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Critical Analysis of Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman Essay

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Kendrick A. Clements’ Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman provides the reader with a biography of Woodrow Wilson’s life from his birth in Virginia in 1856 until his death on February 3, 1924. Twayne Publishers as part of their “Twentieth-Century American Biography Series” published this book in 1987. This series of books is intended for scholars, graduate students and, perhaps to a lesser degree, college undergraduate students. The book does not assume the reader has much prior knowledge of Wilson or the events of his administration and does a concise job of filing in background information.

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Although intended for scholars and students this book could prove useful and interesting to readers of popular history as well, although the prose can be somewhat dry on occasion (Clements 1987). Clements’ thesis is that Woodrow Wilson’s “influence on the United States justifies the claim that he is one of the most important presidents of the twentieth century” (Clements xi 1987). Clements notes that in all three of his leadership roles, President of Princeton University, Governor of New Jersey, and President of the United States, Wilson achieved a remarkable amount of success.

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Clements claims that Wilson concerned himself with establishing general principles that would define and help control the institution he was heading. Wilson had the ability to ignore “transient details and concentrate on underlying principles” (Clements xii 1987). This is an interesting notion and worthy of consideration especially in today’s world where government policies seem to be tailored to fit a ten second news bite and politicians change directions and opinions with each event and public reaction. Clements illustrates this position with reference to Wilson’s tenure as President of Princeton.

“Wilson believed that a university’s mission was not to produce only ministers, businessmen, or scientists, but to train citizens whose value to the community would lie in their ability to understand and solve general issues confronting the nation” (Clements 29 1987). Wilson thought in the long term and believed efforts must be made to “resaturate each generation in the general views of life” (Clements 29 1987). Clements emphasizes throughout the book that Wilson held true to these principles and this was his great strength.

Clements provides and admiral biography of Wilson, but falls short in proving his contention that Wilson was one of the more important twentieth century presidents. That is not to say that Clements is wrong when he makes his claim, just that he failed to prove it. In part, at least, this is true because Clements does not take time to compare Wilson and his influence with that of other twentieth century presidents. This is not particularly detrimental to book especially considering that there were only seventeen presidents and two of them served after Clements published the book.

This statement is probably one of the few examples of hyperbole Clements makes. Woodrow Wilson: World Statesman is a very useful and thought-provoking book. Not only does it provide a thorough biography of Wilson and a description of world events during his administration, in particular World War I, but also it provides a good springboard to understanding the United States in the Twentieth Century. Wilson was known as an excellent lecturer while a professor at several colleges where he taught. He helped his students discover the structure behind events.

Clements suggests that Wilson lived his life the same way, providing structure for the country and future generations so there was a firm foundation of the principles that were and should be held dear to the United States. This lack of foundation and unity is evident today. Each political party, each special interest group, and even each individual seem to focus solely on the desires of the group or the particular individual. The country lacks a philosophical guiding principle to do what will be in the best interest of the country as a whole.

Had subsequent presidents pursued this goal, the state of the country might be improved from what it is today. This book would work well as part of required reading in practical political or social philosophy however it probably would not serve well as the only textbook for such a class. Just as Wilson concentrated on the foundation or framework of policies, Clements does the same with his writing. He is clearly more interested in providing a solid foundation to Wilson’s political philosophy than he is in treating greater detail about events during this period.

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