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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Life of Woodrow Wilson

Josephus Daniels

in the
Greenwood Press edition,
New York, 1971

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 1
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p13  Introduction

"I am ready."

These were the last words of Woodrow Wilson. They are what might have been expected of the man whose inflexible purpose in life was readiness. His philosophy was preparedness. He spared himself no toil, no sacrifice of comfort, no affection, nothing that diverted him from the task which he set for himself. From early youth he always prescribed hurdles that called forth full absorption of all his powers. In his boyhood home, his scholar­ly and critical father, known for his precision in the employment of words, gave him the example of thoroughness and accuracy. Like one of his gifted predecessors, his youthful mind was bent on solving hard problems. "Give me a stent," said John Quincy Adams, the only American to come to the Presidency by inheritance, or by the peculiar training his father's high station privileged him to enjoy. Father and son of the Wilsons were alike in their zeal to find the right word as the vehicle for their thought. "Tommy" Wilson's style, which enabled him later to voice American idealism in such manner as to constitute him the spokesman of a new day in the world, was the finished product of the preparation in the home of his preacher-father. It was a sin to the Presbyterian preacher to be guilty of the loose use of words, as of lapses in manners and morals. The son was early required to avoid every useless word and to go to the dictionary for the real meaning of every term employed. The result? It is seen in his writings and his speeches, those of his maturer years being so perfect it  p14 might be said of his sentences that they are vascular and alive and would bleed if a word should be cut out of them.

Mr. Wilson's mind was richly stored and disciplined to almost perfect precision. He gave the mental machinery one single groove in which to move. The study of government was his passion as boy, as man, as College President, and as Chief Executive of the Republic. All other knowledge and learning were accounted as handmaidens to the — "this one thing I do." His "single track mind" was never deflected to long consideration of any question that did not head up in however government should be best administered and made to advance the common weal.

Perhaps his mind, already training to a career that proved to be a preparation for the Presidency, received its commanding direction from a volume, "Men and Manner in Parliament," that fell into his hands at Princeton. It dealt with brilliant parliamentary leaders — Gladstone, Disraeli, Cobden, John Bright and Harcourt, — and the author clothed their careers with a charm which won the admiration and quickened the enthusiasm of the young student. "No single circumstance did more to shape my studies than this volume which came to me when decision for life work was in the making," Mr. Wilson once said. The story of the burgeoning British Government, "broadening down from precedent to precedent," and flowering into its noblest leader­ship in John Bright and Richard Cobden, captured the imagination of young Wilson and he became an authority of English parliamentary practice.

"I am ready."

During the twenty-five years Wilson was a teacher his classes found he came to them with full preparation.  p15 He had not only mastered the only subject he ever essayed to teach, Government, with its corollaries of history and economics, but he clothed upon them life and interest. He always imparted vivacity and reality to his lectures. The science of government in his hands was no abstract subject. It was not remote. It was like the "thou art the man" of the prophet. History was no siccant repetition of dates and rulers. He made it glow with the hopes and aspirations of peoples. Economics in his hands made pupils see the true relations of life. Every student felt a master was giving the result of studies, but there was no smell of the lamp. Always his class-rooms were crowded and students stimulated.

"I am ready."

When Congress assembled in extraordinary session in the Spring of 1913 to revise and reduce the tariff, Wilson was prepared to outline the way a tariff bill should be drawn. Addressing the body he said: "We must abolish everything that bears even the semblance of privilege or of any kind of artificial advantage, and put our business men and producers under the stimulation of a constant necessity to be efficient, economical, and enterprising, masters of competitive supremacy, better workers, and merchants than any in the world" and he urged the necessity of lightening the burden of the people as soon as possible. He added: "Only new principles of action will save us from a final hard crystallization of monopoly and a complete loss of the influences that quicken enterprise and keep independent energy alive." He was not only ready with the plan for tariff revision. He was prepared to fight for it. When lobbies of miners and sappers poured into Washington, endeavoring to secure tariff schedules of favoritism, by  p16 a dramatic move he sent the fear of God into the harpies infesting the capital. As a result they hurried out of Washington, not standing upon the order of their going. His readiness to propose other reforms and to go to the mat for them enabled him to secure the passage of every measure he proposed to Congress until he was stricken. That is a record without parallel.

"I am ready."

Hurrying nothing, Wilson was prepared with "force to the utmost" when he led America into the world War. His swing around the circle in 1916 made sentiment for preparation for war and secured legislative approval of the largest naval program ever authorized in one measure by any nation. He made plans for the selective draft which only his super-leadership carried through Congress. He composed a delicate situation in Mexico so his country should have its house in order to prosecute the World War. His war state papers were the inspiration of the country. He kept pace with army and navy preparations, preached "audacity," pressed unity of command abroad, and was the heart of American mobilization and American contribution to victory.

"I am ready."

The war ended, while others hoped and drifted, he promptly sailed for Paris with the concrete ideal which finally emerged triumphant — an ideal for which he gave his health, to which as an invalid he clung with undying faith, and for which he became the great casualty of the World War. It is the ideal of Bethlehem and the angels and the star in the East. The story of Paris is the story of the one man who never faltered in faith that mankind could be lifted from sodden war into honorable peace, who never compromised his principles, never lowered  p17 his lance, never believed that the vision he had seen of world peace would fade:

Never doubted clouds would break,

Never dreamed, though right were worsted, wrong would triumph,

Held we fall to rise, are baffled to fight better,

Sleep to wake.

"I am ready."

The "broken machine," the body wounded in battle, when it could no longer hold the unconquerable spirit, surrendered the immortal soul. Wilson never knew defeat, for defeat never comes to any man until he admits it. Not long before the close of his life Woodrow Wilson said to a friend: "Do not trouble about the things we have fought for. They are sure to prevail. They are only delayed." With the quaintness which gave charm to his sayings he added: "And I will make this concession to Providence — it may come in a better way than we proposed."

The Unknown Soldier lies in Arlington with the heroic dead of all wars in which America has taken part. Sharing with him the national gratitude is the Known Soldier, the President who called him to arms and gave his life as truly for the Cause as if he had fallen on the battlefield.

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