Woodrow Wilson’s “Second Personality”
Wherever blame for the war might lie, for the immense majority of Americans in 1914 it was just another of the European horrors from which our policy of neutrality, set forth by the Founding Fathers of the Republic, had kept us free. Pašić, Sazonov, Conrad, Poincaré, Moltke, Edward Grey, and the rest—these were the men our Fathers had warned us against. No conceivable outcome of the war could threaten an invasion of our vast and solid continental base. We should thank a merciful Providence, which gave us this blessed land and impregnable fortress, that America, at least, would not be drawn into the senseless butchery of the Old World. That was unthinkable.
However, in 1914 the president of the United States was Thomas Woodrow Wilson.
The term most frequently applied to Woodrow Wilson nowadays is “idealist.” In contrast, the expression “power-hungry” is rarely used. Yet a scholar not unfriendly to him has written of Wilson that “he loved, craved, and in a sense glorified power.” Musing on the character of the US government while he was still an academic, Wilson wrote: “I cannot imagine power as a thing negative and not positive.”1 Even before he entered politics, he was fascinated by the power of the presidency and how it could be augmented by meddling in foreign affairs and dominating overseas territories. The war with Spain and the American acquisition of colonies in the Caribbean and across the Pacific were welcomed by Wilson as productive of salutary changes in our federal system. “The plunge into international politics and into the administration of distant dependencies” had already resulted in “the greatly increased power and opportunity for constructive statesmanship given the President.”
When foreign affairs play a prominent part in the politics and policy of a nation, its Executive must of necessity be its guide: must utter every initial judgment, take every first step of action, supply the information upon which it is to act, suggest and in large measure control its conduct. The President of the United States is now [in 1900], as of course, at the front of affairs…. There is no trouble now about getting the President’s speeches printed and read, every word…. The government of dependencies must be largely in his hands. Interesting things may come of this singular change.
Wilson looked forward to an enduring “new leadership of the Executive,” with even the heads of Cabinet departments exercising “a new influence upon the action of Congress.”2
In large part Wilson’s reputation as an idealist is traceable to his incessantly professed love of peace. Yet as soon as he became president, prior to leading the country into the First World War, his actions in Latin America were anything but pacific. Even Arthur S. Link (whom Walter Karp referred to as the keeper of the Wilsonian flame) wrote, of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean: “the years from 1913 to 1921 [Wilson’s years in office] witnessed intervention by the State Department and the navy on a scale that had never before been contemplated, even by such alleged imperialists as Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.” The protectorate extended over Nicaragua, the military occupation of the Dominican Republic, the invasion and subjugation of Haiti (which cost the lives of some 2,000 Haitians) were landmarks of Wilson’s policy.3 All was enveloped in the haze of his patented rhetoric of freedom, democracy, and the rights of small nations. The Pan-American Pact which Wilson proposed to our southern neighbors guaranteed the “territorial integrity and political independence” of all the signatories. Considering Wilson’s persistent interference in the affairs of Mexico and other Latin states, this was hypocrisy in the grand style.4
The most egregious example of Wilson’s bellicose interventionism before the European war was in Mexico. Here his attempt to manipulate the course of a civil war lead to the fiascoes of Tampico and Vera Cruz.
In April, 1914, a group of American sailors landed their ship in Tampico without permission of the authorities and were arrested. As soon as the Mexican commander heard of the incident, he had the Americans released and sent a personal apology. That would have been the end of the affair “had not the Washington administration been looking for an excuse to provoke a fight,” in order to benefit the side Wilson favored in the civil war. The American admiral in charge demanded from the Mexicans a 21-gun salute to the American flag; Washington bac
Article from Mises Wire