Acclaimed author Patricia O’Toole’s “superb” (The New York Times) account of Woodrow Wilson, one of the most high-minded, consequential, and controversial US presidents. A “gripping” (USA TODAY) biography, The Moralist is “an essential contribution to presidential history” (Booklist, starred review).
“In graceful prose and deep scholarship, Patricia O’Toole casts new light on the presidency of Woodrow Wilson” (Star Tribune, Minneapolis). The Moralist shows how Wilson was a progressive who enjoyed unprecedented success in leveling the economic playing field, but he was behind the times on racial equality and women’s suffrage. As a Southern boy during the Civil War, he knew the ravages of war, and as president he refused to lead the country into World War I until he was convinced that Germany posed a direct threat to the United States. Once committed, he was an admirable commander-in-chief, yet he also presided over the harshest suppression of political dissent in American history.
After the war Wilson became the world’s most ardent champion of liberal internationalism—a democratic new world order committed to peace, collective security, and free trade. With Wilson’s leadership, the governments at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 founded the League of Nations, a federation of the world’s democracies. The creation of the League, Wilson’s last great triumph, was quickly followed by two crushing blows: a paralyzing stroke and the rejection of the treaty that would have allowed the United States to join the League. Ultimately, Wilson’s liberal internationalism was revived by Franklin D. Roosevelt and it has shaped American foreign relations—for better and worse—ever since.
A cautionary tale about the perils of moral vanity and American overreach in foreign affairs, The Moralist “does full justice to Wilson’s complexities” (The Wall Street Journal).
O'Toole (The Five of Hearts: An Intimate Portrait of Henry Adams and His Friends, 1880 1918) offers a comprehensive biography of Woodrow Wilson and a fresh perspective on his moral vision and legacy. The book provides an intimate portrait of Wilson's life and identifies his "deep sense of moral responsibility" as the guiding factor behind his actions and decision-making: his extensive domestic reforms to broaden economic security, his invasion of Mexico to stave off revolution and dictatorship there, his belief in U.S. neutrality after the outbreak of war in Europe, his eventual decision to send troops to make the world "safe for democracy," and his fight for the League of Nations. O'Toole writes with compassion and impartiality, and does not fail to note Wilson's self-righteousness, his political blunders, and the more sordid aspects of his administration his "immoral bargain" of segregating the civil service in return for Southern Democratic votes, his "refusal to budge on women's suffrage," and his stifling of wartime dissent. Unfortunately, Wilson's interventions in Central America and the Caribbean are only granted a couple of passing mentions; scholars and students of foreign policy will notice that glaring omission. Nevertheless, this gracefully written account will likely renew debates on Wilson's role in a century of U.S. foreign policy and the role of the United States in international affairs.