Ten Things to Know About Woodrow Wilson

Interesting and Important Facts About Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia. He was elected the twenty-eighth president in 1912 and took office on March 4, 1913. Following are ten key facts that are important to understand when studying the life and presidency of Woodrow Wilson.

01
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Ph.D. in Political Science

28th President Woodrow Wilson and wife Edith in 1918. Getty Images

Wilson was the first president to receive a PhD which he got in Political Science from Johns Hopkins University. He had received his undergraduate degree from the College of New Jersey, renamed Princeton University in 1896.

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New Freedom

Woodrow Wilson for President Women's Wagon
Woodrow Wilson for President Women's Wagon. Hulton Archive / Stringer / Getty Images
New Freedom was the name given to Wilson's proposed reforms delivered during campaign speeches and promises made during the 1912 presidential campaign. There were three main tenets: tariff reform, business reform, and banking reform. Once elected, three bills were passed to help move forward Wilson's agenda:
  • Underwood Tariff Act of 1914
  • Federal Trade Act
  • Federal Reserve System

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Seventeenth Amendment Ratified

The Seventeenth Amendment was formally adopted on May 31, 1913. Wilson had been president for almost three months at the time. The amendment provided for the direct election of senators. Prior to its adoption, Senators were chosen by state legislatures.

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Attitude Towards African-Americans

Woodrow Wilson believed in segregation. In fact, he allowed his cabinet officials to expand segregation within government departments in ways that hadn't been allowed since the end of the Civil War. Wilson supported D. W. Griffith's film "Birth of a Nation" which even included the following quote from his book, "History of the American People": "The white men were roused by a mere instinct of self-preservation ... until at last there had sprung into existence a great Ku Klux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country."

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Military Action Against Pancho Villa

While Wilson was in office, Mexico was in a state of rebellion. Venustiano Carranza became the president of Mexico upon the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz. However, Pancho Villa held much of northern Mexico. In 1916, Villa crossed into America and killed seventeen Americans. Wilson responded by sending 6,000 troops under General John Pershing to the area. When Pershing pursued Villa into Mexico, Carranza was not pleased and relations became strained.

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World War I

Wilson was president throughout World War I. He attempted to keep America out of the war and even won reelection with the slogan "He kept us out of war." Nonetheless, after the sinking of the Lusitania, continued run-ins with German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram, America became involved. with the Lusitania, the continued harassment of American ships by German submarines, and the release of the Zimmerman Telegram meant that America joined the allies in April, 1917.

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Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918

The Espionage Act was passed during World War I. It made it a crime to help wartime enemies, to interfere with the military, recruitment or the draft. The Sedition Act amended the Espionage Act by curtailing speech during wartime. It forbid the use of "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the government during times of war. A key court case at the time that involved the Espionage Act was Schenck v. United States.

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Sinking of the Lusitania and Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

On May 7, 1915, the British liner Lusitania was torpedoed by German U-Boat 20. There were 159 Americans aboard the ship. This event sparked outrage in the American public and spurred a change in opinion about America's involvement in World War I. By 1917, Germany had announced unrestricted submarine warfare would be practiced by German U-Boats. On February 3, 1917, Wilson gave a speech to Congress where he announced that, "all diplomatic relations between the United States and the German Empire are severed and that the American Ambassador to Berlin will immediately be withdrawn...." When Germany did not stop the practice, Wilson went to Congress to ask for a declaration of war.

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Zimmermann Note

In 1917, America intercepted a telegram between Germany and Mexico. In the telegram, Germany proposed that Mexico go to war with the United States as a way to distract the US. Germany promised aid and Mexico wanted to regain US territories it had lost. The telegram was one of the reasons why America neutrality and joined the fight on the side of the allies.

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Wilson's Fourteen Points

Woodrow Wilson created his Fourteen Points laying out the goals that the United States and later other allies had for worldwide peace. He actually presented them in a speech given to a joint session of Congress ten months before the end of World War I. One of the fourteen points called for the creation of a worldwide association of nations that would become the League of Nations in the Treaty of Versailles. However, opposition to the League of Nations in Congress meant that the treaty went unratified. Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his efforts to avert future world wars.