This is a post in My Presidential Rankings series, linked here: https://sdu754.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/presidential-rankings/
I rank Woodrow Wilson as the worst ever president as he was the most damaging.
Wilson is mostly known as president for his involvement in World War I. Many times he is even portrayed as an unwilling participant who had war forced upon him. This characterization is totally false. Through increased economic involvement and preferential treatment towards the Allies, Wilson got the US sucked into a war that cost the over 119,000 American lives needlessly. Even Wilson’s Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, resigned due to Wilson’s pro Allies bias. Long before Germany broke any neutrality laws, Great Britain cut the trans Atlantic cable and was stopping US ships Heading into the North Sea, France similarly was blockading the Mediterranean sea, in an attempt to starve out the central powers. Had Wilson been truly neutral between Britain and Germany, World War I would have been shorter, and the United States would have never gotten sucked into it. Britain and France both hung on knowing that the United States would eventually enter the war on their side militarily, as it was already on their side economically.
The punitive treaties forced upon the central powers led to economic chaos in eastern and central Europe, that eventual spread westward, helping to trigger the great depression. The punishment was especially bad against Germany and helped lead to the rise of Hitler. These treaties also had a hand in the pre World War II appeasement policies, as Britain & France undoubtedly realized that they had overstepped their bounds with the treaties and saw, giving a little ground back as being reasonable. They cut the Austrian-Hungarian Empire into several weaker nations that were first dominated by Nazi Germany, then Communist Russia. The Allies promised Italy and Japan territory in exchange for joining them against the central powers, which could have wetted their appetites leading into WWII. The treaties also gave Serbia, the country that started WWI, exactly what it wanted in the formation of Yugoslavia. Lets not forget the post cold war problems in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Allies further cut up the Ottoman Empire into several British and French colonies, making Turkey all that was left of the empire. Most people would agree a strong and unified middle east under Turkey would be preferable to the current mess as it stands today.
When the Russia czar abdicated the throne on March 15 1917, the provision government led by Alexander Kerensky took over. After entering the war, Wilson gave the Kerensky government $325 million to remain in the war. Russia launched the disastrous “grand offensive” against Germany. This disaster led to the rise of the Bolsheviks led by Lenin taking over the government and installing a communist regime. Had Wilson not interfered in Russia, the Kerensky led government would have probably survived. When the Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany, Wilson Blockade Russia and sent troops and supplies into Russia in support of anti-Bolshevik forces. Wilson’s invasion of Russia against the Bolsheviks, which prolonged that war and led to soviet mistrust of western democracies. This was definitely one of the causes of the cold war.
Woodrow Wilson had the worst record of any president on human rights to date. He imposed segregation into the federal government, and supported the South’s right to deal with racial issues without federal interference. Wilson, upon screening the movie “Birth of a Nation”, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan, Wilson stated it was “history writ with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” Many see his actions as catalyst for the birth of the new Klan. Wilson vigorously opposed woman’s suffrage, going as far as arresting peaceful protesters for assembling too close to the White House. Wilson Further attacked free speech with the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. He used both laws to arrest political prisoners who disagreed with him.
He invaded one Caribbean or central American country after another during his term forcing them to “elect” good leaders and went about re-writing their constitutions and forcing treaties upon them. He even stated “I’m am going to teach the South American republics to elect good men.” He invaded Mexico and caused their President Huerta to be disposed, which led to chaos and the Pancho Villa raids. He then sent General Pershing deep into Mexico to catch Villa with no success. These acts seriously undermined relations that the United states has had with Latin American countries .
Wilson failures aren’t just limited to foreign policy. He also left the country in an economic mess as he left office. The causes can be traced to three main causes. 1) Wilson hugely increased the debt, which went up tenfold 2) A failure to demobilize more than a year after WWI had ended 3) He greatly increased taxes, imposing the first income tax with rates as high as 77% and the first inheritance tax. Milton Friedman has clearly shown how the Federal Reserve, a creation of Wilson, was a main cause of the Great depression. The federal Reserve continues to cause economic calamity by throwing the economy out of balance periodically. Wilson also passed the redundant, more restrictive and unneeded Clayton Anti-Trust Act, when the Sherman Anti-Trust Act was working just fine under Roosevelt and Taft.
Upon having a stroke, and being unable to carry out his duties as president, Wilson did one of the most selfish things a president has ever done. He refused to step down as president as the country crumbled for no reasons other than vanity or to stubbornly hang on to power.