tv The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson CSPAN July 3, 2017 2:20pm-2:46pm EDT
woodrow wilson's efforts to influence the versailles peace treaty and fail to win approval of membership in the league of nations. april 6th marked the centennial of the united states declaration of war on germany in 1917. >> this is the story of the valor of one american president as told by another american president "the ordeal of woodrow wilson." a personal memoir by herbert hoover. woodrow wilson led america to victory in the war that was rightly called the great war, the first world war, the greatest the united states had ever fought. simultaneously woodrow wilson fought another great war, the
greatest ever waged against hunger and famine and disease. in this crusade his commander was herbert hoover who was also high in the councils that set the conduct of the war itself. the french people idolized woodrow wilson. he was the hope of the war wary masses of all europe. but when he left france for his own country, for washington, he found a hostile element in the u.s. senate that bitterly opposed his idea for a league of nations. woodrow wilson then set out across the country in a valorous attempt to rally the american people to his shining visions. the abolition of war from the earth forever. what happened during his years of ordeal? what happened to the man himself? the tragic story of the 28th president of the united states, a democrat, is told now in a unique historical tribute by the 31st president of the united
states, a republican, by herbert hoover. he speaks out of personal experience almost half a century after the events because he believes the ideals of america's great should be kept fresh in american memory. >> i served for three years directly under woodrow wilson in washington on that peace conference in paris. i came to know his philosophy of life his humane spirit and his idealism. i saw him arise to the highest intellectual leadership of mankind in all history. i was a witness to the ordeals which beset him and the tragedy which finally enveloped him and the whole world.
human beings make mistakes, but smaller minds exaggerate their weight in the scales of history. from my discussions with the president early in 1917, i know the ordeal which came to him in recommending to the congress its most solemn decision since the civil war, that is the declaration of war on germany. in that address of april 2nd, 1917, the president said, the present german submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind. we are now about to accept the gauge of battle. the world must be made safe for a democracy, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest to our hearts for the rights and
liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself free. america, god helping her, can do no other. >> from the moment war was declared, mr. wilson was confronted by the enormous task of mobilizing 4 million men. they enlisted or responded to the draft. they went through the reception centers, dropped their civilian identities, became uniformed trainees and were turned into fighters. >> all the president had come from an ivory tower of academic life he demonstrated great administrative abilities through temporary misfits, he surrounded himself with a war staff from the best of american life.
and from the beginning woodrow wilson looked beyond. make sure that the war would have a lasting peace. in january 1918, nine months after the declaration of war, the president in an eloquent address to the congress laid down his 14 points which must dominate the making of the peace. in subsequent addresses he added further principles and actions until they amounted to 35 points in all. woodrow wilson proposed a new order and a new era in world affairs. >> but the war continued in all its fury. new weapons joined the arsenal of warfare, bigger and bigger
guns. for the first time warplanes. and poison gas killed, maimed, blinded. artillery effective since napoleon day was replaced by another kind of weapon, the tank. but woodrow wilson's weapons were ideas and ideals. for the great masses of the peoples of the world, bloody and battered and sickened by war, wilson's design for the future brought a new hope. >> his words reached out across the world, ideas more explosive than any barrage of shells. they slipped through the enemy line on their enemy door his words drove wedges between the people and their autocratic ruling. they lifted the hopes of freedom among mankind, exhausted, starving and defeated in battle,
the enemy states of october 1918 began pleads for an armistice in which to negotiate a peace. the signing of the armistice agreement on november 11, 1918, was the mark of abject surrender by the central powers. the fighting men of both sides joyously climbed out of the trenches, cleaned off the filth and fraternized within the barbed wire of no man's land. ♪ still greater achievement by the president was embodied in these settlements. he secured agreement on both of the allies and the enemy states at the basis of peace should be his points. never before in history had
there been such a triumph of moral leadership. a few days after the armistice president wilson let it be known that he proposed to go to paris as the head of the american peace delegation. many of his associates, including myself, advised him not to go. we argued that he would be involved in secret committee meetings where his the most powerful voice in the world would be still. we believed that from the white house it could be thunder and lightning to the whole world, but that in paris he would be trapped in intrigue and in greed. our armed services fought for the ideals of our country, it is now my duty to play my full part and making good what -- to
obtain. >> however, from the nature of the man, from his knowledge of centuries of failure in world attempts to prevent war and preserve lasting peace, it was inevitable that woodrow wilson would leave for europe. he boarded the steamship george washington accompanied by his wife, his physician admiral grayson and a number of aides. ♪ president wilson arrived in france late in 1918. >> he was received by masses of people everywhere with almost religious fervor.
to them an ono man of moral power, no man of such peace had appeared since christ preached the sermon on the mount. everywhere men believed a new era had come to mankind, the star of bethlehem was rising again. at this moment woodrow wilson had reached a zentith of spiritual leadership never before achieved by any world statesman. but while mr. wilson was familiar with historical, political and economic which controlled the old world, he had little understanding of the deep emotions which had been stirred by the war. among the allies during those past four years almost every home had sacrificed a son, a brother or a father.
they had been ruthlessly attacked and had suffered hideous destruction and brutal hardships. and they were now confronted with enormous deaths with huge obligations to widows, orphans and the disabled veterans. they were impoverished and unemployment was rampant. expressing these emotions and hardships prime minister george had just won the british election on a platform of hang the kaiser. won a vote of confidence from the french assembly by an address promising to demand reparations to the last -- and the reduction of germany to a nation of impotence.
prime minister orlando of italy, a nation rife with hardships and riddled with emotions demanded war reparations and territorial spoils. on january 18, 1919, the greatest peace conference since the congress of vienna 100 years before was opened and address by president wilson. 16 new nations had established their independent fixed in the blood of many of their delegates of the peace table were 1,000 years of distrust, hate born of persecution and the representatives of all the european nations could not survive at home if they brought back nothing more than a political treaty. all their peoples were demanding
nothing less than reparations, spoils, punishment for the enemy. even though they had agreed to mr. wilson's 14 points, these delegates were determined not to let idealism stand in their way, not when it conflicted with their own purposes and desires. such for the destructive forces that sat at the peace table at versailles and their power was greater than woodrow wilson knew. but the president was confronted with many problems besides making the peace. the surrender of the enemy raised the curtain on a raging famine among hundreds of millions of people. there was more than famine to
contend with. epidemic was raging in eastern europe. millions had already died and millions more were dying unless there was quick action to control it. the blockade was continued against germany for four and a half months after the armistice despite an implied promise to supply food under the armistice agreement. while beset with vast political problems, wilson still supported the greatest battle against famine and petulance in the history of the world. a letter from my organization to the president asking for millions of money brought in immediate reply on the margin, approved, w.w. in late february 1919, the
president had need to return to washington for the opening of congress on march 4th. he came home to meet his first rebuff, 37 members of the new senate led by senator lodge, had signed a protest resolution that the constitution of the league of nations in the form proposed to the peace conference should not be accepted. the president reacted with a shocked defiance and talks to the press and to the people. with american and world opinion on his side, he felt confident how the final outcome. upon president wilson's return to paris, with the three prime
ministers he took over the final stages of the making of the treaty in secret sessions. within these big four meetings the president was confronted with adamant opposition to many of his basic proposals of peace. but the world's call for the league led him back into the big four sessions. only through making the treaty with germany could he secure the signatures of the 27 nations at the peace table as well as the enemy signatures best bringing the league. the president decided to make the compromises demanded by the allies. they gained moment under the
empire and annexation of great territory. they won their demands for impossible reparation. on may 7, 1919, a draft of the treaty was given to the waiting german delegation in paris. they were allowed two weeks to propose modifications. when the proposals were received, the president made a valiant effort to modify the terms, but the prime ministers were adamant. the german delegation refused to sign, return to germany and resign. under the threat of renewed blockade on their food supply or invasion by the allied armies, the germans sent the small delegation back to paris to sign. on june 28, 1919, these new
representatives and all of the 27 allied delegations convened in the hall of mirrors at versailles to witness the signing of the treaty. and many of our american colleagues witnessed the glittering ceremonies with sinking hearts for the future of the world. all of the allied statesman left paris. the gates closed. the wary president came home. in washington wilson found voices like these sounding, senator bora of idaho said it took george washington seven years to gain independence from george iii and now, my friends, they want to give it back to george v. and senator johnson added, he is
asking us to hand america destiny over to the secret councils of europe. it is the duty of senators of this nation to keep america american. a few democratic senators said it was the end of american independence. the league was in mortal danger. woodrow wilson did not wait. against his physician's warning on september 4th of 1919 he started west on a long exhausting trip to carry his fight for ratification to the american people. ♪ many senators demanded reservations to the treaty, others were violent against
ratification in any form. it was not the faulty peace settlement that troubled them so much but the commitment to the league. some of them claimed it created a superstate and argued that under the covenant the league might force our nation into a war without the consent of congress. in 22 days wilson made 40 addresses in 17 cities. against any change in the covenant of the league, the text already signed by nearly two score nations, he insisted we had no right to change it now. the long strain had been too much. the president was rushed back to
washington. he lay for months. and these were the vital months when the crucial battles over the league and the treaty were being waged in the senate. twice the senate voted on the treaty and twice it was defeated. >> in 1921, mr. wilson with his illness all too evident, left the white house on his way to his new home on s street. there as an invalid he frequently stepped out of doors to acknowledge the affection of his admirers. he lived quietly on s street for three more years. the public's last view of him was at an upstairs window. >> woodrow wilson lived to see some of his defeats become
victories. he saw his free men to freedom bring independence to many nations. above all, he lived to see the league of nations come into being at the hands of the old world. he saw it settle many dangers, controversies and the making of many treaties which aided the economic health and morals of the world. he lived to see the world -- and international labor organization. had mr. wilson lived just two decades longer, he would have seen the dragon's teeth sowed by the statesmen at versailles bring another and equally terrible world war. and out of this second world war he would have seen the rise of the league concept again under the name of the united nations.
this new organization to preserve peace clearly follows the pattern of woodrow wilson's league except in one important particular, woodrow wilson would never have agreed to accept dictators to membership. and when mr. wilson died, his epitaph may well has been the oration delivered more than 2,000 years ago over the greeks who had given their lives for their country. so they gave their bodies to the commonwealth and received each for his own memory praise that will never die and with it the grandest of all not one in which their mortal bones are laid, but a home in the minds of men where
♪ >> you're watching american history tv all weekend every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook at cspanhistory. >> shortly after declaring war on germany, the u.s. congress passed and president wilson signed the selective service act on may 18th of 1917. the act required men aged 21 to 30 to register for military service. up next, to mark the centennial of selective service historians richard faulkner and beth bailey discuss the evolution of the military draft in the united states