Birth of Woodrow Wilson 

U.S. #623 was based on a photo from Wilson’s wife, likely taken during his second term.

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born December 28, 1856, in Staunton, Virginia, the third of four children.

Wilson’s family fiercely defended the Confederate cause, but also set up a Sunday school for their slaves. Reportedly, one of Wilson’s earliest memories was hearing Robert E. Lee say that Abraham Lincoln had been elected and that war was coming.

Wilson attended Davidson College in North Carolina and then Princeton, where he took great interest in studying political philosophy and history. As a student at Princeton, Wilson served as speaker of the Whig Party, wrote for the Nassau Literary Review, organized the Liberal Debating Society, and coached another debating group.

U.S. #832b is the only U.S. postage stamp printed on Internal Revenue Service paper.

In 1882, Wilson passed the Georgia bar and opened his own law practice with a former classmate. He soon found the law practice was too competitive in the city, and felt it was holding him back from his real aspirations to join politics. So in 1883, he entered Johns Hopkins University to study political science.

By 1886, Wilson had earned his Ph.D. and briefly worked as a visiting lecturer at Cornell University. He went on to teach at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University, where he coached football and started a debate team. In 1890, Wilson began teaching at Princeton. At that time, he also became the first lecturer of Constitutional Law at New York Law School. His stirring speech at Princeton’s 1896 sesquicentennial celebration was titled “Princeton in the Nation’s Service,” which became the university’s motto (and was later changed to “Princeton in the Nation’s Service and in the Service of All Nations”). In 1902, Wilson was promoted from professor to president of Princeton University. He took great joy in this role and made major reforms to the school.

With the support of the state’s Democratic Party, Wilson was elected Governor of New Jersey in 1910, winning by more than 49,000 votes. Within six months of taking office, he established state primaries, essentially removing party bosses from the presidential election process in the state. He also reformed the public utility commission and created workers’ compensation in the state.

U.S. #1040 was often used on certified mail.

Quickly gaining national fame for his work as governor, Wilson sought the presidency in the election of 1912. He received his party’s nomination and campaigned promoting “New Freedom,” which promised to limit the federal government and fight monopolies. Wilson won the election with 41.8% of the popular vote and 435 electoral votes.

Wilson wasted no time instituting his “New Freedom” promises, addressing antitrusts, tariff reforms, and changes to banking and currency issues. President Wilson held the first modern press conference on March 15, 1913, and that year gave the first State of the Union address in person since 1801.

One of the first major issues Wilson tackled was the Federal Reserve. The resulting Federal Reserve Act of 1913 gave private banks control of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, but placed controlling interest in a central board selected by the President, with Senate approval. The plan was passed that December and went into effect in 1915.

Tariff reform came with the Underwood Tariff in 1913. Wilson raised public support for the tariff by denouncing corporate lobbyists, addressing Congress in person, and putting on a large ceremony when he signed the bill. The reduced revenue that resulted from the lower tariff was made up through a new federal income tax created by the 16th Amendment.

U.S. #3183k from the Celebrate the Century series.

Wilson also managed to end the long-time battle over trusts. Wilson encouraged competition through the Federal Trade Commission, which mostly put an end to unfair trade practices. He also pushed for the passage of the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914. That act made certain business practices illegal, including price discrimination and agreements that allowed retailers to handle products of other companies.

When war broke out in Europe in 1914, President Wilson declared neutrality and aimed to keep America out of the conflict. He offered his services as a mediator, but the Allies and Central Powers never responded. On the home front, he faced criticism from Republicans, who thought he should begin building up the U.S. Army. But Wilson believed that such actions would only provoke war.

During the election of 1916, Wilson ran with the campaign slogan, “He kept us out of war.” But after winning his party’s nomination, he warned that German submarine warfare taking American lives would not be tolerated. In November, Wilson narrowly won reelection.

U.S. #2218i – 1986 Wilson First Day Cover.

President Wilson soon found it difficult to maintain America’s neutrality, especially after a British passenger liner had been sunk with Americans on board. The tide turned, however, when the U.S. intercepted a telegram sent to the German ambassador in Mexico City promoting a Mexican attack on America.

On April 2, 1917, President Wilson addressed Congress with a declaration of war, stating that the war overseas had become a threat to humanity. He referred to it as a “war to end all wars” hoping it would result in lasting peace. The U.S. soon raised a large army, due in part to the draft.

The following January, Wilson again addressed Congress, delivering his now-famous “Fourteen Points” speech, outlining America’s war goals. It also suggested the creation of a peacemaking organization, which would eventually become the League of Nations.

Item #81842 – Commemorative cover marking Wilson’s 130th birthday.

When the Great War ended, President Wilson attended the Paris Peace Conference, making him the first President to visit Europe while in office. He pushed for many of the ideas in his “Fourteen Points” speech and supported the League of Nations at the Treaty of Versailles. He then had to return to America to get Senate approval on the treaty. With the Senate split on the issue, Wilson set out on a cross-country speaking tour to get national support. However, mere weeks into his journey he suffered a debilitating stroke that paralyzed his left side. No one aside from his wife and doctor knew the full extent of his condition for several years. Wilson’s second wife, Edith, served as his steward, deciding which issues to bring to his attention and which ones to pass on to other members of the cabinet. Over time, Wilson was able to attend cabinet meetings, but was never able to perform as he had done prior to the stroke.

Wilson and his wife left the White House in 1921, retiring to an elegant house in the Embassy Row of Washington, D.C.  He attended just two state occasions during his retirement and gave his last national address the day before Armistice Day in 1923. The following day he delivered a brief speech before 20,000 people gathered outside his home. After suffering another stroke, he died on February 3, 1924. Wilson is the only President buried in the nation’s capital, laid to rest in Washington National Cathedral.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
[Total: 11 Average: 4.8]

Share this article

2 responses to "Birth of Woodrow Wilson "

2 thoughts on “Birth of Woodrow Wilson ”

  1. He preached less centralization, but, consolidated the Federal Reserve! Must have sounded good in the beginning. Now we pay a private bank 1% on all America’s loans to ourselves.

    He hoped for a “new world government” [ sound familiar] Humans just seem to not want that yet.
    Still involved in nationalism or ethnic divides, Modernism seems pretty out of it now.

  2. Dr. Woodrow Wilson was awarded 1919 Nobel Peace Prize , the second of the the three sitting presidents so honored. During his college days, he was Center Fielder (abbreviated as CF in baseball terms, and was assigned No. 8 as per numbering system of defensive plays). This love for baseball was so great, that he became the first sitting president to attend and throw out the first ball at World series Base ball game. Wilson`s most famous books are 1. Congressional Government (1885) 2. A college textbook THE STATE (1890), 3. Division and Reunion (1893) 4.Five volume work HISTORY of THE AMERICAN PEOPLE (1902). 5.Constitutional Government of the United States (1908). Wilson is the first president to start White House Press Conference in which he allowed journalists to ask him questions. He also became the first president to deliver The State of the Union address in person .Wilson fell in love with Ellen Louise Axson and they were engaged in 1883. But the marriage delayed as Ellen`s father was admitted to mental hospital for treatment of depression, where he committed suicide in 1884. Ellen then went to New York to study and graduated in portrait art. She received gold medal for her work in Paris International exhibition. Then, she married Wilson in 1885.. She died on August 6, 1914. However, in 1906, Wilson went blind in left eye due to blood clotting.. So he went on vacation to Bermuda where he met Mary Hulbert Peck . Rumors of their affair were in the air and his letters to Mary were used by his political rivals to tarnish his image. Wilson`s remarriage took place on December 18, 1915 when he married Edith Bolling Galt, a widow and a jeweler. After this re marriage, Edith was known as the First Lady of the United States from 1915 to 1921. She was also called “DE FACTO” president . A film titled WILSON was released in 1944 by 20th Century Fox production. LARGEST DENOMINATION OF U.S. CURRENCY EVER PRINTED , the $100,000 bill , BEARS WILSON`s PORTRAIT . ( this bill is meant for use only among the Federal Reserve Banks). Thank you MYSTIC for excellent write up of one of the great presidents of America.


Leave a Comment

Love history?

Discover events in American history – plus the stamps that make them come alive.

Subscribe to get This Day in History stories straight to your inbox every day!