Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Celtic Corner - February 2015


Some more stories about the Irish Immigrants

          Woodrow Wilson was a bespectacled, ascetic looking man who resembled a schoolteacher. Indeed, for a good part of his life, he was one. He knew how to exploit opportunity. At one point during his presidency, he had sheep graze on the South Lawn of the White House, selling their wool to raise money for charity.

          Both of Wilson’s paternal grandparents came from the Strabane area of County Antrim. He was raised by stern father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson, a Presbyterian minister and theologian, and a mother who was the daughter of minister in England. Both were of Scotch Irish lineage.

          He was born on December 28, 1856 in Staunton, Virginia but a year later his family moved to Augusta, Georgia.

          He graduated from the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton, in 1879 and received a Ph.D. in government and history in 1886 from Johns Hopkins University.

          He held a variety of academic positions in the years following graduation, including a fifteen year stint at Princeton, which was capped by his being appointed university president in 1902, apparently fatigued by academic life, he entered politics, accepting the Democratic nomination for governor of New Jersey in 1910.

          His political beliefs were described by the word “progressivism,” and he had a number of goals: to eliminate political corruption, to institute antitrust legislation and to restructure the election system by using direct primaries. At the time, the last proposal would not have been advantageous for his party and was a courageous move on his part.

          He won the election handily and America began to take notice of him. Two years later in 1912 Wilson started a run for the presidential nomination. His chief opponent for the Democratic nomination was Champ Clark, speaker of the House of Representatives.

          It was a grueling nomination fight, requiring forty six ballots, but Wilson eventually prevailed.

          As it turned out the election campaign was a cakewalk by comparison. The Republican Party was split between William Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt (who was running as an Independent) and Wilson overwhelmed them both.

          Once in office, Wilson helped establish the Clayton Act, an amendment to the Sherman Antitrust Act, which strengthened labor’s ability to strike, established the Federal Reserve Board to help control the currency and instituted the income tax.

          As dominant as he was in domestic matters, Wilson was even more influential in foreign one. (He was the first president to leave the United States while president) During his presidency, the United States became involved in the affairs of a number of countries. Wilson always had a justification for these acts, which is where some historians question his sincerity. Perhaps he was so imbued with righteous indignation that he never realized he could be morally wrong.

          The event in which Wilson’s lack of moral insight had the biggest impact was World War I

When war broke out between France and Great Britain and Germany, Wilson was at first neutral. In fact, in 1916 he conducted a successful reelection campaign based on the slogan “He kept us out of the war.”

          In fact, he was hardly neutral. He put the not insignificant industrial might of the United States at the disposal of France and Britain. And he became outraged at the torpedoing of ships with Americans on board. He became more warlike in this pronouncements but swathed them in high toned rhetoric such as “establishing a peace that will win the approval of mankind” and “an equality of right.”

          On April 2, 1917 Wilson delivered a speech to Congress with the oft quoted line “the world must be made safe for democracy.” Finally America was in it and surely a crucial partner for the Allies.

          Following the war, Wilson was one of the important architects of the League of Nations, which essentially detailed the rules by which nations would deal with one another. When the League of Nations’ charter was examined by Congress, the Senate thought it compromised the United States’ sovereign rights and wanted to make changes Wilson found abhorrent. In a cruel twist of fate, Wilson found himself making a whistle stop tour across the country urging Americans to pressure their representatives not to support it.

          It was while he was on this jaunt in Pueblo, Colorado that Wilson suffered a stroke that left him temporarily unable to speak. From that time on, his wife, Edith, virtually took over in what was described by cynics as the “petticoat presidency.”

          His last words to Edith were “Edith, I’m a broken machine, but I’m ready.” The day he spoke them was February 3, 1924. He proved to be more popular in death than life.


Happy Valentines Day

Lá Fhéile Vailintín sona duit



Frank Darcy