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"When The Cheering Stopped" presents the fascinating conclusion of Woodrow Wilson's career and life. Beginning with brief backgrounds of Wilson and his second wife, Edith Galt, the bulk of the book is the story of the Versailles Peace Conference, the fight for the League of Nations and Wilson's stroke and period as an invalid. Much of this work covers the tragic seventeen month period during which presidential leadership and action were lacking from the American scene.
After the death of his first wife, Ellen, Wilson took less than a year to meet and marry Edith Galt, a widow who immediately captured his affections. Their courtship was the stuff of rumors, but, rejecting advice that the wedding be deferred until after the 1916 elections, they married in December 1915.
With the coming of the Armistice, the Wilsons traveled to Europe for the Peace Conference. Greeted by the public as a savior, Wilson found the heads of government to be less deferential. Wilson found himself in tough negotiations during which he achieved successes and suffered defeats. His overriding desire for the League of Nations forced him to compromise on other issues in order to bring home the Covenant of the League.
Upon his return to Washington, Wilson found strong Senate opposition to the League. The ensuing battle over reservations to the Peace Treaty and the Covenant drove the President to take his case to the people in a coast to coast train journey during which he strove to rally support for his proposals.
As the trip progressed, the long hours, heat and travel took their toll. On September 25, 1919, Wilson lost his place and broke into tears during a speech in Pueblo, Colorado. The next day at Wichita, Kansas, the President was found to be suffering from paralysis. Finally his physician and the First Lady took control and ordered the train back to Washington where he suffered a stroke in the White House on October 2.
From the time of his stroke, the Wilson presidency was effectively over, even though his administration lingered on through the rest of his days. The President remained hidden in the White House under the care of the First Lady. Public business went unattended save those matters that Edith chose to submit to Woodrow or, perhaps, respond to on her own. Rumors ran rampant: he was dead, insane, or suffering from venereal disease contracted in France, just to name a few. In fact, he was paralyzed on the left side while his mind was a shadow of what it had been.
During the time of his invalidity, Cabinet officers and Congressional leaders discussed whether the Vice-President, Thomas Marshall, should assume the powers of the presidency due to the President's inability to serve. Marshall refused. When meetings with Wilson were demanded, he and Edith always managed to make a good enough presentation to forestall efforts to remove him from office.
It is often claimed that Edith Wilson was the first woman president through control of her husband during his illness. Author Gene Smith makes the case that she was motivated, not by a lust for power, but a loving passion to protect her husband from the stresses which brought him down and which could kill him. Regardless of the effect on the Republic, Edith successfully achieved her goal. Her husband lived.
Wilson never seemed to grasp the severity of his condition. Despite his obvious inability to discharge the duties of his office, he began to talk of a third term in which to fight for the League. When the Democratic Party deflated those dreams, he saw the 1920 elections as a referendum on the League. A referendum it was, with the League opponents garnering an overwhelming win. Wilson then retired in Washington where he lived out almost three years of almost irrelevant existence.
Gene Smith is to be congratulated for an excellently crafted exposition of the longest period of presidential disability in our nation's history. This is not a complete biography of Woodrow Wilson, but it is the story of the most significant part of his life. Although more information about Wilson's health has come out in recent years, this book is still essential to the understanding of Woodrow Wilson and his place in history.