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The political career of Woodrow Wilson is chronicled, beginning with his decision to leave his post at Princeton to run for Governor of New Jersey, and his subsequent ascent to the Presidency of the United States. During his terms in office, Wilson must deal with the death of his first wife, the onslaught of German hostilities leading to American involvement in the Great War, and his own country's reticence to join the League of Nations. Written by
Shannon Patrick Sullivan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Let us be certain of one thing: Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924), Academician, Historian, Orator, President of Princeton University, Governor of New Jersey, and 28th President of the United States is a very important political figure in American History. He is usually credited to be one of the top ten great Presidents of our history, but these lists of historians are prone to change when new research shows previous ideas were wrong or too hagiographic towards the former President. In Wilson's case historians of his period are confronted with the problem that he had a great contemporary rival, the 26th President Colonel Theodore Roosevelt. Both men at their best were terrific figures, who accomplished a great deal of positive social legislation (they and Robert LaFollette dominate this period: the Progressive Era), and both (with Roosevelt's predecessor William McKinley) made America a great power. But T.R. and W.W. were both great egotists, and had defects in personality and views that make their achievements questionable. T.R. loved the strenuous life, but he also loved war too much
to the point that his youngest son got sacrificed in France in the First
World War. Wilson helped get the Clayton Anti-Trust Act and the Federal Reserve set up, but he was a Southerner who backed Jim Crow Laws. He did try to keep America out of World War I (as a boy he lived in Virginia and South Carolina during the Civil War, and saw Columbia, South Carolina destroyed - probably by Sherman's men). But he was willing to use our troops to "straighten out" Latin American countries: Mexico (twice), Haiti, the Dominican Republic. His creation of the first international peace organization, the League of Nations, was great, but flawed due to the U.S. not becoming a member - a flaw that Wilson's egotistic fight with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge over accepting the Treaty of Versailles guaranteed.
This film was made in 1944 by Zanuck, a Democrat. It emphasized Wilson as the far-sighted peace seeker, the forerunner of FDR (who was planning the United Nations). FDR actually was in Wilson's administration (he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy, like his cousin TR had been in 1897 under McKinley). The audience of the time would have been aware of this. As most of the audience would be white, Protestant, and of anglo-saxon background, it would be assumed that the film would be well received. Actually it wasn't. In the midwest, with the heavy connections to Germany or Middle-Europe, and in Irish-American centers (Wilson was cool towards Irish nationalism)the audiences recalled the unpleasant intransigence and pig-headedness of the President. Zanuck had the film opened in his home town in Nebraska, only to find that few were interested in the premier of the film - they told him they had not liked Wilson while he was in office.
As it is the film is excellent in terms of production and cast, starting with Alexander Knox as the President. His is a great performance, which merited his Oscar nomination. But the film is only positive about Wilson (and correspondingly unfair to Lodge, who may have had doubts about the Treaty of Versailles, but was not conspiring to destroy Wilson - he only had to let Wilson do himself in!). As for the racist side of Wilson, to get a glimpse of it see THE GREAT WHITE HOPE, where the Wilson administration is determined to drive the black heavyweight champion (based on Jack Johnson, and played by James Earl Jones) out of the title he deserves to keep.
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