The death of Woodrow Wilson, war-time President of the United States and staunch-friend of the Jews, has stirred the Jews of the country as has no other event in many months. Mr. Wilson had often demonstrated his intense interest in Jewish questions and was influential in obtaining at the Peace Conference in Paris recognition of racial and religious minorities, which has reacted most favorably for Jewish minorities in Eastern Europe. He heartily seconded the Balfour Declaration and urged the approval of the British Mandate over Palestine.
Mr. Wilson vetoed three restrictive immigration measures. The former president did not hesitate to say to those close to him that he had vetoed the bills because he believed them to be discriminatory and that he thought them to be aimed principally at the Jews.
In the debate over the abrogation of the Treaty with Russia, Mr. Wilson demanded the recognition of the American citizenship of Jews ending a fight which had been waged for many years.
It was Mr. Wilson who appointed Louis D. Brandeis to the Supreme Court Bench, an appointment which he fought vigorously to have approved and in which he was successful, overcoming the prejudices of the Supreme Court itself and of Congress. As Governor of New Jersey he had previously showed his friendliness for the Jews in appointing Samuel Kalisch to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.
In an exclusive statement to the correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Joseph P. Tumulty, Secretary to Mr. Wilson, while he was Governor of New Jersey and later President of the United States, discussed the friendship which the deceased statesman had for the Jewish people.
“President Wilson entertained no doubt whatever of the anti-Jewish character of immigration restriction” said Mr. Tumulty, stating frankly that he himself shared the deceased ex-President’s conviction. For the first time Mr. Tumulty also revealed what has hitherto been unknown officially, that Mr. Wilson had decided to appoint Justice Louis D. Brandeis as one of America’s plenipotentiaries to the Versailles Peace Conference but was prevented from carrying out this wish by the late Chief Justice of Supreme Court White who refused to grant Justice Brandeis leave for that purpose, stating that the court was too busy to spare Brandeis.
Mr. Tumulty also definitely confirmed the long standing impression that Brandeis was one of Wilson’s principal advisers both during and after the war. He said Wilson frequently consulted Brandeis on some of the greatest problems of the government, especially when critical situations arose and placed much reliance on Brandeis’ advice. Mr. Tumulty recalled some incidents in connection with Mr. Wilson’s nomination of Brandeis to the Supreme Court.
“The President had not made the slightest intimation beforehand or his intention to nominate Brandeis”, Mr. Tumulty said. “One morning he called me and said, ‘I have decided to nominate Louis D. Brandeis to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court Bench’. ‘My God’ I exclaimed, ‘you will never be able to put that over’. He is a Jew and the large interests will oppose him for his advanced views’ ‘I will put him over,’ the President replied firmly, ‘he is a man of the highest integrity and the country needs the kind of vision he possesses on the Supreme Court Bench.’. I will never forget the next thing the President asked me to do. It was so unusual”, Mr. Tumulty continued. “It was always customary to send nominations to the Senate with one of my assistants in the White House. In this instance, however, the President said, ‘Tumulty, want you to take over Brandeis’ nomination personally. I wish to show Mr. Brandeis every courtesy and in this way to convey my deep interest in the confirmation of his nomination’. Of course I obeyed the President’s request and it undoubtedly make the expected impression”.
Mr. Tumulty also recalled the letter which Mr. Wilson, during the fight against Brandeis, sent to Senator Culberson, Chairman of the Special sub-committee dealing with the nomination, in which the President intimated that the principal group of opposition to Brandeis was purely racial. Mr. Tumulty disclosed another incident which he said the President had afterwards laughingly related to him of an occurrence at a dinner tendered in Washington by Secretary McAdoo at which Justice Brandeis, whose nomination was then under fire, was one of the guests.
“For some time it had been known to the President that several of the Justices of the Supreme Court were bitterly opposed to Brandeis becoming one of their colleagues and that they were exerting their influence to oppose him. The leader of this group of Justices was also in attendance at the dinner and the President said he noticed that this particular Justice was very carefully trying to avoid meeting Brandeis and was snubbing him. The President, thereupon, himself took Brandeis by the arm and led him to the Justice and said, ‘permit me to introduce to you Mr. Brandeis, your next colleague on the Bench’. The President was much amused in relating to me the Justice’s great ensuing embarrassment.
Mr. Tumulty declared that although he had not kept personally in touch with the Peace Conference in Europe, the President having been assisted in those matters by others, he knew definitely that it was largely due to President Wilson’s influence that the claim for a Jewish Homeland in Palestine had been recognized by the Powers, later resulting in the British Mandate.
“Braides Brandeis, the President also entertained great admiration and feelings of friendship for Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who made frequent trips to Washington, when he was received by the President at the White House. One of the first opinions expressed by Wilson when he entered the political life as Governor of New Jersey”, Tumulty stated, “was that Jews had not received sufficient political recognition and thereupon immediately appointed a Jew, Sa, uel Kalisch of Newark, to be Supreme Court of New Jersey on which a Jew had never sat before. This was one of Wilson’s first official acts as Governor”.
Louis Marshall, President of the American Jewish Committee, paid this tribute to Woodrow Wilson:
“You ask me to make a statement as to Woodrow Wilson’s attitude toward Jewish questions. A complete answer would be that, being in every sense of the word the embodiment of the true American spirit, he recognized no differences of creed, race or nationality in his judgment of mankind, and being an idealist, he abhored all hatred, jealousy and suspicion among men and nations. Speaking specifically, he recognized in the Jews of this country a spiritual force which had adapted itself to American conditions and which contributed in every direction to the advancement of the welfare of the nation and of the world. He had no patience with those who maligned and condemned the Jews, and on repeated occasions he gave evidence of his unquestioning confidence in their loyalty and their integrity. At the time when the abrogation of the treaty with Russia was under debate he struck valiant blows in support of the recognition of the equality of American citizenship. At the Peace Conference he advocated whole-heartedly the adoption of the treaties which were intended to guarantee the rights of racial, religious and linguistic minorities, and it may be safely said that it was largely due to his earnest advocacy that the protection of minorities has been made a matter of international concern. His attitude on the subject of immigration is evidenced by the fact that he vetoed three restrictionist bills. In none of these acts was he influenced by considerations of political expediency. He was guided solely by a profound respect for the rights of man and a contempt for bigotry and injustice”.
Hon. Abram I. Elkus, former Ambassador from the United States to Turkey and Judge of the Court of Appeals, made the following statement:
“In the death of President Wilson, America loses a great educator and a great President. As time goes by more and more will we appreciate the administration of Woodrow Wilson and the high purpose which all his acts were governed. He sought to perpetuate a plan by which all wars in the world would be ended. Fifty-seven nations joined the League of Nations to endeavor to make this compact binding and in full force. America alone is still reluctant to join in this enterprise, but sooner or later the force of public opinion which after all will govern, will force America’s representatives to join in this plan. Details are unimportant. This will stand as a monument for all time to the memory of President Wilson. No monument of stone or bronze will be as lasting or as grand. The administration of the President during eight years was stainless and his work was carried on with vigor and spirit. His memory
will remain forever as a martyred President dying in the cause of duty just as though he was slain on the battlefield. President Wilson always showed a keen appreciation of the suffering of the Jews all over the world and was appreciative of the enforcement of their rights in this country”.
James W. Gerard, former Ambassador to Germany, responding to the request of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency for a statement, spoke as follows:
“The world’s greatest idealist Woodrow Wilson is dead. The world grieves-the world he tried to save from a return to war. Jew and Gentile alike mourn a great statesman who had to deal with some of the greatest problems in all history. A grave problem still to be faced is the growing feeling of intolerance-a movement directed against Jew and Catholic alike. No one met this danger to America with greater courage than Woodrow Wilson. Jews were appointed by him to high office. Jews were his friends and counsellors-at his bier let us all pledge ourselves to the fight for Liberty and for a free tolerant America”.
Dr. Stephen S. Wise, Rabbi of the Central and Free Synagogue-Acting President of the Jewish Institute of Religion, and President of the American Jewish Congress, had the following to say of Mr. Wilson’s passing:
“The death of Wilson marks the passing of an epoch in American history. He was as truly unique as Lincoln because as truly and completely himself. Party was little to him save as an instrument wherewith to serve his country, which became all to him as an instrument of world-service. He challenged his country to rise to the highest levels. Misland by partisan glamor and detraction, his countrymen faltered for a time but the ends Wilson sought to serve are secure.
Truly it may be said of him that he wrought in sad sincerity. Therefore he is become an immortal. Thrice-blessed the land, which can produce a Woodrow Wilson in its hour of need”.
Rabbi Nathan Krass of Temple Emanu-El called upon his congregation to rise in silent tribute when a bulletin announcing the death of Mr. Wilson was handed him at the conclusion of his sermon Sunday morning, Rabbi Krass spoke as follows:
“Verily a great man has fallen; verily a noble soul, a hero, a striking personality, a man of great vision, an idealist who stood alone in his generation, a man who always sought the light and the truth with fervor, with firmness of conviction as God gave him to see the light.
“We may not agree with Woodrow Wilson’s policy. We may not, all of us, accept his interpretation of politics. But all of us, whether be Democrats or Republicans, every one of us must agree that this man whatever his point of view was, was on the right side in the sense that he sought not the selfish aggrandizement of America but the larger welfare of the human race, and that he wanted not vengeance but love, and that he wrought with all the power that God gave him for the bringing about of that epoch in history when every man and woman and child shall sit under their own vine and fig tree with none to make them afraid.”
Dr. Cyrus Adler, President of Dropsie College, Philadelphia, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the American HJewish Committee and Acting President of the Jewish Theological Seminary, wired the following statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
“Woodrow Wilson was a man of great intellect and fine scholarly attainments which, for the greater part of his life were devoted to teaching to the enrichment of historical literature and the improvement of our educational system. As Governor of New Jessey and later as president, he brought a passion for justice and righteousness to the conduct of public affairs. With the coming of the Great War, he entered upon the unquestioned leadership of America and toward its close the leadership of the world. The rejection by his own country of his plans in no wise impaired the practicability of his lofty ideals or his own confidence in them. He had the civilized man’s liberal toleration to all creeds and in addition the Presbyterians’ belief that Israel was chosen by God. He further felt that the Jewish people had been so wronged by the world that the world owed them every reparation in its power. He exhibited this attitude in the passport issue, in his veto of restricted immigration bills, in his endeavor to aid the Jews of Bulgaria at the close of the Balkan War and above all in the shaping of the Versailles Treaty and the unswerving support he gave to securing the right of religious, racial and linguistic minority. The world is immensely the richer for his life and his influence is certain to continue and increase in the years to come.”
Mr. Louis Lipsky, President of the XXXXX Zionist Organization of America, made the following statement today:
“The Zionist Organization of America, in common with all the citizens of this Republic, irrespective of party or faction, mourns the passing away of Woodrow Wilson. It recalls with a deep sense of gratitude his genuine interest in the Zionistcause and the aid rendered by him to the Jewish people during the trying period of the Peace Conference. As the representative of the American people at the Peace Conference, his high aim and purpose was not only to achieve the peace of the world but to he regarded as the fundamental basis of that peace the rights of self-determination of every nationality and recognition of the historic rights of the Jewish people to Palestine, the land of their fathers. His advocacy of the Zionist cause profoundly impressed the Peace Conference with the Justice of the Jewish claim.
“Mr. Wilson followed with interest the progress of the Zionist movement even after he retired to private life. In 1921, when informed that the Mandate for Palestine had been finally ratified, he telegraphed to the Zionist Organization of America: ‘I am proud that it should be thought I have been of service to the Jewish people'”.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.