WHEN THE CHEERING STOPPED
The last years of Woodrow Wilson
Reviewed by Carolyn B. Leonard
This oldie-but-goodie laments the collapse of the League of Nations and then-president Woodrow Wilson. The message is especially timely during this presidential election year.
Wilson defeated two former US presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, to win his first election in 1912 as the twenty-eighth president of the United States. Wilson used tariff, currency and anti-trust laws to prime the pump and get the economy working in 1913. He spent 1914 through 1916 trying to keep America out of the war in Europe. However by mid 1917 in his second term, this president saw war as unavoidable. He announced the country was entering the "war to end all wars." During 1818 and 1819 he worked tirelessly to promote his peace plan and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the Senate never ratified and the nation never joined the League.
After the war ended, in the hot September of 1919 the president, his second wife, his doctor and his secretary stumped the nation by rail to stir up support for the League of Nations. President Wilson, then past sixty and in his second term, was exhausted by World War I and his struggle to get the United States into his treaty of peace. Yet, he firmly believed that without the US in the League, there would soon be another even more critical World War. By seven votes, the treaty failed in the Senate. The President, against the warnings of his doctor, made a national tour to gain public support - 8,000 miles in 22 days. From Washington to California his train paused at every whistle stop for an appearance and then back east again as his voice grew steadily more hoarse. No microphones or loudspeakers were available and it was important to Wilson for the people to hear what he had to say.
Suddenly in Wichita, Kansas, his trip was cancelled -- just before his scheduled appearance in Oklahoma City 26 September 1919. Only his intimates knew why.
The stroke was so debilitating that for seventeen months the President never saw ANYONE except his doctor, and no one was allowed to see him, especially not a photographer, reporter, anyone from the public or even his cabinet members and friends. No details, no explanations.
His wife, Edith Galt, (with only a second grade education) took charge of all correspondence and actions/reactions to his cabinet. She would send their requests back each day with a note (in her 2nd grade scribble) saying, "the president says ...." To this day, no one knows if the president ever saw any of the requests or if Mrs. Wilson made all the decisions. (Perhaps she was actually the first woman president?) The Wilsons detested Vice President Thomas R. Marshall and never briefed him on the situation, so he took no part in the government actions and was never advised he was only a heartbeat away from the top office. The doctor never expected the president to survive. The American public was never allowed to know the severity of the situation. Even Wilson's secretary of state, Joe Tumulty, was banned.
Still the country survived.
The next administration - Warren G. Harding - was filled with graft, theivery, misappropriation of government funds, scandals such as the Teapot Dome. Harding is seen as one of the worst presidents in American History. His early death probably saved him from impeachment over the many scandals of his administration.
and yet our country survived. There is hope, no matter who wins this election!
Wilson's illness later led to the passing of the Twenty-fifth amendment establishing procedures both for filling a vacancy in the office of the Vice President as well as responding to Presidential disabilities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR GENE SMITH - He presented Mrs. Edith Harding as a shrew and a vindictive person although an extremely loyal and devoted wife. I loved the ending, though the author may have drawn it out a bit too much. The sorrow of seeing Wilson as a broken, haggard, bitter and defeated man was rewarded with Smith's revelation of the crowds starting to gather in front of his home, finally recognizing him as one of the great leaders of his time. This is cheering to anyone who has ever felt the sting of defeat.
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