Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) was born in Virginia but grew up in Augusta, Georgia, where his father was an official of the Southern Presbyterian church. After briefly practicing as a lawyer (he only had two clients, one of whom was his mother), he attended graduate school at Johns Hopkins and taught history and political science at Bryn Mawr, Wesleyan, and Princeton, his alma mater. As Princeton’s president, he developed a reputation as a reformer for trying to eliminate the school’s elitist system of teaching clubs. Professional politicians in New Jersey, thinking wrongly that they could manipulate the politically inexperienced Wilson, helped make him the state’s governor and then arranged his nomination as president in 1912 as a way to block another bid by William Jennings Bryan, whose prairie populism had been rejected three times by voters. With the Republican vote split between Taft and Roosevelt, the Democrat Wilson became the first southerner to be elected president since the Civil War, carrying forty states but only forty-two percent of the vote.

During his first term, he initiated a long list of major domestic reforms. These included: the Underwood Simmons Tariff (1913); the Federal Reserve Act (1913); the Federal Trade Commission Act (1914); and the Clayton Act Anti-Trust Act (1914). Wilson believed that the federal government should break up big businesses in order to restore as much competition as possible. Other social legislation enacted during Wilson’s first term included: the Seaman Act (1915); the Adamson Act (1916); the Workingmen’s Compensation Act (1916); the Child Labor Act (1916); and the Farm Loan Act (1916). Additionally, following Wilson’s election in 1912, four Constitutional Amendments were ratified. Wilson’s second term was dominated by American involvement in World War I. At the end of September 1919 Wilson suffered a mild stroke, which was followed, in early October, by a major stroke that almost totally incapacitated him. More than most presidents, Wilson’s historical reputation has swung up and down. During the 1920s, he was seen as a priggish and anti-business president, an impractical visionary and fuzzy idealist, who embroiled the United States in a needless war. By the 1940s, however, he was remembered as an idealistic leader who struggled to create a new world order based on international law.

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