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Life of Woodrow Wilson
Josephus Daniels

Josephus Daniels was Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Navy thru both terms of his Presidency, and thus one of the people who knew him best. We might therefore expect a very good book.

If so, we will be disappointed. Leaving aside Daniels' poor, sometimes atrocious, style (possibly due to the speed with which the book may have been assembled or even partly ghost-written? in order to hit the market while it was hot) it suffers from one overriding flaw: it is too close to its subject.

First, the author is too close to Wilson. Close in acquaintance but also in philosophy — so that the book is a hagiography, not even shrinking from the most striking religious terminology (among a number of examples I might have given, on p24 we have Wilson characterized as the Prince of Peace in the minds of people who "would have touched the hem of his garments"). To hear Daniels tell it, Wilson could do no wrong, and his life was a perfect and seamless robe: but Truth, and even just plain reality, requires far more balance.

The book is also too close in time to the man whose life it tells, a shortcoming frankly acknowledged in the author's own preface, below. We are therefore told, for example, very little about what Wilson actually did as Governor of New Jersey; though the retreats at Sea Girt and Cornish are referred to here and there, we're not told anything about them; and, the most significant omission of all, we are never told who Col. House is, whose influence is barely alluded to in passing. In 1924, of course, none of this needed telling. More importantly, we cannot reasonably expect Secretary Daniels to detail the inner workings of the Wilson presidency when so much of what it dealt with was still firmly of current political import: and sure enough, he doesn't.

And yet, with all that, the personality and even something of the core motivations of an extraordinary man do emerge: partly in what we are told, but partly also in the devotion with which we are told it by an author who after all was a thoroughly hard-headed politician; and this is what makes the book worth reading.

A contemporary review of the work (and of another, apparently better, biography of Wilson that also appeared in 1924) is also onsite; it reaches much the same conclusion, though more kindly than I do:

Joseph Schafer in MVHR 11:414‑419

For technical details on how this site is laid out, see below, after the author's preface and my table of contents.

 p3  Preface

Upon the death of President Wilson on February 3, 1924, there was an immediate and widespread demand both in this country and abroad for an understanding "Life of Woodrow Wilson" which might be within the reach of the people while the grief at his passing was still poignant.

The perspective of time, with the full opportunity for careful examination of original papers and letters, must precede full portrayal and lasting appraisement of the life of the twenty-eighth President. In response to a desire for an early story of his life, with appreciation of his outstanding contribution to his country and the world, this volume has been undertaken as a labor of love. If it will help his countrymen to visualize the devotion of Woodrow Wilson to their weal and his consecration to human freedom, the writer will feel his purpose has not failed. It is hoped and believed that a reading of this Life will stimulate devotion to the principles and ideals for which he gave his life.

The author acknowledges obligations to friends and co‑workers of the late President, and to those writers whose tributes and studies of Wilson have been freely drawn upon and found invaluable.

[The signature of Josephus Daniels]


Chapter I. The Epic Figure of His Era

In selecting its leaders "Nature does not run after titles or seek by preference the high circles of society" — Wilson won in "race between Wilson and Hindenburg" — he brought home the covenant which to him was the hope of the world — won the gratitude of mankind


Chapter II. Inherited Traits

His Scotch-Irish ancestry — The emigrant from County Down — The New Home in Philadelphia — Literary and Religious Character of the Early Wilsons — Moved to Ohio — The Call of the South — His Father's Dominating Influence on his Life — Tribute to his Mother in her girlhood Home


Chapter III. Boyhood Days of Tommy Wilson

A Virginian by Birth — At School in Augusta, Georgia; Columbia, South Carolina; and Davidson College, North Carolina — Civil War Days — Life in the Carolinas — "Prep" School Days — Ball Player — The Boy was Father to the Man


Chapter IV. At Old Nassau

Received stimulus in study of politics and government — Excelled in debate — Editor Princetonian — "Knew exactly what he wanted" — Estimate of teacher and classmate — "A fund of humor inside" — Wouldn't speak in favor of protective tariff — A product of Old Nassau training — "No one ever disliked him"


Chapter V. Finding Himself

Studying law at the University of Virginia — Incidents and reminiscences — Started law as step to political career — there was incompatibility of temperament — Took his delight at Johns Hopkins — Married to Miss Ellen Axson — Beautiful home life — Death of Mrs. Wilson


Chapter VI. Educator and Lecturer

Began teaching politics in Bryn Mawr, a college for women — His heart's desire disclosed — Two years at Wesleyan — Returns to Princeton as professor and is chosen President — Popular, on the platform


Chapter VII. His Fight for Democracy in Education

"America will tolerate nothing except unpatronized endeavor" — Raising the standards of education — Broadening the curriculum — The preceptorial system — The controversy over student clubs — College must be reconstructed from top to bottom — The "Battle of Princeton"


Chapter VIII. Writer as Well as Maker of History

Man of letters to his finger tips — Made history fascinating and political science interesting — His father taught him to think in definitions — That training and wide reading responsible for his elegant style — Made history as President as he had written it as citizen


Chapter IX. Governor of New Jersey

Victory over the bosses — The schoolmaster in politics — Giving the politicians a new view of the administration of the people's affairs — No foe of the organization when it named best man — Cut down the jungles


Chapter X. The Baltimore Convention

Wilson owed his nomination to his progressive principles and to his approval of the fight to organize the convention by progressives — Bryan's magnificent leader­ship routed the reactionary forces and the bosses — Wilson would make no promises


Chapter XI. The Campaign of 1912

Wilson's directing hand at the start — Made few promises — Wilson and Marshall had popular records — No Democratic division — Roosevelt's vigorous and effective onslaught ons — "Thou shalt not steal" — Part taken by La Follette and Gompers — Wilson's big electoral majority


Chapter XII. President and the Presidency

"Let the people in" — A kindly thought for the people who wanted to hear the inaugural address — Looking forward to a "work of restoration" — "Not a day of triumph, but a day of dedication" — His conception of the office of chief magistrate — Added executive initiative to insistence that there be no infringement upon the rights of the executive


Chapter XIII. Cabinet Making and Breaking

Picking the Cabinet — "I am sweating blood over choices," he wrote — The Cabinet a place of common counsel — Team play under sound leader­ship — Bryan's resignation the first break — Why Bryan and Garrison resigned, and why Lansing was asked to retire


Chapter XIV. Tariff Reform, First Step

Tariff legislation and effect on politics — Did not make Cleveland's mistake — Drives out tariff lobby — Abolishes "every semblance of privilege" — Income tax introduced — Refuses to sanction gold brick for relief of farmers


Chapter XV. The Currency System

The Federal Reserve Act — "Banks to be made the instruments, not the masters of business and of individual enterprise and initiative" — The "interests" in opposition — Would not see money kings who had vainly fought him — Importance of the Federal Reserve System in the war — Rural credits — How Wilson converted Glass


Chapter XVI. The Wilson Policy in Mexico

"If I am strong, I am ashamed to bully the weak" — Taft had "no sympathy with exploitation" — Wilson refused to approve election by assassination — No recognition for Huerta — Vera Cruz landing followed by Huerta's flight — Policy of "watchful waiting" bore fruit in better situation in Mexico


Chapter XVII. Island Territories

Dewey's theory of capacity of Filipinos for self-government put in practice — Why Virgin Islands were acquired — Porto Rico and Hawaii helped — Haiti and San Domingo saved from European control — Dollar diplomacy ended — Closer relations with Latin America


Chapter XVIII. Redeeming the Pledges

Legislation fulfilling promises — Repeal of the Panama Canal tolls an early test of power — Clash between railroads and the brotherhoods — Antitrust legislation — "Crime is personal" — "The most adequate navy in the world"


Chapter XIX. Patronage and Merit System

Began by declining to see any applicant for office — Always asked: "Is he the best man for the place?" — Firm in support of civil service reform — Would have no coalition cabinet — Called prominent Republicans to important service


Chapter XX. Wilson as a Political Leader

Most successful politician of generation — Regarded himself as the chosen leader of the party — Jackson Day speech — Appeal for Democratic Congress — Had no machine and used no patronage — Humor in speeches


Chapter XXI. A Breaker of Precedents

Appearing in person to read messages to Congress — Harding and Coolidge followed Wilson's plan — First President to go overseas — No secret at Cabinet meetings — "A gentleman at his own fireside."


Chapter XXII. The Human Side of Wilson

"He is respected, but he walks alone" — "My constant embarrassment is to restrain the emotions inside of me" — Had a passion for the mass of mankind — Thirteen was his lucky number — When he got best of Pershing — Enjoyed story at own expense


Chapter XXIII. Neutrality

Nearly all America favored neutrality upon outbreak of European war — Roosevelt at first favored and later vigorously opposed policy — Diplomatic correspondence — armed guard on ships — Wilson consistent in demand "will omit no word or act" — The McLemore Resolution — "Little group of wilful men"


Chapter XXIV. Re-elected to the Presidency

Pauline Revere rode out of the West, bringing victory — The hyphen issue loomed large — Wilson scorned disloyal vote — "He kept us out of war" — Hughes indulged in petty criticisms — Threatened railroad strike averted


Chapter XXV. Accepting the Gage of Battle

President Wilson, in presence of distinguished gathering, asks Congress to declare war — Presented by Speaker Clark — A fighter without hate — "The world must be made safe for democracy" — "The right more precious than peace" — "God helping her, she can do no other"


Chapter XXVI. The World War

The driving power of the commander-in‑chief of the Army and Navy — "Force to the utmost" — "Do the thing most audacious to the utmost point of risk and daring" — Real comrade and shipmate to fighting men — Winning the war — Victory message to Congress


Chapter XXVII. Peaceful Penetration

Moral offensives undertaken — The Fourteen Points accepted — The armistice signed — Race between Wilson and Hindenburg — German opinion as to Wilson's demand — It meant unconditional surrender — Foch said the Armistice obtained the remedy for which the war was waged


Chapter XXVIII. The President in Europe

Unparalleled welcome everywhere — People's hopes hung on Wilson — From first to last his one thought was to secure League of Nations — European diplomats delayed conference — Accessible to representatives of small nations — Well supplied with advice — The battle royal and Wilson's victory on the main issues.


Chapter XXIX. A Vision of World Peace

When the League of Nations was born in the mind of Wilson — Approved the Bryan "talk-it-over" treaties with thirty-one nations — Sent House to Europe before Serbian killing to sound out heads of government — A pledge to American soldiers — "We live in our vision"


Chapter XXX. The Fight for the Covenant

First shot fired at Boston, heard around the world — Treaty and covenant one and inseparable — The round robin — Senate refused to help fix amount of reparations — The Propaganda of the bitter-enders — Lodge's reservations meant nullification of the treaty, not amending it


Chapter XXXI. An Appeal to Caesar

"The only people I owe any report to are you and other citizens" — Goes joyfully on speaking trip for the Covenant — It takes him to the Pacific coast — Article X — Shantung — Entangling alliances — Prophecy of entry "into pastures of quietness and peace"


Chapter XXXII. Broken at the Wheel

The great casualty of war returns to Washington, which he was never to leave again — Happy in the affection and comrade­ship of his devoted wife — His marriage to Mrs. Edith Bolling Galt, of Virginia, crowned his life with happiness — The beautiful friendship between Wilson and Dr. Grayson — The physician's tribute


Chapter XXXIII. The Invalid President

An intimate picture of his closing years as told by old schoolmate — "The road away from revolution" his last article — Honoring the Unknown Soldier — At President Harding's funeral — Message on Armistice Day broadcasted — His last reception — The better way


Chapter XXXIV. The End of the Road

"The old machine has broken down" — "You've done your best for me" — "But it is better that I should die than live on, a helpless invalid" — "Tell Mrs. Wilson I want her" — "I am ready"


Chapter XXXV. Spiritual Satisfaction

To the Christian man "old age brings higher hope and serene maturity" — The quest of life is "satisfaction" — Found in spiritual air — "Rather he was Ruling Elder than President," said his father


Chapter XXXVI. "The Way of Peace"

Impressive and touching simplicity mark the funeral services at the home and at the cathedral — Comrades of the world War bore his body — The vacant chair before the fireplace — Prayer that the high vision of a world at peace might be realized



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Technical Details

Edition Used

The edition transcribed here is the Greenwood Press reprint, 1971. The original book was copyright 1924 — but the publishers failed to renew their copyright in the appropriate year, which would have been 1951 or 1952, so the text has fallen into the public domain (details here on the copyright law involved).


As almost always, I retyped the text by hand rather than scanning it — not only to minimize errors prior to proofreading, but as an opportunity for me to become intimately familiar with the work, an exercise which I heartily recommend: Qui scribit, bis legit. (Well-meaning attempts to get me to scan text, if success­ful, would merely turn me into some kind of machine: gambit declined.)

This transcription has been minutely proofread. In the table of contents above, the sections are shown on blue backgrounds, indicating that I believe the text of them to be completely errorfree. As elsewhere onsite, the header bar at the top of each chapter's webpage will remind you with the same color scheme.

The edition I followed was very well proofread, with very few typographical errors. I marked the few corrections, when important (or unavoidable because inside a link), with a bullet like this;º and when trivial, with a dotted underscore like this: as elsewhere on my site, glide your cursor over the bullet or the underscored words to read the variant. Similarly, bullets before measurements provide conversions to metric, e.g., 10 miles.

A small number of odd spellings, curious turns of phrase, etc. have been marked <!‑‑ sic  in the sourcecode, just to confirm that they were checked.

Any over­looked mistakes, please drop me a line, of course: especially if you have a copy of the printed book in front of you.

Pagination and Local Links

For citation and indexing purposes, the pagination is shown in the right margin of the text at the page turns (as in the author's Preface above); these are also local anchors. Sticklers for total accuracy will of course find the anchor at its exact place in the sourcecode.

In addition, I've inserted a number of other local anchors: whatever links might be required to accommodate the author's own cross-references, as well as a few others for my own purposes. If in turn you have a website and would like to target a link to some specific passage of the text, please let me know: I'll be glad to insert a local anchor there as well.

The icon I use to indicate this subsite is the photograph — facing p139 of the book — of President Wilson, left, with the author, his Secretary of the Navy; it is tinted to match, more or less, the U. S. Army uniform in World War I.

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Site updated: 17 Aug 08