Wilson filled his first Cabinet with racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists. They brought Jim Crow laws into federal government offices, a signal that many states received and repeated. To critics, Wilson, a child of the South — his father had preached to his Georgia congregation that slavery had divine sanction — protested that he was trying to make the best of a bad situation. The sum of President Wilson’s action looks like he never strayed far from his father’s beliefs.
Throughout his life, Wilson could be tersely smug about his own superiority. “Your tone, sir, offends me,” he told an African-American who vigorously protested the segregation that Wilson was allowing into government departments. He told the man’s group to get a new spokesman.
Berg cites a number of these curt dismissals of others and Wilson often sounds like a self-satisfied prig. His habit of calling his wife “little girl” has a grating sound that isn’t eliminated by making allowances for the time. Even by the standards of a successful politician and reformer, Wilson’s regard for himself was excessive. He could be unforgiving to anybody who questioned it.
Only a few weeks before leaving office, Wilson denied Eugene Debs a pardon. Debs had been imprisoned for his criticism of the war, and even Palmer was ready to back a pardon in the end.
Nobody held a grudge like Woodrow Wilson.
Randolph Walerius is an analyst for the CQ Roll Call Washington Securities Briefing.