« ПретходнаНастави »
© James Wm. Bryan March 5, 1916: Portrait of Mr. Wilson drawn in charcoal by Miss Hattie E. Burdett, and considered by many as the President's best
likeness at the entrance of America into the World War
Eight Years of the World's
H VOODROW WILSON took the oath of office as President
on March 4, 1913, after one of the most sweeping triumphs
ever known in Presidential elections. Factional war in the Republican Party had given him 435 electoral votes in the preceding November, to Roosevelt's 88 and Taft's 8; and though he was a “minority President,” he had had a popular plurality of more than 2,000,000 over Roosevelt and nearly 3,000,000 over Taft.
Moreover, the party which was coming back into control of the Government after sixteen years of wandering in the wilderness had a majority of five in the Senate and held more than two-thirds of the seats in the lower house. With the opposition divided into two wings, which hated each other at the moment more than they hated the Democrats, the party seemed to have a fairly clear field for the enactment of those sweeping reforms which large elements of the public had been demanding for more than a decade.
With this liberalism, which was not disturbed at being called radicalism, Mr. Wilson in his public career had been consistently identified. During his long service as a university professor and President he had been brought to the attention of a steadily growing public by his books and speeches on American political problems, in which he had spoken the thoughts which in those years were in the minds of millions of Americans on the need for reforms to lessen those contacts between great business interests and the Government which had existed, now weaker and now stronger, ever since the days of Mark Hanna.
The ideas of Mr. Wilson as to-governmental reform, to be sure, went further:than those of many of his followers, and took a different direction from the equall.y. radical notions of others. An avowed admirer of the system of government which gives to the Cabinet the direction of legislation and makes it responsible to the Legislature and the people for its policies, he had been writing for years on the desirability of introducing some of the elements of that system into the somewhat rigid framework of the American Government, and in his brief experience in politics had put into practice his theory that the Executive, even under American constitutional forms, not only could but should be the active director of the policy of the dominant party in legislation as well. But a public addicted to hero worship, little concerned with questions of governmental machinery and inclined to believe that certain parts of the work of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 had been accomplished under divine inspiration, had comparatively little interest in the Wilson concepts of reform in political methods. They regarded him, in the language of those days, as a champion of the “plain people” against “the interests.” They had seen in his long struggle with antagonistic influences in Princeton University—a struggle from which he retired defeated, but made famous and prepared for wider fields by the publicity which he had won by the conflict-a sort of miniature representation of this antithesis between the people and big business and they had learned to regard Mr. Wilson as a fighter for democratic principles against aristocratic tendencies and the money power.
This reputation he had vastly expanded during his two years as Governor of New Jersey. His term had been distinguished not only by the passage of a number of reform measures consonant with the liberal ideas of the period, but by a spectacular struggle between the Governor and an old-time machine of his own partythe very machine which had nominated him. In this fight, as in his conflict at Princeton, he had been for a time defeated, but here again the fight itself had made him famous and won him a hundred supporters outside of his own State for every one he lost at home.
At the very outset of his term, he had entered, against all precedent, into the fight in the Legislature over a Senatorial election. Demanding that the Legislature keep faith with the people, who in a preferential primary had designated a candidate for United States Senator who did not command the support of the organization, he had won his fight on this particular issue and set himself before the public as a sort of tribune of the people who conceived it his duty to interpose his influence wherever other officials showed a tendency to disregard the popular will.
In the legislative fight for the enactment of reform legislation, too, the Governor had continually intervened in the character of “lobbyist for the people,” and while the opposition of the old political organization, which he had aroused in the fight for the Senatorship, had partially halted the progress of this program, the great triumph in November, 1912, had returned a Legislature so strong in support of the Governor that before he left Trenton for Washington practically all of the measures included in his scheme had become laws, Mr. Wilson, then, was known to the country not only as a reformer but as a successful reformer; and his victories over the professional politicians of the old school had removed most of the latent fear of the ineffectuality of a scholar in politics. In point of fact, the chief interest of this particular scholar had always lain in politics, and it was partly chance and partly economic determinism that had diverted him in early life from the practice of politics to the teaching of its principles and history.
Abroad, where his election was received with general satisfaction, he was still regarded as the scholar in politics, for a Europe always inclined to exaggerate the turpitude of professional politicians in America liked to see in him the first fruits of them that slept, the pioneer of the better classes of American society coming at last into politics to clean up the wreckage made by ward bosses and financial interests. Scarcely any American President ever took office amid so much approbation from the leading organs of European opinion.
His radicalism caused no great concern abroad and was regarded with apprehension only in limited circles at home-and even here the apprehension was more over the return to power of the Democratic Party than on account of specific fears based on the character of the President-elect. The business depression of 1913 and 1914 would probably have been inevitable upon the inauguration of any Democratic President, particularly one pledged to the carrying out of extensive alterations in the commercial system of the country. For in 1912 Wilson had been in effect the middle-of-the-road candidate, the conservative liberal. Most of the wild men had followed Roosevelt, and the most conservative business circles felt at least some relief that there had been no re-entry into the White House of the Rough Rider, with a gift for stinging phrases and a cohort of followers in which the lunatic fringe was disproportionately large and unusually ragged. .
So Woodrow Wilson entered the Presidential office under conditions which in some respects were exceptionally favorable. His situation was in reality, however, considerably less satisfactory than it seemed. To begin with, he was, in spite of everything, a minority President and the representative of a minority party. He had even, during a good part of the Baltimore Convention, been a minority candidate for the nomination. If the two wings of the Republicans should during the ensuing Administration succeed in burying their differences and coming together once