History will count President Wilson among those supreme idealists who had the power of doing great practical things.

Read to the Association By Dr. Henry Van Dyke ’73 and Unanimously Adopted

In the death of Woodrow Wilson, of the Class of 1879, Princeton University has lost her most famous son and America one of her greatest Presidents.

It is not for the National Alumni Association, in honoring his memory, to intrude upon the functions of the biographer or to discuss those questions of political and academic partisanship which inevitably arose during his career. It is of the great man himself and of the work that he accomplished in the University, the nation, and the world, that the alumni of Princeton would speak with a just pride.

Returning to his Alma Mater, after industrious years of post-graduate study in jurisprudence, and quiet, successful service as a professor at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University, Mr. Wilson entered the Faculty of Princeton in 1890, in the chair of jurisprudence and political economy, afterwards called the chair of jurisprudence and politics. As a teacher he was unsurpassed. Eloquent, persuasive, inspiring, he attracted large classes and made a deep and lasting impression upon them.

In 1902, upon the resignation of President Patton, Professor Wilson was chosen by the Trustees of Princeton as President of the University. In this office he put into effect those progressive changes in scholastic discipline and in the curriculum of studies which had been planned during the presidency of Dr. Patton by a committee of which Professor Wilson was a member. He also inaugurated the preceptorial system of instruction, the object of which was to establish a closer connection between the teaching force and the student body of the University. The principle of this system, in its necessary evolution, lies at the core of the modern development of Princeton as a university of liberal culture.

In 1910, drawn by his intense and increasing attraction to public affairs, Dr. Wilson withdrew from the University and entered active politics. His avowed purpose was to make government represent more truly the interests of all the people, to break the dominance of nominating cliques and rings, and to confer on candidates for high office the powers and responsibilities of leadership. On this basis he was elected Governor of New Jersey and took office in January, 1911.

His record in that position, and his policies and principles as declared in his public speeches, were such that he became the Democratic nominee for the Presidency of the United States in 1912, was chosen by an overwhelming majority of electoral votes, and took the highest office in our country in March, 1913. In 1916 he was renominated and re-elected. His two terms as President closed on March fourth, 1921. During this period occurred what seems to us the sharpest crisis of secular history, - the World War.

The great and positive services which Woodrow Wilson rendered to his country and to mankind during these eight momentous years may be briefly summarized under five heads.

First, the wise programme of national legislation which he carried through on his entrance into his high office, including especially the Federal Reserve Act, which kept us from panic and financial disaster during the emergencies of the War.

Second, the patience and firmness with which he handled the question of America’s entry into the War, refusing to go in until it was unavoidable and until he head a united country behind him.

Third, the vigor and efficiency with which he carried on the War after we were in, including the way in which he treated the difficult problem of the selective draft, and the wise integrity with which he chose honest and capable officers, irrespective of party, to organize and lead our military and naval forces in the inevitable conflict.

Fourth, the splendid directness of speech with which he made it clear that America’s purpose in the War was to promote the cause of liberty and peace for all nations, as well as to protect her own rights.

Fifth, the fine courage with which he advocated what seemed to him the best, if not the only, way of securing a lasting peace on earth, - namely by the united action of “the organized major force of mankind.” To his soul that partnership of nations to promote the peaceful settlement of differences was the Great Cause. For that he risked his life gladly and died like a soldier without fear, having kept the faith.

History will count President Wilson among those supreme idealists who had the power of doing great practical things.

The central force of his life was loyalty to duty as God gave him to see it. This made him at times seem inflexible. But it kept him growing, rising splendidly to meet each new opportunity, which he regarded as a new responsibility.

He was a teacher who taught for truth and nobler manhood. He was a statesman who wrought for the good of all the people of the republic. He was a warrior who fought for the cause of a just, established and defended peace among the nations of the world.

High on the roll of American Immortals stands the name of Woodrow Wilson, son of Princeton.


Henry Van Dyke 73, Chairman

Robert Bridges ’79

Cleveland H. Dodge ’79

Charles W. McAlpin ’88

Lawrence C. Woods ’91

Charles Browne ’96

This was originally published in the June 18, 1924 issue of PAW.