Woodrow Wilson

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Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you only have one.
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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.

Dr. Thomas Woodrow Wilson (28 December 1856 - 3 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.

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Power consists in one's capacity to link his will with the purpose of others, to lead by reason and a gift of cooperation.
  • 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)
  • 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.
    • Lecture, Columbia University (15 April 1907)
  • 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)
If my convictions have any validity, opinion ultimately governs the world.
  • Liberty is its own reward.
    • Speech in New York City, September 9, 1912
  • 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 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)
  • 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)
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)
  • We have stood apart, studiously neutral.
    • Message to Congress (7 December 1915)
  • 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)
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 made in reference to certain members of the Senate (4 March 1917)
  • 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.
    • Address at Sioux Falls (8 September 1919)
  • Is there any man here... who does not know that the seed of war in the modern world is industrial and commercial rivalry? ... This war, in its inception, was a commercial and industrial war. It was not a political war.
    • St. Louis (11 September 1919)
  • 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.
  • The highest and best form of efficiency is the spontaneous cooperation of a free people.
    • From Bernard Baruch's American Industry at War: A Report of the War Industries Board (March 1921)
  • 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 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)

The New Freedom : A Call For the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People (Full text online)
  • 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.
    • Preface
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Because the laws of this country do not prevent the strong from crushing the weak.
  • 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
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?

Address to Congress on War (1917)

Address asking for a declaration of war (2 April 1917)
  • Armed neutrality is ineffectual enough at best.
  • 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)

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.

Unsourced

  • A conservative is a man who sits and thinks, mostly sits.
  • A conservative is someone who makes no changes and consults his grandmother when in doubt.
  • A progressive is just a conservative with an eye to the future.
  • America is not anything if it consists of each of us. It is something only if it consists of all of us.
  • America was established not to create wealth but to realize a vision, to realize an ideal - to discover and maintain liberty among men.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Because I love the South, I rejoice in the failure of the Confederacy.
  • 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.
  • By 'radical,' I understand one who goes too far; by 'conservative,' one who does not go far enough; by 'reactionary,' one who won't go at all.
  • Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.
  • Golf is a game in which one endeavors to control a ball with implements ill adapted for the purpose.
  • I not only use all the brains that I have, but all that I can borrow.
  • I would rather belong to a poor nation that was free than to a rich nation that had ceased to be in love with liberty.
  • I would rather lose in a cause that will some day win, than win in a cause that will some day lose.
  • If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.
  • If there are men in this country big enough to own the government of the United States, they are going to own it.
  • If you think too much about being re-elected, it is very difficult to be worth re-electing.
  • If you want to make enemies, try to change something.
  • Just what is it that America stands for? If she stands for one thing more than another it is for the sovereignty of self-governing people.
  • Liberty has never come from Government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of it... The history of liberty is a history of limitations of governmental power, not the increase of it.
    • or
  • Liberty has never come from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance.
  • Loyalty means nothing unless it has at its heart the absolute principle of self-sacrifice.
  • Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide.
  • No man can sit down and withhold his hands from the warfare against wrong and get peace from his acquiescence.
  • No man that does not see visions will ever realize any high hope or undertake any high enterprise.
  • No student knows his subject: the most he knows is where and how to find out the things he does not know.
  • Once lead this people into war and they will forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.
  • One cool judgment is worth a thousand hasty counsels. The thing to do is to supply light and not heat.
  • One of the proofs of the divinity of our gospel is the preaching it has survived.
  • 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.
  • Prosperity is necessarily the first theme of a political campaign.
  • The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation.
  • The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.
  • 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.
  • The history of liberty is a history of resistance.
  • The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it.
  • The nation's honor is dearer than the nation's comfort; yes, than the nation's life itself.
  • The seed of revolution is repression.
  • The sum of the whole matter is this, that our civilization cannot survive materially unless it be redeemed spiritually.
  • The way to stop financial joy-riding is to arrest the chauffeur, not the automobile.
  • There are blessed intervals when I forget by one means or another that I am President of the United States.
  • There can be no equality or opportunity if men and women and children be not shielded in their lives from the consequences of great industrial and social processes which they cannot alter, control, or singly cope with.
  • 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.
  • There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.
  • Uncompromising thought is the luxury of the closeted recluse.
  • We are not put in this world to sit still and know; we are put into it to act.
  • We grow great by dreams. All big men are dreamers. They see things in the soft haze of a spring day or in the red fire of a long winter's evening. Some of us let these dreams die, but others nourish and protect them; nurse them through bad days till they bring them to the sunshine and light which comes always to those who hope that their dreams will come true.
  • We want one class to have a liberal education. We want another class, a very much larger class of necessity, to forego the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
  • 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.
  • You are not here merely 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. You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand.

Disputed

  • 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.
    • This quote seems to have spread widely on the internet, but is almost certainly a bogus concoction which misleadingly combines some genuine statements (which are already in the sourced section for "The New Freedom") with a lead-in (in bold) which is almost certainly a total fabrication. For further commentary see discussions at Talk:Woodrow Wilson, Talk:Woodrow Wilson (Wikipedia) and Talk:Federal Reserve Act. It has been said by some supporters of its supposed authenticity to appear in "Senate Documents Co. 3, No. 23, 76th Congress, 1st session, 1939" but even were it in these records it would certainly be someone quoting it into the record, and not a quote of Wilson directly, as he had already been dead a number of years. Many such misquotations thus appear in Senate and Congressional records. If such a record actually exists a citation of a more definite source might conceivably exist there.

Quotes about Wilson

  • 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.

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