Wilson's 'Second Personality'
by Ralph Raico: And
the War Came
is excerpted from the chapter "World War I: The Turning Point"
Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal (2010). The
chapter is a much expanded version of an essay that originally appeared
Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories (2001).
blame for the war might lie, for the immense majority of Americans
in 1914 it was just another of the European horrors from which
our policy of neutrality, set forth by the Founding Fathers of
the Republic, had kept us free. Pašić, Sazonov,
Conrad, Poincaré, Moltke, Edward Grey, and the rest
these were the men our Fathers had warned us against. No conceivable
outcome of the war could threaten an invasion of our vast and
solid continental base. We should thank a merciful Providence,
which gave us this blessed land and impregnable fortress, that
America, at least, would not be drawn into the senseless butchery
of the Old World. That was unthinkable.
in 1914 the president of the United States was Thomas Woodrow
The term most
frequently applied to Woodrow Wilson nowadays is "idealist." In
contrast, the expression "power-hungry" is rarely used. Yet a scholar
not unfriendly to him has written of Wilson that "he loved, craved,
and in a sense glorified power." Musing on the character of the
US government while he was still an academic, Wilson wrote: "I cannot
imagine power as a thing negative and not positive."
Even before he entered politics, he was fascinated by the power
of the presidency and how it could be augmented by meddling in foreign
affairs and dominating overseas territories. The war with Spain
and the American acquisition of colonies in the Caribbean and across
the Pacific were welcomed by Wilson as productive of salutary changes
in our federal system. "The plunge into international politics and
into the administration of distant dependencies" had already resulted
in "the greatly increased power and opportunity for constructive
statesmanship given the President."
affairs play a prominent part in the politics and policy of
a nation, its Executive must of necessity be its guide: must
utter every initial judgment, take every first step of action,
supply the information upon which it is to act, suggest and
in large measure control its conduct. The President of the United
States is now [in 1900], as of course, at the front of affairs....
There is no trouble now about getting the President's speeches
printed and read, every word.... The government of dependencies
must be largely in his hands. Interesting things may come of
this singular change.
forward to an enduring "new leadership of the Executive," with
even the heads of Cabinet departments exercising "a new influence
upon the action of Congress."
part Wilson's reputation as an idealist is traceable to his incessantly
professed love of peace. Yet as soon as he became president, prior
to leading the country into the First World War, his actions in
Latin America were anything but pacific. Even Arthur S. Link (whom
Walter Karp referred to as the keeper of the Wilsonian flame)
wrote, of Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean: "the years
from 1913 to 1921 [Wilson's years in office] witnessed intervention
by the State Department and the navy on a scale that had never
before been contemplated, even by such alleged imperialists as
Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft." The protectorate
extended over Nicaragua, the military occupation of the Dominican
Republic, the invasion and subjugation of Haiti (which cost the
lives of some 2,000 Haitians) were landmarks of Wilson's policy.
All was enveloped in the haze of his patented rhetoric of freedom,
democracy, and the rights of small nations. The Pan-American Pact
which Wilson proposed to our southern neighbors guaranteed the
"territorial integrity and political independence" of all the
signatories. Considering Wilson's persistent interference in the
affairs of Mexico and other Latin states, this was hypocrisy in
the grand style.
egregious example of Wilson's bellicose interventionism before
the European war was in Mexico. Here his attempt to manipulate
the course of a civil war lead to the fiascoes of Tampico and
In April, 1914,
a group of American sailors landed their ship in Tampico without
permission of the authorities and were arrested. As soon as the
Mexican commander heard of the incident, he had the Americans released
and sent a personal apology. That would have been the end of the
affair "had not the Washington administration been looking for an
excuse to provoke a fight," in order to benefit the side Wilson
favored in the civil war. The American admiral in charge demanded
from the Mexicans a 21-gun salute to the American flag; Washington
backed him up, issuing an ultimatum insisting on the salute, on
pain of dire consequences. Naval units were ordered to seize Vera
Cruz. The Mexicans resisted, 126 Mexicans were killed, close to
200 wounded (according to the US figures), and, on the American
side, 19 were killed and 71 wounded. In Washington, plans were being
made for a full-scale war against Mexico, where in the meantime
both sides in the civil war denounced Yanqui aggression.
Finally, mediation was accepted; in the end, Wilson lost his bid
to control Mexican politics.
before the assassination of the archduke, Wilson delivered an
address on Flag Day. His remarks did not bode well for American
abstention in the coming war. Asking what the flag would stand
for in the future, Wilson replied: "for the just use of undisputed
national power ... for self-possession, for dignity, for the assertion
of the right of one nation to serve the other nations of the world."
As president, he would "assert the rights of mankind wherever
this flag is unfurled."
alter ego, a major figure in bringing the United States into the
European War, was Edward Mandell House. House, who bore the honorific
title of "Colonel," was regarded as something of a "Man of Mystery"
by his contemporaries. Never elected to public office, he nonetheless
became the second most powerful man in the country in domestic
and especially foreign affairs until virtually the end of Wilson's
administration. House began as a businessman in Texas, rose to
leadership in the Democratic politics of that state, and then
on the national stage. In 1911, he attached himself to Wilson,
then Governor of New Jersey and an aspiring candidate for president.
The two became the closest of collaborators, Wilson going so far
as to make the bizarre public statement that: "Mr. House is my
second personality. He is my independent self. His thoughts and
mine are one."
Light is cast
on the mentality of this "man of mystery" by a futuristic political
novel House published in 1912, Philip
Dru: Administrator. It is a work that contains odd anticipations
of the role the Colonel would help Wilson play.
In this peculiar production, the title hero leads a crusade to overthrow
the reactionary and oppressive money-power that rules the United
States. Dru is a veritable messiah-figure: "He comes panoplied in
justice and with the light of reason in his eyes. He comes as the
advocate of equal opportunity and he comes with the power to enforce
his will." Assembling a great army, Dru confronts the massed forces
of evil in a titanic battle (close to Buffalo, New York): "human
liberty has never more surely hung upon the outcome of any conflict
than it does upon this." Naturally, Dru triumphs, and becomes "the
Administrator of the Republic," assuming "the powers of a dictator."
So unquestionably pure is his cause that any attempt to "foster"
the reactionary policies of the previous government "would be considered
seditious and would be punished by death." Besides fashioning a
new Constitution for the United States and creating a welfare state,
Dru joins with leaders of the other great powers to remake the world
order, bringing freedom, peace, and justice to all mankind.
A peculiar production, suggestive of a very peculiar man, the second
most important man in the country.
House as his personal confidant, advisor, and emissary, bypassing
his own appointed and congressionally scrutinized officials. It
was somewhat similar to the position that Harry Hopkins would
fill for Franklin Roosevelt some 20 years later.
When the war
broke out, Wilson implored his fellow citizens to remain neutral
even in word and thought. This was somewhat disingenuous, considering
that his whole administration, except for the poor baffled secretary
of state, William Jennings Bryan, was pro-Allied from the start.
The president and most of his chief subordinates were dyed-in-the-wool
Anglophiles. Love of England and all things English was an intrinsic
part of their sense of identity. With England threatened, even the
chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, Edward D. White,
voiced the impulse to leave for Canada to volunteer for the British
armed forces. By September 1914, the British ambassador in Washington,
Cecil Spring-Rice, was able to assure Edward Grey, that Wilson had
an "understanding heart" for England's problems and difficult position.
bias of the American political class and social elite was galvanized
by British propaganda. On August 5, 1914, the Royal Navy cut the
cables linking the United States and Germany. Now news for America
had to be funneled through London, where the censors shaped and
trimmed reports for the benefit of their government. Eventually,
the British propaganda apparatus in the First World War became the
greatest the world had seen to that time; later it was a model for
the Nazi Propaganda Minster Josef Goebbels. Philip Knightley noted:
efforts to bring the United States into the war on the Allied
side penetrated every phase of American life.... It was one
of the major propaganda efforts of history, and it was conducted
so well and so secretly that little about it emerged until the
eve of the Second World War, and the full story is yet to be
the first weeks of the war, stories were spread of the ghastly
"atrocities" the Germans were committing in Belgium.
But the Hun, in the view of American supporters of England's cause,
was to show his most hideous face at sea.
Walter A. McDougall, Promised
Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World since
1776 (Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), pp. 126,
Woodrow Wilson, Congressional
Government: A Study in American Politics (Gloucester, Mass.:
Peter Smith, 1973 ), pp. 2223. These statements date
from 1900. Wilson also assailed the Constitutional system of checks
and balances as interfering with effective government, pp. 18687.
Arthur S. Link, Woodrow
Wilson and the Progressive Era, 19101917 (New York:
Harper and Brothers, 1954), pp. 92106.
Even Link, Woodrow Wilson, p. 106, stated that Wilson and
his colleagues were only paying "lip service" to the principle
they put forward, and were not prepared to abide by it.
Link, Woodrow Wilson, pp. 12228; and Michael C. Meyer
and William L. Sherman, The
Course of Mexican History, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1995), pp. 53134.
Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Arthur S. Link, ed. (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979), vol. 30, pp. 18486.
Wilson's gift of self-deception was already evident. "I sometimes
wonder why men even now take this flag and flaunt it. If I am respected,
I do not have to demand respect," he declared. Apparently the Tampico
incident of two months earlier had vanished from his mind.
Intimate Papers of Colonel House, vol. 1, pp. 6, 114.
Edward M. House, Philip
Dru: Administrator. A Story of Tomorrow, 19201935
(New York: B. W. Huebsch, 1920 ).
Ibid., pp. 93, 130, 150, 152, and passim.
Charles Callan Tansill, America
Goes to War (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1963 ),
pp. 2628. Cf. the comment by Peterson, Propaganda
for War, p. 10: "The American aristocracy was distinctly
Philip Knightley, The
First Casualty (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975),
pp. 82, 12021; Peterson, Propaganda for War; John Morgan
Propaganda, 19141919 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Press, 1941); and the classic by Arthur Ponsonby, Falsehood
in Wartime (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1928). That unflagging
apologist for global interventionism, Robert H. Ferrell, in American
Diplomacy: A History, 3rd ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1975),
pp. 47071, could find nothing to object to in the secret propaganda
effort to embroil the United States in a world war. It was simply
part of "the arts of peaceful persuasion," of "Public Relations,"
he claimed to believe, since "there is nothing wrong with one country
representing its cause to another country." One wonders what Ferrell
would have said to a similar campaign by Nazi Germany or the Soviet
Raico [send him mail] is Professor
Emeritus in European history at Buffalo State College is a senior
fellow of the Mises Institute. He is a specialist on the history
of liberty, the liberal tradition in Europe, and the relationship
between war and the rise of the state. He is the author of The
Place of Religion in the Liberal Philosophy of Constant, Tocqueville,
and Lord Acton. His latest book is Great
Wars and Great Leaders: A Libertarian Rebuttal. You can study
the history of civilization under his guidance here: MP3-CD
© 2012 by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided
full credit is given.
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