In his book “Intellectuals and Society,” economist and philosopher Thomas Sowell warned that “many of what are called social problems are differences between the theories of intellectuals and the realities of the world.”
America learned this lesson the hard way when one of its academic elites rose to become Commander-in-Chief.
Woodrow Wilson — the twenty-eighth President of the United States — led Princeton University before becoming governor of New Jersey and ascending to the Oval Office. An intellectual idealist, Wilson led the United States during the zenith of the progressive movement and its various social reform efforts.
As with the governance of modern would-be social reformers, Wilson’s idealism made him simultaneously incompetent and repressive — both at home and abroad.
Here is why Woodrow Wilson was the worst President in American history.
President Wilson signed the Revenue Act of 1913, establishing the nation’s first permanent federal income tax.
Formerly, the government raised funds primarily through tariffs and excise taxes. Though President Lincoln approved the first income tax — a 3% rate on annual incomes over $800 — as the government suddenly lost revenue amid Southern states leaving the union, Congress repealed the law in 1871. In 1894, however, Congress passed the Wilson-Gorman Tariff — which created an income tax of 2% on income over $4,000.
In a five-to-four decision the next year, the Supreme Court decided that the law violated Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution: “No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or enumeration herein before directed to be taken.”
Fifteen years later, Congress approved the Sixteenth Amendment — which declared that “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.” In October 1913, Wilson signed the Revenue Act — which lowered tariffs from 40% to 26% and created a 1% tax on annual income above $3,000.
Wilson and other progressives meant the income tax as a tool to take on so-called “robber barons.” Instead, they gave future generations of progressives the ability to take directly from Americans’ pockets — sometimes at rates as high as 37% — to fund lofty federal social management endeavors.
World War I
President Wilson upended a century of American foreign policy precedent to lead the nation into World War I.
When European powers declared war upon one another in 1914, the United States declared neutrality — as it had done in the vast majority of overseas conflicts throughout its history. In 1916, Wilson used campaign slogans like “America First” and “He Kept Us Out Of War” to narrowly win reelection. Nevertheless, only one month after his inauguration, Wilson asked a joint session of Congress for a declaration of war against Germany.
Though Wilson noted that German submarines had begun sinking civilian vessels, his war message to Congress was full of progressive idealism.
“We are now about to accept gage of battle with this natural foe to liberty and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power,” he proclaimed to lawmakers. “The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion.”
Along with Wilson’s lofty intentions came the conscription of nearly three million Americans through the Selective Service System, which Wilson greenlighted in May 1917.
Wilson’s aspirations directly contradicted the careful foreign policy of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Monroe, and other founding fathers who warned that overseas political entanglement is a foe of republican government.
“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible,” Washington had advised in his Farewell Address. “So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns.”
Suppression of Civil Liberties
President Wilson’s justification for entering World War I was making the world “safe for democracy” — at the cost of democracy in the United States.
Two months after Americans joined Britain, France, and the other Allied powers, Wilson signed the Espionage Act, giving postal authorities the ability to declare certain newspapers “nonmailable matter” intended to urge “treason.” The law also enacted a $10,000 penalty and twenty-year prison sentence for those obstructing the draft.
Within one year, seventy-four publications had been denied mailing privileges — a plain violation of the First Amendment.
In his war message, Wilson likewise announced that any “disloyalty” to the United States from people of “German birth and native sympathy” would be handled “with a firm hand of stern repression.” The Sedition Act of 1918, therefore, made it a federal offense to use “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the Constitution, the federal government, or the flag. Over 2,100 people were prosecuted under the statute.
President Wilson brought his ambitious idealism to European peace talks.
Among the suggestions in Wilson’s Fourteen Points — introduced in early 1918 — were “absolute freedom of navigation upon the seas,” the removal of “all economic barriers and the establishment of an equality of trade conditions,” the reduction of “national armaments,” and the creation of an association of nations “for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity.”
The vision, however, was far too idealistic for European leaders. Britain disdained the notion of freedom of the seas, Germany still sought military triumph, and France was convinced that it could gain more from victory than Wilson’s vision permitted.
At home, Americans were especially concerned about the League of Nations. As articulated by Senate Majority Leader Henry Cabot Lodge, a Republican, the international body would “have the United States render every possible service to the civilization and the peace of mankind” — a continuation of Wilson’s rejection of the American foreign policy esteemed since the days of Washington.
Lodge further said in his famous 1919 speech: “I am certain that we can do it best by not putting ourselves in leading strings, or subjecting our policies and our sovereignty to other nations. The independence of the United States is not only more precious to ourselves, but to the world, than any single possession.”
President Wilson — upon his many fiscal and foreign policy blunders — was an ardent racist.
Following Reconstruction efforts led by the Republican Party after the Civil War, many African-Americans had voted for Republican presidential candidates. Discontented with the Roosevelt and Taft presidencies, however, many black voters took a risk by voting for Wilson.
In return, Wilson segregated many government departments — including the Post Office, which was home to 60% of federal employees. Next was the Treasury Department, which hired the second-highest number of African-Americans. Under the Wilson administration, salary gaps between black and white employees rose dramatically, and many black managers were demoted.
In a scathing letter to Wilson, civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois noted that every man who dreamed of “making the Negro race a group of menials and pariahs” was “alert and hopeful” within months of Wilson’s inauguration.
“They and others are assuming this because not a single act and not a single word of yours since election has given anyone reason to infer that you have the slightest interest in the colored people or desire to alleviate their intolerable position,” Du Bois wrote. “To this negative appearance of indifference has been added positive action on the part of your advisers, with or without your knowledge, which constitutes the gravest attack on the liberties of our people since emancipation.”
Even before his inauguration, Wilson’s five-volume history of the United States lauded the Ku Klux Klan: “The white men of the South were aroused by the mere instinct of self-preservation to rid themselves, by fair means or foul, of the intolerable burden of governments sustained by the votes of ignorant negroes and conducted in the interest of adventurers.”
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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