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Scots and Scots Descendant in America
Part V - Biographies
Hon. Woodrow Wilson


(THOMAS) WOODROW WILSON, twenty-eighth President of the United States, was born in Staunton, Virginia, December 28, 1856, the third child and first son of the Rev. Dr. Joseph Buggies Wilson and "Jessie" (Janet) Woodrow. President Wilson’s ancestry on both sides is all Scottish and Scotch-Irish. His paternal grandfather, James Wilson, came to Philadelphia from County Down, Ireland, in 1807, when he was twenty years old, and secured employment in the newspaper office of the Aurora, published by William Duane, a brilliant and eccentric journalist, the successor of Franklin Bache, grandson of Benjamin Franklin. Eventually, James Wilson became editor and manager of the paper. He married Anne Adams, a Scotch-Irish girl, by whom he had three daughters and seven sons, all of whom had worthy careers, professional or military. After the War of 1812, he removed to Ohio and established in Pittsburgh, Pa., The Pennsylvania Advocate, and in Steubenville, Ohio, The Western Herald, widely influential newspapers that with the assistance of his sons, all of whom he taught to be printers, he successfully published until his death in 1837. "Judge" Wilson, as he was popularly known, was a Justice of the Peace and served in the Ohio State Legislature. He was an outspoken man of strong convictions, of recognized ability and sterling character.

The President’s father, Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, D.D., Ph.D., was the youngest son of James Wilson, born in Steubenville, Ohio, February 28, 1822. He had his first schooling in his father’s shop, attended Steubenville Academy, and was graduated from Jefferson College, Pa., in 1844, as valedictorian. After a year of teaching, in Mercer, Pa., he entered Western Theological Semillary, Allegheny, Pa., and the following year attended Princeton Theological Seminary. He taught in Steubenville Academy for two years and was ordained by the Presbytery of Ohio in 1849. He was a distinguished scholar and rhetorician and one of the most noted clergymen in the Presbyterian Church of the South: high in its councils during the dark days of the War, Moderator in 1879, and Stated Clerk of its General Assembly 1865 to 1899. He held professorships in Jefferson and Hampden-Sydney Colleges, and in the Southern Theological Seminary, Columbia, S. C., and the Southwestern Theological Seminary, Clarksville, Tenn. He was pastor of churches in Staunton, Va., 1855 to 1858; in Augusta, Ga., 1858 to 1870; in Wilmington, N. C., 1874 to 1883; and supplied many other churches. He died in Princeton, N. J., in his eighty-first year.

The Rev. Dr. Wilson married, June 7, 1849, Janet Woodrow, daughter of the Rev. Dr. Thomas Woodrow and Marion Williamson. The Woodrows (or Wodrows), for more than six hundred years in Scotland, have furnished many ministers and other notable men. Dr. Woodrow, himself a fine scholar and an eloquent preacher, "a conservative and thoroughgoing Presbyterian," was born in Paisley, in 1793, graduated at Glasgow University, and for sixteen years was minister of the Independant Congregation at Carlisle, England. He sailed with his family, October 21, 1835, for New York, arriving January 12, 1836. A little more than a month later, his wife died leaving him with seven young children, of which Janet, the President ‘s mother, was the fifth child. He remarried in 1843, Harriet L. Renick, of Chillicothe, Ohio. Rev. Dr. Woodrow was pastor in Brockville, Ontario, Can.; of the First Presbyterian Church, Chillicothe, Ohio, 1837 to 1849; and of Hogg Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio, until his death, April 27, 1877.

President Wilson’s elder sister, Marion (deceased), married the Rev. Ross Kennedy (deceased), of the Presbyterian Church. The younger daughter, Annie Josephine, married Dr. George Howe, a physician and surgeon of Columbia, S. C. She died in New London, Conn., September 16, 1916. Joseph B., the second son and fourth child, born ten years after Woodrow, after leaving college settled in Memphis, Tenn., where he was a man of influence in political affairs and city editor of the Nashville Banner. In 1913, he removed to Baltimore, Md., where he is engaged in business.

President Wilson’s boyhood days were spent chiefly in Augusta, Ga., and Columbia, S. C. In Augusta, he attended the school of Prof. John T. Derry, where he had as schoolmates among others the late Hon. Joseph R. Lamar, Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, William Keener, Dean of the Law School of Columbia University, and Hon. Pleasant A. Stovall, President and editor of the Savannah Press (Ga.). He was a quiet, studious boy and despite a late start at books advanced rapidly. His real educator, however, was his father, his constant companion. "Sitting on the floor, or rather reclining there against an inverted chair, the gifted parson would pour out into the ears of the spell-bound lad all the stores of his experience, learning and thought." He was a man of wide information on the affairs of the world, a keen judge of good literature, a clear thinker and, above all, a master of the English language. On Mondays, he would take the son out on excursions through the town and the neighboring country. If they visited the factories, he would point out to him the furnaces, boilers, machinery—teach him to follow all the processes of manufacture, making them the theme of his talk on the principles of nature, chemistry, physics, and the organization of society.

After a short period in the school of Charles Heyward Barnwell, in Columbia, S. C., Woodrow Wilson entered Davidson College, N. C., in the fall of 1873. Here he did well and was generally liked; but he fell ill and was unable to finish his year. He returned to Wilmington, N. C., whither his father had just been called, and spent a year tutoring in Greek and other studies preparatory to entering Princeton in the fall of 1875. He was graduated in 1879, in a class that numbered among its members Hon. Mahlon Pitney, Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, Robert Bridges, editor, and other notable men. He early took his place as a leader of his class. He was democratic, well-poised, a fine singer, and possessed a charm of manner acquired from his intimate intercourse with his talented father, that won him the friendship of all his fellows. He was only an average student in the prescribed curriculum; but he laid out for himself broad courses of reading and study in his favorite subjects of economics and politics. He won a high place in the debating societies, was managing editor of the Princetonian, and President of the Athletic Committee and Baseball Association. In his senior year, he sold to the International Review, then considered the most serious magazine in America, his article Cabinet Government in the United States, the first fruit of his political study, and the first of many important papers on the British parliainentary system as contrasted with the working of American constitutional government.

In the fall of 1879, he entered the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, as a law student. Again illness interfered with his studies, but he was graduated in 1881, and in May, 1882, began the practice of law in Atlanta, Ga., in partnership with Edward Ireland Renick. In 1883-1885, he took up graduate work in history and political economy in Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; the second year holding the historical Fellowship. While at Johns Hopkins, he wrote and published his first book, Congressional Government: A Study in American Politics, and first publicly dropped the "Thomas" from his name, styling himself thereafter as Woodrow Wilson. The book was exceptionally well received and was warmly praised by the Hon. James Bryce and other students of government.

In 1886, Woodrow Wilson received his degree of Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University. In 1885, he had accepted the professorship of history and political economy in Bryn Mawr College, Pa. Here he remained until 1888, continuing to lecture in the meantime at Johns Hopkins, and afterward holding a similar chair for two years at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Conn. While in Middletown, he published The State: Elements of Historical and Practical Politics, which has gone through many editions and has been translated into many languages, and is still a standard text-book on government in many colleges and universities throughout the world. In September, 1890, he succeeded Prof. Alexander Johnson in the chair of Jurisprudence and Politics in Princeton University, returning to his Alma Mater only eleven years after graduation, a Doctor of Philosophy, a successful author, and a recognized authority in his subjects. In 1895, the department was divided and he was assigned the chair of Jurisprudence; in 1897, he was promoted to the McCormick professorship of Jurisprudence and Politics; in 1902, he succeeded Dr. Francis Landey Patton as President of the University, resigning the presidency and his professorship in October, 1910, immediately after his nomination on the Democratic ticket for the governorship of New Jersey.

Woodrow Wilson’s twenty years in Princeton were years of remarkable growth and influence. As a professor, he was personally popular, his lectures and public addresses set a high standard and attracted many students: as President, the courage with which he attacked the difficult problems growing out of the evolution of the university won the attention of the entire country. The notable achievements of his administration were a complete revision of the system of study—the introduction of the preceptorial system—and a long and bitter struggle for the democratization of the university.

September 15, 1910, the New Jersey State Convention of the Democratic Party nominated Woodrow Wilson, and on November 8, 1910, he was elected Governor of New Jersey by a plurality of 49,056, completely reversing the large Republican vote of 1908. The keynote of his campaign was "government by the people," and if there was some curiosity as to what this college professor would do in politics, it was soon at rest. Governor Wilson’s election not only emancipated the State of New Jersey from an iron-handed, corrupt, political rule, but one by one he brought over to himself the support of the progressive element of both political parties. The result of this co-operation was the best-working primary election law yet passed; an advanced corrupt practices act; a public utilities commission, with broad powers to fix rates, etc.; and a provision for the adoption of commission government by the cities of the State.

His success as Governor made Woodrow Wilson the logical candidate of his party for the Presidency in 1912. At the National Convention, held in Baltimore, June 25 to July 3, 1912, he was nominated July 2, on the forty-sixth ballot. He was elected President, November 3, 1912, with a plurality of 2,173,512, and inaugurated in Washington, March 4, 1913. President Wilson was renominated June 16, 1916, by the National Democratic Convention in St. Louis, and was reelected, November 7, 1916.

President Wilson married, June 24, 1885, Miss Ellen Louise Axson, daughter of Edward and Margaret (Hoyt) Axson, of a distinguished family of Savannah, Ga. Mrs. Wilson was a woman of intellectual strength and of rare beauty, both in person and in character, a devoted wife and home-maker. She also had a fine talent for drawing, studied at the Art Student ‘s League, New York City, and painted many creditable pictures. She also designed their cosy home at Princeton. Mrs. Wilson died in the White House, August 6, 1914. Of their three daughters: Jessie Woodrow, born Aug. 28, 1887, married Francis Bowes Sayre, November 25, 1913; Eleanor Randolph, born Oct. 16, 1889, married William Gibbs McAdoo, May 7, 1914. Miss Margaret Woodrow Wilson, the eldest daughter, is unmarried. President Wilson remarried, December 18, 1915, in Washington, Mrs. Edith Bolling Galt, a native of Virginia.

In addition to the books already mentioned, President Wilson is the author of the following: Division and Reunion, 1893; An Old Master, and Other Political Essays, 1896; Life of George Washington, 1896; History of the American People, 1902; Constitutional Government in the United States, 1908; Free Life, 1913; The New Freedom, 1913; When a Man Comes to Himself, 1915.


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