Thomas Woodrow Wilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister, was born in Staunton, Virginia, in 1856. Educated at Princeton, the University of Virginia and Johns Hopkins University, he became a professor at Princeton (1890-1902). He also published the book, History of the American People (1902)
After being elected Democratic Governor of New Jersey in 1911, Wilson became a national figure due to his progressive views on reform. The following year he was elected as the twenty-eighth President of the United States. Over the next few years he concentrated on anti-trust measures and on reorganizing the federal banking system.
On the outbreak of the First World War President Woodrow Wilson declared a policy of strict neutrality. Although the USA had strong ties with Britain, Wilson was concerned about the large number of people in the country who had been born in Germany and Austria. Other influential political leaders argued strongly in favour of the USA maintaining its isolationist policy. This included the pacifist pressure group, the American Union Against Militarism.
Some people argued that the USA should expand the size of its armed forces in case of war. General Leonard Wood, the former US Army Chief of Staff, formed the National Security League in December, 1914. Wood and his organisation called for universal military training and the introduction of conscription as a means of increasing the size of the US Army.
Opinion against Germany hardened after the sinking of the Lusitania. William J. Bryan, the pacifist Secretary of State, resigned and Wilson replaced him by the pro-Allied Robert Lansing. Wilson also announced an increase in the size of the US armed forces. However, in the 1916 Presidential election campaign, Woodrow Wilson stressed his policy of neutrality and his team used the slogan: "He Kept Us Out of the War".
On 31st January, 1917, Germany announced a new submarine offensive. Wilson responded by breaking off diplomatic relations with Germany. The publication of the Zimmerman Telegram, that suggested that Germany was willing to help Mexico regain territory in Texas and Arizona, intensified popular opinion against the Central Powers.
On 2nd April, Wilson asked for permission to go to war. This was approved in the Senate on 4th April by 82 votes to 6, and two days later, in the House of Representatives, by 373 to 50. Still avoiding alliances, war was declared against the German government (rather than its subjects). Wilson also insisted that the USA was an associated power rather than a member of the Allies.
On the 8th January, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson presented his Peace Programme to Congress. Compiled by a group of US foreign policy experts, the programme included fourteen different points. The first five points dealt with general principles: Point 1 renounced secret treaties; Point 2 dealt with freedom of the seas; Point 3 called for the removal of worldwide trade barriers; Point 4 advocated arms reductions and Point 5 suggested the international arbitration of all colonial disputes.
Points 6 to 13 were concerned with specific territorial problems including claims made by Russia, France and Italy. This part of Wilson's programme also raised issues such as the control of the Dardanelles and the claims for independence by the people living in areas controlled by the Central Powers.
All the major countries involved in the First World War objected to certain points in Wilson's Peace Programme. However, when peace negotiations began in October, 1918, Wilson insisted that his Fourteen Points should serve as a basis for the signing of the Armistice.
When the Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, Wilson began a nation-wide campaign to win support for the Paris Peace Agreement. While on this tour, he collapsed (26th September, 1919) and was an invalid for the last three and a half years of his life.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson died in 1924.