Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
Posts tagged "Woodrow Wilson"

On August 27, 1858, Daniel Marshall brought his young son, Tommy, into Freeport, Illinois, near the Wisconsin border, where nearly 15,000 people had gathered in a downtown square for the second of seven debates between Senator Stephen A. Douglas and his Republican challenger Abraham Lincoln.  Marshall was a solid Democrat who had moved his family to Illinois from Indiana a year earlier and supported the incumbent Senator Douglas.

In Freeport, under the debating rules set by the candidates, Lincoln spoke first for 60 minutes, Douglas spoke next for 90 minutes, and Lincoln finished with a 30-minute-long rebuttal.  The population of Freeport tripled on the day of the debate and the proceedings took place in unseasonably cool, cloudy weather for late-August.

As Lincoln and Douglas engaged in perhaps the most newsworthy debate of their historic series, 4-year-old Tommy Marshall found himself the best seat in the house.  While Lincoln spoke, Tommy sat in the lap of Stephen A. Douglas.  When Senator Douglas responded, Tommy sat in the lap of Abraham Lincoln.

Decades later, after little Tommy Marshall had grown into Thomas Riley Marshall and became Vice President of the United States under Woodrow Wilson, sitting in the laps of history at the second Lincoln/Douglas debate remained one of his fondest memories.

38th Vice President of the United States (1913-1921)

Full Name: Thomas Riley Marshall
Born: March 14, 1854, North Manchester, Wabash County, Indiana
Religion: Presbyterian
College: Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana
Career Before the Vice Presidency: Lawyer, Columbia City, Indiana (1875-1909); Unsuccessful Democratic candidate for Prosecuting Attorney of Whitley County, Indiana (1880); 27th Governor of Indiana (January 11, 1909-January 13, 1913)
Political Party as Vice President: Democratic
State Represented as Vice President: Indiana
Term as Vice President: March 4, 1913-March 4, 1921
Length of Vice Presidency: 8 years, 0 days
Age at Inauguration: 58 years, 355 days
Served: President Wilson (1st term and 2nd term)/32nd Administration (1913-1917) and 33rd Administration (1917-1921)/63rd Congress (1913-1915), 64th Congress (1915-1917), 65th Congress (1917-1919), and 66th Congress (1919-1921)
Post-Vice Presidential Career: Lawyer, Indianapolis, Indiana (1921-1925); Author (1921-1925); Appointed by President Harding to serve as a member of the Lincoln Memorial Commission (1921), Appointed by President Harding to serve as a member of the Federal Coal Commission (1922-1923)
Died: June 1, 1925, Washington, D.C.
Age at Death: 71 years, 79 days
Cause of Death: Heart attack
Buried: Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana

Random Facts About Vice President Marshall:
•On August 27, 1858, 4-year-old Thomas Riley Marshall accompanied his father, Daniel, to Freeport, Illinois, where Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas were engaging in the second of seven debates which would go down in history as the epic “Lincoln-Douglas Debates”. Little “Tommy” was too young to understand what was going on, but he had the best seat in the house. When Lincoln spoke, Tommy Marshall sat on the lap of Senator Douglas. When Douglas spoke, Marshall sat on the lap of Abraham Lincoln.
•While Marshall attended college, he wrote an article for the school newspaper about a visiting female speaker who gave a lecture on campus at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. The woman felt Marshall had crossed the line and sued the future Vice President for libel in 1872. Each side lawyered up with notable legal representation. The plaintiff hired Lew Wallace, who was a Union General during the Civil War, later became Governor of the New Mexico Territory, and is best-known today as the author of Ben-Hur. Marshall found himself a lawyer in Indianapolis that was also a former Union General during the Civil War and who would later surpass even Wallace’s political accomplishments. Marshall’s lawyer was able to make it clear to the plaintiff that Marshall’s comments might have been in poor taste, but they were likely true, and the case was dropped. Marshall’s attorney was future President Benjamin Harrison.
•After beginning his own law career, Marshall fell in love with a young woman named Kate Hooper, but she died shortly after they were engaged to be married. Marshall was devastated by her death and began drinking heavily. Alcoholism took a toll on Marshall’s health, career, and reputation until he finally married Lois Kimsey in 1895. Lois helped Marshall quit drinking, which gave him the focus to begin his political career. He didn’t win his first political election until he was 54 years old.

•In 1909, Marshall — as Governor of Indiana — installed the final brick to complete the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the site of the Indianapolis 500.
•Marshall was not Woodrow Wilson’s first choice as his Vice President in 1912. In fact, Marshall wasn’t Wilson’s choice as a running mate at all. Wilson had wanted the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Oscar Underwood of Alabama, to join him on the ticket, but Underwood declined the offer. The delegates of the Democratic National Convention decided upon Marshall, and Wilson was not pleased with the choice. He thought Marshall was a “small-calibre man”.
•Despite his original doubts, Wilson stuck with Marshall in 1916 when many of the President’s closest aides suggested dumping the VP in favor of another running mate. With their victory that year, Marshall became the first Vice President since John C. Calhoun in 1828 to be re-elected to another term.
•Thomas Riley Marshall is largely remembered because of his many humorous quotes poking fun at the insignificance of the Vice Presidency. When he was nominated as VP, Marshall pointed out that it made sense since he was a native of Indiana, “the mother of Vice Presidents, the home of more second-class men than any other state.” A favorite Marshall story was one about a man who had two sons: “One went away to sea…the other was elected Vice President…he never heard from either one afterward.”
•Other popular Marshall quotes:
-"I don’t want to work [after retiring], but I wouldn’t mind being Vice President again."
-"If you look on me as a wild animal, be kind enough to throw peanuts at me." (To a group touring the Capitol)
-"What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar."
•Despite Marshall’s humor and frivolity, there was a serious Constitutional crisis near the end of Woodrow Wilson’s Presidency. Wilson suffered a massive stroke in 1919 that virtually incapacitated him and kept him from fully discharging the duties of his office. For the last 18 months of of Wilson’s Presidency, Wilson’s wife and a handful of close aides carefully managed the Administration, keeping the truth about Wilson’s health hidden. Today, a President in Wilson’s condition would almost certainly need to hand the office over to the officer next in the line of succession, either temporarily or permanently. But the 25th Amendment did not exist during Wilson’s time, and a group of Wilson confidants conspired to keep the truth from the rest of Wilson’s Administration, including Vice President Marshall. Marshall didn’t push to find out the extent of Wilson’s illness; if he had, Wilson likely would have been forced to resign and Marshall would have become President. Most of the people close to President Wilson believed it would be disastrous to pass the reigns of government on to Vice President Marshall. But considering the track record of the Wilson Administration at the end of his Presidency, many historians believe that “President Marshall” could have helped get the Treaty of Versailles ratified and shepherd the United States into joining the League of Nations.

I was looking through the Internet Archive's copy of Henry L. Stoddard's "As I Knew Them" and came on an odd passage concerning Theodore Roosevelt. Stoddard reports that Roosevelt had no desire to succeed Taft in 1911. Is Stoddard wrong, or did TR have a change of heart?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Stoddard was very, very close to Theodore Roosevelt. People today frequently talk about how certain media members are too cozy with certain political officials or way too easy on them. Well, Henry L. Stoddard was basically TR’s mouthpiece after leaving office. If TR wanted a message sent or a story written, Stoddard was the vessel through which that message traveled. Stoddard published As I Knew Them during the Coolidge Administration (around 1926 or 1927, I think), and with Roosevelt dead, Stoddard didn’t hesitate to take it upon himself to try to shape TR’s legacy and make it look like Roosevelt was drafted into the 1912 Presidential campaign, or that TR had to be dragged kicking-and-screaming into a fight for the Republican nomination in 1912 against President Taft.

If that was true, Theodore Roosevelt would have happily went home to Sagamore Hill when his challenge of Taft at the 1912 Republican National Convention failed, and supported his party’s candidate for the re-election as President — the incumbent President that TR had hand-picked to succeed him. Instead, when Taft walked out of the 1912 Republican National Convention with the GOP nomination, Roosevelt and many high-level Progressive Republicans (including Henry L. Stoddard) bolted from the party and formed their Progressive/Bull Moose Party and ran for President anyway, ensuring a split in the traditional Republican vote and virtually guaranteeing the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson, a victory.

Theodore Roosevelt regretted his pledge that he would not seek re-election in 1908 as soon as he made that declaration in 1904. He felt strongly that he couldn’t go back on his word about 1908 and he positioned Taft to succeed him, but he hovered over the Taft Presidency like a vulture for most of Taft’s term. After Taft was inaugurated, TR went on an African safari, so the fact that he was out of the country gave President Taft some breathing room, but once TR returned, he set his eyes on the Presidency again for the 1912 election. Roosevelt probably had his eyes on the 1912 election since 1904 and he probably should have just gone back on his 1904 pledge because he really hurt Taft and the Republican Party with what happened in 1912. Taft wasn’t a great President, but he deserved better, especially since he had always remained so loyal to Roosevelt and turned down several appointments to his dream job — the Supreme Court — to follow through on positions that Roosevelt had appointed him to within his Administration. And despite the fact that Taft deserved better, the biggest disappointment is that Roosevelt probably would have been re-elected in 1908 and again in 1912 and probably as long as he wanted to run, and he certainly would have done a better job than Taft and Wilson from 1909-1921.


28th President of the United States (1913-1921)

Full Name: Thomas Woodrow Wilson
Born: December 29, 1856, Staunton, Virginia
Political Party: Democratic
State Represented: New Jersey
Term: March 4, 1913-March 4, 1921
Age at Inauguration: 56 years, 65 days
Administration: 32nd and 33rd
Congresses: 63rd, 64th, 65th, and 66th
Vice President: Thomas Riley Marshall (1913-1921)
Died: February 3, 1924, 2340 S Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Buried: Washington National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.

2012 Dead Presidents Ranking: 20 of 43 [↔]

I often feel like I’m fighting a losing battle at pointing out how overrated Woodrow Wilson is, but I’m a warrior for what I believe and this will always be a hill that I’m willing to die on.  With comparisons that some historians, including myself, are making with Wilson’s version of “idealism” and George W. Bush’s version of “idealism”, I feel like we’re making some ground at showing who Woodrow Wilson was and how maybe his worldview wasn’t nearly as progressive or as perfect as many used to believe.  I think it’s important for people to realize the type of leader he was — stubborn, paranoid, uncompromising, and, in the last 18 months of his Presidency, a crippled, gravely-ill, mentally-handicapped man who clung to the Presidency with the help of his wife, a few doctors, and several aides.  Is that a good President?  I don’t think so. It’s also worth noting that Wilson campaigned for reelection by promising to keep Americans out of the first World War, nearly lost the 1916 election to Charles Evans Hughes anyway, and declared war on Germany less than a month after his second inauguration. On top of that, when the United States finally entered the war, it took far longer to get our troops ready and into the action than it would have had Wilson listened to advice from all over to at least have our military ready as a contingency plan since, you know, most of the rest of the world — including our closest allies — was in the midst of the biggest, bloodiest, and most brutal war in human history. Instead of hitting the ground running and bringing relief to our allies who had been staggering through the stalemate of trench warfare, most of our military was barely even trained, hit the ground crawling instead of running, and did bring an infusion of fresh troops into the war, but could have done so much earlier if President Wilson had at least increased the readiness of our military even as he attempted to protect American neutrality. The delays probably cost hundreds of thousands more lives in the war than would have been lost had the United States been prepared, as it clearly needed to be but wasn’t until 1917 — delays that led Theodore Roosevelt to call Wilson, among other things, “shameful”, “contemptible”,”ignoble”, and “the very worst man we have ever had in his position” , as well as flat-out calling Wilson a “coward”. And, of course, once the war ended, Wilson personally went to Europe to claim his share of the glory from winning the war and be seen as the man who shaped the peace. That “peace” — in the form of the Treaty of Versailles — ended up being so harsh towards Germany that their humiliated population followed Hitler into darkness a decade later and resulted in an even worse world war, not to mention the fact that the Japanese delegations in Versailles were treated so dismissively that they also began planning their next moves. If that wasn’t bad enough, when Wilson returned to the United States and demanded that the Senate ratify the Treaty of Versailles and allow the United States to join the League of Nations, he was so inflexible and unreasonable (as he was in France when he personally negotiated the treaty without allowing input from those Americans who would actually be ratifying it), his obstinance finally went too far. The Senate refused to ratify the treaty, denied American participation in the League of Nations, and gave the President who had earned a doctorate while writing a book on Congressional government a harsh lesson on the balance of power in the United States. I have an endless amount of respect for fellow Presidential historians, but I cannot understand why so many scholars consider Wilson one of the better Presidents in American history. I have him ranked 20th of 43 and even that feels wrong. I don’t think he was a good politician, I don’t think he was a good executive, I don’t think he was a good Commander-in-Chief, I don’t think he was a good man, and I don’t think Woodrow Wilson was good for this country or this world, and I think that was proven by the aftermath of World War I and the build-up to World War II.

1948: Schlesinger Sr./Life Magazine:  4 of 29
1962: Schlesinger Sr./New York Times Magazine:  4 of 31
1982: Neal/Chicago Tribune Magazine:  7 of 38
1990: Siena Institute:  6 of 40
1996: Schlesinger Jr./New York Times Magazine:  7 of 39
2000: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  6 of 41
2000: C-SPAN Public Opinion Poll:  13 of 41
2005: Wall Street Journal/Presidential Leadership:  11 of 40
2009: C-SPAN Survey of Historians:  9 of 42
2010: Siena Institute:  8 of 43
2011: University of London’s U.S. Presidency Centre:  6 of 40

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Were McKinley, Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, and Truman in the KKK?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

None of those Presidents were actively involved with the Ku Klux Klan and the only one who could even be vaguely connected with the Klan is Truman.  I know that there are allegations, but I don’t know where those who claim that these Presidents were in the KKK found their information. Most of the claims don’t even make a sliver of sense and some of the people specifically known to have made the KKK allegations had such questionable credibility that they shouldn’t have been believed if they had claimed that water was wet.

I can actually understand why Woodrow Wilson and Harry Truman might be linked with the KKK — both men were white supremacists.  Truman wasn’t as racist as Wilson, but he wasn’t exactly a paragon of progressive racial viewpoints.  Some of Truman’s early letters to his wife, Bess, are shockingly insensitive and downright racist.  Yet, he also desegregated the armed forces, was close friends and business partners when he was younger with a Jew, recognized the creation of the State of Israel, and is remembered well by Liberals.  Maybe Truman’s views on race evolved as he got older, maybe he didn’t let his personal racism affect his professional work — I don’t know.  But Truman undoubtedly was a white supremacist. So was Wilson, who also happened to be one of the most vicious racists to ever serve in the White House, possibly surpassed only by Andrew Johnson.  However, Wilson’s vehement racism didn’t automatically make him a member of the KKK, and there is no evidence that he was ever involved with them. 

McKinley, Harding, and Coolidge don’t belong in the same conversation as Wilson and Truman when it comes to racism or white supremacy, and they certainly weren’t members of the KKK.  Harding was actually the first President in American history to call for anti-lynching laws and was one of the more progressive Presidents between Lincoln and LBJ when it came to civil rights.  McKinley, Harding, and Coolidge were all northerners and while that didn’t guarantee enlightened racial beliefs, neither of those three Presidents had a reputation of ignorance or opposition to civil rights.

So, that brings us back to Harry Truman, the one President who can be somewhat linked by evidence to the Ku Klux Klan.  In the 1920s, Tom Pendergast, the powerful boss of the Kansas City political machine, encouraged Truman to run for his first political position — judge of Jackson County, Missouri.  Although the title was “judge”, it wasn’t a judicial position; instead, it was an administrative job, similar to a county executive or city manager.  Since the KKK was a powerful political interest group in that area of Missouri, Truman was encouraged to join the Klan to win their support (or at least avoid their opposition).  Truman wasn’t wild about the idea, but he most likely paid a membership fee. There are differing opinions on how involved Truman was with the KKK, but he probably did nothing more than pay the $10 membership fee. There isn’t any credible evidence to indicate that Truman was inducted into the Klan or ever active.  In fact, it’s likely that he quickly realized that he had made a major mistake.  Truman’s political patron, Tom Pendergast, was a Catholic and, as mentioned earlier, Truman’s close friend and former business partner, Eddie Jacobson, was Jewish. Jacobson and Truman not only opened and operated a haberdashery in Kansas City together, but they served together in the military. Truman may not have had progressive racial views, but he was unfailingly loyal to his friends and the KKK was just as anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic as it was racist.  That, more than anything, probably resulted in Truman quickly distancing himself from the Klan.  

Later in life, Truman would claim that he demanded his $10 membership fee back and that he went to a Klan meeting to confront the KKK after they threatened to kill him. That’s almost certainly not true.  It’s also likely not true that Truman wasn’t aware of the extent of the Klan’s activities.  Perhaps he didn’t realize the KKK’s strict intolerance of anyone who wasn’t Protestant, but Truman had lived in Missouri all of his life and couldn’t possibly have been ignorant about what the Klan represented.  It can’t even be blamed on youth because Truman was 40 years old at the time that he supposedly submitted his $10 membership fee.  No matter how one looks at it, it’s a stain on Truman’s life and legacy, even with the positive accomplishments of his Presidency.

The honest, simple-hearted soldier had not added prestige to the Presidential office. He himself knew that he had failed…that he ought never to have been made President. He combined great gifts with great mediocrity.
Woodrow Wilson, on Ulysses S. Grant, 1902.
Asker Anonymous Asks:
Should Wilson have resigned after suffering from his stroke?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

Yes.  If that happened today, the 25th Amendment would have been invoked and the President would have been declared incapacitated.  Unfortunately, we were still about 7 amendments away from the 25th being ratified at the time of Wilson’s major stroke.

I do not think we have ever had an Administration which I more cordially despised than I do this Wilson/Bryan/Daniels combine.
Theodore Roosevelt, on his distaste for President Woodrow Wilson, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan, and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, November 1914
When I was President, it was said of me that I spoke softly and carried a big stick. It can be said of Wilson that he speaks bombastically and wields a dish rag.
Theodore Roosevelt, on Woodrow Wilson

Five Presidents have married the daughters of ministers.

The wife of John Adams, Abigail, was John’s third cousin and the daughter of Reverend William Smith, a Congregational minister in Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Millard Fillmore married another Abigail — Abigail Powers — in 1826.  Millard’s Abigail was the daughter of a Baptist minister from Moravia, New York.

Fillmore’s immediate successor, Franklin Pierce, was married to Jane Means Appleton, whose father was a Congregational minister in New England, much like Abigail Adams’s father.

Benjamin Harrison and Woodrow Wilson also married the daughters of preachers and in both cases, they were the daughters of Presbyterian ministers.  Harrison’s first wife, Caroline Lavinia Scott, was the daughter of an influential and well-educated minister who introduced his daughter to the future President when Harrison was a student at the college he taught at.  The Harrison wedding was even officiated by Reverend Scott.

Marrying the daughter of a Presbyterian minister wasn’t tough for Woodrow Wilson.  He himself was the child of a minister of that faith and his marriage to Ellen Louise Axson in 1885 was performed by Wilson’s father and Ellen’s grandfather (another Presbyterian minister!) due to her father’s failing health.

In reference to the earlier least favorite question, why Woodrow Wilson? That really stuck out as something I've never read before.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:
A lot of people are surprised, confused, and/or downright in complete disagreement when it comes to my harsh opinions about Woodrow Wilson. Many historians that I have a tremendous amount of respect for rank Wilson as one of the greatest Presidents in American History. I disagree. In fact, I strongly disagree. I think he is vastly overrated (I had him ranked #20 when I did my Presidential Rankings in 2012), a narrow-minded racist, a religious fanatic, and a terribly obstinate, stubborn politician who had no instinct (or respect) for what would or would not work with Congress, and who jumped into World War I too late and took too long to get the American military prepared once it became clear that we would be heading into the war.

Plus, as I wrote in my ranking of Wilson in 2012:

"I think it’s important for people to realize the type of leader he was — stubborn, paranoid, uncompromising, and, in the last 18 months of his Presidency, a crippled, gravely-ill, mentally-handicapped man who clinged to the Presidency with the help of his wife, a few doctors, and several aides. Is that a good President? I don’t think so."

In an answer to another reader’s question a while back, I expanded on my thoughts about Wilson (and included some previous things that I have written about him — opinions that I still strongly support):

"Woodrow Wilson was a lot of things, but he certainly wasn’t a good man.  I disagree with your teacher regarding the First World War not concerning the United States.  We played an important role in the war and it really expanded and solidified the U.S.’s position as a superpower.  One of the problems with Wilson (and it’s just one of MANY problems with Wilson) is that he probably waited too long to get the U.S. involved in the war.  Wilson probably should have gotten the American military ready much sooner.

I definitely agree with your teacher that Wilson’s intentions were not exactly pure.  To get deeper into the subject, I’ll just copy and paste some past comments I’ve made about Wilson and his “idealism”, which was largely an effort to remake the world in the manner that he genuinely thought God put him on Earth and in the Presidency to see fit.  I’ve written before that Wilson’s idealism is similar to George W. Bush’s:

I can’t speak for you, but there are many reasons I dislike Wilson.  First of all, he was a virulent racist and vicious about it.  Some Presidents had antiquated racial views, but Wilson just flat-out didn’t like people who weren’t white Christians.  So, as a person, Wilson was garbage. 

Then, politically, his “idealism” was no different than George W. Bush’s idealism.  In fact, I’ve said it many times before: I think that Wilson and Bush were VERY similar Presidents.  Here are two past things that I’ve written about my dislike for Wilson:

Woodrow Wilson governed in the same manner as George W. Bush.  Wilson’s beliefs were so intractable that not only was he convinced that he was always correct, but he was determined to prove that anyone who didn’t agree with him was worse than wrong.  Wilson felt that all of his opponents were enemies who stood on the wrong side of history, providence, and national survival.  Throughout his life and career, Woodrow Wilson believed that God ordained his success, placed him in a position of power, and intended for Wilson to zealously and tirelessly pursue his policies, ignore his supporters and colleagues, and stubbornly force his views on everyone else. 

and, this, from when I was asked if Wilson would have approved of the Iraq War:

Woodrow Wilson is partly responsible for the Iraq War.

George W. Bush’s belief that it is America’s role to spread democracy and fight tyranny around the world is rooted in Wilsonian thinking.  Bush was emulating Wilson.  He felt that Iraq was a place where democracy could take hold if Saddam Hussein were out of the picture.  Bush would argue that the Iraq War was not imperialistic, and I believe Woodrow Wilson would support that viewpoint.

Wilsonian idealism consisted of many things, but one of the main points was this belief that what is good for us in the United States is just as good for the rest of the world.  Wilson felt that we basically knew what was best for everyone else and if you’re looking for someone who mirrored that thinking, you’d find him in President Bush. 

Bush and Wilson came from different places and different parties and their wars were waged for different reasons.  Our entry into World War I was for a very good reason while the Iraq War was despicable.  The goal of both Wilson and Bush, however, was to export American-style democracy — either to ensure peace or to create a system where American leadership and military might was required to sustain a growing capitalist society. 

I could get a lot of heat for comparing Wilson and Bush, but people need to dig deeper and really understand that they thought the same way, they acted the same way, and they were both stubborn Presidents who wanted things done a certain way (THEIR way) or else they were fine with seeing everything crumble. 

Wilson wouldn’t frown because the Iraq War was imperialistic.  He would have frowned because he didn’t think of it before Bush did.”

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Who do you think was the mot racist president (for his time)
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I think Andrew Johnson was probably the most racist President for his time or anyone else’s time.  And Woodrow Wilson would probably be in second place.

It was the most colossal misfortune of the century that in this great crisis…our President should be an absolutely selfish, cold-blooded and unpatriotic rhetorician.

Wilson has a great deal of ability of the most sinister type…above all in appealing to whatever is evil or foolish in the average man…

Theodore Roosevelt, on Woodrow Wilson’s leadership during World War I, letter to Arthur Lee, August 17, 1917