#28: Review of “Woodrow Wilson & The Roots of Modern Liberalism” by Ronald Pestritto (1913-1921)
Y’all, the more I learn about our Presidents, the more I feel unqualified to share my opinions. Believe it or not a lot has happened in 244 years of life since our inception in 1776! (side-note: this means our semiquincentennial (250th anniversary) is only 6 years away!!)
Wilson was the first Democrat in the White House since Cleveland 16 years prior. After finishing the book, I chuckled to myself thinking how Wilson becoming President is like you racing in the Daytona 500 because you’re a Mario Kart champion. It’s not to say that Wilson was ill-prepared, but rather it’s funny to think he would get to play the part (President) that he’d spent so much time studying.
He saw the constitution as a living document that should reflect the will of the people in that specific moment of time. Thus, he thought that the Constitution’s ideals (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) were great for the Revolutionary time period, but unsuited to modern times. I found this fascinating! I tend to agree with the founders’ ideals; however, it was darn-refreshing to read about someone who was convinced otherwise.
As for the man beyond his mind, I listened to this Presidential podcast about him. He was born in Virginia, grew up during the Civil War in Macon, GA (shoutout to YOU, Kyle Webb.) He even witnessed Jefferson Davis being marched in chains through Macon following the war.
Despite being the first President to stream movies in the White House, his tastes well…stunk! The Birth of a Nation, a super racist film (that was actually made by one of his friends) which glorified the KKK (and led to a significant increase in KKK membership) was played while he was President.
Oh yeah, World War I. The book didn’t talk a lick about it; however, I had this thought: 20 million people died in WWI, 115,000 of those were Americans which is about 35,000 lives less than we’ve lost to COVID in the last 4 months!! That’s nuts. Read that twice before proceeding.
Wilson suffered a severe stroke in 1919 (about a year and a half before his 2nd term expired). His recently married wife, Edith (both Edith and Wilson were widowed prior to their marriage), stepped up majorly to help him run things. The stroke left his left side nearly paralyzed and almost completely blind. 1919 was also the year that women gained the right to vote with the 19th amendment!
4 fun facts about Wilson
- He was the first President since John Adams to deliver his speeches to Congress in person.
- The eight-hour workday for railroad workers was established while he was President. This was the first step towards our more 9-5 model.
- He’s the only President between Andrew Jackson and Obama to have at least 1 foreign-born parent (his Mom was born in England).
- The Federal Reserve was created during his Presidency in 1913. Heads up my AP Econ students!! PUMPED to discuss this more with you!
1 thing I think Trump could learn from Wilson
I couldn’t think of anything for this one. Can you?
- Check out this delightful high school commencement address by our current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts. He wishes them bad luck! Thanks to Banner Brock for sharing this with me!
- If you like intellectual history like I do, then you’ve got to check out the series that this book I read on Wilson is a part of. The two most interesting reads to me are: “The Lost Soul of American Protestantism” by D.G. Hart & “The Constant Dialogue: Reinhold Niebuhr and American Intellectual Culture” by Martin Halliwell.
- Friend me on goodreads! I try to post a few thoughts immediately upon finishing a book.
Shoutout to YOU!!:
- Shoutout to Stephen Floyd for joining the newsletter!! Super excited to have you along for the ride. Guys, if you’re not aware of Stephen’s blog, it’s a must!! He read every single biography of every US President in 7 years? (correct me if I’m wrong Stephen!) to discover the greatest Presidential biographies out there. He’s since expanded to all biographies. I came across his stuff back in December when I was thinking about doing something like this, and he inspired me to give it a shot! Thanks again, Stephen!
Are there any questions that you have about Presidential History/my journey that I can answer? I would LOVE to engage with any of your questions/wonderings that you might have. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if so.
I’ll leave you with this quote about what Wilson thinks we need in a President:
We need “a man who will be and who will seem to the country in some sort an embodiment of the character and purpose it wishes its government to have–a man who understands his own day and the needs of the country.”
To infinity & beyond!
Next up, Warren Harding!