In This Review

Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand: The Life of Colonel Edward M. House
By Godfrey Hodgson
Yale University Press, 2006, 372 pp

As the powers and responsibilities of U.S. presidents have grown, unofficial and personal advisers have come to play a larger role in national life. Edward House, an honorary colonel long active in Texas politics, is perhaps the definitive example of the breed. House helped Woodrow Wilson win both the Democratic nomination and the presidential election in 1912. Once Wilson was in the White House, the colonel became a kind of Karl Rove figure, working on both policy and politics for the Wilson administration. After World War I began, he pioneered what would become a recurring role in U.S. foreign policy: the personal back channel between a president and foreign leaders. (Hodgson's account of House's role in discussions with key British officials is particularly useful; the coverage of House's work in Germany and France is not quite as good.) Of course, those who climb up the back stairs often fall down the same way; Wilson's second wife never liked her husband's friend, and by the end of the Versailles conference, House was out of favor and power. Most historians content themselves with describing House's role during his years in power, at most making brief references to House's bizarre novel about a West Point-educated engineer who overthrows an incompetent president (Philip Dru: Administrator). Hodgson's great contribution is to look at House's early life and his Texas political career. This provides a rich and interesting context not only for House's politics and views but for Wilson's as well.