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WOODROW WILSON AS SOUTHERNER, 1856-1885: A Review Essay John S. Ezell If one agrees with the poet, "I am a part of all that I survey," one can make at least a partial assessment of the impact of the South upon the young Woodrow Wilson as seen in the recent publication of his papers for the years through 1885.1 Born in Staunton, Virginia, in 1856, he was too young to have any distinct memories of the Civil War years; it is not surprising, therefore, that there is no reference in these four volumes, of an autobiographical kind, to the actual period of armed hostilities. On the other hand, despite the fact that most of his life was spent outside the region, Wilson always referred to himself as a southerner and took obvious pride in the fact. For the time under discussion, however, aside from his undergraduate years at Princeton, he lived in the South and chose a southern girl as his bride. As would be expected, few of his papers are extant before his college days. The first reference to a southern topic occurs in a letter in 1873, at which time the family was living at Columbia, South Carolina. In this he writes a New York business acquaintance, with evident chauvinism, that that city was fast overcoming the effects of the fire that had virtually razed it and was "about three times as fine a city as it was before the war. There are some buildings going up on or near main street which would do great credit to any street in New York except Broadway ."2 His decision to attend Davidson College in North Carolina for the freshman year (1873) insured that he would be in an atmosphere in which the South—past and present—would be viewed as important. Like most southern collegians of the period, he joined one of the two undergraduate debating and literary societies on that campus. The records of the Eumenean Society for 1873-74 indicate that young Thomas, as he was then known, participated in debates upon such subjects as: "Ought the Missouri Compromise to have been adopted?" and "Is slavery justifiable?" It is interesting that in the latter case, although the 1 The Papers of Woodrow Wilson. Four volumes. Edited by Arthur S. !.ink et al. [Sponsored bv the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and Princeton University.] (Princeton : Princeton University Press, 1966-68. Pp. 747, 700, 660, 738. $.13.00 per vol.) All subsequent references are to these volumes. 2 Certainly this lad of seventeen had not seen New York. I, 29. Later, while at Princeton, he was to put a marginal note in one of his books that compared the sacking of Magdeburg with that of Columbia. Ibid., 168. 160 Student evaluation committee found for the affirmative, the membership voted for the negative.3 On a more current topic, Wilson was assigned to the affirmative side of the question, "Should our government force poor children to attend the free schools?" Although the committee decided in favor of the negative, the membership upheld Wilson's position. One can only speculate if here was planted one of the early seeds of his progressivism. Perhaps, likewise, his showing upon this occasion led to him being chosen to uphold the affirmative position on "Is the co-education of the sexes ever beneficial?"4 At the end of this academic year it was decided that Woodrow should transfer to Princeton for the remainder of his undergraduate education. Although Princeton had always been attractive to southern students, this was probably the first occasion that he became really conscious of being a southerner and reacted accordingly. To his diary he confided that there were "A great many pretty girls at the church but not nearly as many as we see every day in the sunny South." Similarly, he recorded that the author of the novel, Flesh and Spirit, obviously was sympathetic to the South, "which makes me like him more than I otherwise would." Here, also, he placed his reaction to H. C. Cameron, professor of Greek, in the following uncharitable fashion: "had quite a discussion with the jackass on the southern question. He is one of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 160-167
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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