DESCRIPTION: "Come out Virginia's noble son, We know that you are true, The people of our grand old land They have their hope in you... We'll cast our vote again." "A modest unassuming man." "And we shall win, our cause is just.... it's Wilson's name we hear."
AUTHOR: Words: John J. Friend
EARLIEST DATE: 1916 (Gray)
KEYWORDS: political nonballad
1912 - Woodrow Wilson becomes the Democratic nominee for President, and wins when Taft and Theodore Roosevelt split the Republican vote
1916 - Wilson re-elected
REFERENCES (1 citation):
Gray, pp. 180-181, "President Wilson" (1 text)
NOTES: Presumably a campaign song, but a very strange one, containing neither significant facts nor any real slogans. The only connection with reality that I can see is the mention that Wilson came from Virginia; according to DeGregorio, p. 411, (Theodore) Woodrow Wilson "was born December 28, 1856 at the Presbyteriian manse in Staunton, Virginia." He wasn't much of a Virginian, however; his family soon moved to Georgia, and said that his first memory was when word came in Georgia that Lincoln had been elected President and that war was coming (DeGregorio, p. 411). His family later spent time in South and North Carolina. Wilson did regard himself as a southerner, even though he went to Princeton in 1875 and spent most of his life in the North.
Calling Wilson "unassuming" is a bit of a stretch; he didn't think much of his looks, or even of his ability to present himself (DeGregorio, p. 409), but he placed an extreme value on his moral judgment.
Wilson did become noteworthy at a fairly young age. Jameson, p. 717, sums up the first forty years of his life thus: "Wilson, Woodrow, born in 1856, professor at Princeton College, has become prominent for his writings upon political science. He wrote 'Congressional Government, a Study in American Politics," and 'The State;' also a historical book, 'Division and Reunion, 1830-1880.'"
Wilson had a very unusual career before running for president. He was a professor, lecturer, and author, not a politician (DeGregorio, p. 414). Ironically for the president in history's greatest war up to that time, he had no military experience at all -- he and his predecessor, William Howard Taft, were the only Presidents since Fillmore to have no military background at all when they became President. Wilson did apply for a State Department post in 1887, but didn't get it. His only political experience as President, therefore, was his single term as governor of New Jersey (1911-1913) -- although he had also been President of Princeton for eight years (DeGregorio, p. 414).
Wilson was very lucky to be nominated President. To give him his due, he did a good job of cleaning up the mare's nest of New Jersey politics (Morison, p. 839). But that was hardly enough to earn him a Presidential nomination -- except that the party was divided. It had "Bryan Progressives," it had Easterners (often immigrants), and it had the conservative South (Morison, p. 839). In 1912, a majority of the delegates were pledged to Champ Clark of Missouri. But the party required a two-thirds supermajority to nominate. And Clark could not achieve that, although he came very close -- so close that Wilson nearly dropped out of the contest. William Jennings Bryan, seeing that he could not earn the nomination himself, decided to back Wilson (Nevins/Commager, p. 405).
It still took 46 ballots to nominate Wilson. Bryan gave Wilson his support on ballot #14; Wilson finally gained a majority on ballot #28, but still had only a slight lead on ballot #45, when suddenly everyone seemed to get tired and turn to him (DeGregorio, p. 415).
And, in 1912, earning the Democratic nomination meant being elected, because the Republicans were split. William Howard Taft had been Theodore Roosevelt's hand-picked successor in 1908, and in many ways he proved progressive; Nevins/Commager, p. 404, note that "He stepped up the prosecution of trusts; strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission.... expanded the merit system in the civil service; and sponsored enactment of two amendments to the Federal Constitution -- one providing direct election of Senators, aniother authorizing an income tax."
But he was a sort of a frumpy liberal; a few measures, such as a tarriff he accepted, caused the progressive to turn against him. At the Republican convention of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt and Robert M. LaFollette both ran against him (it was LaFollette who really becan the revolt, in 1911; Nevins/Commager, p. 404). Where popular vote elected the delegates, Roosevelt won overwhelmingly -- but the party bosses, who chose most of the delegates, backed Taft, and he became the Republican nominee (Morison, p. 838).
Roosevelt wouldn't accept that; he accepted the "Progressive" nomination, although most people called him the "Bull Moose" nominee. Taft, unfairly, was "put in the position of the 'conservative' candidate" (Hofstadter, p. 133).
When the election came, Wilson won a mere 42% of the vote, with Roodevelt taking 27%, Taft 23%, and Socialist Eugene Debs 6%. Thus the two Republican candidates, who had once been close friends, garnered 50% of the total vote -- but Wilson had 435 electoral votes, to 88 for Roosevelt and 8 for Taft (DeGregorio, p. 417). It was the lowest vote total by a winning candidate since Lincoln in 1860 (when there was a four-way party split), and America would not see the like until the election of Bill Clinton.
The song refers to casting "our votes again," implying Wilson is up for re-election, and also speaks of "soldiers coming back once more," implying that World War I has started. Plus Wilson is called "President," not "candidate" or "governor." This implies that Friend's broadside is from 1916, not 1912 -- but it truly does not mention any issues of the 1916 election. - RBW
Last updated in version 2.5
- DeGregorio: William A. DeGregorio, The Complete Book of U. S. Presidents, fourth edition, Barricade Books, 1993
- Hofstadter: Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform, Vintage, 1955
- Jameson: J. Franklin Jameson, Dictionary of United States History 1492-1895, Puritan Press, 1894 (yes, it was copyrighted a year before the last year it allegedly covered!)
- Morison: Samuel Eliot Morison, The Oxford History of the American People, Oxford, 1965
- Nevins/Commager: Allan Nevins and Henry Steele Commager, A Short History of the United States, Fifth Edition, Borzoi, 1942-1966
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