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Woodrow Wilson - America's Worst President

Updated on April 21, 2021
Ken Burgess profile image

Grew up on Cape Cod, Mass. Army Vet., Fmr. Director of Energy Conservation programs, RE Agent. Current residence: the Space Coast, FL.

For those of us who are a half century old, or older, when we think of evil men we think of the likes of Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot. Despots who declared war on their own people, murdering millions.

Woodrow Wilson is not considered their equal by many, schools and think tanks are named for him and various polls continue to rate him as a great or near-great president. The “progressive” politics of today’s Democrats are part of his legacy, as is the instability of the world in which we live.

Wilson was the first president to openly attack the U.S. Constitution and eagerly support laws to prosecute and imprison those who disagreed with his policies. Wilson attacked the Constitution in his writings as an academic long before he became president. Once in power, his administration so restricted freedom of speech that this led to landmark Supreme Court decisions restoring that fundamental right.

Wilson’s hostility to black Americans was well documented, in fact many historians have dubbed Wilson the most racist president in history. As New Jersey's 38th governor, Wilson refused to confirm the hiring of blacks in his Administration. Wilson's record as president was his overseeing of the re-segregation of multiple agencies of the federal government, which had been integrated as a result of Reconstruction decades earlier.

The Department of Treasury and Post Office Department both introduced screened-off workspaces, separate lunchrooms, and separate bathrooms. His policies of segregation even led to cages being built around blacks to separate them from white co-workers of many years. Let me restate that for clarity, Black people who couldn't, logistically, be segregated were put in literal cages. This was not a policy in America or our government until Woodrow Wilson made it so.

Outright dismissals were also common. Upon taking office, Wilson himself fired 15 out of 17 black supervisors in the federal service and replaced them with white people. In 1914, a group of black professionals led by Harvard alumnus Monroe Trotter met with Wilson to protest the segregation. Wilson informed Trotter, "Segregation is not humiliating, but a benefit," When Trotter insisted that "it is untenable, in view of the established facts, to maintain that the segregation is simply to avoid race friction, for the simple reason that for fifty years white and colored clerks have been working together in peace and harmony and friendliness," Wilson admonished him for his tone: "If this organization is ever to have another hearing before me it must have another spokesman. Your manner offends me …”

Wilson at the Versailles Convention in 1919, helped kill a proposal from Japan calling for the treaty to recognize the principle of racial equality. While 11 out of 17 members at the meeting considering the amendment favored it, Wilson, who was presiding, arbitrarily decided that the amendment had been defeated because the vote wasn't unanimous. This wasn't an actual rule, a simple majority vote had been enough to decide that the League of Nations would be headquartered in Geneva, but Wilson did not want the treaty to recognize racial equality.

Wilson lent ‘The Birth of a Nation’ which glorified the Ku Klux Klan his approval by screening it at the White House and reportedly telling a reporter that it could "teach history with lightning."

Wilson was strongly against black suffrage: "It was a menace to society itself that the negroes should thus of a sudden be set free and left without tutelage or restraint."

Woodrow Wilson’s Progressivism was very much of the mindset that government intervention in the economy was justified on grounds that “society is the senior partner in all business.”

The rhetorical transformation of government into ‘society’ is a verbal sleight-of-hand trick that endures to this day. The notion that money earned in the form of profits requires politicians’ benediction to be legitimate, Wilson declared: “If private profits are to be legitimized, private fortunes made honorable, these great forces which play upon the modern field must, both individually and collectively, be accommodated to a common purpose.” In other words coopted for whatever the government (he) felt was best.

In other words, politicians, bureaucrats and judges are to intervene, second-guess and pick winners and losers, in a complex economic process of which they are often uninformed, if not misinformed, and a process in which they pay no price for being wrong, regardless of how high a price will be paid by the economy. Business, like people, had no individual rights, and how they were to be used was best determined by the government.

If this headstrong, government-knows-best approach seems familiar it’s because it’s similar to what the past 25 years of D.C. politics has resembled, never more so than under Obama, it is fundamentally the same vision, the same presumptions of superior wisdom, and the same kind of lofty rhetoric we heard when Obama stated: “if you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that”.

Woodrow Wilson also won a Nobel Prize for peace, like the former president and it was just as undeserved. Wilson’s “war to end wars” in fact set the stage for an even bigger, bloodier and more devastating Second World War.

The same presumptions of superior wisdom and virtue behind the interventionism of Progressive Presidents Obama and Woodrow Wilson in the domestic economy also led them to be interventionists in other countries. How one could argue that Libya and Syria are better off for America’s intervention, is hard to imagine.

Woodrow Wilson was also a precursor of later Progressives in assuming that the overthrow of an autocratic and despotic government means an advance toward democracy. In 1917, President Wilson spoke of “heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia.”

What was “heartening” to Wilson was the overthrow of the czars. What it led to in fact was the rise of a totalitarian tyranny that killed more poeple in one year than all the czars had killed in more than 90 years.

But Progressives, especially intellectuals, are the least likely to suspect that they are in fact ignorant of the things they are intervening in, whether back in the Progressive era or today. Wilson’s Progressive era in practice was a never-ending expansion of the arbitrary powers of the federal government. The problems he created so discredited Progressives that they shed that name and began calling themselves ‘liberals’ to this day.

Many of the trends, problems and disasters of our time are a legacy of that era. Wilson’s legacy is very much alive today, both in the ‘Progressive’ mindset, including government picking winners and losers in the economy and interventionism in foreign countries, as well as specific institutions created during the Progressive era, such as the Income Tax and the Federal Reserve System which is neither Federal or a Reserve, but a private bank controlled by unknown elites… that’s right in addition to all his other gifts, Woodrow Wilson gave away control of the American economy to rich businessmen and bankers.

At the end, even he knew to some degree just how horrible and damaging to the country, and all humanity, he truly was.


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