- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 4, 2006

Woodrow Wilson tried to bring the United States into the League of Nations, but Congress voted him down. He also tried to block Prohibition and failed.

But while his administration suffered setbacks, he turned out to be one of the most prescient of presidents.

“I can predict with absolute certainty that within another generation there will be another world war if the nations of the world do not concert the method by which to prevent it,” he said in a 1919 speech.

Less than 20 years later, Adolf Hitler sent German armies into Poland and proved Wilson right.

The Woodrow Wilson House, the only presidential museum in Washington, is commemorating Wilson’s 150th birthday with an exhibit that opened Saturday. The museum is in the home, a small but elegant house and garden, where Wilson spent his last few years.

The exhibit includes his shiny top hat, white kid gloves and pince-nez glasses. Also on display are one of his golf clubs, a tennis racket and passes to baseball games. So is the Hammond typewriter on which he wrote his speeches. It could also write Greek characters — ancient Greek was a love from his college days.

The only president to earn a doctorate, Wilson was president of Princeton University for eight years before he decided to enter politics. He had great successes in government: mobilization of men and industry for World War I, establishment of the Federal Reserve System, introduction of the progressive income tax, reduction of tariffs.

Some of his most appreciated reforms, like strengthening antitrust laws, carried on the work of Theodore Roosevelt, president from 1901 to 1909. Wilson served from 1913 to 1921.

“Roosevelt was a person of flesh and blood,” Wilson once said. “The public sees him as a living, breathing, sweating human being, where they see me only as an abstraction.”

Roosevelt wanted to raise his own volunteer force in World War I, as he had volunteered for the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War 20 years earlier. Wilson turned him down.

Wilson’s success in presidential politics owed much to chance. His election in 1912 was due largely to Roosevelt’s split from the Republicans. In 1916, Wilson won a close re-election race in a campaign based on the slogan “He kept us out of war.”

Less than a month after his second inaugural, he went to Congress and asked for a declaration of war. The Germans, misjudging American sentiment, had tried to incite Mexico and Japan against the United States, and announced they were ordering their submarines to sink merchant and passenger ships without warning.

Too ill from his efforts on behalf of the League of Nations to take much part in the 1920 campaign, Wilson saw Republican Warren Harding win an overwhelming victory over the Democratic ticket, which included vice-presidential nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wilson died in 1924.

Wilson’s widow, Edith Bolling Galt, whom he married while in the White House, continued to live in their house until her death in 1961. In its garage is a black 1923 Rolls-Royce, a gift from admirers who had it marked with a discreet orange line to give it the Princeton colors. It has been borrowed from a private collector for the duration of the Washington show and was leading a procession of vintage cars around Washington on Saturday.

The free exhibit at the Woodrow Wilson House will be open until Sept. 17. It will move to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Va., in time to celebrate his 150th birthday Dec. 28.


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