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Woodrow Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856 February 3, 1924) was an American politician and academic who served as the 28th president of the United States from 1913 to 1921. A member of the Democratic Party, Wilson served as the president of Princeton University and as the 34th governor of New Jersey before winning the 1912 presidential election. As president, he oversaw the passage of progressive legislative policies unparalleled until the New Deal in 1933. He also led the United States into World War I in 1917, establishing an activist foreign policy known as "Wilsonianism." He was the leading architect of the League of Nations.

Wilson's earliest memory was of playing in his yard and standing near the front gate of the Augusta parsonage at the age of three, when he heard a passerby announce in disgust that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that a war was coming. By 1861, both of Wilson's parents had come to fully identify with the Southern United States and they supported the Confederacy during the American Civil War. Wilson's father was one of the founders of the Southern Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS) after it split from the Northern Presbyterians in 1861.

After graduating from Princeton in 1879, Wilson attended the University of Virginia School of Law, where he was involved in the Virginia Glee Club and served as president of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society. After poor health forced his withdrawal from the University of Virginia, Wilson continued to study law on his own while living with his parents in Wilmington, North Carolina. Wilson was admitted to the Georgia bar and made a brief attempt at establishing a legal practice in Atlanta in 1882. Though he found legal history and substantive jurisprudence interesting, he abhorred the day-to-day procedural aspects. After less than a year, he abandoned his legal practice to pursue the study of political science and history.

Having reorganized the school's curriculum and established the preceptorial system, Wilson next attempted to curtail the influence of social elites at Princeton by abolishing the upper-class eating clubs. He proposed moving the students into colleges, also known as quadrangles, but Wilson's Quad Plan was met with fierce opposition from Princeton's alumni. In October 1907, due to the intensity of alumni opposition, the Board of Trustees instructed Wilson to withdraw the Quad Plan. Late in his tenure, Wilson had a confrontation with Andrew Fleming West, dean of the graduate school, and also West's ally ex-President Grover Cleveland, who was a trustee. Wilson wanted to integrate a proposed graduate school building into the campus core, while West preferred a more distant campus site. In 1909, Princeton's board accepted a gift made to the graduate school campaign subject to the graduate school being located off campus.

Roosevelt emerged as Wilson's main challenger, and Wilson and Roosevelt largely campaigned against each other despite sharing similarly progressive platforms that called for an interventionist central government. Wilson directed campaign finance chairman Henry Morgenthau not to accept contributions from corporations and to prioritize smaller donations from the widest possible quarters of the public. During the election campaign, Wilson asserted that it was the task of government "to make those adjustments of life which will put every man in a position to claim his normal rights as a living, human being." With the help of legal scholar Louis D. Brandeis, he developed his New Freedom platform, focusing especially on breaking up trusts and lowering tariff rates. Brandeis and Wilson rejected Roosevelt's proposal to establish a powerful bureaucracy charged with regulating large corporations, instead favoring the break-up of large corporations in order to create a level economic playing field.

Passage of Underwood's tariff bill in the Senate would prove more difficult than in the House, partially because some Southern and Western Democrats favored the continued protection of the wool and sugar industries, and partially because Democrats had a narrower majority in that chamber. Seeking to marshal support for the tariff bill, Wilson met extensively with Democratic senators and appealed directly to the people through the press. After weeks of hearings and debate, Wilson and Secretary of State Bryan managed to unite Senate Democrats behind the bill. The Senate voted 44 to 37 in favor of the bill, with only one Democrat voting against it and only one Republican, progressive leader Robert M. La Follette, voting for it. Wilson signed the Revenue Act of 1913 (also known as the Underwood Tariff) into law on October 3, 1913.

The health of Wilson's wife, Ellen, declined after he entered office, and doctors diagnosed her with Bright's disease in July 1914. She died on August 6, 1914. Wilson was deeply affected by the loss, falling into depression. On March 18, 1915, Wilson met Edith Bolling Galt at a White House tea. Galt was a widow and jeweler who was also from the South. After several meetings, Wilson fell in love with her, and he proposed marriage to her in May 1915. Galt initially rebuffed him, but Wilson was undeterred and continued the courtship. Edith gradually warmed to the relationship, and they became engaged in September 1915. They were married on December 18, 1915. Wilson joined John Tyler and Grover Cleveland as the only presidents to marry while in office.

Seeking to avoid the high levels of inflation that had accompanied the heavy borrowing of the American Civil War, the Wilson administration imposed further increase taxes during the war. The War Revenue Act of 1917 and the Revenue Act of 1918 raised the top tax rate to 77 percent, greatly increased the number of Americans paying the income tax, and levied an excess profits tax on businesses and individuals. Despite these tax acts, the United States was forced to borrow heavily to finance the war effort. Treasury Secretary McAdoo authorized the issuing of low-interest war bonds and, to attract investors, made interest on the bonds tax-free. The bonds proved so popular among investors that many borrowed money in order to buy more bonds. The purchase of bonds, along with other war-time pressures, resulted in rising inflation, though this inflation was partly matched by rising wages and profits.