Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Political Thought of Woodrow Wilson, 1875-1910:

The Political Thought of Woodrow Wilson, 1875-1910:

Niels Aage Thorsen
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zv0tw
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Political Thought of Woodrow Wilson, 1875-1910:
    Book Description:

    Niels Thorsen argues that Woodrow Wilson was one of America's most important political scientists. Focusing on the period from Wilson's early years until he was elected Governor of New Jersey, this work shows why he deserves a prominent place in the history of American political thought, even apart from his later attainments in the political arena. His book Congressional Government, his seminal article on "The Study of Public Administration," and his textbook on The State were important contributions during the formative years of academic political science in America. In contrast to those who propose psychological explanations of Wilson's early interest in political problems, Thorsen contends that the crisis of the election of 1876 against the backdrop of the Civil War was decisive in turning Wilson's attention to political ideas.

    Implying the abandonment of a more traditional form of political thought based on the social contract and on constitutionalism, egalitarianism, and common sense, Wilson linked his conclusions about the nature of politics to the rise of the social and economic sciences. Distinctive in his academic work were ideas about social and economic diversification as the condition for the growth of national power, and about political leadership asserted at home and abroad as a way to overcome traditional American fears about centralized power.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5931-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. I THE DISCOVERY OF THE NATION: WILSON’S FIRST POLITICAL WRITINGS
    (pp. 3-16)

    Beginnings have a special attraction for historians, because they believe the outset of something to render in a simpler form the essence or the spirit of historical phenomena that become complex over time. The beginning of Woodrow Wilson’s political interest has been a subject of considerable controversy, which has focused on his identification with English liberals and especially on his attachment to his father. It deserves attention, however, that Wilson’s boyhood and early years in Princeton were spent in the midst of unusual political circumstances that had a bearing on Wilson’s family background, on his religious world view, and on...

  5. II WILSON’S INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF POLITICS AND POLITICAL ECONOMY
    (pp. 17-40)

    If Wilson’s discovery of American nationalism is reduced to a mere logical argument, it simply asserted that fratricide presupposed a certain familial unity. But, of course, such a reduction hides the rich resources of language and energy that became available to Wilson when the violent conflict that had dominated his boyhood began to assume a new meaning. He used the family metaphor itself as an image of the founding of a new nation. The Union consisted of constitutional doctrines “founded by our fathers,” but it rested upon “sound principles of government,” that is, the bountiful knowledge that had “developed from...

  6. III PREPARING FOR LEADERSHIP: CONGRESSIONAL GOVERNMENT
    (pp. 41-67)

    At Princeton, Wilson had already decided that law was the natural vocation for an aspiring politician. Yet the study and practice of law left him emotionally dissatisfied. Time after time he turned, not to his law books or his prospective clients, but to the vision of national leadership he had entertained as an undergraduate. Wilson continued his studies of politics as a law student at the University of Virginia from October 1879 to December 1880 at home in Wilmington with his parents, and as a young lawyer in Atlanta from August 1882 to the spring of 1883, when he finally...

  7. IV WILSON’S STUDY OF POLITICAL ECONOMY
    (pp. 68-88)

    Wilson’s graduate studies at the Johns Hopkins University from 1883 to 1885 formed a decisive period of his intellectual life. As indicated byCongressional Government, Wilson’s introduction to a historical perspective on politics was immediately registered in his writings. As might be expected in the case of a student as independent as Wilson, his contemporary letters reveal a mixed personal response to the experience. His engagement to Ellen Axson in September 1883 undoubtedly added to his interest in beginning a teaching career as soon as possible, and he left the university without finishing his degree. Wilson and Ellen Axson were...

  8. V FROM FAMILY TO NATIONAL SOCIETY: WILSON’S IDEA OF THE DEMOCRATIC STATE
    (pp. 89-116)

    The last half of the 1880s was a very happy and productive period for Wilson. He very quickly came to enjoy a growing reputation as a writer, a teacher, and a public lecturer, and his family life seems to have fulfilled his emotional needs in every respect. As testified by a large number of letters to Ellen Axson Wilson in the course of their marriage, he loved his wife passionately and self-consciously.¹ He regarded their relationship as the spring of his intellectual ambition and capacity for work. The young couple seems to have lived harmoniously and happily together with their...

  9. VI LEGITIMIZING ADMINISTRATION IN AMERICA
    (pp. 117-140)

    Wilson’s identification of national integration as the basic purpose of the American state may be seen as a precondition for his development of a concept of administration. On the one hand, it enabled him, to insist emphatically on values and ends within the scope of the nation; on the other, it permitted him to put liberal sentiments aside and to analyze the organization of power in a new context. The latter problem involved an attempt to clear the ground for a systematic study of administration, a search for appropriate methods, and a reformulation of the relationship between state and citizen...

  10. VII THE POLITICS OF AMERICAN HISTORICAL IDENTITY
    (pp. 141-161)

    In the 1890s and early 1900s, Wilson produced a series of books and essays that dealt with historical subjects. In addition to reviews and several articles that discussed the method and craft of historical writing, he published three major works: in 1893 a survey of recent history,Division and Reunion, 1829–1889; in 1897 a biography of George Washington; and in 1902 a five-volume work,A History of the American People.¹ Although he continued to teach and lecture on law and administration, and also wrote occasional notes for a philosophic treatise on politics, it seems clear that historical writing absorbed...

  11. VIII WILSON’S IDEA OF AMERICAN PATRIOTISM
    (pp. 162-181)

    It was not economic policy that came to preoccupy Wilson around the turn of the century. Instead, his attention was increasingly drawn to the concept of patriotism. Wilson’s interest in the idea of patriotism may have been stimulated by the stroke he suffered in May 1896. For the present consideration, however, it is probably more relevant to note that Wilson made his first trip to England and Scotland to recuperate. He traveled alone from the beginning of June through August 1896. The long separation from his family, his homesickness for America, his search for ancestors, and his visits to the...

  12. IX MODERNIZING THE LIBERAL TRADITION: CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT
    (pp. 182-213)

    From the time he assumed the presidency of Princeton University until he was elected governor of New Jersey in 1910, Wilson was preoccupied with three broad areas of activity. The first claim on his attention was the reform of academic and social standards at Princeton and Princeton’s promotion to the first rank among the nation’s universities. The second was Wilson’s own political ambitions and his growing commitment to opinions that would soon identify him as a leading opponent of William Jennings Bryan within the Democratic party. And the third was Wilson’s continuation of his theoretical interests, primarily his last academic...

  13. X CONCLUSION: RECONSTRUCTING THE NATION
    (pp. 214-234)

    The basic pattern of Wilson’s political thought was formed over the period from the end of Reconstruction to the war with Spain, a period of distinct political features. Many contemporaries saw the political reconstruction of the country after the Civil War as requiring a new form of the legitimation of government. As Ralph Henry Gabriel pointed out in 1940, “When Beauregard’s batteries ceased firing, the breached and crumbling walls of Sumter perfectly symbolized American political democracy when Americans appealed from reason to force. Responsibility for the disaster rested with the American people.”¹ The notion of “the people” as a corporate...

  14. XI ESSAY ON HISTORIOGRAPHY AND METHOD
    (pp. 235-246)

    Historical investigations of Wilson’s academic writings can be arranged according to a few general interpretations. The first was inspired by Charles A. Beard, although Beard acknowledged, but never commented in detail on, Wilson’s scholarship. Apparently Beard had trouble placing Wilson unambiguously within the framework of the great political division in American history between the Hamiltonian and the Jeffersonian parties, a division that had been outlined earlier by Wilson as the English and French traditions of democracy. The typical Beardian solution to this problem was to insist upon the chastening effect of Wilson’s departure from academia and his meeting with political...

  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 247-264)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 265-272)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 273-273)