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THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY
THE PERSONALITY BEHIND THE PRESIDENT
BY CHARLES H. GRASTY
It is not easy to write with sureness on the subject of the personality behind the President. None of the chief executives who have guided the country during my adult lifetime has presented so baffling a problem. To me, Mr. Wilson is endlessly interesting. I have found him as utterly frank in conversation as ever Mr. Roosevelt was, and he is himself habitually much more tolerant of frankness in others. But the mental processes leading to his actions are frequently difficult to understand. The extraordinarily capricious methods which he adopts in the selection of men; the remarkably definite political philosophy which marks his public acts; his practical idealism and his almost utter lack of personal appeal of a certain sort, combine to form a character that will give the political essayists of the future the best chance of the century.
I begin by saying frankly that I have myself constructed a general theory of Mr. Wilson, into which all the inconsistencies of his character fit with sufficient neatness. There may be too much of the deductive and too little of the inductive in the process by which I have arrived at my estimate. But I have had opportunities of observation
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which furnish some warrant, at least, for making an attempt to consider this great and significant personality from every angle.
When, at the beginning of 1910, I acquired control of the Baltimore Sun, I learned from one of my associates who was then a trustee of Princeton, that President Wilson might soon be leaving that institution. It at once occurred to me that here might be found that scarcest of all men, a great editor. I went to Princeton immediately and saw President Wilson. I found that I had entered the field for his services against the powerful competition of the Democratic party leaders of New Jersey. The matter was not yet settled, however, and I returned later to Princeton on the same errand. Mr. Wilson had made his choice. I recall the vivid impression he made upon me as he sat facing me in his library. All the while, in my mind's eye, I was seeing him in the White House; and when I went home that night I said, 'I have talked to-day with the man who will be the next Democratic President.' He looked the part; and of course the governorship of New Jersey was a springboard for the nomination.
I did not get him for editor, but a conviction formed in my mind to the effect that in the college president who had led a forlorn hope at Princeton, and who was now being groomed for the New Jersey governorship, the Democratic Party would find a great leader. I came into possession at this time of some 'copy' he was writing for the state platforms in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and was so much impressed by both the substance and the form of his declarations, that I made use of them in shaping the editorial policy of my paper.
The Sun thus became a supporter of Wilson immediately upon his entry into politics; and his original methods in New Jersey gave it much material to impart interest to the campaign of publicity which it made for him. This paper had long been a power in its state, and its continued support of Wilson, in quiet ways and mainly by chronicling his activities in its news columns, was potent. Someone said, 'The Sun is poisoning the coffee-cup of Maryland for Wilson every morning.'
In the spring of 1912, the Sun was largely instrumental in securing the Democratic Convention for Baltimore. Meanwhile the paper, morning, evening and Sunday, was sent to each Democratic delegate as he was elected, beginning as early as February. Thus the delegates came to Baltimore, regular readers of the paper, found the galleries of the Convention hall filled with people who 'wanted Wilson.'
Far be it from me to claim that the Sun nominated Wilson. Aside from what he himself did to accomplish the result, there were several fortunate circumstances, every one of them necessary links in the chain. The 'Sun's support was one of them; without it, a stampede to Champ Clark after he had received a majority vote could probably not have been prevented.
I saw Mr. Wilson several times in the course of his campaign for nomination and election. I remember once visiting him at Sea Girt. In the course of the conversation I asked him if he could suggest any new journalistic activity in his behalf. He said 'No,' at first, but afterward a thought came to him. 'Can you send a man to Boston, where his team is now playing, to interview "Ty" Cobb? I hear he is for me.' I began to see that I had a good deal to learn about the Wilson characteristics.
I saw and heard from the President from time to time between 1913 and 1917, and this acquaintance was the foundation upon which I established a relationship as a correspondent after he came to Paris; for it was mainly there that I gained the impressions which embolden me to appear before the readers of the Atlantic in an attempt to give some idea of the man as a whole.
Nothing could better illustrate the processes of judgment which have baffled commentators than his coming to Paris. When his decision to cross the ocean was mooted, I made a canvass of the Americans in Paris - already a distinguished and representative body -and found scarcely one affirmative voice. Most Americans, especially in army and navy circles, were then opposed to all action leading in the direction of the League of Nations, or any other permanent entanglement in Europe; and even those favorably inclined were practically unanimous in the opinion that the President should hold fast to his advantage of position in Washington, instead of breaking precedents in order to get down into the ring where, after a few weeks of novelty, he would meet other government heads on an equality, and under the unfamiliar rules of the game of European diplom