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progressive leadership of Roosevelt, whose enthusiasm and practical vision had attracted the approval of more than four million voters in the preceding election, despite his lack of an adequate political organization. Even those who supported Wilson most whole-heartedly believed that his work would lie entirely within the field of domestic reform; little did they imagine that he would play a part in world affairs larger than had fallen to any citizen of the United States since the birth of the country.
The new President was fifty-six years old. His background was primarily academic, a fact which, together with his Scotch-Irish ancestry, the Presbyterian tradition of his family, and his early years spent in the South, explains much in his character at the time when he entered upon the general political stage. After graduating from Princeton in 1879, where his career gave little indication of extraordinary promise, he studied law, and for a time his shingle hung out in Atlanta. He seemed unfitted by nature, however, for either pleasure or success in the practice of the law. Reserved and cold, except with his intimates, he was incapable of attracting clients in a profession and locality where ability to “mix” was a prime qualification. A certain lack of tolerance for the failings of his fellow
mortals may have combined with his Presbyterian conscience to disgust him with the hard give-andtake of the struggling lawyer's life. He sought escape in graduate work in history and politics at Johns Hopkins, where, in 1886, he received his Ph.D. for a thesis entitled Congressional Government, a study remarkable for clear thinking and felicitous expression. These qualities characterized his work as a professor at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan and paved his path to an appointment on the Princeton faculty in 1890, as Professor of Jurisprudence and Politics.
Despite his early distaste to the career of practicing lawyer, Wilson was by no means the man to bury himself in academic research. He lacked the scrupulous patience and the willingness to submerge his own personality which are characteristic of the scientific scholar. His gift was for generalization, and his writings were marked by clarity of thought and wealth of phrase, rather than by profundity. But such qualities brought him remarkable success as a lecturer and essayist, and constant practice gave him a fluency, a vocal control, and a power of verbal expression which assured distinction at the frequent public meetings and dinners where he was called upon to speak. Professionał
interest in the science of government furnished him with topics of far wider import than the ordinary pedagogue cares to handle, and he became, even as professor, well known outside of Princeton. His influence, already broad in the educational and not without some recognition in the political world, was extended in 1902, when he was chosen President of the University.
During the succeeding eight years Wilson enjoyed his first taste of executive power, and certain traits which he then displayed deserve brief notice. Although a “conservative” in his advocacy of the maintenance of the old-time curriculum, based upon the ancient languages and mathematics, and in his opposition to the free elective system, he proved an inflexible reformer as regards methods of instruction, the efficiency of which he was determined to establish. He showed a ruthless resolution to eliminate what he looked upon as undemocratic social habits among the undergraduates, and did not hesitate to cut loose from tradition, regardless of the prejudice thereby aroused against him. As an executive he evoked intense admiration and virulent dislike; the Board of Trustees and the alumni body were alike divided between enthusiastic support and bitter anathematization of the
measures he proposed. What seems obvious is that many graduates sympathized with his purposes but were alienated by his methods. His strength lay chiefly in the force of his appeal to democratic sentiment; his weakness in complete inability to conciliate opponents.
At the moment when the issue of the struggle at Princeton was still undecided, opportunity was given Wilson to enter political life; an ambition for such a career had evidently stirred him in early days and was doubtless resuscitated by his success as a public speaker. While President of Princeton he had frequently touched upon public issues, and so early as 1906 Colonel George Harvey had mentioned him as a possible President of the United States. From that time he was often considered as available for political office, and in 1910, with New Jersey stirred by a strong popular movement against boss-rule, he was tendered the nomination for Governor of that State. He accepted and proved an ideal candidate. Though supported by the Democratic machine, which planned to elect a reformer and then control him, Wilson won the adherence of independents and progressive Republicans by his promise to break the power of the boss system, and by the clarity of his plans for reform. His appeals to the spirit of democracy and morality, while they voiced nothing new in an electoral campaign, rang with unusual strength and sincerity. The State, which had gone Republican by eighty-two thousand two years before, now elected Wilson its Governor by a plurality of forty-nine thousand.
He retained office in New Jersey for only two years. During that period he achieved a high degree of success. Had he served longer it is impossible to say what might have been his ultimate position, for as at Princeton, elements of opposition had begun to coalesce against him and he had found no means to disarm them. As Governor, he at once declared himself head of the party and by a display of firm activity dominated the machine. The Democratic boss, Senator James Smith, was sternly enjoined from seeking reëlection to the Senate, and when, in defiance of promises and the wish of the voters as expressed at the primaries, he attempted to run, Wilson entered the lists and so influenced public opinion and the Legislature that the head of the machine received only four votes. Attempts of the Democratic machine to combine with the Republicans, in order to nullify the reforms which Wilson had promised in his campaign, proved equally