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Wilson, Woodrow

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Significance: Wilson was an individualist who believed in the power of Congress and the Constitution. His three appointments to the Supreme Court demonstrated his Progressive views and his appreciation for political support rendered him.


Wilson, the son of a Presbyterian minister, grew up in the post-Civil War South. A studious individual, he studied at the University of Virginia law school, then received a doctorate in government and history from Johns Hopkins University in 1886. After teaching at Bryn Mawr College and Johns Hopkins, Wilson became president of Princeton University. After leaving Princeton, Wilson served as governor of New Jersey before being elected president in 1912. Wilson nominated his first justice, James C. McReynolds, a fellow Democrat, to the Supreme Court in 1914. McReynolds, a graduate of the University of Virginia law school whom Wilson had appointed attorney general in 1913, was a conservative who would become a major opponent of New Deal legislation during his time on the Court. In 1916 Wilson appointed Progressives Louis D. Brandeis and John H. Clarke as justices. Brandeis, a Harvard Law School graduate and who supported individual rights, served on the Court until 1939. Clarke, a great supporter of the women's suffrage movement, spent only six years on the Court, retiring in 1922. During the Wilson presidency, four separate articles were added to the U.S. Constitution. In 1913 the Sixteenth Amendment created an income tax, and the Seventeenth Amendment provided for direct election of senators. In 1919 the Eighteenth Amendment prohibited the sale, manufacture, or transportation of intoxicating beverages, and in 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. The Court was also active during Wilson's presidency, addressing issues such as child labor law in Bunting v. Oregon (1917) and Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918), voting rights in Guinn v. United States (1915), the military draft in Selective Draft Law Cases (1918), and intrastate trade in the Shreveport Rate Cases (1914). Wilson was working to change society through amendments to the Constitution and appointments to the Court that supported Progressivism. He was not reelected in 1920 and remained in seclusion in his Washington, D.C., home until his death in 1924.



Further Reading

  • Baker, Ray Stannard. Woodrow Wilson: Life and Letters. 8 vols. New York: Doubleday Dolan, 1940.
  • Grayson, Cary T. Woodrow Wilson, An Intimate Memoir. New York: Holt Reinhart, Winston, 1960.
  • Stid, Daniel D. The President as Statesman: Woodrow Wilson and the Constitution. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998.