Podcast # 60: Woodrow Wilson Part 3

We talked at great length about Domestic Issues during his Presidency but Foreign Policy wise, there is a lot going on here. We are going to have two –three episodes on WWI. So we aren’t going to go into much detail on that in this episode.

During WWI which acted as a smoke screen for this next event, you have the Armenian Genocide taking place. April of 1915, the first major genocide of the 20th Century begins. Within the Ottoman Empire, which is mostly Muslim, you have a minority group of Armenian Christians. Armenians were seen as scapegoats for the Ottoman Empire’s losses during WWI. Armenian Christian intellectuals are at first rounded up and put in camps and killed, and then you start seeing hundreds of thousands of Armenian people being rounded up, taken to refugee camps and killed. The thought process was that these Christian groups would be more likely to support the Russians who were also Christian. Along with Armenians, there are also Assyrians and Greeks that are being killed. Christians living near the Russian border were removed, many sent on death marches. People were starved, burned alive, shot, even crucified.

During the Armenian Genocide that began in 1915, it is believed that anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 Million Armenians and other Christian groups within the Ottoman Empire were murdered by the Turkish government.

To this day, the government of Turkey still refuses to admit that a Genocide took place. Facinghistory.org has great information about the US response to the Armenian Genocide. At the time, the US Ambassador in Turkey is getting information about what’s happening to Armenians and passes along the information to the US Sec. of State. News of what was happening was printed in US Newspapers and relief in the form of money was sent to Armenians. No political or military intervention by the US to help the Armenians happened. In 1915, the US is still neutral, we are not yet involved in WWI and the genocide in Turkey continued until the early 1920s. WWI created the perfect smoke screen of sorts for this genocide. WWI occurs from 1914- 1918 with the armistice.

Other areas of the world that we should talk about in regards to Wilson’s Foreign Policy are:

  • Mexico
  • Latin America
  • Haiti
  • Russian Revolution


With the outbreak of a Civil War in Mexico pressure for the US Government to intervene to protect US citizens living in Mexico and American businesses that had interests in the region began increasing. Quickly after coming into office, an arms embargo began. Wilson wanted to limit the weapons going into Mexico and wanted our allies to withdraw recognition of Huerta’s Government.

American warships were sent to the coast to protect US oil interests in the region. Tensions rose after 9 American sailors were detained by the Mexican military after picking up fuel. The sailors had entered an area that was considered off limits. While the sailors were released, US military officials wanted an apology and a 21-gun salute. They got the apology but wouldn’t get the 21-gun salute. When word reached Washington that a shipment of weapons had entered the port, Wilson gave the order for the US military to take the port. This event would become known as the Tampico Affair and would lead to a 7 month US occupation of Veracruz.

As Civil War raged on in Mexico and fighting got closer to the US border. Woodrow Wilson sent the National Guard to protect the US Border. After a raid at a town in New Mexico lead by General Francisco Pancho Villa you may know him in history as being more commonly referred to as Pancho Villa 18 US Soldiers were kidnapped and murdered. Villa hoped to incite a war between the US and Mexico and bring down the Mexican Government. That of course wouldn’t happen.

ON to Haiti, On July 28, 1915, over three hundred United States Marines were sent to Port-au-Prince, Haiti after a coup and the lynching of President Jean Vilbrun Guillaume Sam. This was the start of a 19 year long occupation of Haiti. An NAACP report by James Wilson Johnson in 1920 titled "The Truth about Haiti: An NAACP Investigation." His investigation and subsequent articles in The Nation described the corruption, forced labor, press censorship, racial segregation, and violence that was prevalent in Haiti.

The constitution was drafted by Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and while it was a fairly liberal document, it did allow for foreign land ownership, something that had been made illegal by the first leader of Haiti following the revolution, Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

The Senate Committee of Foreign Relations was created in order to investigate the occupation of Hispaniola. A 1929 commission found many of the previous claims of corruption to be true and U.S. Marines withdrew from Haiti in 1934 under President Franklin Roosevelt.

Russian Revolution

Czar Nicholas II, ruler of Russia and another grandson of Queen Victoria of Great Britain.

An earlier revolution in Russia in 1905 after the Russo-Japanese war set the stage for the Revolution of 1917. Russia was ill equipped to fight in WWI. Soldiers didn’t have adequate supplies – and essential supplies at that, boots and bullets just to name two. The czar insisted on leading the military which didn’t help matters either.

Protests against the war and the lack of food began. He doesn’t have the support of the military. He leaves the war front to return home but it is too late. Czar Nicholas did abdicate the throne but it wasn’t enough to save his life. He attempts to leave Russia and looks to his European relatives to give him asylum in their countries but, without public support, it couldn’t be done. After all, they want to keep the crowns they have on their heads. The family is imprisoned and eventually executed.

You can’t talk about the Russian Revolutions without talking about the Bolsheviks. Even as quickly as we are glazing over this. The Bolsheviks led by men like VI Lenin and Leon Trotsky and their ideas of Peace Land and Bread caught on especially with the peasants. The Bolsheviks overthrew the provisional government. Individuals who supported Democracy in Russia were either imprisoned or killed. Civil war breaks out in Russia and paves the way for a Communist government to be established. The goal was to spread communism. This was not only a threat to the crowned heads of Europe but also to the Democracy of the United States. While the US supported the provisional government set up after the abdication of the czar. They wouldn’t recognize the communist government of Russia until 1933. During the Russian Civil War, there were two sides. The Bolsheviks otherwise known as the Red Army (Our government was not about to support them) and then you had the White Army. The White Army was not as united in spirit and in goal as the Bolsheviks or the Red Army was. The United States along with other countries participated in what was known as Allied Intervention in the Russian Civil War in the hopes of helping the White Army defeat the Bolsheviks and to establish a Democracy in Russia. That was not to be. On the home front, fear of Bolshevism spreading within the United States, especially amongst the working class and within labor unions grew. Various strikes throughout the country fueled those fears and emboldened government officials to stamp out communist leaders before they could do any damage. The Department of Justice, led by the Attorney General. A. Mitchell Palmer, led a series of raids to arrest known or suspected anarchists and socialists. There were over 3,000 arrests made and hundreds of immigrants were deported. Anti-Italian and German immigrant sentiments led to attacks and violence against Italian-Americans and German-Americans. This idea that “hyphenated Americans were disloyal to the United States and American society because they held more loyalty to their “mother country”. There will be another Red Scare in the United States after WWII. During Wilson’s Presidency, we aren’t just seeing violence towards immigrant groups. We are also seeing violence against black Americans. Throughout his lifetime, Wilson’s views on Civil Rights for Black Americans are terrible. Can you discuss Wilson’s views on this?

Just to give an example of attitudes some people had on race during his Presidency, you don’t have to look much further than the Red Summer of 1919 – Lynching of 76 Black Americans. Some of the people lynched were WWI Veterans dressed in their uniform. Just take a minute and let that fact sink in. You have to consider the deep rooted hatred, bigotry, racism that exists in the United States during this time to have war heroes lynched in their uniforms. Just the very basic nature of the statement of 76 human beings being lynched. Their bodies are hanging from trees and there is no major national uproar for this to stop.

To say that there is a lot going on during Wilson’s presidency at home and abroad is an understatement.

After the 1918 Armistice, the fighting ends and it is time to create a plan for Peace. We are going to talk about this more in our WWI podcast, but can you discuss Woodrow Wilson’s plans for peace?

Treaty of Paris negotiations – stubborn, kept Congress in the dark in regards to the negotiations on the treaty. The President has the right to negotiate treaties but it is the Senate that must approve them and make them law, checks and balances. The League of Nations was especially troubling for the Senate. They feared that it would pull the United States into foreign conflicts.

No one knows anything about it except Miss E., Miss Harkins, Hoover – quote from his personal physician The Grayson documents

You mentioned his stroke. He has a massive stroke after having to return home early from this speaking tour he goes on trying to build up support for the treaty and The League of Nations. On Oct. 2, Wilson collapsed in the White House. His wife found him unconscious on the bathroom floor of the White House.

Edith Wilson, pulled her husband to their bed and then went out into the hallway to use a secure line to ask to have the President’s doctor come to see him.

The official White House story was that the president was suffering from "nervous exhaustion." An emergency cabinet meeting was called to discuss the fact that no one had seen the President. Wilson’s doctor assured the members of the cabinet that the President was fine. This is a time when there is no 25th Amendment. The only stipulation that is in place in Constitution states “In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the Vice President.” Well the question became, what does inability to discharge the powers and duties of the office mean? Who gets to decide this? The Vice President was a man by the name of Thomas R. Marshall. Of the Vice Presidency he said “Once there were two brothers. One ran away to sea; the other was elected vice president of the United States. And nothing was heard of either of them again.” Marshall was kept out of the loop in regards to pretty much everything. When President Wilson suffered a stroke he wasn’t told either. When he did finally find out about what happened, he tried to see Wilson but the First Lady, Mrs. Wilson, refused to let him in to see the President. I don’t know if you remember the calls by some for Vice President Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment in the remaining days of Trump’s Presidency, but even though there was no 25th Amendment, there were some cabinet members who wanted Marshall to take over Presidential duties. He was unwilling to do so without the support of Congress.

Andrew, can you discuss the impact that the Stroke had on Wilson and his Presidency?

Wilson’s post Presidency was short and marked with severe illness. Wilson didn’t leave his home. He wrote a few essays, attempted to start a law practice but he was unable to work. He was partially paralyzed from his stroke and his eye sight had worsened considerably.

One of our guests on this episode, Elizabeth Karcher who we heard from earlier from Woodrow Wilson house in DC. Can you talk a little bit about the home and the last years of Woodrow Wilson’s life?

Before we close up our podcast on Wilson, I do want to take a few minutes to have our guests discuss some of their favorite artifacts in the museum. As I mentioned earlier, Andrew and Emily are from the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Virginia. What are your favorite artifacts in the museum?

I love the story of the sheep. I think it’s just a scene from a bygone era. It would be hard to imagine seeing a bunch of sheep grazing on the white house lawn today and no one batting an eye. I love it. The wool from the sheep helped to raise significant amounts of money and one of my favorite tid-bits of information was that among the flock there was a ram named Old Ike who was known to be rather aggressive and liked to chew tobacco. Old Ike liked to chew on discarded Cigar butts… gotta love the White House Sheep!

The last years of Woodrow Wilson’s life are sickly. Woodrow Wilson died and It is believed his last words were "Edith, I'm a broken machine, but I'm ready." Elizabeth, I would love to talk a little with you about Wilson’s stroke in 1919 and the last years of his life.

Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy today is an interesting one. He’s a man who did a number of great things. His ideals helped shape Foreign Policy for years to come. You hear that phrase Wilsonian Democracy. Wilson is also a man whose attitudes towards race set civil rights back in this country. He supported the segregation of federal agencies.

How does the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Museum and Library handle such a complex character like Wilson?

I think that’s important, that’s something we certainly strive to do with every podcast we do. We don’t want to dictate your opinions about an event or a person. We do want to present you with the facts and have you make up your own mind about things. In terms of Wilson’s Legacy, he’s viewed and discussed differently today than he was when his Presidency first ended or even in the years following his death.

In June of 2020, Princeton University, the school he once taught at and was President of, issued a lengthy statement. This is the first paragraph. “The Princeton University Board of Trustees voted today to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the University’s School of Public and International Affairs, which will now be known as the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs. We have taken this extraordinary step because we believe that Wilson’s racist thinking and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school whose scholars, students, and alumni must be firmly committed to combating the scourge of racism in all its forms.” (Princeton.edu)

Wilson’s name and impact is still very much present at Princeton. During his time on the faculty and as President he transformed Princeton into one of the greatest educational institutions in the country. Some would argue more than any other individual. The University’s highest honor, is still known as The Woodrow Wilson Award.

I think the best way to close out this podcast on Wilson is with this quote. “Everything is arguable about Woodrow Wilson starting with the date of his birth”.

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