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Woodrow Wilson's Second Administration: World War I
Woodrow Wilson’s second term in office was dominated by World War I. Although the president had advocated for peace during the initial years of the war, in early 1917 German submarines launched unrestricted submarine attacks against U.S. merchant ships. Around the same time, the United States learned about the Zimmerman Telegram, in which Germany tried to persuade Mexico to enter into an alliance against America. On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany, stating, “The world must be made safe for democracy.”
America’s participation helped bring about victory for the Allies, and on November 11, 1918, an armistice was signed by the Germans. At the Paris Peace Conference, which opened in January 1919 and included the heads of the British, French and Italian governments, Wilson helped negotiate the Treaty of Versailles. The agreement included the charter for the League of Nations, an organization intended to arbitrate international disputes and prevent future wars. Wilson had initially advanced the idea for the League in a January 1918 speech to the U.S. Congress in which he outlined his “Fourteen Points” for a postwar peace settlement.
When Wilson returned from Europe in the summer of 1919, he encountered opposition to the Versailles treaty from isolationist Republicans in Congress who feared the League could limit America’s autonomy and draw the country into another war. In September of that year, the president embarked on a cross-country speaking tour to promote his ideas for the League directly to the American people. On the night of September 25, on a train bound for Wichita, Kansas, Wilson collapsed from mental and physical stress, and the rest of his tour was cancelled. On October 2, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. Wilson’s condition was kept largely hidden from the public, and his wife worked behind the scenes to fulfill a number of his administrative duties.
The Senate voted on the Treaty of Versailles first in November 1919 and again in March 1920. Both times it failed to gain the two-thirds vote required for ratification. The treaty’s defeat was partly blamed on Wilson’s refusal to compromise with the Republicans. The League of Nations held its first meeting in January 1920; the United States never joined the organization. However, in December 1920, Wilson received the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to include the Covenant of the League of Nations in the Treaty of Versailles.
Woodrow Wilson's Second Administration: Domestic Issues
Woodrow Wilson’s second administration saw the passage of two significant constitutional amendments. The era of Prohibition was ushered in on January 17, 1920, when the 18th Amendment, banning the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol, went into effect following its ratification one year earlier. In 1919, Wilson vetoed the National Prohibition Act (or Volstead Act), designed to enforce the 18th Amendment; however, his veto was overridden by Congress. Prohibition lasted until 1933, when it was repealed by the 21st Amendment.
Also in 1920, American women gained the right to vote when the 19th Amendment became law that August; Wilson had pushed Congress to pass the amendment. That year’s presidential election–the first in which women from every state were allowed to vote–resulted in a victory for Republican Warren Harding (1865-1923), a congressman from Ohio who opposed the League of Nations and campaigned for a “return to normalcy” after Wilson’s tenure in the White House.
Woodrow Wilson's Final Years
After leaving office in March 1921, Woodrow Wilson resided in Washington, D.C. He and a partner established a law firm, but poor health prevented the president from ever doing any serious work. Wilson died at his home on February 3, 1924, at age 67. He was buried in the Washington National Cathedral, the only president to be interred in the nation’s capital.
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