A. Maurice (Alfred Maurice) Low.

Woodrow Wilson, an interpretation online

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Online LibraryA. Maurice (Alfred Maurice) LowWoodrow Wilson, an interpretation → online text (page 1 of 18)
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Copyright^ 1918j
By Little, Brown, and Company.

All rights reserved

Set up and electrotyped by J. S. Gushing Co., Non\'ood, Mass., U.S.A.
Presswork by S. J. Parkhill & Co., Boston, Mass., U.S.A.


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Of the (lead it is easier to write than of the living.
Of the dead, it is true, we speak with charity, our
judi^nnent is teinpere<l even wlien it is critical, hut the
historian l.> ahlc tu deal fairly and dispassionately with
the men who have passed ; with apj)roxiniate accuracy
he can measure not only their intentions !)ut api)raise
their achievements ; the cau.-so of failure are not difh-
cult to <letermine. Si)read hcfore him are motives,
policies, andjitions, the >uni of all that make men great
or ignoble, and historical values are determined hy
results. The perspective of history is the past.

The contemporary writer is denied these advantages.
He is too near the events of wliich he writes. Often
he is an actor, although his is a very minor role, in the
unfolding drama. lie is tlie scene shifter to whom the
royal jewels are paste, but to the audience, looking at
the stage through the sorcen' of softened lights and
the benevolence of distance, they are real. He is per-
plexed in his attempt to render judgment, to reconcile
conflicting qualities, to be the impartial recorder;
resisting the temptation to allow his feelings to accord
undue praise or to indulge in unwarranted severity.

The contemporary writer is brought in contact not



with historical personages but with men, with men on
whom the glamour of history has not yet fallen, who
have not yet made history and passed into the keeping
of the Immortals but are history in the making. And
history invests its characters with a quality of its own.
It makes them either very great or very small, it places
them on a pedestal for all ages to do them reverence,
or degrades them to earn the contempt of posterity
— for history is no gentle muse but is always extreme ;
but whatever the recorded verdict, to us of a later day
they have ceased to be men and have become legendary
figures. Our contemporaries are men, men like our-
selves, whom daily we judge, criticize, condemn or ap-
prove to meet our passing mood.

I have made no attempt to write either history or a
biography of Woodrow ^Yilson. That time has not
yet come. The history of the Administration of Presi-
dent Wilson it would be inadvisable to write now, —
for reasons so obvious they need no enlargement, —
nor would it be possible unless the writer were in pos-
session of letters, diaries, documents and state papers
that are not likely to gratify this generation. Some
of these, a few, are even now available, but discretion
imposes silence. For history we must wait until time
permits disclosures that now would be inopportune.
What I have endeavored to do is to interpret the char-
acter and motives of Mr. Wilson as revealed by his
speeches, writings and statesmanship, letting the reader
draw his conclusions from the evidence presented.


It has seemed to me that it is work that ought to
be done, not only because the man who to-day occu-
pies the largest place in the world\s thought is almost
as litth- understood by his own pt^jple as he is by the
peoples of otlitT countries and >till renuiins an enigma,
but a certain interest may attach to the work of a con-
temi)orary ftjrcign observer who, while having the
benefit of long residencv in the L'nited States, and an
intimate knowltMlge of its pet>pK' and politics, may
justly claim to lake .i rlrtiiclicd jxjint of virw and to be
uiiinfluencetl by iHT>onal or jKilitical considerations.
It is in that spirit of detachm«*nt. as if I were <lealing
with thr past ami not tin- pr«s«iit, 1 have emleavored
to write; and while. I repeat, this is luit history, I
have not breii uumiudful of thr nvspoii-sibility of tin*

In his preface to *' Division and Reunion*' Mr. \ViI-
M)n wrote: "1 canni>t claim to have jutlged rightly
in all case> as betwivn parties. I can claim, however,
impartiality of juilgment ; for impartiality is a nuitter
of the heart, ami I know with what disposition I have
written." That sentiment I make mv own. I cannot
hope that in all my judgments I have been correct,
that I have perhaps in all cases done justice, but I can
claim to have written with sincerity and a purpose,
striving to tell tlie truth as it is given to me to see it.

Washington, October, 1918.



Preface ....

I TnK Begin'ning of Reform

IT Agitation and iNTiEftT

111 TuK. Man ....

rV The Enigma

V A Pledge to Himavitv

\'I Tmk Fiiwt Year of Le.\der*4IIip


Mil "Too Proud to Fight" .

IX The Evangeust

X America in the War

XI Thk War PuEblDtNT .







1 1 1



TnE Bkcinnint. f)F Ukform


WlIKN Woodrow NVilsoii caiiu* tt) IIk* Whit** TToum'
on tlu* fourth of March. IJM.S, tht- Dtiiiocratic party
rctiiriHMl to power after >ixtt'tMi years in opjxjsition.
Mr. Wilson's Deiiiocratie pre<Jece:»^or, Mr. ( leve-
hind, h-ft as a h'^acy to his successor war or peace
with Spain. That war» fou^'ht in the year following
Mr. McKinh*y's inau^'uration, had far-reaching conse-
(piences for the United States : for the first time since
it l)ecanie a nation the United States Wits the master
of oversea dependencies and the ruler of subject races ;
it became an Asiatic power and its frontier was flung
seven thousand miles acro>s the Pacific. In the vear
following peace the American people were to be wit-
ness to another and more costlv war when the Boers
challenged the power of England ; and five years later
the American people, in common with the rest of the
world, were witness to a still mightier struggle when



Japan took up arms against Russia to decide the
mastery of the Far East.

Yet those three wars, important in their poHtical
effects to the nations involved, produced Httle
impression upon American national consciousness.
The thought of America had turned from war to peace,
the great problems that men were grappling with were
not military conquest but social reform. A new spirit
had entered into men. They were reaching out for
something better than they had, they were striving to
remove the inequality and injustice of an artificially
stimulated social system. This spirit was moving men
in all parts of the world, but nowhere perhaps was its
force so insistent as in the United States. Humanity
was groping and toiling, not sure what it was seeking,
and yet quite sure what it sought w^as to be found ; not
always wise in its experiments, and yet with faith

Reform was in the air. The social order was chang-
ing ; the change had almost come. Men were looking
at life with new vision. In the three great Democracies
of the world, in England, France and the United
States, social experimentation was being tried on a
vast scale. Woman suffrage, prohibition, old-age
pensions, State insurance, the curbing of the power of
monopoly and the arrogance of wealth, these were
symptoms of a mental and spiritual rebirth. It was a
time of excessive luxury, of great wealth, of intense
selfishness ; in some respects materialism had a deeper


hold than ever before in the world's history ; and yet
even those deepest sunk in their materialism, who
defended the existing order and resented change, dimly
saw that change was inevitable, vaguely felt that justice
cried for reform, but hoped only it might be postponed
so that their comfort would not be disturbed. To the
great mass, not alone the downtroddrn and the poor
and the illiterate, the day of lluir drliverance was

It was fitting these aspirations should i)e synd)olIz«'<l
in the person of the newly eh-eti'd rri'.>ident of the
United States. To Mr. Wilxjn Democracy was less
a political ix'licf than an immaiirnt conviction, and
he had given uprated proof of hi^ faith. Imbued in
the tenets of his political forefathers, seeing in their
code a moral guidance which was al."50 the rule of
statesmanship, reposing confidence in the wisdom of
the people to govern themselves, rejecting the thought
that they were incapable of self-government and must
necessarily be directed by a selected class, his sympa-
tliies and his intellect made him support the cause
of the people against privilege.

He was no noisy champion. He offered no hostages
to the great Demos and had no nostrums to bring uni-
versal salvation. He had no picturesque or romantic
past and had known no long and bitter struggle against
adversitv. As a bov he had not toiled beyond his


strength, and as a man he had not acquired learning
in odd moments snatched from his work. Of gentle
birth and with an inherited love of scholarship, he
passed through school and college to begin, as he
believed, his chosen vocation of the law, and to
abandon it forever two years later. It is popular
impression that Mr. Wilson divorced himself thus
early from his profession because it failed to provide
him adequate support, which is generally recognized
as valid ground for divorce, but incompatibility of
temperament was the real reason for the speedy
dissolution of the incongruous union. Mr. Wilson,
who began the practice of his profession in Atlanta,
was quickly disillusioned when he discovered the
depth and slime of the gulf that separated the
philosophy of law from its practice. To an imagina-
tive but philosophically matured youth who absorbed
the theory of law from textbooks in the seclusion of
college or heard the science of jurisprudence ex-
pounded in the classroom, its precision and logical
foundation must have charmed a mind that clarified
thought and was always strongly responsive to a sense
of justice; but the law in its practical application
came as a shock.

Atlanta at that time was no worse, and certainly no
better, than other Southern cities, and its public and
professional morality was the standard of its day. At
the Atlanta bar there were men of high professional
standing whose code was as rigid and narrow as the


sternest critic could demand, but there were also a
goodly proportion of *' ambulance cliasers", tricksters
and dishonest advocates who promoted litigation in
the hope of gaining fees irrespective of the merits of
the cause. The disgusted Mr. Wilson.
He found himself brought in competition with men of
dubious morals; the competition was not to his
liking, nor were his surroundings congenial. De-
liberately he turned his back on them, recognizing at
that early age, and he was only twenty-five, that he
could belter serve himself and societv b\- writing and
teaching the pliilosophy of the law than by helping
it^ contamination. Fhis was the explanation he made
to his friend, Albert Shaw (the present editor of the
Rcriew of Rrriews), when he came to Baltimore to take
a postgraduate course at John^ Hopkins. "There
is Blank," mentioning the name of a well-known
practitioner who wa-«5 rapidly becoming rich, he said
to young Shaw, who relates the incident, *'who has
made a success by taking personal injury cases against
the railways and other corporations and is none too
scrupulous about the character and testimony of his
witnesses, and perhaps in time I may be equally
successful.'* But that was not the success he craved
or the measure of his ambition. That he had the
courage to renounce a profession whose methods were
to him distasteful and had the strength of will to take
up a new profession for which he felt himself better
fitted and one making a stronger appeal to him.


shows not only the strength of character and in-
flexibihty of will that was later to puzzle political
supporters and political opponents, but also that the
early bent of his thoughts was now unalterably fixed.

In 1879, then a student at Princeton, he had written
for the International Review an essay entitled "Cabinet
Government in the United States", which six vears
later appeared in book form as "Congressional Govern-
ment", and is the most important of Mr. Wilson's
works. "Congressional Government" is an amplifi-
cation of the Tnternational Review essay ; the under-
lying thought and the philosophic treatment remain
unchanged. It is an extraordinary piece of work to
have been done by a youth of twenty-three, in its
way as rare an example of precociousness, maturity of
judgment and grasp of his subject as Byron's "Childe

In those two years from 1883 to 1885, when he was
doing graduate work at Johns Hopkins in political
economy and history, he was preparing for the part
he intended to play. Whether that included politics
it is impossible to say, for whatever dreams beguiled
him or ambitions spurred his fancy he shared his con-
fidence with no one so far as I have been able to learn ;
but it is certain he was determined not only to in-
fluence thought by his pen but also to appeal to the
emotion of intellect through speech. In Baltimore he
was a close and persistent student, devoting himself
not only to political economy and history but also to a


study of the best masters of English forensic oratory.
He read with critical discrimination and a purpose
now quite eyident the parliamentary speeches and the
public addresses of Burke and Chatham and Grattan
and other men er^ually well known, dissecting them,
appraising them, testing them, catching their tricks
of styh* and tearing from their stilled hearts the secret
that can neyer .^till tlie yoice of the n-ally great orator.
He wanted to hr their comj)eer, and he was learning
in their scIkmjI.

Shaw was one of the few men with whom Mr.
Wilson was on terms of intimacy at that time. Mr.
Wilson neither a recluse nor unsociable; he was
a man with a serious puri)()se, although with always
a sense of dry humor, as eyery man of imagination
must haye, but he was too deeply engrossed in study
to haye either the time or inclination for friyolity.
As he wrote ** Congressional Goyernment" he gaye
his manuscript to Shaw to read, not to inyite criticism,
because eyen then Mr. Wilson did not inyite criticism
any more than now he welcomes opposition ; perhaps
simply for his approyal. The two young men were
engaged on work that had something in common.
^yllile Mr. Wilson was studying history and political
economy and parliamentary debate, Shaw was study-
ing the deyelopment of municipal government in
Europe and America. And Shaw recalls what is
eminently characteristic of Mr. Wilson and shows how
early the iron mold of his character was formed.


Baltimore is only forty miles from Washington, and
in Washington the Congressional Government of
which the Johns Hopkins student was writing was
functioning, but Mr. Wilson, Doctor Shaw believes,
seldom if ever went to Washington during those two
years. Almost any other man, it is safe to say, would
have wanted to see the machine at work, would have
welcomed the opportunity to talk with the engineers,
would have gladly absorbed the atmosphere so as to
create a background. Mr. Bryce came to America
to confirm by observation theoretical judgments.
Mr. Wilson, in the cold serenity of detachment,
kept aloof, his thoughts becoming crystal in the
alembic of his mind. The marvel is that the youth
of twenty-three, who knew nothing of Washington,
who had no practical knowledge of government or
the methods of the legislature, and the young man
six years later who was so sure of his conclusions that
he saw no necessity to revise them, should have pro-
duced the best and most authoritative work on the
subject. Genius has been likened to the spider who
draws from itself the filaments of its web ; and genius
creates without extraneous assistance, drawing on its
own stored-up endowment. *' Congressional Govern-
ment" is almost the touch of genius.


Leaving Johns Hopkins in 1885 to accept the chair
of history and political economy in Bryn Mawr


College, Pennsylvania, an institution for the higher
education of women, Mr. Wilson's career falls
naturally into three grand divisions, and it is a career
unparallek'd in America or England, or any other
democratic country, ancient or modern: 1. the
teacher and secular preacher : '■2. the politician ; 3.
the President. For twenty-five years, from 1885 to
1910, when he was elected Governor of \ew Jersey,
his entire time was given to pedagogical work, to
writing and to lecturing. He took no active part in
polities, and whatever influence he exercised on the
j)olitical thought of his day was indirect and exercised
through hi^ hooks and addre.>>>e."5 on the phiIo>ophic
meaning of history read hy the light of modern prob-
lems of government and politics.

His audience was never in any sense popular. He
had no gift of phrase or thought to arrest for an in-
stant the scurrying feet of the jostling crowd. He was
deficient in the showman's arts and ignorant of the
trick of self advertisement. There have been college
professors who have attained the fleeting honor of
shrieking headlines on the front page and gained the
proud distinction of the editorial column by, at "the
psychological moment" so beloved of editors hunger-
ing for a sensation, denouncing the institution of
marriage or advocating too much marriage, or some-
thing else equally as irregular. In the quarter of a
century that he taught and spoke Mr. Wilson escaped
this homage.


His appeal had always been to the intellectuals, to
those whom Americans, with their gift for crystallizing
a sentence in a word or two, know as "highbrows."
He was one of the cognoscenti, and it was the cogno-
scenti he sought as his audience. He was over the
heads of the masses, and the masses, had they read or
heard him, would have turned away weary and with-
out comprehension of his message, which they would
have dismissed succinctly as "highbrow stuff", and
therefore outside of their class. His addresses were
delivered before selected audiences, lawyers, teachers,
civic reformers, which precluded the general public
from hearing him, even if they had the inclination ;
and his speeches were not of a character to make
them popular reading and therefore to justify the press
in giving them extended space. He wrote for maga-
zines and reviev/s that were exotic so far as the general
public was concerned, and whose limited circulation
was confined to the educated. To the multitude his
books were recondite, admirable although they are in
style, lucidity and the crystal clearness of his thought.
His one attempt at popularity, *'A History of the
American People", his friends regret. Mr. Wilson
can write nothing without giving it distinction, and in
the five volumes may be found flashes of his style
and shrewd analysis that redeem the work from dull-
ness, but it is not quite bad enough to be really
"popular" and widely read, and it is not quite good
enough to be the historian's history.


Mr. Wilson's position and standing in the educa-
tional world brought to him an ever-widening circle
of acquaintances, and personally or by reputation
he was constantly becoming better known, but this
knowledge was confined to a class in tlie aggregate
numerically large, but actually only a minor fraction
of tlir wliolr. His name carried weight with educators,
h'terati, students of the science of government,
graduates of schools and colleges, but to the working-
man, the great middle class, perhaps a majority of
business men and the rank and file of the political
world, it meant nothing. Mr. Wil>on's obscurity —
and the use of the word i^ permissible — came from
his having connected himself with no great poi)ular
movement, with leading no clamorous demand fcjr
sudden reform, with having neither sought nor held
i)olitieal office. Unlike as tliev mav be in nuinv
things, in one thing the three great Democracies of
America, England and France have the same common
trait. Men nuiy achieve fame through success at
the bar, by literature, in discovery or invention or
by accumulating a huge fortune, but it is as true in
America as it is in England and France that to become
known, to become what Bagehot calls *'not only
household words, but household ideas", a man must
be a political leader, and his fellow men, again to
borrow a thought from Bagehot, must have a con-
ception, not, perhaps, in all respects a true, but a
most vivid conception of what he is like. In a word,


you cannot have a leader unless you are able to
visualize him ; he must symbolize not merely an idea
but a personality ; he cannot remain, so Bagehot
believed, an unknown quantity. In this sense Mr.
Wilson, up to the time of his election as Governor
of New Jersey, was obscure. In this sense he had
none of the requirements believed necessary for
leadership. In this sense, to the majority of his
countrymen, he was an unknown quantity. Not
only had they no vivid conception of him, but all that
their imagination could picture was blurred, the in-
distinct outlines of a name without substance.

In other countries, at long intervals under the stress
of a great popular movement or the fear of national
disaster, men hitherto obscure, by their fiery elo-
quence, have sprung into prominence and seized
power; and the politician ''powerful in faction and
debate" may count with reasonable certainty on
success. Here there was nothing of the kind. No
great emergency threatened, the people were not
stirred by fear, their future was not in peril. From
the presidency of Princeton University Mr. Wilson
passed to the Governor's chair. He was then fifty-
four years old, and he was holding his first political
oflSce. It is not exaggeration to say that no man was
ever elected to high office under similar circumstances,
and no man was so much of an unknown quantity
to the great body of the electorate as Woodrow Wilson
when he took the oath of service to the people.


Agitation and Unrest


For the purposes of tliis interpretation it is unneces-
sary to follow the cainpai;j:n that led to Mr. Wilson's
election as Governor of New Jersey, hut it is recjuisite
to ascertain the causes that made ])ossil)le the election
of a man wIkj, in the sense that has already been
noted, was obscure and so little identified in the pub-
lic mind with j)ractical politics. Mr. Wilson was a
fitting candidate because he peculiarly tyjiified the
new dav.

It is to the advantage of a man seeking political
office that he shall have a past, and sometimes it is
of even greater advantage that he shall be the "un-
known quantity'' that Bagehot thought made him
impossible; **that he should wear a clean and ir-
reproachable insignificance", in Mr. Wilson's own
phrase. If he belongs to the *'old guard" and has
served in various capacities, his party knows what to
expect from him, and if his party is in the majority
he goes through simply because party discipline com-
pels his acceptance. An unknown man brings to



his candidacy a certain element of romance and
mystery; he appeals to that large and constantly
increasing section of the electorate that distrusts the
professional politician and fears his associations. Mr.
Wilson disarmed opposition. Law^^ers, doctors, men
of business, clergymen even, when reform was in the
air and the ultra-respectable vote had to be catered
to, have been selected as candidates for Governor,
but seldom if ever has the president of a great univer-
sity passed from the seclusion of academic quiet to
the turmoil of politics. If, in a sense, the men to

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Online LibraryA. Maurice (Alfred Maurice) LowWoodrow Wilson, an interpretation → online text (page 1 of 18)