In This Review

Woodrow Wilson
Woodrow Wilson
By H. W. Brands
Times Books, 2003, 192 pp.

This short and sympathetic biography is best in detailing Wilson's path to World War I, and its greatest failure is its refusal to engage Wilson on race. Like most post-Civil War Southern whites, Wilson embraced the Democratic Party with its unbending support of white supremacy, segregation, and lynch law. The first Southern president since the Civil War, Wilson not only gave the pro-Klan Birth of a Nation a White House screening, he imposed Jim Crow policy in the District of Columbia and blocked a Japanese effort to include a declaration on racial equality in the League of Nations charter. To investigate this side of Wilson's career and relate it to the universal principles by which he defined his political mission isn't to give him a politically correct posthumous spanking; it is to examine some of the essential political and psychological issues that shaped this remarkable man. Brands has only one paragraph for all this and thus has produced what could be the last Wilson biography written as if the color line played no role in early-twentieth-century American politics.