginia. He grew up in Southern states during the Civil War (1861-1865) and the period of hardship that followed the war. He understood the suffering that war caused.
As a young man, Wilson went to study at Princeton University in New Jersey, a Northern state. Later he taught at Princeton. In 1902, he became president of Princeton. His books on politics and history made him famous.
HOW DID WILSON BECOME PRESIDENT?
Wilson then decided to try politics. In 1910, he was elected governor of New Jersey. Wilson led reforms to limit the power of big businesses. In 1912, he ran for president as a Democrat. The Republicans—Wilson’s opposition—split into two parties that year. Wilson won the election because the Republican vote was split between two candidates.
WHAT DID WILSON ACCOMPLISH?
When Wilson took office, America was going through big changes. A country of farms and farmers had turned into a country of busy factories and huge companies. Workers struggled with company owners. Wilson got laws passed to protect workers. He pushed for laws to stop any one company from controlling an entire industry. He set up a group to oversee banks. He set up another group to oversee trade.
Tension was rising in the world as well. In 1914, World War I broke out in Europe. Most Americans thought their country should stay out of this war. At first, Wilson agreed. In 1916, he won a second term as president. Wilson campaigned with the slogan, “He kept us out of war.” Wilson tried to help bring about peace between the two sides: the Allies, led by Britain and France, and the Central Powers, led by Germany.
WILSON’S BIG DREAM
German submarines began attacking American ships in 1917. When Germany refused to stop, Wilson changed his mind about the war. He decided to fight in defense of world peace and democracy.
Wilson hoped that after the war some kind of world government could be created to stop future wars. He dreamed of a league of nations that all countries would join. Countries that had disagreements would come to the league of nations. There, they would settle their quarrels peacefully.
In 1917 and 1918, Wilson sent over a million American soldiers to Europe. They fought with Britain and France against Germany. Wilson offered a peace plan that would treat Germany fairly if it stopped fighting. On November 11, 1918, fighting in World War I ended.
WHY DID WILSON FAIL?
Great Britain and France ignored most of Wilson’s peace plan. They made Germany pay heavy fines, which ruined the country. Wilson was bitterly disappointed. In 1919, he had a stroke. Hardly anyone saw him after that. His term as president ended in 1920, and he died in 1924.
The League of Nations did form. But Americans turned against it, and Congress refused to let the United States join. The league lasted until 1946. However, it was powerless to prevent World War II, which broke out in 1939.