Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)

Ever-memorable is the name of Woodrow Wilson. He was born in Virginia in 1856, the son of a Presbyterian minister.

Princeton University of New Jersey, one of the most important universities in the United States, nurtured Woodrow Wilson’s youth, and in 1902 he became its head. As president of the University, he successfully carried out a good many reforms. He held that high position for eight long years. Then he had to steer the course of his life in another direction: he was elected Governor of the state of New Jersey. Just two years later the leaders of the Democratic Party selected Wilson as their Presidential candidate, and he was elected President of the United States. The spirit of Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the USA and founder-president of the Democratic Party, once more smiled through his worthy descendant, Woodrow Wilson, the twenty-eighth President and a mighty champion of democracies the world over.

Wilson’s Inaugural Address on his assumption of the Presidential Chair is characteristic of the man: “This is not a day of triumph; it is a day of dedication. Here muster, not the forces of party, but the forces of humanity.”

The election of Wilson has a special significance, for it marked the first time that all the forty-eight states took part in the election. For the two territories of New Mexico and Arizona had been admitted to the great family of the American Union by then. Between 1789 and 1912 the original thirteen states had increased to forty-eight and the population of four million to ninety-five million.

A notable feature: Wilson was the only President to deliver his own messages. The messages of his predecessors had been read out by somebody else. He had the gift of excellent speech-making.

In August 1914, the First World War broke out in Europe. America remained aloof and silent. In January 1917 Germany’s foolhardiness overleapt its bounds. Germany went to the length of declaring that her submarines or U-boats would sink on sight any ship belonging to any nation carrying goods to the enemy. America, true to her Monroe doctrine, kept clear of the European melee. But when a hundred American lives were lost with the torpedoed giant of the Atlantic, the passenger ship Lusitania, America was horror-struck. Her next move was to take arms against the submarine-infested sea of troubles. That was in April, 1917. Desperate Britain and France saw the benign Hand of God in America’s decision to come forward and stand by them. In his war message to Congress, Woodrow Wilson called upon America to put an end to the wanton aggression and brutal tyranny of Germany:

"The day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other."

Further, the truth of his democratic heart cried out:

"The world must be made safe for democracy."

America’s action saved France from being bled to death and Britain from being starved unto surrender.

Wilson was the chief architect of the organisation known as the League of Nations, which was potentially a step towards human unity. “Unless America takes part in this treaty,” Wilson was firmly convinced, “the world is going to lose heart. I cannot too often repeat to you how deep the impression made upon me on the other side of [the] water is that this was the nation upon which the whole world depended to hold the scales of justice even. If we fail them, God help the world! Then despair will ensue.”

In this connection let us not forget William Bolitho:

"Like Arthur and the legendary Alexander, and many other lesser men, he [Woodrow Wilson] left, even though defeated, a hope, a promise: that League which is as it were a symbol of his perished flesh and blood, a fragment torn out of his heart and left with us, to serve for one who will come after in a retaking up of his adventure."

That the League of Nations was later on used as an instrument of power politics was a sad deviation from Wilson’s high ideal which had motivated its creation.

His daughter Margaret seems to have gone one step ahead; she wanted to become one with all mankind through union with the Supreme. She was deeply convinced, while in America, that there was none on earth whom a person could love all his life. But then she chanced upon Sri Aurobindo’s Essays on the Gita. Deeply moved by this book, which she came to look upon as her Bible, she sailed for India and in 1938 joined Sri Aurobindo’s Ashram at Pondicherry. After meeting Sri Aurobindo she declared: “Here is one on earth whom one can love all one’s life and in whom one can lose oneself.”

She received the name “Nishtha” from the Master. He wrote about it: “Nishtha — the word means one-pointed, fixed and steady, concentration, devotion and faith in the single aim — the Divine and the Divine Realisation” (5 November 1938).

Margaret used to live a secluded life and refused to be diverted by any outer movements that might stand in the way of her spiritual goal. Once when a physical ailment became grave and it was suggested that she go back to America and consult her family doctor, she flatly refused, saying: “They can take care of my body, but who will take care of my soul?”

She passed away on February 12, 1944. The cemetery of Pondicherry bears the simple inscription in French:

"Ci-Gît
La Dépouille Mortelle
de Nishtha
Margaret Woodrow Wilson
16 avril 1886 — 12 février 1944
(Here lie
The Mortal Remains
of Nishtha
Margaret Woodrow Wilson
16 April 1886 -12 February 1944)"

I am often reminded of her dedicated life when I use my typewriter, since it originally belonged to her. It is as if something of her bright being lingered in this “Corona”.