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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

President Woodrow Wilson And The First World War by Sarah J. McNeal

(official portrait of Woodrow Wilson by Frank Graham Cootes)

Woodrow Wilson became President # 28 of the United States of America and was sworn in on March 4, 1913. He remained president until 1921.
(Wilson in mid 1870's)

Although born in Staunton, Virginia, he spent his youth in Augusta, Georgia and Columbia, South Carolina. I’d like to think of him as a southerner like me. He earned a PhD in political science from Johns Hopkins University. He served as a professor and a scholar at several institutions before he was chosen to become President of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910.

(1911 Wilson as Governor of New Jersey)

From president of Princeton, he became the gubernatorial candidate of New Jersey for the Democratic Party, was elected and served as Governor of New Jersey and served from 1911 to 1913. He ran for president in 1912 and won by a large Electoral College margin. He was the first Southerner to be elected president since Zachary Taylor in 1848.

Wilson reintroduced the spoken State of the Union address which had not been done since 1801. With Democrats leading the congress, Wilson was able to oversee the passage of progressive legislative policies unparalleled until 1933 with The New Deal.
(Wilson's First Inauguration)

Wilson was reelected in 1916 by a narrow margin and spent his second term dominated by the American entry into World War I. Wilson was a pacifist determined to remain neutral in the war in Europe, but in April 1917, when  Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare. The Germans sank the commercial British steamship Falaba on March 1915 with the loss of 111 lives, including one American. Wilson chose to avoid risking escalation of the war as a result of the loss of one American. In the spring of 1915 a German bomb struck an American ship, the Cushing and a German submarine torpedoed an American tanker, the Gulflight. Wilson took the view, based on some reasonable evidence, that both incidents were accidental, and that a settlement of claims could be postponed to the end of the war.
(The Sinking of the Lusitania)

But everything changed when a German submarine torpedoed and sank the British ocean liner RMS Lusitania in May 1915 and over a thousand perished, including many Americans. In a Philadelphia speech that weekend Wilson said, "There is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight. There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right". Many reacted to these remarks with contempt. Wilson sent a subdued note to the Germans protesting its submarine warfare against commerce; the initial reply was evasive and received in the United States with indignation. Secretary of State Bryan, a dedicated pacifist, sensing the country's path to war, resigned, and was replaced by Robert Lansing. The White Star liner the SS Arabic was then torpedoed, with two American casualties. The U.S. threatened a diplomatic break unless Germany repudiated the action. However, the German ambassador then conveyed a note, "liners will not be sunk by our submarines". Wilson had not stopped the submarine campaign, but won agreement that unarmed merchant ships would not be sunk without warning and even more importantly, he had kept the U.S. out of the war. Wilson requested and received funds in the final 1916 appropriations bill to provide for 500,000 troops. It also included a five-year Navy plan for major construction of battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines—showing Wilson's dedication to a big Navy.

In March 1916 the SS Sussex, an unarmed ferry under the French flag, was torpedoed in the English Channel and four Americans were counted among the dead and it became obvious the Germans had flouted the post-Lusitania exchanges. The president demanded the Germans reject their submarine tactics. Wilson drew praise when he succeeded in wringing from Germany a pledge to constrain their U-boat warfare to the rules of cruiser warfare. This was a clear departure from existing practices—a diplomatic concession from which Germany could only more brazenly withdraw, and regrettably did.
Wilson made a plea for postwar world peace in May 1916; his speech recited the right of every nation to its sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom from aggression. "So sincerely do we believe these things", Wilson said, "that I am sure that I speak the mind and wish of the people of America when I say that the United States is willing to become a partner in any feasible association of nations formed in order to realize these objectives". At home the speech was seen as a turning point in policy. In Europe the words were received by the British and the French without comment. His harshest European critics rightly thought the speech reflected indifference on Wilson's part; indeed, Wilson never wavered from a belief that the war was the result of corrupt European power politics.

Wilson made his final offer to mediate peace on December 18, 1916. As a preliminary, he asked both sides to state their minimum terms necessary for future security. The Central Powers replied that victory was certain, and the Allies required the dismemberment of their enemies' empires. No desire for peace existed, and the offer lapsed.
A cartoon of Wilson and "Jingo", the American War Dog that depicts the Hawks wanting the U.S. to enter WWI by Oscar Cesare-One Hundred Cartoons)

It became sadly obvious to Wilson that the Germans were not headed toward peace and that the United States could not continue to remain neutral. He delivered his proclamation of war on Germany to Congress on April 2, 1917 stating, “The world must be made safe for democracy.” It is said that after his speech to Congress, the devote Presbyterian and pacifist, wept.
America’s participation helped bring about victory for the Allies, and on November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed by the Germans. At the Paris Peace Conference, which opened in January 1919 and included the heads of the British, French and Italian governments, Wilson helped negotiate the Treaty of Versailles. The agreement included the charter for the League of Nations, an organization intended to arbitrate international disputes and prevent future wars. Wilson had initially advanced the idea for the League in a January 1918 speech to the U.S. Congress in which he outlined his “Fourteen Points” for a postwar peace settlement.
(Wilson is the tall guy on the right standing beside Georges Clemenceau at the Paris Peace Conference--picture by Edward N. Jackson, U.S. Army Signal Corp.--a U.S. Signal Corps photo)

On October 2, 1919, he suffered a serious stroke, leaving him paralyzed on his left side, and with only partial vision in the right eye. He was confined to bed for weeks and sequestered from everyone except his wife and physician, Dr. Cary Grayson. For some months Wilson used a wheelchair and later he required use of a cane.

He was insulated by his wife, who selected matters for his attention and delegated others to his cabinet. Wilson temporarily resumed a perfunctory attendance at cabinet meetings. By February 1920, the president's true condition was publicly known. Many expressed qualms about Wilson's fitness for the presidency at a time when the League fight was reaching a climax, and domestic issues such as strikes, unemployment, inflation and the threat of Communism were ablaze. No one close to him, including his wife, his physician, or personal assistant, was willing to take responsibility to certify, as required by the Constitution, his "inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office". Because of this complex case, Congress developed the 25th Amendment to control succession to the presidency in case of illness, which was ratified.
Woodrow Wilson at the end of his second term

Even though Wilson left office broken and defeated, he devotedly believed his vision of America leading a world community of nations would be embraced by the American people. As we all know, twenty-five years later, the United Nations built its headquarters in New York, a present day symbol of bipartisan support for Wilson’s ideals gained after the Second World War.
There is so much more to say about Woodrow Wilson, but I must stop here or end up writing a huge tome and boring you all to tears.

For Love of Banjo takes place during World War I. My hero, Banjo, has made his promise to the woman he loves, Maggie O’Leary, that he will return to her loving arms.

Excerpt 1: (The Promise)

In one graceful movement, he dismounted the pinto then stepped to the porch where Maggie stood with unrestrained tears that flowed down her cheeks.  Banjo swept her into his arms and kissed her.  The kiss wasn’t his brotherly, friendly peck on the cheek.  He kissed her with a slow burning need and ran his tongue along the groove of her lips then slipped inside.
He tasted of coffee and mint.  Maggie reached up to weave her arms around his neck.  She stepped on her tiptoes to better reach him and taste him.  Her heart raced and heat rushed hungry waves of yearning into places in her body she never knew existed as she responded to his explorations with her own.  If only she could slip into his pocket and follow him wherever he went.  She wanted to become the marrow in his bones, to always be a part of him.

Just when she thought he would take her to her room and make love to her as she had asked, the kiss ended.  Banjo bent his head his rough cheek rasped against hers.  The fragrance of him, a combination of horse, pine and crisp snow, caressed her senses.  He slipped his hand into her hair and gently rubbed the tender skin of her neck where her blood pulsed beneath his thumb.
His mouth so close to her ear she felt the warm moisture of his breath as he spoke his last words.  She would never forget them, not as long as she lived.

Breathless from the kiss, he said, “Don’t forget me.  Write to me every day and I’ll write back.  You are the star in my sky and my compass home.  I’ll come back, if it’s the last thing I do, I will come back.  I swear it.”

Excerpt 2: (Into the War)

Once the men had climbed out and headed for safety, Banjo climbed the wall and crawled out onto the flat, barren ground between him and the next trench.  A glance behind him gave Banjo the unfettered view of the huge metal vehicle with treads wrapped around wheels that moved it over impossible terrain.  He heard rumors about these new weapons.  Tanks.  Jesus, nothing could stop the thing.  As curiosity overtook him at the wonder of such an invention, Banjo did the unthinkable and stood to get a better look.

Something hot bit into his flesh, first in his chest and then his leg.  The support of his legs seemed to disappear from beneath him and he fell.  Just before the dark void sucked him under, he saw a face, a familiar face.  He couldn’t quite make it out because he couldn’t see through the blood smeared over the lenses of his glasses.  The lips moved but he couldn’t hear what the face said as if the apparition spoke to him through oceans of turbulent water.  Maggie.  Oh Maggie, darlin’, I’m so sorry.  Then everything went black. 

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Sarah J. McNeal is a multi-published author of several genres including time travel, paranormal, western and historical fiction. She is a retired ER and Critical Care nurse who lives in North Carolina with her four-legged children, Lily, the Golden Retriever and Liberty, the cat. Besides her devotion to writing, she also has a great love of music and plays several instruments including violin, bagpipes, guitar and harmonica. Her books and short stories may be found at Prairie Rose Publications and its imprints Painted Pony Books, and Fire Star Press. Some of her fantasy and paranormal books may also be found at Publishing by Rebecca Vickery and Victory Tales Press. She welcomes you to her website and social media:


  1. To add to his history, he was a visiting professor in the summer of 1894, a year after Katharine Lee Bates, at the Colordo Springs Summer School. Other than his mention in the paper, I've not had time to dig deeper. A brilliant mind and who knows what might have happened if he had remained healthy.

    Thank you. Doris

    1. There is so much to say about Woodrow Wilson, Doris. He was one of the most visionary presidents we've ever had and, yes, very intelligent. I left out so much of his accomplishments or I would have run into pages and pages in this article.
      Thank you so much for your support and comments, Doris.

  2. From reading your article, I was curious to know a bit more about Pres. Wilson's education. According to this website, , "Woodrow Wilson...was perhaps the most educated of the lot. He held a Ph.D. in history and political science from Johns Hopkins University and had to even learn German to complete his degree. His doctoral dissertation was titled 'Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics.'"

    He was apparently the first (and only??) president to earn a PhD.

    1. Kaye, I haven't researched into any presidents other than Wilson who had PhD's. It's an interesting idea for research though. I wonder if I could Google that. I bet knowing German came in kind of handy for Wilson, too.
      Thank you so much for dropping by, Kaye, and your thought provoking comment. I appreciate it.

    2. This link will has the education of all the presidents, and Wilson is the only one listed with a PhD.


    3. Thanks, Doris. I'll have to check it out.

  3. You really outdid yourself on this blog post, Sarah. I enjoyed it extremely. It is funny how, sometimes, I think I know history only to discover that the remnants I recall from high school and college days only scratches the surface. I appreciated the in-depth look into this president.

  4. Robyn, you are so kind. I think we only get a tiny bit of historical figures while we're in school. Most of the good stuff we learn on our own because we're really interested and enthusiastic. I did have a teacher in 12th grade English, Thomas Freeman, who would add these interesting tidbits about the personal lives of authors that would just perk up my ears. He also talked to doorknobs, but I thought the world of him.
    Thank you so much for coming and commenting, Robyn.

  5. Well done Sarah. Informative and entertaining.

    1. Why thank you, Connie. That's exactly the way I wanted it to be. Thank you so much for dropping by.