The American Age: United States Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad

By Walter Lafeber | Go to book overview

9
Wilsonians, Revolutions, and War
(1913-1917)

THE WORLD OF WOODROW WILSON

It was Woodrow Wilson's fate to be the first U.S. president to face the full blast of twentieth-century revolutions. Wilson's responses made his policies the most influential in twentieth-century American foreign policy. "Wilsonian" became a term to describe later policies that emphasized internationalism and moralism and that were dedicated to extending democracy. Critics described them as unrealistic and especially unaware of power (by which the critics usually meant military power). Wilson's policies, however, now appear to be more complex and instructive than either his supporters or critics claimed. Many later presidents, including Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter, looked back to Wilson as the chief executive who had the largest vision of the nation's future and who had first confronted challenges that continued to plague them.

Born in Virginia in 1856, Wilson was the first native southerner to reach the White House since 1849. He had trained as a lawyer but failed miserably in his practice. The failure tended to make him mistrustful of lawyers and turned him toward an academic career. By 1912, Wilson had become a national figure. A respected political scientist and lecturer, he was president of Princeton and then the highly successful Progressive governor of New Jersey. His success came not only from his speaking ability, but also from a sharp, analytical mind that

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