As President of Princeton.
Princeton Alumni Weekly. May 7, 1968.
The original book was written by Henry W. Bragdon and below is the review made by Arthur S. Link.

Editor’s note: This story from 1968 contains dated language that is no longer used today. In the interest of keeping a historical record, it appears here as it was originally published.

This first attempt in biographical-historical form since Ray Stannard Baker’s authorized biography to do substantial justice to the crucial, formative period in Woodrow Wilson’s biography has many excellencies. Perhaps the most notable is the author’s irenic spirit, generosity in acknowledging his debt to other scholars, and openness to the evidence.

Mr. Bragdon begins with Wilson’s family and birth and carries him through his youth, education, career as teacher, presidency of Princeton University, and entry into politics in 1910. Some parts of the book are very good indeed. The picture of Wilson as an undergraduate is vivid and fresh. The analysis and evaluation of Congressional Government is one of the best that has ever been written. The account of Wilson’s developing latitudinarian economic thought is a good antidote to the old stereotype of the classical conservative during the Gilded Age. Outstanding also is the chapter on Wilson as a historian. But the most excellent part of the book is Bragdon’s portrayal of Wilson as a leader of men, whether in the classroom exciting and inspiring students or as President of Princeton building a university by his ability to attract first-rate men and then to lead them. Finally, the book is a pleasure to read.

But it is the duty of a critic to criticize as well as to praise. Unhappily, there is much to criticize in Woodrow Wilson, The Academic Years, so much in fact that one has to group the deficiencies in categories in something like an ascending order of importance, as follows:

1. It is painful to have to say it, but Mr. Bragdon has been at least as error-prone in this book as any other serious historian of modern times. Errors abound in infinite variety. Many will be evident to the careful reader: for example, the reference to Josephus Daniels as Secretary of State in Wilson’s Cabinet for eight years (p.7); the naming of Raymond B. Fosdick as Raymond S. Fosdick on page 8 (the name is correctly printed in a footnote); the reference to the English historian, John Richard Green, as J. H. Green on page 10 and, correctly, as J. R. and John Richard Green elsewhere. There are at least several hundred such errors in this book.

Moreover, Mr. Bragdon seems incapable of copying more than two lines from a manuscript or printed text without garbling it, and he did not spend much time checking his quotations (or his citations either, for that matter). I counted seven copying errors in the brief extract from Wilson’s letter printed on page 70; the extract on page 75 omits an entire sentence and contains four other copying errors.

One might say that it matters little that Mr. Bragdon writes “Indiana University” when he should have written “the University of Illinois” (p. 225); or again that it is unimportant that it was Bragdon’s error in copying, not Wilson’s poor addition, that caused what Bragdon says was the error in addition in the list printed on page 231. (Bragdon in copying this list left out one of the public addresses – at Vanderbilt University – and the honorarium of $100!) Unfortunately, Mr. Bragdon’s errors are often of greater magnitude and significance. These major errors, like the smaller ones, are too numerous to be catalogued here, and two examples must suffice.

On page 237 Bragdon attributes the following “private” remarks by Wilson to the Historical Seminary at the Johns Hopkins: slavery “had done more for the Negro in two hundred and fifty years than African freedom had done since the building of the pyramids.” The author of this verbal jewel was a former Confederate general, Bradley t. Johnson, who gave the main paper to the Seminary on February 28, 1890, not Wilson. This fact is perfectly clear on reading the Seminary Minutes.

Bragdon’s account of the institution of the honor system at Princeton is even more confused and typical of tendencies prevalent throughout his book. He writes (pp. 209-10) that Dean Murray introduced the resolution instituting the honor system in a faculty meeting (on January 18,1893), and that President Patton came down from the chair to oppose it. Then, quoting from Bliss Perry’s And Gladly Teach, Bragdon has Wilson rising to the defense of the honor of young gentlemen and carrying the day for the resolution. There are three errors in Bragdon’s account: (1) President Patton was not present at this faculty meeting. (2) Neither was Bliss Perry present – he was still in Williamstown, Massachusetts. (3) Perry’s account is of an episode that occurred after the honor system had been adopted and, of course, after Perry had himself arrived in Princeton.

Minor and major errors cast a pal over this book. Mr. Bragdon’s quotations, citations, and narrative cannot be trusted. The published made matters worse by binding a signature of the notes in the Index.

2. Even more disturbing is Mr. Bragdon’s failure really to come to grips with Wilson’s intellectual development and achievements. This is true even of Bragdon’s treatment of Wilson as an undergraduate, for it ignores much of Wilson’s reading during this period. Bragdon misses entirely the germinations of the so-called fallow period 1880-1883. To cite only one example, he virtually ignores the predecessor to Congressional Government, “Government by Debate,” written in 1882 and never published as a book until 1967. “Government by Debate” was in certain respects more important than its distinguished successor. It was in the Wilson Papers under Mr. Bragdon’s purview. The account of Wilson as a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins is sketchy and thin. Bragdon, after doing better in chronicling Wilson’s teaching at Bryn Mawr and Wesleyan, simply collapses when he comes to Wilson’s greatest scholarly work – his courses on administration at the Johns Hopkins and on law and jurisprudence at Princeton.

Wilson has long been regarded as the pioneer in the study of administration in the United States, but his great work in this field – his lectures at the Hopkins – is to this date unknown. Mr. Bragdon implies that Wilson’s lectures were thin and says (p. 191) that he have few notes for them. This is incorrect. In fact we have a complete set of notes for Wilson’s matured second three year cycle of lectures. Failing to read them carefully, Mr. Bragdon could neither see the importance of these notes nor understand how their preparation led Wilson straight (and deeply) into the study of law and the second and monumental stage of his scholarly work at Princeton in public law, the history of law, jurisprudence, etc., between 1890 and about 1896. It just will not do for Mr. Bragdon to get off the hook of having to work through these vital guides to Wilson’s major work and thought by implying, as the author does on page 230, that Wilson virtually ceased doing scholarly work in the 1890’s.

Mr. Bragdon’s chapter on Wilson’s projected “Philosophy of Politics” provides an even more vivid example of what can happen when the scholar gives insufficient attention to available documentary materials. In a special footnote on page 258, Mr. Bragdon says that he has just learned that the Editors of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson have recently discovered the first draft of “The Philosophy of Politics,” and that it will be interesting to see how close he came to reconstructing it from other materials. The more or less first draft of the “Philosophy of Politics” was in the Wilson Papers when Mr. Bragdon looked through them. Indeed, Mr. Bragdon quotes from part of it. The draft was separated, but it did not require great skill to put the pages in right order. However, this draft was merely an inchoate outline. It would be possible to reconstruct something like a finished “Philosophy of Politics” from existing materials, but not by following Mr. Bragdon’s method or lack of it. The materials for the reconstructed “Philosophy of Politics” would come largely from Wilson’s notes for his various Princeton lectures on legal subjects, and to a lesser degree from his essays and speeches, particularly an address, “Democracy,” which Mr. Bragdon missed entirely.

3. Disappointing also is Mr. Bragdon’s failure to work carefully through the great body of Wilson Papers (covering the years roughly from 1873 to 1897) discovered in the Wilson home in Washington in 1963, and through additional important items that have been found elsewhere since that date.

In conclusion, it is only fair to say that the task that Mr. Bragdon set before himself was probably beyond the competence of a single individual to accomplish. The Wilson Papers to 1910 are vast, disorganized, and filled with Graham shorthand, which only a few specialists can read, and it would be difficult for any single scholar ever to get control of them. The most generous thing that one can say of Woodrow Wilson, The Academic Years is that it is premature in its better portions and is a sign of what it will be possible to do for Wilson’s early life once the basic documentary record has been put in order and rendered usable.

This was originally published in the May 7, 1968 issue of PAW.