Woodrow Wilson: What were his Major Accomplishments?
Woodrow Wilson was an American politician who served as the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Before becoming president, he was the 34th Governor of New Jersey; and prior to that he was a political science professor and the 13th President of Princeton University.
As President, the domestic policy of Woodrow focused on looking out for the overall interest of the American people. Woodrow’s progressive reforms helped improved the nation’s security, financial sector and education system.
Although he had an abysmal record when it came to dealing with civil rights issues for African Americans, Woodrow Wilson still remains one of the most celebrated crusaders of democracy both at home and abroad. In the latter years of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson intervened not just to assert America’s leadership but to also fashion out a new world order underpinned by mutual respect and corporation among nations. For those peacemaking efforts on the global stage, Woodrow Wilson was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Fast Facts about President Woodrow Wilson
Born: Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Date and place of Birth: December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia, U.S.
Date and place of Death: February 3, 1924 at Washington D.C., U.S.
Cause of Death: Stroke
Father: Joseph Ruggles Wilson (1822-1903)
Mother: Nancy (Janet) Allison (1826-1888)
Spouses: Ellen Axson (married in 1885; died in 1914); Edith Bolling (married in 1915)
Children: Margaret (born in 1886); Jessie (born in 1887); Eleanor (1889)
Education: John Hopkins University, University of Virginia Law School, Princeton University (formerly the College of New Jersey)
Political Party: Democratic Party
Elected Public Offices: 28th President of the United States; 34th Governor of New Jersey (1911-1913)
Presidency: March 4, 1913 to March, 1921
Predecessor: William Howard Taft
Successor: Warren G. Harding
Best known for: Leading the U.S. during World War I; Establishing the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission; Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points for Self-Determination and global peace and solidarity; Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1919
Major Accomplishments of Woodrow Wilson
Here are the 12 major accomplishments of Woodrow Wilson:
Overcame a severe learning disability
It has been stated that not until Woodrow Wilson was 10 years old, the Virginia-born future president of the United States could not read. Historians reason that he may have suffered from dyslexia.
It is interesting that he overcame those learning difficulties to eventually become a renowned academician at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities- Princeton. For example, his Ph.D. in political science was earned at Johns Hopkins University in 1886.
Introduced a number of reforms while President of Princeton
Owing to some health reasons, Woodrow Wilson had to abandon his studies at the law school in Virginia. However, that did not stop him from working hard to pass the bar exams in Georgia. He went on to begin practicing law around 1882. A year into the practice, Woodrow Wilson set his sights on the world of teaching.
His first major teaching job began in 1885 at Bryn Mawr College as a politics and history teacher (mainly taught ancient Greek, American history and Roman history). After three years, he moved to Wesleyan College in Connecticut.
His big break came in 1890 when he was given a teaching position at Princeton University in New Jersey, where he served as a professor of political science. Between 1902 and 1910, Woodrow served as the 13th President of Princeton, initiating a host of reforms in the university. He was expertly skilled at raising funds to back his various innovative educational programs at Princeton.
He penned down a number of good books in politics and history
Woodrow Wilson was simply an academic, thick and through. This fact is reflected in the number of books he authored in political science and history. His three most famous books are Congressional Government (1885), The State, and Division and Reunion (1893). The first one for example laid a number of criticisms at the system of government in the U.S., particularly the U.S. House of Representatives. His second book gained quite a lot of popularity in colleges around the country. The third book, Division and Reunion, was renowned for its in-depth look at the history of the U.S. post the Civil War.
Worked hard to rid New Jersey off Corporate and Public Corruption
After meeting some amount of opposition from the alumni at Princeton, as well as the stressful nature of the job, Wilson made his move into the political arena. Over the years, he had built quite a reputation as a very hardworking educationist and reformer. He had also developed strong friendships with the leaders of the Democratic National Convention.
In the 1910 New Jersey gubernatorial election, Woodrow Wilson received immense support from the state. He defeated Republican nominee Vivian M. Lewis by over 65,000 votes at the polls.
Acting in an independent manner, Wilson set about introducing several progressive reforms he pledged during his campaign. He could push through those reforms partly because the Democrats controlled the general assembly in the state. He also worked very hard to rid the state of its endemic public corruption, going toe to toe with large companies and businessmen that engaged in unsavory corporate practices and trusts. Going up against the likes of Standard Oil was an extremely daunting task, considering the fact that New Jersey was called the “Mother of Trusts”.
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His New Freedom theme and antitrust campaign won him the 1912 presidential election
His time as governor of New Jersey was certainly noticed as he won immense bipartisan recognition across the country. The Democrats counted on him providing a strong opposition against incumbent President William Taft, who was generally perceived as very conservative. Additionally, Wilson and the Democrats capitalized on the factions in the Republican Party, which saw Theodore Roosevelt split from the Republicans to form the Progressive Party (Bull Moose).
On the 46th ballot at the 1912 Democratic Party presidential race, Wilson defeated Democrats Champ Clark of Missouri and Oscar Underwood to win the party’s nomination for the 1912 Presidential election. Thomas Marshall, then-governor of Indiana, was selected as his running mate.
Riding under his New Freedom theme, Woodrow Wilson defeated incumbent US President Taft to clinch the White House seat. In the popular vote, he obtained about 42 percent of the votes; he also secured 435 of the electoral votes.
On March 4, 1913, Woodrow Wilson, 56, was sworn into office as the 28th President of the United States; he became the first Southerner to attain this feat since the American Civil War.
Fast Fact: Did you know that Franklin D. Roosevelt (later 32nd President of the U.S.) served in Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet as the assistant Secretary of the Navy?
He rolled out a sound domestic policy
As president, the domestic policy of Woodrow focused on looking out for the overall interest of the American people. His prime focus was on regulating trusts and getting tariffs reduced.For the first two years in his first term, Woodrow spent enormous attention fine tuning his New Freedom domestic policies. Woodrow Wilson was the first president since John Adams (in 1801) to address a joint session of Congress.
Reduced Tariffs through the passage of the Revenue Act of 1913
He pushed for legislation that cut down the tariffs in order for America to re-assert itself in the world of commerce. In 1913, the Senate and the House heeded his call and passed a bill (the Underwood Tariff) that reduced the tariff rate by 10 percent. And for Americans that earned above $4000, the senate imposed a personal income tax (backed by the Sixteenth Amendment). The bill, which Wilson signed on October 3, 1913, came to be known as the Revenue Act of 1913.
It is worth mentioning that the act also reduced import tariffs drastically (from 40% to 26%). Owing to several tweaks in the federal government’s revenue stream, the country moved tentatively from tariff-based revenue generation system to a taxation-based one.
Credited with improving the banking system and setting up the Federal Reserve
As at the time Woodrow Wilson got into the White House, the United States had no federal-run central banks; the federal banks were all closed down during the Bank War in the 1830s. Many politicians and economist at the time attributed the Panic of 1907 to the absence of a central banking system. Hence Woodrow Wilson tasked Congress to pass a bill that would create a Federal Reserve in order to properly handle any future financial meltdown. Under the Federal Reserve Act of 1915, President Woodrow Wilson was able to keep the Federal Reserve board from falling into the hands of unscrupulous private banks and businessmen.
Woodrow Wilson was a massive antitrust crusader
Seeking to reinforce the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 so that the nation can prevent businesses that conspire to restrain competition, Woodrow Wilson combined brilliantly with Congressman Henry Clayton Jr. to push for the establishment of the Federal Trade Commission. Similar to his predecessor President Taft, Woodrow embarked on a crusade to rid the country off unethical trusts and business combinations that used anti-competitive practices such as unfair pricing and interlocking directorates.
The Federal Trade Commission was armed by the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914 (also known as the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914) to investigate those trusts and enforce the laws.
Became the first Democratic President to get re-elected since Andrew Jackson
In the lead up to the 1916 general elections, Woodrow Wilson ran under the theme “He Kept Us Out of War”. The war his supporters were referring to was the provocations the U.S. received from Mexico and Germany. The latter country was neck deep in World War I against the Allied Powers (mainly composed of France, Great Britain, Russia and other European nations). In spite of all that aggression by Germany against Europe and the U.S., Woodrow Wilson refused entering World War I at the initial stages. And this decision helped him get re-elected in 1916, defeating Democratic Party candidate and former Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes by 277 to 254 electoral votes (President Wilson secured 49.2% of the popular votes, as against Hughes’ 46.1%).
Interesting fact: Did you know that Woodrow Wilson was the first Democrat to get a second successive term in the White House since Andrew Jackson?
Lead the U.S. during World War I
By January, 1917, America’s stance all changed after Germany’s blatant attack against American ships provoked President Woodrow into joining the war. The last straw came in the form of the Zimmerman Telegram, which revealed Germany’s clandestine effort to lure Mexico into joining forces with the Central Powers to fight against the U.S.
On April 2, 1917, he asked Congress to declare war against Germany. In a bipartisan move, Congress obliged and declared war against Germany on April 4, 1917.
In a bid to prepare the nation, Wilson tasked the various federal agencies and departments to boost agricultural and industrial production; provide easy loans to the Allies; increase military draft; and increase taxes.
Fast Fact: About $32 billion was spent in America’s two-year involvement in World War I. The war also claimed the lives of over 116,000 American soldiers in that period.
Used his 14 Point Policy to promote peace across the world
Shortly before Germany and its Central Powers surrendered (under a series of armistice between October and November, 1918), Woodrow Wilson gave his famous Fourteen Points Speech to Congress on January 8, 1918.
Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points was the product of in-depth research around the globe which saw the president’s advisor and friend Colonel Edward M. House prepare about 2000 reports and 1200 maps. The outcome was a foreign policy that outlined how the world could remain at peace through negotiations and self-determination.
His Fourteen Points also advocated amicable solutions to territorial issues and border disputes. He reasoned that the policy if implemented properly would end hostile aggression by great nations against smaller ones.
Heavily involved in setting up the League of Nations
Using Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points as a blueprint, many Allied Powers pushed for the creation of an international organization that would promote world peace and dialog among nations. By so doing the League of Nations was established on January 1920 with the goal of preventing another world war from ever happening.
In spite of his hard fought effort to bring the United States into the League of Nations, Congressmen simply refused doing so. Many of them feared that the U.S. could lose its sovereignty.
However, it was Woodrow Wilson’s proposed idea of an international body that later became the United Nations. So in effect, we could say that Wilson was indeed the brain behind the present-day United Nations.
Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919
For his unrelenting effort to tackle territorial issues and border disputes across the world, Woodrow Wilson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. His Fourteen Points encouraged the right of sovereignty and territorial integrity for all nations – great or small. Owing to his somewhat diplomatic idealism, several nations were born across the world, including the likes of Poland and Turkey, which under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk emerged as a functioning democratic and secular nation.