“The President may also, if he will, stand within the party counsels and use the advantage of his power and personal force to control its actual programs. He may be both the leader of his party and the leader of the nation, or he may be one or the other. If he lead the nation, his party can hardly resist him. His office is anything he has the sagacity and force to make it.” — Woodrow Wilson on the Presidency, 1908.
For Wilson, constitutional checks and balances and the separation of powers are indicative of the flawed thinking of America's Founders. To Wilson they were the means of limiting government. To Wilson and the progressives government alone can provide the people's needs. Wilson looked to the presidency — the singular voice of the people — as the best hope for overcoming the old order of our Founders.
Whereas the Founders cautioned against direct democracy as subject to the whimsical passions of men to the detriment of reason, the Progressives embraced direct democracy. The internal arrangements of the Constitution — especially separation of powers — were established by the Founders to check the passions and encourage the rule of reason. However, they forestalled efficient and responsible government, according to the Progressives. Thus, government must be freed from the constraints of institutional checks in order to be efficient and truly responsive to the will of the people. The ballot initiative, the referendum, and the recall election were among the democratic measures initiated by the Progressives.
This was in direct contradiction to the beliefs of our Founders and as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his book Democracy in America:
“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.”
Paradoxically, while Wilson sought to make politics more democratic, the administration of government became less democratic. Wilson argued that separating politics from government by unelected experts (masterminds) would best accomplish the ends of government. The Progressives thus fashioned the bureaucratic regulatory state — also known as the “administrative state.” They believed that unelected and highly trained experts could govern the nation more rationally, effectively, and responsibly than mere politicians, who were often corrupt and beholden to voters and special interests. This further required that the President be understood as the national leader. The modern Presidency is an essential tool for the Progressive transformation of government. According to the Founders’ understanding of the executive branch, the President’s duties centered on national defense and the veto power, but little else. Wilson argued that the President, as the embodiment of national popular opinion, would be a singular force for the common good, able to lead the nation, including the two other branches of government, through the force of his own will. As the future President Wilson wrote, “His office is anything he has the sagacity and force to make it.”
The changes wrought by the Progressives fundamentally altered the Founders’ Constitution. By separating politics from the administration of government by unelected bureaucrats, the Progressive system of government disregards the consent of the governed, vastly expanding the power of the federal government.
This progressive philosophy did not begin with Woodrow Wilson, although he embraced it and refined during his tenure as president. The progressivism of Wilson found its roots in Theodore Roosevelt. In March 1909, shortly after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt left New York for a safari in east and central Africa. During his adventures in Africa he read the book “The Promise of American Life” by the renowned socialist and founder of the New Republic Magazine Herbert Croly.
For Croly, the individualistic, libertarian America of the agrarian 18th and 19th centuries was gone, swept away by the forces of the industrial revolution, urbanization, centralization and modernity. He advocated a new political consensus that included as its core nationalism, but with a sense of social responsibility and care for the less fortunate. Since the power of big business, trusts, interest groups and economic specialization had transformed the nation in the latter part of the 19th century; only the embracing of a counterbalance to this power would serve the society of the future. Croly pressed for the centralization of power in the Federal Government to ensure democracy, a "New Nationalism."
As Croly wrote, "the traditional American confidence in individual freedom has resulted in a morally and socially undesirable distribution of wealth." He argued for a national government that was more rather than less powerful than it had been, as a bulwark against overbearing self-interest, greed, corruption and unchecked power. At the same time, Croly valued the individual motivated by civic virtue and "constructive individualism" and urged all to pursue this objective.
This book opposed aggressive unionization and supported economic planning to raise general quality of life. After reading this book, Theodore Roosevelt adopted the New Nationalism in a speech given at Osawatomie, Kansas, on August 31, 1910. (Note this is the same location Barack Obama gave his famous “Fairness speech in 2012).
The central issue Roosevelt argued was government protection of human welfare and property rights, but he also argued that human welfare was more important than property rights. He insisted that only a powerful federal government could regulate the economy and guarantee social justice, and that a President can only succeed in making his economic agenda successful if he makes the protection of human welfare his highest priority. Roosevelt believed that the concentration in industry was a natural part of the economy. He wanted executive agencies under the direction of experts and masterminds (not the courts) to regulate business. The federal government should be used to protect the laboring men, women and children from exploitation. In terms of policy, Roosevelt's platform included a broad range of social and political reforms advocated by progressives that included:
- A National Health Service to include all existing government medical agencies,
- Social insurance, to provide for the elderly, the unemployed, and the disabled,
- Limited injunctions in strikes,
- A minimum wage law for women,
- An eight hour workday,
- A federal securities commission,
- Farm relief,
- Workers' compensation for work-related injuries,
- An inheritance tax, and
- A Constitutional amendment to allow a Federal income tax.
The book is said to "offer a manifesto of Progressive beliefs" that anticipated the transition from competitive to corporate capitalism and from limited government to the welfare state. New Nationalism was in direct contrast with Woodrow Wilson's policy of The New Freedom, which promoted antitrust modification, tariff reduction, and banking and currency reform.
After winning the presidency in 1912 with 42% of the vote against the incumbent William Howard Taft due to Roosevelt’s third party candidacy he bought into Roosevelt’s progressive philosophy hook, line and sinker and became the father of today’s administrative state.
In his 1908 book on Constitutional Government in the United States, Chapter 3: The President of the United States, Wilson states:
“It is difficult to describe any single part of a great governmental system without describing the whole of it. Governments are living things and operate as organic wholes. Moreover, governments have their natural evolution and are one thing in one age, another in another. The makers of the Constitution constructed the federal government upon a theory of checks and balances which was meant to limit the operation of each part and allow to no single part or organ of it a dominating force; but no government can be successfully conducted upon so mechanical a theory. Leadership and control must be lodged somewhere; the whole art of statesmanship is the art of bringing the several parts of government into effective cooperation for the accomplishment of particular common objects,—and party objects at that. Our study of each part of our federal system, if we are to discover our real government as it lives, must be made to disclose to us its operative coordination as a whole: its places of leadership, its method of action, how it operates, what checks it, what gives it energy and effect. Governments are what politicians make them, and it is easier to write of the President than of the presidency.
Fortunately, the definitions and prescriptions of our constitutional law, though conceived in the Newtonian spirit and upon the Newtonian principle, are sufficiently broad and elastic to allow for the play of life and circumstance. Though they were Whig theorists, the men who framed the federal Constitution were also practical statesmen with an experienced eye for affairs and a quick practical sagacity in respect of the actual structure of government, and they have given us a thoroughly workable model. If it had in fact been a machine governed by mechanically automatic balances, it would have had no history; but it was not, and its history has been rich with the influences and personalities of the men who have conducted it and made it a living reality. The government of the United States has had a vital and normal organic growth and has proved itself eminently adapted to express the changing temper and purposes of the American people from age to age.
For he is also the political leader of the nation, or has it in his choice to be. The nation as a whole has chosen him, and is conscious that it has no other political spokesman. His is the only national voice in affairs. Let him once win the admiration and confidence of the country, and no other single force can withstand him, no combination of forces will easily overpower him. His position takes the imagination of the country. He is the representative of no constituency, but of the whole people. When he speaks in his true character, he speaks for no special interest. If he rightly interpret the national thought and boldly insist upon it, he is irresistible; and the country never feels the zest of action so much as when its President is of such insight and calibre. Its instinct is for unified action, and it craves a single leader. It is for this reason that it will often prefer to choose a man rather than a party. A President whom it trusts can not only lead it, but form it to his own views.
It is the extraordinary isolation imposed upon the President by our system that makes the character and opportunity of his office so extraordinary. In him are centered both opinion and party. He may stand, if he will, a little outside party and insist as if it were upon the general opinion. It is with the instinctive feeling that it is upon occasion such a man that the country wants that nominating conventions will often nominate men who are not their acknowledged leaders, but only such men as the country would like to see lead both its parties. The President may also, if he will, stand within the party counsels and use the advantage of his power and personal force to control its actual programs. He may be both the leader of his party and the leader of the nation, or he may be one or the other. If he lead the nation, his party can hardly resist him. His office is anything he has the sagacity and force to make it.
That is the reason why it has been one thing at one time, another at another. The Presidents who have not made themselves leaders have lived no more truly on that account in the spirit of the Constitution than those whose force has told in the determination of law and policy. No doubt Andrew Jackson overstepped the bounds meant to be set to the authority of his office. It was certainly in direct contravention of the spirit of the Constitution that he should have refused to respect and execute decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, and no serious student of our history can righteously condone what he did in such matters on the ground that his intentions were upright and his principles pure. But the Constitution of the United States is not a mere lawyers’ document: it is a vehicle of life, and its spirit is always the spirit of the age. Its prescriptions are clear and we know what they are; a written document makes lawyers of us all, and our duty as citizens should make us conscientious lawyers, reading the text of the Constitution without subtlety or sophistication; but life is always your last and most authoritative critic.”
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The above was Wilson’s view of the presidency in 1908 while still an academic at Princeton University. In 1886 while still forming his opinions on how government should operate Wilson authored his essay on the Study of Administration in which he stated:
“The field of administration is a field of business. It is removed from the hurry and strife of politics; it at most points stands apart even from the debatable ground of constitutional study. It is a part of political life only as the methods of the counting-house are a part of the life of society; only as machinery is part of the manufactured product. But it is, at the same time, raised very far above the dull level of mere technical detail by the fact that through its greater principles it is directly connected with the lasting maxims of political wisdom, the permanent truths of political progress. The object of administrative study is to rescue executive methods from the confusion and costliness of empirical experiment and set them upon foundations laid deep in stable principle.
It is for this reason that we must regard civil-service reform in its present stages as but a prelude to a fuller administrative reform. We are now rectifying methods of appointment; we must go on to adjust executive functions more fitly and to prescribe better methods of executive organization and action. Civil-service reform is thus but a moral preparation for what is to follow. It is clearing the moral atmosphere of official life by establishing the sanctity of public office as a public trust, and, by making service unpartisan, it is opening the way for making it businesslike. By sweetening its motives it is rendering it capable of improving its methods of work.
The problem is to make public opinion efficient without suffering it to be meddlesome. Directly exercised, in the oversight of the daily details and in the choice of the daily means of government, public criticism is of course a clumsy nuisance, a rustic handling delicate machinery. But as superintending the greater forces of formative policy alike in politics and administration, public criticism is altogether safe and beneficent, altogether indispensable. Let administrative study find the best means for giving public criticism this control and for shutting it out from all other interference.
But is the whole duty of administrative study done when it has taught the people what sort of administration to desire and demand, and how to get what they demand? Ought it not to go on to drill candidates for the public service? There is an admirable movement towards universal political education now afoot in this country. The time will soon come when no college of respectability can afford to do without a well-filled chair of political science. But the education thus imparted will go but a certain length. It will multiply the number of intelligent critics of government, but it will create no competent body of administrators. It will prepare the way for the development of a sure-footed understanding of the general principles of government, but it will not necessarily foster skill in conducting government. It is an education which will equip legislators, perhaps, but not executive officials. If we are to improve public opinion, which is the motive power of government, we must prepare better officials as the apparatus of government. If we are to put in new boilers and to mend the fires which drive our governmental machinery, we must not leave the old wheels and joints and valves and bands to creak and buzz and clatter on as best they may at bidding of the new force. We must put in new running parts wherever there is the least lack of strength or adjustment. It will be necessary to organize democracy by sending up to the competitive examinations for the civil service men definitely prepared for standing liberal tests as to technical knowledge. A technically schooled civil service will presently have become indispensable.”
After earning a Ph.D. in both history and political science at Johns Hopkins University, Wilson held various academic positions, culminating in the presidency of Princeton University. Throughout this period, he came to see the Constitution as a cumbersome instrument unfit for the government of a large and vibrant nation. This speech, delivered during his successful campaign for president in 1912 and included in a collection of speeches called The New Freedom, puts forward the idea of an evolving, or “living,” constitution. In his “What is Progress” speech Wilson stated:
“The makers of our Federal Constitution read Montesquieu with true scientific enthusiasm. They were scientists in their way—the best way of their age—those fathers of the nation. Jefferson wrote of "the laws of Nature"—and then by way of afterthought—"and of Nature’s God." And they constructed a government as they would have constructed an orrery—to display the laws of nature. Politics in their thought was a variety of mechanics. The Constitution was founded on the law of gravitation. The government was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of "checks and balances."
The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day, of specialization, with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without the intimate, instinctive coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop.
All that progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when "development" "evolution," is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.
Some citizens of this country have never got beyond the Declaration of Independence, signed in Philadelphia, July 4th, 1776. Their bosoms swell against George III, but they have no consciousness of the war for freedom that is going on today.
The Declaration of Independence did not mention the questions of our day. It is of no consequence to us unless we can translate its general terms into examples of the present day and substitute them in some vital way for the examples it itself gives, so concrete, so intimately involved in the circumstances of the day in which it was conceived and written. It is an eminently practical document, meant for the use of practical men; not a thesis for philosophers, but a whip for tyrants; not a theory for government, but a program of action. Unless we can translate it into the questions of our own day, we are not worthy of it, we are not the sons of the sires who acted in response to its challenge.”
By 1916, two years into his first term as president, Wilson had moved completely to Roosevelt’s philosophy of progressivism and the administrative state. He created department upon department staffed with academics and masterminds and mover further away from his previous view of democracy and following the will of the people. He had totally embraced what he said in 1908 in his essay on the presidency:
“For he is also the political leader of the nation, or has it in his choice to be. The nation as a whole has chosen him, and is conscious that it has no other political spokesman. His is the only national voice in affairs. Let him once win the admiration and confidence of the country, and no other single force can withstand him, no combination of forces will easily overpower him. His position takes the imagination of the country.”
In essence he believed himself, due to his superior education, to be above the common citizen and with his cadre of masterminds he could run the nation better than our Founders conceived.
These beliefs culminated with our entry into the First World War and Wilson’s dream of the League of Nations.
Renominated in 1916, Wilson used as a major campaign slogan "He kept us out of war", referring to his administration's avoiding open conflict with Germany or Mexico while maintaining a firm national policy. Wilson, however, never promised to keep out of war regardless of provocation. In his acceptance speech on September 2, 1916, Wilson pointedly warned Germany that submarine warfare that took American lives would not be tolerated, saying "The nation that violates these essential rights must expect to be checked and called to account by direct challenge and resistance. It at once makes the quarrel in part our own."
Wilson narrowly won the election, defeating Republican candidate Charles Evans Hughes. As governor of New York from 1907–1910, Hughes had a progressive record strikingly similar to Wilson's as governor of New Jersey. Theodore Roosevelt would comment that the only thing different between Hughes and Wilson was a shave. However, Hughes had to try to hold together a coalition of conservative Taft supporters and progressive Roosevelt partisans and so his campaign never seemed to take a definite form. Wilson ran on his record and ignored Hughes, reserving his attacks for Roosevelt. When asked why he did not attack Hughes directly, Wilson told a friend to "Never murder a man who is committing suicide” — similar to what Romney is doing today.
The result was exceptionally close and the outcome was in doubt for several days. The vote came down to several close states. Wilson won California by 3,773 votes out of almost a million votes cast and New Hampshire by 54 votes. Hughes won Minnesota by 393 votes out of over 358,000. In the final count, Wilson had 277 electoral votes vs. Hughes 254. Wilson was able to win by picking up many votes that had gone to Teddy Roosevelt or Eugene V. Debs in 1912.
The U.S. maintained neutrality despite increasing pressure placed on Wilson after the sinking of the British passenger liner RMS Lusitania with American citizens on board. Wilson found it increasingly difficult to maintain U.S. neutrality after Germany, despite its promises in the Arabic pledge and the Sussex pledge, initiated a program of unrestricted submarine warfare early in 1917 that threatened U.S. commercial shipping. Following the revelation of the Zimmermann Telegram, Germany's attempt to enlist Mexico as an ally against the U.S., Wilson took America into World War I to make "the world safe for democracy." The U.S. did not sign a formal alliance with the United Kingdom or France but operated as an "associated" power. The U.S. raised a massive army through conscription and Wilson gave command to General John J. Pershing, allowing Pershing a free hand as to tactics, strategy and even diplomacy.
Wilson had decided by then that the war had become a real threat to humanity. Unless the U.S. threw its weight into the war, as he stated in his declaration of war speech on April 2, 1917, western civilization itself could be destroyed. His statement announcing a "war to end war" meant that he wanted to build a basis for peace that would prevent future catastrophic wars and needless death and destruction. This provided the basis of Wilson's Fourteen Points, which were intended to resolve territorial disputes, ensure free trade and commerce, and establish a peacemaking organization. Included in these fourteen points was the proposal for the League of Nations.
With 50 Representatives and 6 Senators in opposition, the declaration of war by the United States against Germany was passed by the Congress on April 4, 1917, and was approved by the President on April 6, 1917.
Wilson, a man who professed a belief in democracy and the will of the people took draconian steps to enforce and enhance the power of his administrative state during WWI and in most cases tore up the Bill of Rights.
To counter opposition to the war at home, Wilson pushed the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918 through Congress to suppress anti-British, pro-German, or anti-war opinions. While he welcomed socialists who supported the war, he pushed at the same time to arrest and deport foreign-born radicals. Citing the Espionage Act, the U.S. Post Office, following the instructions of the Justice Department, refused to carry any written materials that could be deemed critical of the U.S. war effort. Some sixty newspapers judged to have revolutionary or antiwar content were deprived of their second-class mailing rights and effectively banned from the U.S. mails. Mere criticism of the Wilson administration and its war policy became grounds for arrest and imprisonment. A Jewish immigrant from Germany, Robert Goldstein, was sentenced to ten years in prison for producing The Spirit of '76, a film that portrayed the British, now an ally, in an unfavorable light.
Wilson's domestic economic policies were strongly pro-labor, but this favorable treatment was extended only to unions that supported the U.S. war effort, such as the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Antiwar groups, anarchists, communists, I.W.W. members, and other radical labor movements were regularly targeted by agents of the Department of Justice; many of their leaders were arrested on grounds of incitement to violence, espionage, or sedition. By 1918 the ranks of those arrested included Eugene Debs, the mild-mannered Socialist Party leader and labor activist, after he gave a speech opposing the war. Debs' opposition to the Wilson administration and the war earned the undying enmity of President Wilson, who later called Debs a "traitor to his country". Many recent foreign immigrants, resident aliens who opposed America's participation in World War I were eventually deported to Soviet Russia or other nations under the sweeping powers granted in the Immigration Act of 1918, which had actually been drafted by Wilson administration officials at the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Immigration. Even after the war ended in November 1918, the Wilson administration's attempts to silence radical political opponents continued, culminating in the Palmer Raids, a mass arrest and roundup of some 10,000 anarchists and labor activists led by Wilson's Attorney General, A. Mitchell Palmer. The investigations and prosecutions of antiwar activists by the Department of Justice were heavily criticized by prominent lawyers and law professors of the day, including Felix Frankfurter and Roscoe Pound. The Palmer Raids were eventually stymied in June 1920 by Massachusetts District Court Judge George Anderson, who ordered the discharge of 17 arrested aliens and publicly denounced the Department of Justice's actions. He wrote that "a mob is a mob, whether made up of Government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals and loafers and the vicious classes." Judge Anderson's decision effectively prevented any renewal of the raids. Of the 10,000 persons arrested in the Palmer raids, 3,500 were held in detention, of which 556 were eventually deported to other countries.
During the war, Wilson worked closely with Samuel Gompers and the AFL, the railroad brotherhoods, and other 'moderate' unions, which saw enormous growth in membership and wages during Wilson's administration. As there was no rationing, consumer prices soared. As income taxes increased, white-collar workers suffered. Despite this, appeals to buy war bonds were highly successful. The purchase of wartime bonds had the result of shifting the cost of the war to the affluent 1920’s.
Wilson set up the first western propaganda office, the United States Committee on Public Information, headed by George Creel (thus its popular name, Creel Commission), which filled the country with patriotic anti-German appeals and conducted various forms of censorship. In 1917, Congress authorized ex-President Theodore Roosevelt to raise four divisions of volunteers to fight in France — Roosevelt's World War I volunteers; Wilson refused to accept this offer from his political enemy. Other areas of the war effort were incorporated into the government along with propaganda. The War Industries Board headed by Bernard Baruch set war goals and policies for American factories. Future President Herbert Hoover was appointed to head the Food Administration which encouraged Americans to participate in "Meatless Mondays" and "Wheatless Wednesdays" to conserve food for the troops overseas. The Federal Fuel Administration run by Henry Garfield introduced daylight savings time and rationed fuel supplies such as coal and oil to keep the U.S. military supplied. These and many other boards and administrations were headed by businessmen recruited by Wilson for a dollar a day salary to make the government more efficient in the war effort.
In essence Wilson tore up the Bill of Rights and took unopposed extra-constitutional measures to promote and support his war effort — a war we should never became involved in as it was not in our national interests. It was a war in which we had 116,708 military deaths and 205,690 wounded in the one and one-half years we were involved in the combat. All of this was for Wilson’s belief in creating the League of Nations.
After World War I, Wilson participated in negotiations with the stated aim of assuring statehood for formerly oppressed nations and an equitable peace. On January 8, 1918, Wilson made his famous Fourteen Points address, introducing the idea of a League of Nations, an organization with a stated goal of helping to preserve territorial integrity and political independence among large and small nations alike.
Wilson intended the Fourteen Points as a means toward ending the war and achieving an equitable peace for all the nations. He spent six months in Paris for the Peace Conference (making him the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office). He worked tirelessly to promote his plan. The charter of the proposed League of Nations was incorporated into the conference's Treaty of Versailles. Japan proposed that the Covenant include a racial equality clause. Wilson was indifferent to the issue, but acceded to strong opposition from Australia and Britain.
When Wilson traveled to Europe to settle the peace terms, he visited Pope Benedict XV in Rome, making Wilson the first American President to visit the Pope while in office.
In summary Wilson’s 14 points were:
- There should be no secret alliances between countries,
- Freedom of the seas in peace and war,
- The reduction of trade barriers among nations,
- The general reduction of armaments,
- The adjustment of colonial claims in the interest of the inhabitants as well as of the colonial powers,
- The evacuation of Russian territory and a welcome for its government to the society of nations,
- The restoration of Belgian territories in Germany,
- The evacuation of all French territory, including Alsace-Lorraine,
- The readjustment of Italian boundaries along clearly recognizable lines of nationality,
- Independence for various national groups in Austria-Hungary,
- The restoration of the Balkan nations and free access to the sea for Serbia
- Protection for minorities in Turkey and the free passage of the ships of all nations through the Dardanelles,
- Independence for Poland, including access to the sea, and
- A league of nations to protect "mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small nations alike.
It was the last point — the proposal for a utopian League Nations that was Wilsons demise. Wilson, the elitist academician, progressive, and advocate of the administrative state believed that a world group of nations populated with similar-minded masterminds would be able to bring utopia to the world. During WWI At the same time the powers of old Europe were backing the League they were carving up Germany’s colonies in Africa and the Pacific, redrawing the map of Europe, and instituting draconian reparations against Germany thus paving the way for Adolph Hitler was a second and more destructive world war.
Wilson did not have much real opposition to his policies and he thought by his intellect and background he could convince The American People and the U.S. Senate to approve the treaty he had signed dragging us into a League of Nations dominated with nations concerned with their self-interest, not some utopian peace as Wilson saw it. He was dead wrong.
On September 3, 1919, Wilson embarked on a cross-country speaking tour in an attempt to rally the nation to his support, despite the intense opposition from Irish Catholics and Germans, most of them Democrats. Wilson had a series of debilitating strokes and had to cancel his trip on September 26, 1919. He became an invalid in the White House, closely monitored or controlled by his wife Edith. Republicans under Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts controlled both houses of Congress after the 1918 elections. The key point of disagreement was whether the League would diminish the power of Congress to declare war.
The Senate was divided into a crazy quilt of positions on the Versailles question. It proved possible to build a majority coalition, but impossible to build the two-thirds coalition needed to pass a treaty. One block of Democrats strongly supported the Versailles Treaty. A second group of Democrats supported the Treaty but followed Wilson in opposing any amendments or reservations. The largest bloc, led by Senator Lodge, comprised a majority of the Republicans. They wanted a treaty with reservations, especially on Article X, which involved the power of the League Nations to make war without a vote by the United States Congress — a direct violation of Article I, Section 8.11 of our Constitution. Finally, a bipartisan group of 13 "irreconcilables" opposed a treaty in any form. The closest the Treaty came to passage came in mid-November 1919 when Lodge and his Republicans formed a coalition with the pro-Treaty Democrats, and were close to a two-thirds majority for a Treaty with reservations, but Wilson rejected this compromise and enough Democrats followed his lead to permanently end the chances for ratification. Some historians suggest that Wilson's stroke on September 25, 1919, had so altered his personality that he was unable to effectively negotiate with Lodge. They say, the psychological effects of a stroke were profound: "Wilson's emotions were unbalanced, and his judgment was warped. Worse, his denial of illness and limitations was starting to border on delusion.
Wilson suffered from a bout of influenza early in 1919. The immediate cause of his incapacitation was the physical strain of the public speaking tour he undertook to obtain support for ratification of the Covenant of the League of Nations. In Pueblo, Colorado, on September 25, 1919, he collapsed.
Then, on October 2, 1919, he suffered a serious stroke that almost totally incapacitated him, leaving him paralyzed on his left side and blind in his left eye. He was confined to bed for weeks, sequestered from nearly everyone except his wife and his physician, Dr. Cary Grayson. For at least a few months, he used a wheelchair. Later, he could walk only with the assistance of a cane. His wife and his chief of staff helped a journalist, Louis Seibold, present a false account of an interview with the President.
With few exceptions, Wilson was kept out of the presence of Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, his cabinet, and Congressional visitors to the White House for the remainder of his term. His wife, Edith, served as his steward, selecting issues for his attention and delegating other issues to his cabinet heads. Eventually, Wilson resumed his attendance at cabinet meetings, but his input there was perfunctory at best. This was one of the most serious cases of presidential disability in American history and was later cited as an argument for the 25th Amendment. The full extent of his disability was kept from the public until after his death on February 3, 1924.
Wilson's administration did not plan for the process of demobilization at the war's end. Though some advisers tried to engage the President's attention to what they called "reconstruction", his tepid support for a federal commission evaporated with the election of 1918. Republican gains in the Senate meant that his opposition would have to consent to the appointment of commission members. Instead, Wilson favored the prompt dismantling of wartime boards and regulatory agencies.
Demobilization proved chaotic and violent. Four million soldiers were sent home with little planning, little money, and few benefits. A wartime bubble in prices of farmland burst, leaving many farmers bankrupt or deeply in debt after they purchased new land. Major strikes in steel, coal, and meatpacking followed in 1919. Serious race riots hit Chicago, Omaha, and two dozen other cities.
As the election of 1920 approached, Wilson imagined that a deadlocked Democratic convention might turn to him as the only candidate who would make U.S. participation in the League of Nations the dominant issue. He imagined and sometimes pretended he was healthy enough for the effort, but several times admitted that he knew he could not survive a campaign. No one around the President dared tell him that he was incapable and that the campaign for the League was already lost. At the Convention in late June 1920, some Wilson partisans made efforts on his behalf and sent Wilson hopeful reports, but they were quashed by Wilson's wiser friends.
The nation had fallen into a deep recession and after a contentious Republican Convention Warren Harding, the Senator from Ohio was the eventual nominee. The United States presidential election of 1920 was dominated by the aftermath of World War I and a hostile response to certain policies of Democratic president Woodrow Wilson, as well as the massive reaction against the reformist zeal of the Progressive Era. The wartime economic boom had collapsed. Politicians were arguing over peace treaties and the question of America's entry into the League of Nations, which was overturned due the return to isolationist opinion, a continuation of the nation's opinion since the early 1800s. Overseas, there were wars and revolutions. At home, 1919 was marked by major strikes in the meatpacking and steel industries, and large-scale race riots in Chicago and other cities. Terrorist attacks on Wall Street produced fears of radicals and terrorists. The Irish Catholic and German communities were outraged at Wilson's foreign policy, and his political position was critically weakened after he suffered a severe stroke in 1919 that rendered him unable to speak on his own behalf.
Former President Theodore Roosevelt had been the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, but his health collapsed in 1918. He died in January 1919, leaving no obvious heir to his Progressive legacy. Both major parties ultimately turned to dark horse candidates from the electoral-vote-rich state of Ohio. The Republicans nominated Senator Warren G. Harding, a former newspaper man; in turn, the Democrats chose newspaper publisher and Governor James M. Cox. To help his campaign, Cox chose future President Franklin D. Roosevelt (a fifth cousin of Theodore) as his running mate. Harding virtually ignored Cox and essentially campaigned against Wilson, calling for a “return to normalcy".
With an almost 4-to-1 spending advantage, Harding won a landslide victory. His 26.2 percentage-point victory (60.3% to 34.1%) remains the largest popular-vote percentage margin in presidential elections after the so-called "Era of Good Feelings" ended with the unopposed election of James Monroe in 1820. Harding's 60.3% of the popular vote was also the most since 1820, but has since been exceeded by Franklin Roosevelt in 1936, Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and Richard Nixon in 1972.
On March 4, President Harding assumed office while the nation was in the midst of a postwar economic decline, known as the Depression of 1920–21. By summer of his first year in office, an economic recovery began.
President Harding convened the Conference of Unemployment in 1921, headed by Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, that proactively advocated stimulating the economy with local public work projects and encouraged businesses to apply shared work programs.
Harding's Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, ordered a study that claimed to demonstrate that as income tax rates were increased, money was driven underground or abroad. Mellon concluded that lower rates would increase tax revenues. Based on this advice, Harding cut taxes, starting in 1922. The top marginal rate was reduced annually in four stages from 73% in 1921 to 25% in 1925. Taxes were cut for lower incomes starting in 1923.
Revenues to the treasury increased substantially. Unemployment also continued to fall. Libertarian historian Thomas Woods contends that the tax cuts ended the Depression of 1920–1921—even though economic growth had begun before the cuts—and were responsible for creating a decade-long expansion. Historians Schweikart and Allen attribute these changes to the tax cuts. Schweikart and Allen also argue that Harding's tax and economic policies in part produced the most vibrant eight year burst of manufacturing and innovation in the nation's history. The combined declines in unemployment and inflation (later known as the Misery Index) were among the sharpest in U.S. history. Wages, profits, and productivity all made substantial gains during the 1920s.
On August 2, 1923 President Harding died while in office and was succeeded by his Vice President Calvin Coolidge. The recovery began under Harding continued with growth unparalleled in our history and many of Wilson’s policies were turned back, but progressivism was still on the march and once again raised its ugly head in 1932 with the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt.