Woodrow Wilson

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Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American.

Dr. Thomas Woodrow Wilson (28 December 18563 February 1924) was the 45th state Governor of New Jersey (1911–1913) and later the 28th President of the United States (1913–1921). He was the second Democrat to serve two consecutive terms in the White House, after Andrew Jackson.


Power consists in one's capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.
The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.
No nation is fit to sit in judgment upon any other nation.
The success of a party means little except when the Nation is using that party for a large and definite purpose.
There is a price which is too great to pay for peace, and that price can be put in one word. One cannot pay the price of self-respect.
  • I yield to no one precedence in love for the South. But because I love the South, I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy.
  • Congress in session is Congress on public exhibition, whilst Congress in its committee-rooms is Congress at work.
    • Congressional Government, A Study in American Politics (1885; republished 1981), chapter 2, p. 69 (1981).
  • The Senate of the United States has been both extravagantly praised and unreasonably disparaged, according to the predisposition and temper of its various critics... The truth is, in this case as in so many others, something quite commonplace and practical. The Senate is just what the mode of its election and the conditions of public life in this country make it.
    • Congressional Government, A Study in American Politics (1885; republished 1981), chapter 4, p. 135 (1981).
  • The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.
    • “The Leaders of Men”, speech at the University of Tennesse (17 June 1890), in The Politics of Woodrow Wilson, p. 74.
  • Uncompromising thought is the luxury of the closeted recluse.
    • “The Leaders of Men”, (17 June 1890), p. 75.
  • It has never been natural, it has seldom been possible, in this country for learning to seek a place apart and hold aloof from affairs. It is only when society is old, long settled to its ways, confident in habit, and without self-questioning upon any vital point of conduct, that study can affect seclusion and despise the passing interests of the day.
  • The object of education is not merely to draw out the powers of the individual mind: it is rather its right object to draw all minds to a proper adjustment to the physical and social world in which they are to have their life and their development: to enlighten, strengthen and make fit.
    • "Princeton In The Nation's Service" (21 October 1896).
  • Nothing is easier than to falsify the past. Lifeless instruction will do it. If you rob it of vitality, stiffen it with pedantry, sophisticate it with argument, chill it with unsympathetic comment, you render it as dead as any academic exercise. The safest way in all ordinary seasons is to let it speak for itself: resort to its records, listen to its poets and to its masters in the humbler art of prose. Your real and proper object, after all, is not to expound, but to realize it, consort with it, and make your spirit kin with it, so that you may never shake the sense of obligation off. In short, I believe that the catholic study of the world's literature as a record of spirit is the right preparation for leadership in the world's affairs, if you undertake it like a man and not like a pedant.
    • "Princeton In The Nation's Service" (21 October 1896).
  • Adventurers swarmed out of the North, as much the enemies of one race as of the other, to cozen, beguile and use the negroes. The white men were aroused by a mere instinct of self-preservation — until at last there sprung into existence a great Kuklux Klan, a veritable empire of the South, to protect the Southern country.
    • A History of the American People (1901), describing the Klan as a brotherhood of politically disenfranchised white men; famously quoted in The Birth of a Nation (1915).
  • We are not put into this world to sit still and know; we are put into it to act.

    It is true that in order to learn men must for a little while withdraw from action, must seek some quiet place of remove from the bustle of affairs, where their thoughts may run clear and tranquil, and the heats of business be for the time put off; but that cloistered refuge is no place to dream in.

    • Princeton for the Nation's Service”, Inaugural address as President of Princeton (25 October 1902). Note: this speech is different from his 1896 speech of the same title.
  • There are two beings who assess character instantly by looking into the eyes,—dogs and children. If a dog not naturally possessed of the devil will not come to you after he has looked you in the face, you ought to go home and examine your conscience; and if a little child, from any other reason than mere timidity, looks you in the face, and then draws back and will not come to your knee, go home and look deeper yet into your conscience.
    • Young People and the Church“ (13 October 1904).
    • Variant: If a dog will not come to you after he has looked you in the face, you ought to go home and examine your conscience.
  • The only reason I read a book is because I cannot see and converse with the man who wrote it.
    • Speech in Kansas City (12 May 1905), PWW (The Papers of Woodrow Wilson) 16:99.
    • Unsourced variant: I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it.
  • Generally young men are regarded as radicals. This is a popular misconception. The most conservative persons I ever met are college undergraduates. The radicals are the men past middle life.
  • The only thing that has ever distinguished America among the nations is that she has shown that all men are entitled to the benefits of the law.
  • Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.
    • An unpublished paper of 1907, as quoted in The Rising American Empire (1960) by Richard Warner Van Alstyne, p. 201; also quoted in On Power and Ideology (1987) by Noam Chomsky; accounts of this as being from a lecture of 15 April 1907 seem to be incorrect.
  • We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to forego the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
  • The purpose of a university should be to make a son as unlike his father as possible. By the time a man has grown old enough to have a son in college he has specialized. The university should generalize the treatment of its undergraduates, should struggle to put them in touch with every force of life.
    • “The University's Part in Political Life” (13 March 1909) in PWW (The Papers of Woodrow Wilson) 19:99.
  • At every crisis in one's life, it is absolute salvation to have some sympathetic friend to whom you can think aloud without restraint or misgiving.
    • Letter to Mary Allen Hulbert Peck (1 August 1909), PWW 19:321.
  • The great voice of America does not come from the seats of learning, but in a murmur from the hills and the woods and the farms and the factories and the mills, rolling on and gaining volume until it comes to us the voice from the homes of the common men. Do these murmurs come into the corridors of the university? I have not heard them.
    • Address to Princeton University alumni, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (April 17, 1910); reported in The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, ed. Arthur S. Link (1975), vol. 20, p. 365.
  • RADICAL—one who goes too far.
    CONSERVATIVE—one who does not go far enough.
    REACTIONARY—one who does not go at all.
    • Speech to Kansas Society of New York (23 January 1911) — Wilson's definition of different groups, PWW 22:389.
  • No man can sit down and withhold his hands from the warfare against wrong and get peace from his acquiescence.
    • “A Book Which Reveals Men to Themselves”, Address on the Tercentenary of the Tranlation of the Bible (7 May 1911) in The Politics of Woodrow Wilson, p. 104.
  • Most men are individuals no longer so far as their business, its activities, or its moralities are concerned. They are not units but fractions; with their individuality and independence of choice in matters of business they have lost all their individual choice within the field of morals.
    • Annual address, American Bar Association, Chattanooga (31 August 1910)
  • America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses.
    • Campaign speech in Chicago (6 April 1912).
  • Business underlies everything in our national life, including our spiritual life. Witness the fact that in the Lord's Prayer, the first petition is for daily bread. No one can worship God or love his neighbor on an empty stomach.
    • Speech in New York (23 May 1912).
  • Prosperity … is necessarily the first theme of a political campaign.
    • Campaign speech, 1912, PWW 25:99.
  • I always remember that America was established not to create wealth—though any nation must create wealth which is going to make an economic foundation for its life—but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal. America has put itself under bonds to the earth to discover and maintain liberty now among men, and if she cannot see liberty now with the clear, unerring vision she had at the outset, she has lost her title, she has lost every claim to the leadership and respect of the nations of the world.
    • “The Coming On of a New Spirit”, speech to Chicago Democrat's Iriquois Club (12 February 1912), The Politics of Woodrow Wilson, p. 180.
    • Sometimes abbreviated to: “America was established not to create wealth but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal—to discover and maintain liberty among men.”
If my convictions have any validity, opinion ultimately governs the world.
  • Liberty is its own reward.
    • Speech in New York City (9 September 1912)
  • I would … rather lose in a cause that I know some day will triumph than triumph in a cause that I know some day will lose.
    • Speech in Syracuse (12 September 1912) PWW 25:145.
  • Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of the government. The history of liberty is a history of resistance. The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.
    • Speech at New York Press Club (9 September 1912), in The papers of Woodrow Wilson, 25:124
  • Mr. House is my second personality. He is my independent self. His thoughts and mine are one. If I were in his place I would do just as he suggested.
    • As quoted in The Intimate Papers of Colonel House, vol. I (Houghton Mifflin) by Charles Seymour, p. 114-115. Also referenced here. (1912)
  • There can be no equality or opportunity, the first essential of justice in the body politic, if men and women and children be not shielded in their lives, their very vitality, from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they can not alter, control, or singly cope with.
  • The success of a party means little except when the Nation is using that party for a large and definite purpose.
  • Power consists in one's capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.
  • You are not here merely to prepare to make a living. You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.
  • I am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.
    • Statement to British envoy William Tyrrell (November 1913), explaining his policy on Mexico
  • The way to stop financial joy-riding is to arrest the chauffeur, not the automobile.
    • The Atlanta Constitution (14 January 1914), p. 1.
  • I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow, and I have borrowed a lot since I read it to you first.
  • The United States must be neutral in fact as well as in name...We must be impartial in thought as well as in action.
    • Message to the Senate (19 August 1914)
  • Segregation is not humiliating but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.
    • Conference with members of the National Association for Equal Rights (November 1914), defending the resegregation of federal offices
  • You deal in the raw material of opinion, and, if my convictions have any validity, opinion ultimately governs the world.
    • Address to the Associated Press (20 April 1915)
  • No nation is fit to sit in judgment upon any other nation.
    • Speech in New York City (20 April 1915)
  • There is such thing as a man being too proud to fight.
    • Address to Foreign-Born Citizens (10 May 1915)
  • No man that does not see visions will ever realize any high hope or undertake any high enterprise.
  • There is such a thing as a nation being so right that it does not need to convince others by force that it is right.
The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history...
  • We are constantly thinking of the great war … which which we think to-day as a war which saved the Union, and it did indeed save the Union, but it was a war that did a great deal more than that. It created in this country what had never existed before — a national consciousness. It was not the salvation of the Union, it was the rebirth of the Union.
    • Memorial Day Address (31 May 1915)
  • The flag is the embodiment, not of sentiment, but of history. It represents the experiences made by men and women, the experiences of those who do and live under that flag.
    • Address (14 June 1915)
  • There is a very great thrill to be had from the memories of the American Revolution, but the American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation, and the duty laid upon us by that beginning is the duty of bringing the things then begun to a noble triumph of completion.
  • We have stood apart, studiously neutral.
    • Message to Congress (7 December 1915)
  • Politics I conceive to be nothing more than the science of the ordered progress of society along the lines of greatest usefulness and convenience to itself.
  • Do you never stop to reflect just what it is that America stands for? If she stands for one thing more than another, it is for the sovereignty of self-governing peoples, and her example, her assistance, her encouragement, has thrilled two continents in this Western World with all the fine impulses which have built up human liberty on both sides of the water.
  • We want the spirit of America to be efficient; we want American character to be efficient; we want American character to display itself in what I may, perhaps, be allowed to call spiritual efficiency—clear, disinterested thinking and fearless action along the right lines of thought. America is not anything if it consists of each of us. It is something only if it consists of all of us; and it can consist of all of us only as our spirits are banded together in a common enterprise.
    • Speech on Military Preparedness, Pittsburgh (29 January 1916)
  • One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels. The thing to do is to supply light and not heat.
    • Speech on Military Preparedness, Pittsburgh (29 January 1916)
  • Some men who are not real men love other things about themselves, but the real man believes that his honor is dearer than his life; and a nation is merely all of us put together, and the nation's honor is dearer than the nation's comfort and the nation's peace and the nation's life itself.
  • America cannot be an ostrich with its head in the sand.
    • Speech at Des Moines (1 February 1916)
  • I have long enjoyed the friendship and companionship of Republicans, because I am by instinct a teacher and I would like to teach them something.
    • Speech to the World's Salesmanship Congress (10 July 1916)
  • Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.
  • I am inclined to follow the course suggested by a friend of mine who says that he has always followed the rule never to murder a man who is committing suicide, and clearly this misdirected gentleman is committing suicide slowly but sureley.
    • Letter to Bernard Baruch (19 August 1916), PWW 38:51.
    • Variant: Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide.
The supreme test of the nation has come. We must all speak, act, and serve together!
  • The question upon which the whole future peace and policy of the world depends is this: Is the present war a struggle for a just and secure peace, or only for a new balance of power? If it be only a struggle for a new balance of power, who will guarantee, who can guarantee, the stable equilibrium of the new arrangement? Only a tranquil Europe can be a stable Europe. There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organized rivalries, but an organized common peace.
    • Address to the Senate (22 January 1917)
  • It must be a peace without victory... Victory would mean peace forced upon the loser, a victor's terms imposed upon the vanquished. It would be accepted in humiliation, under duress, at an intolerable sacrifice, and would leave a sting, a resentment, a bitter memory upon which terms of peace would rest, not permanently, but only as upon quicksand. Only a peace between equals can last.
    • Address to the Senate (22 January 1917)
  • A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great Government of the United States helpless and contemptible.
    • Statement (4 March 1917) on the successful filibuster by anti-war Senators against a bill to arm merchant ships
  • Once lead this people into war and they will forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.
    • Conversation with Frank Irving Cobb before asking Congress to declare war (2 April 1917). Attributed in Cobb of "The World," a leader of liberalism, by Cobb and Heaton, 1924, p. 270.
  • I can imagine no greater disservice to the country than to establish a system of censorship that would deny to the people of a free republic like our own their indisputable right to criticise their own public officials. While exercising the great powers of the office I hold, I would regret in a crisis like the one through which we are now passing to lose the benefit of patriotic and intelligent criticism.
    • Letter to Arthur Brisbane (April 25, 1917); reported in Ray Stannard Baker, Woodrow Wilson, Life and Letters (1946), vol. 6, p. 36.
  • Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.
  • Conservatism is the policy of making no changes and consulting your grandmother when in doubt.
    • Attributed by Raymond B. Fosdick in Report of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, 1963, p. 49.
  • If every nation is going to be our rival, if every nation is going to dislike and distrust us, and that will be the case, because having trusted us beyond measure the reaction will occur beyond measure (as it stands now they trust us they look to us, they long that we shall undertake anything for their assistance rather than that any other nation should undertake it)— if we say, "No, we are in this world to live by ourselves, and get what we can out of it by any selfish processes," then the reaction will change the whole heart and attitude of the world toward this great, free, justice-loving people, and after you have changed the attitude of the world, what have you produced? Peace? Why, my fellow citizens, is there any man here or any woman, let me say is there any child here, who does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry? The real reason that the war that we have just finished took place was that Germany was afraid her commercial rivals were going to get the better of her, and' the reason why some nations went into the war against Germany was that they thought Germany would get the commercial advantage of them. The seed of the jealousy, the seed of the deep-seated hatred was hot, successful commercial and industrial rivalry.
  • This war, in its inception was a commercial and industrial war. It was not a political war.
    • Speech at the Coliseum in St. Louis, Missouri, on the Peace Treaty and the League of Nations (5 September 1919), as published in "The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Authorized Edition) War and Peace: Presidential Messages, Addresses, and Public Papers (1917-1924) by Woodrow Wilson Volume I Page 638. Addresses Delivered by President Wilson on his Western Tour - September 4 To September 25, 1919. From 66th Congress, 1st Session, Senate Document No. 120.
  • 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.
    • Speech in Omaha, Nebraska (8 September 1919), as recorded in Addresses of President Wilson (1919), p. 75 and in "The Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson (Authorized Edition) War and Peace: Presidential Messages, Addresses, and Public Papers (1917-1924) Volume II Page 36; Wilson later used this phrase in his address in Pueblo, Colorado, in what has been called his League of Nations Address (25 September 1919)[Note: this phrase is not in Wilson's address in Pueblo, Colorado (25 September 1919). He made a much softer statement making the inevitability of a future ware without the League implicit rather than explicit.]
  • Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America, my fellow citizens — I do not say it in disparagement of any other great people—America is the only idealistic Nation in the world. When I speak practical judgments about business affairs, I can only guess whether I am speaking the voice of America or not, but when I speak the ideal purposes of history I know that I am speaking the voice of America, because I have saturated myself since I was a boy in the records of that spirit, and everywhere in them there is this authentic tone of the love of justice and the service of humanity. If by any mysterious influence of error America should not take the leading part in this new enterprise of concerted power, the world would experience one of those reversals of sentiment, one of those penetrating chills of reaction, which would lead to a universal cynicism, for if America goes back upon mankind, mankind has no other place to turn. It is the hope of nations all over the world that America will do this great thing.
    • Address at Sioux Falls (8 September 1919), as recorded in Addresses of President Wilson (1919), p. 86; the first portion of this quote has sometimes been paraphrased: "Sometimes people call me an idealist. Well, that is the way I know I am an American. America is the only idealistic nation in the world."
  • There are those in this country who threaten direct action to force their will, upon a majority. Russia today, with its blood and terror, is a painful object lesson of the power of minorities. It makes little difference what minority it is; whether capital or labor, or any other class; no sort of privilege will ever be permitted to dominate this country. We are a partnership or nothing that is worth while. We are a democracy, where the majority are the masters, or all the hopes and purposes of the men who founded this government have been defeated and forgotten. In America there is but one way by which great reforms can be accomplished and the relief sought by classes obtained, and that is through the orderly processes of representative government. Those who would propose any other method of reform are enemies of this country. America will not be daunted by threats nor lose her composure or calmness in these distressing times. We can afford, in the midst of this day of passion and unrest, to be self - contained and sure. The instrument of all reform in America is the ballot. The road to economic and social reform in America is the straight road of justice to all classes and conditions of men. Men have but to follow this road to realize the full fruition of their objects and purposes. Let those beware who would take the shorter road of disorder and revolution. The right road is the road of justice and orderly process.
  • The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people.
    • As quoted in American Industry at War : A Report of the War Industries Board (March 1921) by Bernard Baruch
  • Of course, like every other man of intelligence and education I do believe in organic evolution. It surprises me that at this late date such questions should be raised.
    • Letter to Winterton C. Curtis (29 August 1922)
  • The sum of the whole matter is this, that our civilization cannot survive materially unless it be redeemed spiritually.
    • “The Road Away from Revolution”, Atlantic Monthly 132:146 (August 1923). Reprinted in PWW 68:395.
  • The great malady of public life is cowardice. Most men are not untrue, but they are afraid. Most of the errors of public life, if my observation is to be trusted, come not because men are morally bad, but because they are afraid of somebody. God knows why they should be: it is generally shadows they are afraid of.
    • As quoted in American Chronicle (1945) by Ray Stannard Baker, quoted on unnumbered page opposite p. 1.
  • If I am to speak ten minutes, I need a week for preparation; if fifteen minutes, three days; if half an hour, two days; if an hour, I am ready now.

The New Freedom (1913)[edit]

The New Freedom : A Call For the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People (Full text online)
No country can afford to have its prosperity originated by a small controlling class.
We have, not one or two, but many, fields of endeavor into which it is difficult, if not impossible, for the independent man to enter.
  • I have not written a book since the campaign. I did not write this book at all. It is the result of the editorial literary skill of Mr. William Bayard Hale, who has put together here in their right sequences the more suggestive portions of my campaign speeches.
    And yet it is not a book of campaign speeches. It is a discussion of a number of very vital subjects in the free form of extemporaneously spoken words. I have left the sentences in the form in which they were stenographically reported. I have not tried to alter the easy-going and often colloquial phraseology in which they were uttered from the platform, in the hope that they would seem the more fresh and spontaneous because of their very lack of pruning and recasting.
  • In most parts of our country men work, not for themselves, not as partners in the old way in which they used to work, but generally as employees,—in a higher or lower grade,—of great corporations. There was a time when corporations played a very minor part in our business affairs, but now they play the chief part, and most men are the servants of corporations.
    • Section I: “The Old Order Changeth”, p. 5.
  • Since I entered politics, I have chiefly had men's views confided to me privately. Some of the biggest men in the United States, in the field of commerce and manufacture, are afraid of somebody, are afraid of something. They know that there is a power somewhere so organized, so subtle, so watchful, so interlocked, so complete, so pervasive, that they had better not speak above their breath when they speak in condemnation of it.
    They know that America is not a place of which it can be said, as it used to be, that a man may choose his own calling and pursue it just as far as his abilities enable him to pursue it; because to-day, if he enters certain fields, there are organizations which will use means against him that will prevent his building up a business which they do not want to have built up; organizations that will see to it that the ground is cut from under him and the markets shut against him. For if he begins to sell to certain retail dealers, to any retail dealers, the monopoly will refuse to sell to those dealers, and those dealers, afraid, will not buy the new man's wares.
    • Section I: “The Old Order Changeth”, p. 13.
  • American industry is not free, as once it was free; American enterprise is not free; the man with only a little capital is finding it harder to get into the field, more and more impossible to compete with the big fellow. Why? Because the laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak. That is the reason, and because the strong have crushed the weak the strong dominate the industry and the economic life of this country. No man can deny that the lines of endeavor have more and more narrowed and stiffened; no man who knows anything about the development of industry in this country can have failed to observe that the larger kinds of credit are more and more difficult to obtain, unless you obtain them upon the terms of uniting your efforts with those who already control the industries of the country; and nobody can fail to observe that any man who tries to set himself up in competition with any process of manufacture which has been taken under the control of large combinations of capital will presently find himself either squeezed out or obliged to sell and allow himself to be absorbed.
    • Section I: “The Old Order Changeth”, p. 15.
  • No country can afford to have its prosperity originated by a small controlling class. The treasury of America lies in those ambitions, those energies, that cannot be restricted to a special favored class. It depends upon the inventions of unknown men, upon the originations of unknown men, upon the ambitions of unknown men. Every country is renewed out of the ranks of the unknown, not out of the ranks of those already famous and powerful and in control.
    • Section I: “The Old Order Changeth”, p. 17.
  • The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.
    • Section II: “What is Progress?”, p. 35.
  • Government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton.
    • Section II: “What Is Progress?”, p. 47
  • All that progressives ask or desire is permission — in an era when "development," "evolution," is the scientific word — to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.
    • Section II: “What Is Progress?”, p. 48.
  • No student knows his subject: the most he knows is where and how to find out the things he does not know.
    • Section V: “The Parliament of the People”, p. 100.
  • The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.
    • Section VIII: “Monopoly, or Opportunity?”, p. 117.
  • A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is privately concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men who, even if their action be honest and intended for the public interest, are necessarily concentrated upon the great undertakings in which their own money is involved and who necessarily, by very reason of their own limitations, chill and check and destroy genuine economic freedom. This is the greatest question of all, and to this statesmen must address themselves with an earnest determination to serve the long future and the true liberties of men.
    • Section VIII: “Monopoly, Or Opportunity?”, p. 185. Note that this remark has been used as the basis for a fake quotation discussed below.
  • Let me say again that I am not impugning the motives of the men in Wall Street. They may think that that is the best way to create prosperity for the country. When you have got the market in your hand, does honesty oblige you to turn the palm upside down and empty it? If you have got the market in your hand and believe that you understand the interest of the country better than anybody else, is it patriotic to let it go? I can imagine them using this argument to themselves.
    The dominating danger in this land is not the existence of great individual combinations, — that is dangerous enough in all conscience, — but the combination of the combinations, — of the railways, the manufacturing enterprises, the great mining projects, the great enterprises for the development of the natural water-powers of the country, threaded together in the personnel of a series of boards of directors into a "community of interest" more formidable than any conceivable single combination that dare appear in the open.
    • Section VIII: “Monopoly, Or Opportunity?”, p. 186.
  • We are at the parting of the ways. We have, not one or two or three, but many, established and formidable monopolies in the United States. We have, not one or two, but many, fields of endeavor into which it is difficult, if not impossible, for the independent man to enter. We have restricted credit, we have restricted opportunity, we have controlled development, and we have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world — no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men.
    • Section IX: “Benevolence, Or Justice?”, p. 201.
  • If there are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States, they are going to own it; what we have to determine now is whether we are big enough, whether we are men enough, whether we are free enough, to take possession again of the government which is our own.
    • Section XII: “The Liberation of a People's Vital Energies”, p. 286.

Address to Congress on War (1917)[edit]

Address asking for a declaration of war (2 April 1917)
  • Armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable.
  • The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty.
  • It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.

The Fourteen Points Speech (1918)[edit]

The Fourteen Points Speech (8 January 1918)
  • All the peoples of the world are in effect partners in this interest, and for our own part we see very clearly that unless justice be done to others it will not be done to us.
  • 1. Open covenants of peace must be arrived at.
  • 2. Absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas, outside territorial waters, alike in peace and in war.
  • 5. A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims.
  • 14. A general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike.


  • It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.
    • Remarks on The Birth of a Nation attributed to Wilson by writer Thomas Dixon, after White House screening of the film, which was based on Dixon's The Clansman. Wilson later said that he disapproved of the "unfortunate film." Wilson aide Joseph Tumulty, in a letter to the Boston branch of the NAACP in response to reports of Wilson's regard for the film wrote: The President was entirely unaware of the nature of the play before it was presented and at no time has expressed his approbation of it.
  • I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit. Our system of credit is concentrated. The growth of the nation, therefore, and all our activities are in the hands of a few men. We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world: no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.
    • Attributed in Shadow Kings (2005) by Mark Hill, p. 91; This and similar remarks are presented on the internet and elsewhere as an expression of regret for creating the Federal Reserve. The quotation appears to be fabricated from out-of-context remarks Wilson made on separate occasions and two leading sentences that have no clear source:
      • I have ruined my country.
        • No known source from Wilson, but possibly a misattribution of remarks by Sidney Sonnino at the Paris Peace Conference (1919), criticizing Wilson's treaty framework as unfair to Italy. See Margaret Macmillan (2002), Paris 1919.
      • A great industrial nation is controlled by its system of credit.…
        • "Monopoly, Or Opportunity?" (1912), criticizing the credit situation before the Federal Reserve was created, also in The New Freedom (1913), p. 185
      • We have come to be one of the worst ruled… Governments….
        • "Benevolence, Or Justice?" (1912), also in The New Freedom (1913), p. 201
    • The quotation has been analyzed in Andrew Leonard (2007-12-21), "The Unhappiness of Woodrow Wilson" Salon:
      • I can tell you categorically that this is not a statement of regret for having created the Federal Reserve. Wilson never had any regrets for having done that. It was an accomplishment in which he took great pride.
        • John M. Cooper, professor of history and author of several books on Wilson, as quoted by Andrew Leonard
  • As a beauty I'm not a great star,
    There are others more handsome by far,
    But my face, I don't mind it,
    Because I'm behind it —
    Tis the people in front that I jar.
    • Reported as a misattribution in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 131-32; Boller and George note that Wilson was so fond of quoting this limerick that others thought he had written it. In fact, it was written by a minor poet named Anthony Euwer, and conveyed to Wilson by his daughter Eleanor.
  • I sat next to the Duchess at tea.
    It was just as I feared it would be:
    Her rumblings abdominal
    Were truly phenomenal,
    And everyone thought it was me!
    • A variation with "thought" instead of feared and "abominable" instead of phenomenal is reported as a misattribution in Paul F. Boller, Jr., and John George, They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions (1989), p. 132.

Quotes about Wilson[edit]

  • To see the British Prime Minister watching the company, with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next, and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self-interest of his immediate auditor, was to realize that the poor President would be playing blind man's buff in that party.
  • Wilson's principles survived the eclipse of the Versailles system and that they still guide European politics today: self-determination, democratic government, collective security, international law, and a league of nations. Wilson may not have gotten everything he wanted at Versailles, and his treaty was never ratified by the Senate, but his vision and his diplomacy, for better or worse, set the tone for the twentieth century. France, Germany, Italy, and Britain may have sneered at Wilson, but every one of these powers today conducts its European policy along Wilsonian lines. What was once dismissed as visionary is now accepted as fundamental. This was no mean achievement, and no European statesman of the twentieth century has had as lasting, as benign, or as widespread an influence.
  • I do not know how to avoid the conclusion that a man who is capable of taking the illusions of religion so literally and is so sure of a special personal intimacy with the Almighty is unfitted for relations with ordinary children of men.
    • Sigmund Freud in Woodrow Wilson : A Psychological Study (1966) by Sigmund Freud and William Christian Bullitt, Jr., remarking on a statement attributed to Wilson after his election victory: “Remember that God ordained that I should be the next president of the United States. Neither you nor any other mortal or mortals could have prevented this.”

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