Kati Marton

    Woodrow Wilson, partially paralyzed by a stroke, and his wife, Edith, motor through Washington, March 21, 1920.
    Edith was the last hope of those still determined to save the treaty and the League. Senator Hitchcock implored Edith to ask her husband to accept the Lodge reservations limiting American participation in the League. She agreed to try. “Woodrow, for my sake,” she pleaded, according to her own memoirs, “won’t you accept these reservations and get this awful thing settled?” The tired, sick president shook his head. “Little girl,” he pleaded, “don’t you desert me now. That I cannot stand. Can’t you see that I have no moral right to accept any change in a paper I have signed without giving every other signatory, even the Germans, the right to do the same thing?” Fearful for his health, Edith vowed never again to “ask my husband to do anything dishonorable.”
    Wilson’s unyielding position on the League pushed his supporters on the Hill into a corner. The choice was between democracy and imperialism, Wilson insisted. The upcoming presidential elections should be a “great and solemn referendum” on the treaty. He commanded his supporters to vote for ratification of the Versailles Treaty with no reservations and reject all compromise. Had Wilson still been in full command of his once powerful political and verbal skills, he probably would have found enough common ground between the isolationists and his supporters to bridge the gap. But he no longer had the strength to try.
    On March 19, 1920, the treaty meant to end the war that would end all future wars was rejected by the Senate. “I feel like going to bed and staying there,” the architect of the peace sighed. During the sleepless night that followed the defeat, he told Grayson, “If I were not a Christian, I think I should go mad, but my faith in God holds me to the belief that He is in some way working out His own plans through human perversities and mistakes.”
    America retreated into isolationism. One by one, the vanquished and the victorious mocked Wilson’s vision of a just peace. Without the support of the most powerful country, the League of Nations was powerless to stop Germany, Italy and Japan as they moved toward another world war.
    So effectively had Edith nurtured the illusion that Wilson was on the mend that he refused to designate his successor. Sometime during the spring of 1920, in his feeble scrawl, Wilson even started a file entitled “3d Inaugural.”
    On March 4, 1921, a pale, withered Wilson rode from the White House to the Capitol with Warren G. Harding, the Republican who had won a landslide victory over Democrat James M. Cox. Out of office, Wilson had planned to write a book summarizing his political philosophy. He produced a single page, “A Dedication: to E.B.W., I dedicate this book because it is a book in which I have tried to interpret life, the life of a nation, and she has shown me the full meaning of life. Her heart is not only true but wise; her thoughts are not only free but touched with vision; she teaches and guides by being what she is; her unconscious interpretation of faith and duty makes all the way clear; her power to comprehend makes work and thought alike easier and more near to what it seeks. [Signed,] Woodrow Wilson.” He never wrote another line. Wilson died at his home in Washington on February 3, 1924. The last word he uttered was “Edith.”
    But Edith’s fierce devotion did not end with her husband’s passing. When told that Senator Lodge had been named as an official delegate to her husband’s funeral, she fired off a note to him: “As the funeral is private and not official and realizing that your presence would be embarrassing to you and unwelcome to me I write to request that you do not attend.” Lodge had no choice but to honor her wish.

    SO ENDED THE WHITE HOUSE’S GREATEST LOVE STORY, with a tragic outcome. Edith lived for four more decades, long enough to

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