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Character Sketches

Character Sketches
Chapter 29: Wilsonian Progressivism at Home and Abroad, 1912 - 1916


Louis Brandeis (1856 - 1941)

Brandeis was the progressive lawyer who became the first Jewish justice of the Supreme Court.

His parents came to the United States as refugees from the failed liberal revolution in Hungary in 1848. The family strongly emphasized culture and education, and Louis returned to Europe several times to travel and study at leading institutions.

Although he was a star student at Harvard Law School and a successful private attorney, the Homestead Steel strike turned Brandeis toward involvement in labor and progressive causes, to which he donated his legal services. His Brandeis brief on behalf of women workers in Muller v. Oregon made him nationally famous. His efforts on behalf of eastern European Jewish garment workers led him to a rediscovery of his own Jewish heritage and a growing involvement in Zionism.

He was frequently a Supreme Court dissenter in the 1920s, but later many of his views became accepted as law. He endorsed New Deal legislation in the 1930s but opposed Roosevelts Court-packing plan.

Quote: Refuse to accept as inevitable any evil in business (e.g., irregularity of employment). Refuse to tolerate any immoral practice (e.g., espionage).[Democracy] demands continuous sacrifice by the individual and more exigent obedience to the moral law than any other form of government. (1922)

REFERENCE: Philippa Strum, Louis D. Brandeis: Justice for the People (1984).


Woodrow Wilson (1856 - 1924)

Wilson was an influential academic scholar and administrator before he became president. He held public office for only two years before his election to the White House.

Brought up under the close guidance of his Presbyterian pastor father, Wilson seldom played with his childhood peers. He failed as a lawyer before pursuing graduate studies in political science at Johns Hopkins. His book Congressional Government (1885) was a classic study of the American legislative process.

As president of Princeton after 1902, he battled against the snobbish eating clubs and tried to establish a more democratic system on campus but was defeated.

Wilson first fell seriously ill during the Paris Conference in April 1919. There is now substantial medical evidence that he suffered a series of minor strokes over several years before the massive stroke that nearly killed him on his western tour. After his collapse, his second wife kept him in virtual isolation from all advisers, including his most intimate friend, Colonel House.

Quote: Those senators do not understand what the people are thinking. They are far from the people, the great mass of the people. (1919)

REFERENCE: Kendrick Clements, The Presidency of Woodrow Wilson (1992).


Francisco (Pancho) Villa (1878 - 1923)

Villa was the so-called Robin Hood of the Mexican Revolution, whose raids into the United States provoked Wilson to intervene in Mexico.

Born to a poor peasant family, Villa became a thief and cattle rustler who was accused of several murders. He eventually headed up a large gang of desperadoes, but in 1910 he announced that he was joining the Mexican Revolutions fight for social justice against oppressive landlords and foreign interests.

He did sometimes redistribute land and goods to the peasants, but he also became wealthy himself through questionable means. Among his enterprises were meat-packing plants and gambling casinos. Villa was at first friendly with Americans and was even rumored to have received funds from powerful Americans like Hearst. Because of his thorough knowledge of northern Mexico, he successfully eluded Pershing, but he finally laid down his arms in 1920. Three years later he was gunned down in his home village by unknown assassins.

Quote: It is unfair for some to have a lot when others have nothing. The poor who work but earn too little have a claim on the wealth of the rich. (1915)

REFERENCES: Manuel Machado, Centaur of the North: Francisco Villa, the Mexican Revolution, and Northern Mexico (1988); Clarence C. Clendenen, The United States and Pancho Villa (1961).



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