2019-02-08 / On Second Thought

Get to know Woodrow Wilson right here in Columbia this President’s Day

By Leslie Yarborough, Curatorial Assistant at Historic Columbia


The Council of Four(l-r): David Lloyd George (United Kingdom), Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (Italy), Georges Clemenceau (France), and Woodrow Wilson in Versailles. Photograph by Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps). The Council of Four(l-r): David Lloyd George (United Kingdom), Vittorio Emanuele Orlando (Italy), Georges Clemenceau (France), and Woodrow Wilson in Versailles. Photograph by Edward N. Jackson (US Army Signal Corps). Woodrow Wilson served as President of the United States from March 1913 – March 1921. Wilson advocated for peace from early in his presidency. Shortly after his inauguration, Wilson spoke in Mobile about treating “our sister republics” in Latin and South America with equality and working to create friendship between our nations. He believed the States should support the interests of Latin American countries regardless of whether they aligned with U.S. interests in the region.

The bulk of his Presidency coincided with the Great War in Europe, which began in 1914 and ended on November 11, 1918. Although Wilson tried to keep America neutral, believing the war was caused by European nationalism and ethnic hatreds, the United States entered the War in 1917. After the end of the War, Wilson spent the remainder of his life working toward an international peace. He wanted to put a permanent end to what he called the “unspeakable horror of War.”

One hundred years ago, President Wilson traveled to Europe—the first sitting president to do so— and took part in the Paris Peace Conference. He proposed “Fourteen Points” to ensure a global peace. In addition to calling for equal global trade and dismantling of colonial claims, Wilson proposed a league of nations, open to all democratic States, which would settle international disputes so they did not escalate into war. In the end, Wilson was disappointed with the Treaty of Versailles because he believed harsh sanctions against Germany would not maintain an international peace and end to all wars. Unfortunately, history would prove him correct.

Although Wilson’s presidency is known in part today for his regressive policies, including resistance to women’s suffrage and the segregation of federal employees, he dedicated the final years of his life to creating global peace and ensuring the War to End All Wars was truly the end of war. Wilassured son received the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in creating the League of Nations, which the Nobel committee saw as a design for incorporating humanity into international politics.

This President’s Day it is important to remember while much has changed over the past century, after witnessing the devastation of World War I President Wilson’s conviction that humanity should strive for global peace remains pertinent today. Learn more about this significant U.S. figure on President’s Day, Feb. 18, by touring the Woodrow Wilson Family Home, South Carolina’s only Presidential site. Visit historiccolumbia.org to learn more.

“…mankind has not yet been rid of the unspeakable horror of war. I am convinced that our generation has, despite its wounds, made notable progress. But it… will be a continuing labor. In the indefinite course of [the] years before us there will be abundant opportunity for others to distinguish themselves in the crusade against hate and fear and war.” —Woodrow Wilson, Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

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