What Did Woodrow Wilson Think of Anarchists?

History Q & A

Why do some people become so angry that they are willing to turn to violence? That is now a question facing Americans. It is an old question. During the early part of the 20th century some Americans chose to make their political points through violence. Their behavior brought a sharp response from President Woodrow Wilson in November 1917.

I have been very much distressed, my fellow-citizens, by some of the things that have happened recently. The mob spirit is displaying itself here and there in this country. I have no sympathy with what some men are saying, but I have no sympathy with the men that take their punishment into their own hands, and I want to say to every man who does join such a mob that I do not recognize him as worthy of the free institutions of the United States.

There are some organizations in this country whose object is anarchy and the destruction of law, but I would not meet their efforts by making myself a partner in destroying the law. I despise and hate their purpoes as much as any man, but I respect the ancient processes of justice, and I would be too proud not to see them done justice, however wrong they are. And so I want to utter my earnest protest against any manifestation of the spirit of lawlessness anywhere or in any cause.

Why, gentlemen, look what it means: We claim to be the greatest democratic people in the world, and democracy means, first of all, that we can govern ourselves. If our men have not self-control, then they are not capable of that great thing which we call democratic government. A man who takes the law into his hands is not the right man to co-operate in any form of or development of law and institutions. And some of the processes by which the struggle between capital and labor is carried on are processes that come very near to taking the law into your own hands. I do not mean for a moment to compare them with what I have just been speaking of, but I want you to see that they are mere gradations of the manifestations of the unwillingness to co-operate.

comments powered by Disqus