May 31, 2023

Crawley Pens Commentary on Woodrow Wilson for Great Presidential Lives

Professor Emeritus of History William B. Crawley offered commentary in The Free Lance-Star on the tragic life and presidency of Woodrow Wilson.


WOODROW WILSON, born in Staunton, Va., in 1856, became the first Southern-born president elected since the Civil War. He was the most highly educated, holding both a law degree and a doctorate in political science. He was the most overtly religious, save perhaps Jimmy Carter.

And he was also one of the most tragic.

In truth, Wilson was an unlikely candidate for the White House. Shy by nature and coddled as an only child by his mother, he did not attend formal school until he was 13. But despite his reserve and lack of popular rapport, he was highly ambitious.

The central and determining influence on Wilson’s life was, unarguably, religion. He came by it naturally, particularly through his Presbyterian minister father. From him, he imbibed not only religious conviction, but a penchant for eloquence of expression, both oral and written.

For Wilson, religion was his constant guide. He prayed daily and gave thanks before every meal. He read the Bible every day, wearing out several in the course of his lifetime. All of this had both positive and, to the minds of many observers, negative effects.

On the one hand, it sustained him in times of travail; on the other hand, it gave him an unbecoming (and often ineffective) sense of self-righteousness. Read more.