Woodrow Wilson's Administration

From New Freedom to World War I

New Freedom, Mexico, Personal Loss

Wilson's first legislative step could have been disastrous. Revision of Tariffs had destroyed politicians before. Teddy Roosevelt predicted that any politician who attempted Tariff reform was committing political suicide. However Wilson was determined to succeed. The current Tariff placed undue burden on the average American and provided an atmosphere that trusts and monopolies could flourish. Through skillful statesmanship and determined leadership Wilson passed the bill through both houses of Congress. Attached to the bill was a graduated income tax. This tax made it far easier in later years to raise the funds necessary to prepare for war. The "New Freedom" which included legislation concerning tariff reform, currency reform, and child labor reform, was a significant accomplishment and may have been his legacy if not for the troubles in Europe.

The turmoil of Mexico

Mexico was an inherited headache. The many factions and political parties insured almost continual turmoil. Taft had sent U.S. warships to Mexican waters to ward off potential problems, but had practically ignored the brutal assassination of the duly elected Mexican President Francisco Madero. Wilson walked into a no-win situation and did not win. Throughout his presidency Wilson wavered between his policy of "watchful waiting," and armed intervention. Meanwhile various bandits, such as Pancho Villa, conducted raids across the border, or kidnapped key U.S. officials. Mexican politicians made open threats, and negotiated possible alliances with Germany. This made coherent policy very difficult to initiate and maintain. Wilson battled to keep his principles at work in Mexico. The harsh reality of short term solutions chipped away at his ideals of national self-determination, and prevented Wilson from solving the Mexico problem before he left office. The danger was most evident in 1917 when the United States intercepted a note from Germany to Mexico. The
"Zimmerman Note" proposed an alliance between Mexico and Germany and promised financial support as well as the return of New Mexico, Texas, and Arizona to Mexican control. This alliance, which never materialized, between Mexico and Germany would have severely hampered the United States ability to fight Germany in Europe.

Personal Loss

"Of course you know what has happened to me. God has stricken me almost more than I can bear."
Woodrow Wilson 1914

While Woodrow tended the affairs of state Ellen Wilson worked tirelessly for the condition of the slums in Washington D.C. She also hosted numerous events at the White House which caused great stress to one used to the quiet setting of Princeton. Ellen, fragile, artistic and intelligent, did not have the constitution for the daily pressures of the public eye. Her health deteriorated quickly and by the summer of 1914 President Wilson was spending hours by her bedside comforting his wife and writing while she slept. August 4th with her family around her bed and Woodrow holding her hand Ellen Axson Wilson passed away. Her last wish was that the slum-clearance bill that she had worked for be passed. The bill was acted upon favorably at first, but met resistance and never solved the problems that Ellen had hoped to eliminate. Woodrow wondered aloud how he could cope, partially blaming his ambition for her death.

Wilson would remarry in 1915 to Edith Boling Galt, but in the meantime would feel deeply this immense personal loss. The world would not give him time to mourn. By August 6 the armies of Europe were mobilized and on the move.