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Woodrow Wilson As I Know Him
Chapter VI - Something New In Political Campaigns
by Tumulty, Joseph P.

Woodrow Wilson opened his gubernatorial campaign with a speech in Jersey City, my home town. It was a distinct disappointment to those who attended the meeting. His speech in accepting the nomination had touched us deeply and had aroused in us great expectations, but after the Jersey City speech we were depressed in spirit, for it seemed to us that he was evading the real issues of the campaign. I was most anxious to meet the candidate and give him, if he invited it, my impressions of this speech. A dinner given to complete the ceremonies attendant upon the purchase of the Caldwell residence of Grover Cleveland gave me the first opportunity to meet the president of Princeton in an intimate way. Mr. Wilson's first wife, a most delightful woman, made the introduction possible. As I fondly look back upon this meeting, I vividly recall my impressions of the man who had just been nominated for the governorship of the state in a convention in which I had bitterly opposed him.

The democratic bearing of the man, his warmth of manner, charm, and kindly bearing were the first things that attracted me to him. There was no coldness or austerity about him, nor was he what the politicians would call "high-browish." He impressed me as a plain, unaffected, affable gentleman, who was most anxious to receive advice and suggestion from any quarter. He made us doubly welcome by saying that he had heard a great deal of favourable comment about the work of Judge Sullivan and myself in the Legislature. This made us feel perfectly at home, and this frank manner of dealing with us opened the way for the suggestions we desired to make to him as to the attitude we younger Democrats thought he should assume on what we believed were the vital, progressive issues of the campaign.

When he was informed that I was present at his first meeting a few nights before in Jersey City, he came over to me and in a most friendly way said: "What did you really think of my speech?" For a moment I was embarrassed, and yet the frankness of the man was compelling and so I said: "Doctor, do you really desire an honest opinion of that speech? I really want to serve you but I can do so only by speaking frankly." He replied: "That is what I most desire." "Well," I said, "your speech was most disappointing." I stopped suddenly, feeling that I had done enough damage to the Professor's feelings. But he urged: "Please tell me what your criticism is. What I most need is honesty and frankness. You cannot hurt my feelings by truthfully expressing your opinion. Don't forget that I am an amateur at this game and need advice and guidance." Encouraged by this suggestion, I proceeded to tell him what I considered the principal defects of his opening speech at Jersey City. I told him that there was a lack of definiteness in it which gave rise to the impression that he was trying to evade a discussion of the moral issues of the campaign, among them, of major importance, being the regulation of Public Utilities and the passage of an Employers' Liability Act. Briefly sketching for him our legislative situation, I gave him the facts with reference to those large measures of public interest; how, for many years, in face of constant agitation, the Old Guard had prevented the enactment of these measures into law, and how, therefore, his failure to discuss these matters in his first speech had caused a grave feeling of unrest in the progressive ranks of both parties in New Jersey.

The White House

Cornish, N. H.,
July 3, 1915

My dear Tumulty:

I am heartily obliged to you for your telegrams. It is characteristic of you to keep my mind free by such messages. I am really having a most refreshing and rewarding time and am very thankful to get it. I hope that you are not having depressing weather in Washington and that you are finding it possible to make satisfactory arrangements for the family, so that we can have the pleasure of having you with us at the White House when I get back.

With warmest messages from us all,
Affectionately yours,

Woodrow Wilson

Hon. Joseph P. Tumulty
Washington, D.C.
This letter reveals the warm personal relations between the President and his secretary.]

He listened with keen attention and then modestly remarked: "I value very highly this tip and you may rest assured I shall cover these matters in my next speech. I meant that speech to be general."

In my ignorance of things past I did not know that the candidate had himself written the platform adopted by the Trenton Convention, and in my ignorance of the future I did not then know that one of the boldest and most remarkable political campaigns in America was to be conducted on that platform, and that after the election and inauguration of the nominee the chief business of the legislation was destined to be the enactment into law of each of the planks of the platform, a complete and itemized fulfilment of preëlection promises, unusual in the history of American politics. At the time of my first conversation with the nominee I only knew that the Convention had been dominated by the reactionary elements in the party, that under this domination it had stolen the thunder of the progressive elements of the party and of the New Idea Republicans, and that the platform had been practically ignored by the candidate in his first campaign speech. In these circumstances, and smarting as I was under the recollection of recent defeat, it is not strange that I thought I detected the old political ruse of dressing the wolf in sheep's clothing, of using handsome pledges as a mask to deceive the gullible, and that I assumed that this scholarly amateur in politics was being used for their own purposes by masters and veterans in the old game of thimblerig.

The candidate soon struck his gait and astonished me and all New Jersey with the vigour, frankness, and lucidity of his speeches of exposition and appeal. No campaign in years in New Jersey had roused such universal interest. There was no mistaking the character and enthusiasm of the greeting the candidate received every place he spoke, nor the response his thrilling speeches evoked all over the state. Those who had gathered the idea that the head of the great university would appear pedantic and stand stiff-necked upon an academic pedestal from which he would talk over the heads of the common people were forced, by the fighting, aggressive attitude of the Doctor, to revise their old estimates. The campaign had only begun when the leading newspapers of the country, particularly the large dailies of New York, were taking an interest in the New Jersey fight.

Those of us who doubted Woodrow Wilson's sincerity and his sympathy for the great progressive measures for which we had been fighting in the New Jersey Legislature were soon put at ease by the developments of his campaign and his sympathetic attitude toward the things we had so much at heart.

No candidate for governor in New Jersey had ever made so striking and moving an appeal. Forgetting and ignoring the old slogans and shibboleths, he appealed to the hearts and consciences of the people of the state. His homely illustrations evoked expressions of delight, until it seemed as if this newcomer in the politics of our state had a better knowledge of the psychology of the ordinary crowd than the old stagers who had spent their lives in politics. His illustrations always went home.

For instance, speaking of progress, Doctor Wilson said that much depended upon the action of the one who is supposed to be progressive. "I can recall," he would say in trying to make his point, "the picture of a poor devil of a donkey on a treadmill. He keeps on tramping, tramping, tramping, but he never gets anywhere. But," he continued, "there is a certain elephant that's tramping, too, and how much progress is it making?" And then, again, he would grow solemn when he spoke of the average man. Turning aside from the humorous, he would strike a serious note like this one:
You know that communities are not distinguished by exceptional men. They are distinguished by the average of their citizenship. I often think of the poor man when he goes to vote: a moral unit in his lonely dignity.

The deepest conviction and passion of my heart is that the common people, by which I mean all of us, are to be absolutely trusted. The peculiarity of some representatives, particularly those of the Republican party, is that when they talk about the people, they obviously do not include themselves. Now if, when you think of the people, you are not thinking about yourself, then you do not belong in America.

When I look back at the processes of history, when I look back at the genesis of America, I see this written over every page, that the nations are renewed from the bottom, not from the top; that the genius which springs up from the ranks of unknown men is the genius which renews the youth and the energy of the people; and in every age of the world, where you stop the courses of the blood from the roots, you injure the great, useful structure to the extent that atrophy, death, and decay are sure to ensue. This is the reason that an hereditary monarchy does not work; that is the reason that an hereditary aristocracy does not work; that is the reason that everything of that sort is full of corruption and ready to decay.

So I say that our challenge of to-day is to include in the partnership all those great bodies of unnamed men who are going to produce our future leaders and renew the future energies of America. And as I confess that, as I confess my belief in the common man, I know what I am saying. The man who is swimming against the stream knows the strength of it. The man who is in the mêlée knows what blows are being struck and what blood is being drawn. The man who is on the make is a judge of what is happening in America, not the man who has made; not the man who has emerged from the flood, not the man who is standing on the bank, looking on, but the man who is struggling for his life and for the lives of those who are dearer to him than himself. That is the man whose judgment will tell you what is going on in America, and that is the man by whose judgment I for one wish to be guided--so that as the tasks multiply and the days come when all will seem confusion and dismay, we may lift up our eyes to the hills out of these dark valleys where the crags of special privilege overshadow and darken our path, to where the sun gleams through the great passage in the broken cliffs, the sun of God, the sun meant to regenerate men, the sun meant to liberate them from their passion and despair and to lift us to those uplands which are the promised land of every man who desires liberty and achievement.
Speaking for the necessity of corporate reform in business, he said:
I am not objecting to the size of these corporations. Nothing is big enough to scare me. What I am objecting to is that the Government should give them exceptional advantages, which enables them to succeed and does not put them on the same footing as other people. I think those great touring cars, for example, which are labelled "Seeing New York," are too big for the streets. You have almost to walk around the block to get away from them, and size has a great deal to do with the trouble if you are trying to get out of the way. But I have no objection on that account to the ordinary automobile properly handled by a man of conscience who is also a gentleman. I have no objection to the size, power, and beauty of an automobile. I am interested, however, in the size and conscience of the men who handle them, and what I object to is that some corporation men are taking "joy-rides" in their corporations.
Time and time again men were reminded of the great speeches of Lincoln and thought they saw his fine spirit breathing through sentences like these:
Gentlemen, we are not working for to-day, we are not working for our own interest, we are all going to pass away. But think of what is involved. Here are the tradition, and the fame, and the prosperity, and the purity, and the peace of a great nation involved. For the time being we are that nation, but the generations that are behind us are pointing us forward to the path and saying:

"Remember the great traditions of the American people," and all those unborn children that will constitute the generations that are ahead will look back to us, either at those who serve them or at those who betray them. Will any man in such circumstances think it worthy to stand and not try to do what is possible in so great a cause, to save a country, to purify a polity, to set up vast reforms which will increase the happiness of mankind? God forbid that I should either be daunted or turned away from a great task like this.
Speaking of the candidate who opposed him:
I have been informed that he has the best of me in looks. Now, it is not always the useful horse that is most beautiful. If I had a big load to be drawn some distance I should select one of those big, shaggy kinds of horses, not much for beauty but strong of pull.
On one occasion, when he had been talking about his and Mr. Lewis's different conceptions of the "constitutional governor", and telling his audience how he, if elected, would interpret the election as a mandate from the people to assist in and direct legislation in the interests of the people of New Jersey at large, he paused an instant and then in those incisive tones and with that compression of the lips which marked his more bellicose words, he said curtly: "If you don't want that kind of a governor, don't elect me."

Excerpts from the speeches cannot do justice to this remarkable campaign, which Woodrow Wilson himself, after he had been twice elected President of the United States, considered the most satisfying of his political campaigns, because the most systematic and basic. As Presidential candidate he had to cover a wide territory and touch only the high spots in the national issues, but in his gubernatorial campaign he spoke in every county of the state and in some counties several times, and his speeches grew out of each other and were connected with each other in a way that made them a popular treatise on self-government. He used no technical jargon and none of the stereotyped bombast of the usual political campaign. He had a theme which he wanted to expound to the people of New Jersey, which theme was the nature and character of free government, how it had been lost in New Jersey through the complicated involvements of invisible government, manipulated from behind the scenes by adroit representatives of the corporate interest working in conjunction with the old political machines; how under this clever manipulation legislators had ceased to represent the electorate and were, as he called them, only "errand boys" to do the bidding of the real rulers of New Jersey, many of whom were not even residents of the state, and how free government could be restored to New Jersey through responsible leadership. He was making an application to practical politics of the fundamental principles of responsible government which he had analyzed in his earlier writings, including the book on "Congressional Government." Beneath the concrete campaign issues in New Jersey he saw the fundamental principles of Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. His trained habit of thinking through concrete facts to basic principles was serving him well in this campaign; his trained habit of clear exposition in the Princeton lecture hall was serving him well. People heard from him political speaking of a new kind; full of weighty instruction and yet so simply phrased and so aptly illustrated that the simplest minded could follow the train of reasoning; profound in political philosophy and yet at every step humanized by one who believed government the most human of things because concerned with the happiness and welfare of individuals; sometimes he spoke in parables, homely anecdotes so applied that all could understand; sometimes he was caustic when he commented on the excessive zeal of corporations for strict constitutionalism, meaning thereby only such legislation and judicial interpretations as would defend their property rights--how they had secured those rights being a question not discussed by these gentlemen; sometimes, though not frequently, there would be purple patches of eloquence, particularly when descanting on the long struggle of the inarticulate masses for political representation.

One of the surprises of the campaign to those who had known him as an orator of classic eloquence was the comparative infrequency of rhetorical periods. It was as if he were now too deeply engaged with actualities to chisel and polish his sentences. Of the many anecdotes which he told during the campaign one of his favourites was of the Irishman digging a cellar, who when asked what he was doing said: "I'm letting the darkness out." Woodrow Wilson told the people of New Jersey that he was "letting the darkness out" of the New Jersey political situation. "Pitiless publicity" was one of his many phrases coined in the campaign which quickly found currency, not only in New Jersey but throughout the country, for presently the United States at large began to realize that what was going on in New Jersey was symbolical of the situation throughout the country, a tremendous struggle to restore popular government to the people. Since the founders of the Republic expounded free institutions to the first electorates of this country there had probably been no political campaign which went so directly to the roots of free representative government and how to get it as that campaign which Woodrow Wilson conducted in New Jersey in the autumn of 1910.


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