Logo Our Family Tree

Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents

A series of lectures organized and compiled by the Forum Class, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Washington DC, in 1976. Full text online

See also: • 1938, Presidential IssuePresident Statues


Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

On a Sunday morning in 1861, a large congregation was gathered in the First Presbyterian Church of Augusta, Georgia. At the announcement period a tall, well-built minister looked down at his people and said; "At this very moment, a battle is being fought in Virginia and our Confederate forces are in grave need of ammunition, This congregation must do its duty. Immediately at the close of these services the ladies will repair to the munitions factory to help with the cartridges. You will now rise and sing the Doxology and be dismissed."

Sitting in front of the preacher was his five-year old son destined to be the President of the United States and the greatest idealist of his time - Woodrow Wilson. The influence of his father remained with him always. All his life he prayed on his knees morning and evening. Every day he read the Bible. He wore out two or three Bibles in the course of his life. He said grace before every meal. He believed that through prayer he was specifically guided by God. He once said, "1 am content to leave my reputation to the verdict of history." We have only to reflect that the more equitable peace (than that engineered by Wilson's enemies in the U.S. Senate) that was effected by the Allies in 1945, though still a long way from perfection, was based to a considerable degree on the principles that Woodrow Wilson laid down in 1919.

Dr. Henry Van Dyke, author of The Other Wise Man , and Minister to Belgium, who knew Wilson intimately both in Princeton and Washington, said; "Deep down in his soul was a great idealism, a high sense of honor, a genuineness, an unselfishness that would sacrifice all for an ideal." One authority stated that he was the only true Calvinist to sit in the White House, Another called him a world-minded Calvinist, He demonstrated this quality when he wrote this about the immigrants to America.

"They saw this star of the west rising over the peoples of the World, and they said, 'That is the star of hope and the star of salvation. We will set our footsteps toward the west and join that body of men whom God has blessed with the vision of liberty' " His foresight was as great as his vision: At St Louis, September 5, 1919, on the failure of the United States to join the League of Nations, he said; "And the glory of the Armies and Navies of the United States is gone like a dream in the night, and there ensues upon it, in the suitable darkness of the night, the nightmare of dread which lay upon the nations before this war came; and there will come sometime,in the vengeful Providence of God, another struggle in which,not a few hundred thousand fine men from America will have to die, but as many millions as are necessary to accomplish the final freedom of the peoples of the world."

At Kansas City his power of prophecy makes one think of Isaiah or Jeremiah, Referring to the League of Nations, he said, the United States will join it or war will come again in twenty years and the babe at your breast will be a casualty of that war. That was in 1919. In 1939, World War II began. As Wilson's concern for mankind was greater than that of some other presidents, so was his down-to-earth concept of the presidency.

He said: ’’The office of President requires the constitution of an athlete, the patience of a mother, and the endurance of an early Christian." His unshakable belief in the power of prayer to guide him made him confident that right would prevail. His Calvinism came to his rescue when the United States turned down the League of Nations, and he could accept that stanza of John Burroughs: "What matter if I stand alone? / I wait with joy the coming years; / My heart shall reap where it has sown, / And garner up its fruit of tears."

As a devout Christian, he accepted Congress' decision on the League, for he held that as he said: "Whatever strength I have and whatever authority 1 possess are mine only so long and so far as I express the spirit and purpose of the American people." As the only true Calvinist ever to sit in the White House, there was in him a genuine test for reform. Thus, thanks to him, in the first thirteen months of his first administration more progressive legislation was passed than in any similar time in the history of the United States until the era of President Franklin D, Roosevelt. But Wilson’s zest for reform related less to political considerations than those of other "reform" presidents. Fundamentally, Wilson was a missionary - first to Princeton, then successively to the State of New Jersey, to the United States, and to the world.

Related albums • See other albums

Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents

Related people

President Thomas Woodrow Wilson

Posted By: J.J. Burks

  1. Book: Series of Lectures: Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents;
  2. Personal: picture;
  3. Website:
    Source is not correct, is not specific enough, or does not contain relevant information.
    Contact researcher to ask that it be corrected.

Updated: 6-4-2016