Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921)
The Disabled Presidency
Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, served
two terms in the White House. Wilson appeared to be in good health
when he was elected president in 1912. He was re-elected four years
later, and the beginning of his second term was dominated by World
War I. At the conclusion of the war in 1918, Wilson went to Paris
to personally negotiate a peace treaty with our Allied partners.
Wilson advocated his own peace plan, which included the creation
of a League of Nations. The President neither consulted the Senate
when preparing the plan nor when negotiating it with the Allies.
This was a political blunder on Wilson's part. When he presented
the treaty to the Senate, Wilson expected its passage with no changes.
Republican senators vowed to defeat the treaty unless changes were
Physically exhausted from the intense treaty negotiations, Wilson
in August 1919 embarked on a grueling speaking tour to seek the
support of the American people. During the trip, Wilson complained
of headaches and sleeplessness. He collapsed in Pueblo, Colorado.
The trip was canceled and Wilson returned to the White House, where
he suffered a stroke. From that time on the President was incapable
of carrying out his duties. Wilson's inner circle, consisting of
the First Lady, his personal physician, private secretary, and Secretary
of State, kept the President's condition a secret. No one was allowed
to see him. The Cabinet and press were told that Wilson had suffered
a nervous breakdown. Vice President Thomas Marshall was never informed.
The American people never knew that their President was an invalid.
Wilson completed his second term in office in 1921. His health improved
only slightly. He died in retirement on 3 February, 1924.
President Woodrow Wilson
This photograph shows Wilson in 1912, the
first year of his presidency. Some historians have claimed
that Wilson suffered three strokes before he became president
and thus should never have been elected. These contentions
cannot be proven, however.
World War I and the negotiations that ended the hostilities
dominated President Wilson's second term until his stroke
in 1919. When Wilson arrived in Paris for the peace negotiations,
he received a hero's welcome from the French people.
President Woodrow Wilson Arriving in Paris
Wilson did not attend a cabinet meeting until
almost six months after his stroke. When he finally attended
one in April 1920, his feeble condition shocked cabinet members.
Most of Wilson's cabinet still did not know the true state
of his health.
Dr. Cary T. Grayson was President Wilson's personal physician.
Out of loyalty to the President. Dr. Grayson refused to declare
Wilson disabled after his stroke. He never admitted publicly that
Wilson had suffered a stroke. Dr. Grayson was, along with Mrs. Wilson,
one of the inner circle that prevented people from seeing the sick
Former President Wilson on
the Front Porch of His Washington Residence