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1919

U.S President Woodrow Wilson suffers massive stroke

On October 2, 1919, at the White House in Washington, D.C., United States President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke that leaves him partially paralyzed on his left side and effectively ends his presidential career.

At the time of the stroke, Wilson had poured all his strength into a last-ditch effort to win public support for the Versailles Treaty and its vision of international cooperation through a League of Nations in the aftermath of the devastating First World War. After the Senate Foreign Relations Committee began its debate on the treaty at the end of July, Wilson took the unprecedented step of appearing personally before the committee to argue strenuously for ratification, making it clear he would accept no changes to the treaty as written. While the committee—headed by Wilson’s nemesis, Republican Senator Henry Cabot Lodge—voted on various amendments to the treaty, Wilson took his case to the American people, ignoring his doctors’ advice and embarking on a whistle-stop tour of the country to drum up support for the treaty and the League.

The trip began on September 2, 1919; by the end of that month, after traveling continuously and making as many as three speeches a day, Wilson was crippled by exhaustion. On September 25, he collapsed after delivering a speech in Pueblo, Colorado, and subsequently returned to Washington, where a massive cerebral hemorrhage on October 2 nearly killed him. Even while incapacitated, however, Wilson continued to influence proceedings regarding the Versailles Treaty. After a long and bitter struggle, the Senate voted on Lodge’s motion to ratify the treaty—but only with a number of amendments attached—on March 19, 1920. Thanks to the senators loyal to Wilson—who remained steadfastly unwilling to accept ratification of any compromised version of the treaty—and those who opposed the treaty in any form, the ratification resolution failed to obtain the necessary two-thirds majority, and the Senate consequently refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles.

The recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919, Wilson completed his term as president and spent the last three years of his life in retirement, nursed by his second wife, Edith. He died in 1924.

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