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Wilson's Changing Policies

Wilson’s policies changed greatly throughout his presidency.  The introduction to Artists of Power, says, “…John A. Thompson argues that many historians have portrayed Wilson as too consistent and too devoted to long-term objectives…”1  As the war continues and events cause a change in the sentiment of the public, Wilson too changed his policies and opinions.

“Following the outbreak of the European war, Wilson’s chief objective was evidently to minimize its effects upon the United States.”2  In his Third Address to Congress, he touted neutrality in all wars and a compliance with the Monroe Doctrine saying:

We retain unabated the spirit that has inspired us throughout the whole life of our government and which was so frankly put into words by President Monroe. We still mean always to make a common cause of national independence and of political liberty in America. But that purpose is now better understood so far as it concerns ourselves. It is known not to be a selfish purpose. It is known to have in it no thought of taking advantage of any government in this hemisphere or playing its political fortunes for our own benefit. All the governments of America stand, so far as we are concerned, upon a footing of genuine equality and unquestioned independence.3

That would seem to be what Roosevelt had claimed to be doing in the Corollary, but as Roosevelt disapproved of Wilson’s actions with the Latin American countries, it becomes apparent that the Corollary did not comply with the Monroe Doctrine as closely as Roosevelt had once claimed it did.

Wilson began to bend to the Corollary in 1916 as he campaigned for preparedness.  In his speech in Kansas City, Wilson sent a message similar to that found in the beginning of the Corollary, that the United States needs to be prepared in case the other world powers decide not to honor the word and demands of the United States.  He said, “I take it that there may in your own conviction come a time when that might and force must be vindicated and asserted. You are not willing that what your Government says should be ignored.”4  It becomes apparent that Roosevelt felt that this was not the proper level of preparedness because his letter to Menkin was written after the speech was given and still claims that Wilson was not doing enough.

Wilson then made an effort to return to the more strict version of the Monroe Doctrine when he advocated that not only should the United States remain neutral and hope for peace in Europe, but that that peace should include the freedom of all colonies held.  He said:

I am proposing, as it were, that the nations should with one accord adopt the doctrine of President Monroe as the doctrine of the world; that no nation should seek to extend its polity over any other nation or people, but that every people should be left free to determine its own polity, its own way of development, unhindered, unthreatened, unafraid, the little along with the great and powerful.4

Roosevelt would not have approved of this interpretation.  In fact, while Roosevelt would have agreed that the Doctrine had called for Europe to free its colonies, he would have recoiled at the idea that this might then also apply to the United States since Wilson was proposing this should apply to the world.

Wilson finally completely changed to align with the ideas expressed in the Roosevelt Corollary when he asked Congress for a declaration of war against Germany after the sinking of the Lusitania and the receipt of the Zimmerman Telegram.  This would lead one to believe that Roosevelt had finally won the ideology battle.  Wilson finally sided with on the need for war.  The fact that Wilson cited the submarine warfare as one of the reasons for the request for war gives further evidence to the idea that Roosevelt had influenced him in some way.  Roosevelt had warned of this kind of interference in all of the sources he wrote.  The Zimmerman Telegram threatened United States soil and was an instance of the European powers trying to interfere in Mexico, a country in which the United States government and dollar were thought to have great influence.  This attempt to interfere in the Western Hemisphere so close to United States soil was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back and caused Wilson to take the course of action Roosevelt had been suggesting all along.

 

1 Charles E. Neu, introduction to Artists of Power, by eds. William N. Tilchin and Charles E. Neu, (Westport, CN: Praeger Security International, 2006), xx.

2 John A. Thompson, “Wilson: More Tactics Than Strategy,” in to Artists of Power, by eds. William N. Tilchin and Charles E. Neu, (Westport, CN: Praeger Security International, 2006), 97.

3Wilson, Woodrow, The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson: Vol 1, (New York: The Review of Reviews Corporation, 1924), 134-135.

4 Wilson, Woodrow, The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson: Vol 1, (New York: The Review of Reviews Corporation, 1924), 201.

5 Wilson, Woodrow, The Messages and Papers of Woodrow Wilson: Vol 1, (New York: The Review of Reviews Corporation, 1924), 355.