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Interpreting the Evidence

Woodrow Wilson

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Comprehension

  • Grade Level:

    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    World War I

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Woodrow Wilson, Photograph, n.d. in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Photograph of President Woodrow Wilson, n.d.
Historical Context
Woodrow Wilson played an extremely large role during World War I.  Elected president in 1912, he was in charge of deciding how the U.S. would react to the outbreak of war in 1914 after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  After initially choosing neutrality, the German’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare and Britain’s blockade compromised freedom of the seas.  Following the German U-boat attack on the Lusitania in 1914, Wilson continually tried to make Germany, in particular, respect neutral nations’ rights during war.  He convinced Germany to sign promises respecting neutral rights like the Arabic Pledge and the Sussex Pledge.  Attacks cut back for a short period of time, right at the same time Wilson’s reelection campaign was developing at home.  Unofficially claiming that the nation’s boys wouldn’t be sent into any foreign wars, thereby respecting the isolationist wishes of many United States citizens, Wilson was reelected in November 1916.  However, preparedness campaigns had already begun, loans of money and supplies were being granted to the Allied Powers, and the U.S. was already on a path toward war.  When March 1917 arrived, a number of events brought about official U.S. entry into the war.  After the Russian Revolution occurred displacing the czar (making some who had worried about joining the Allied Powers because of Russia’s membership more comfortable,) the press released news of the Zimmermann Telegram (in which Germany asked Mexico to join in the war against the United States,) and more American ships were sunk thereby breaking the pledges made by Germany. Wilson finally asked Congress for a declaration of war on April 16, 1917, saying the world must be made safe for democracy.  The U.S. launched a total war on Germany both abroad and at home.  U.S. doughboys fought alongside the Allied troops, while the entire home front was mobilized by the creation of numerous agencies and organizations to control wartime production, costs, needs, etc.  While the war was being fought, Wilson attempted to create a plan for future peace, his famous 14 Points.  This idealistic program included points that would hopefully prevent future wars including neutral rights, no secret alliances, no trade barriers, self-determination, and the most famous point of all, the League of Nations, which would serve as an international body meant to end future international conflicts.  Wilson brought his 14 Points oversees during the peace proceedings following the signing of the armistice on November 11, 1918.  Even though many loved his idealism, many people within France and Britain wanted revenge on the Germans.  The ultimate end to the war, the Treaty of Versailles, included very few of Wilson’s 14 Points as it set out to destroy the nation of Germany.  However, the League of Nations was included in the peace treaty. As Wilson brought the treaty home, the isolationists in the United States launched an attack against the treaty, worried that the League of Nations might bring the nation into future conflicts.  After suffering a stroke and losing the ability to fight for the treaty, Wilson watched as the Treaty of Versailles failed to get the 2/3 majority vote in the Senate necessary for ratification.  Warren Harding took over the presidency in 1921 and the U.S. eventually signed a separate treaty with Germany ending the war.  After a very active presidency, Woodrow Wilson, still dealing with the aftermath of his stroke, died in 1924. 
Essential Question
How do individuals impact global events?
Check for Understanding
Describe the individual in the photograph and explain his contribution to the war.
Historical Challenges
Read Wilson’s two inaugural speeches. What themes are the same? What major differences do you see? If the world had adopted Wilson’s 14 Points, rather than the Treaty of Versailles, how may the world be different today?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Art: During WWII, Norman Rockwell made a famous drawing of Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Make a similar poster that reflects four of Wilson’s 14 Points.