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Image Woodrow Wilson: The Omnibus Reformer, 1913-20

Only one reformer ran well in every region. He was Woodrow Wilson, the southern-born Progressive governor of New Jersey who came of border stock. His Georgia and Virginia roots made him attractive to the south, and his Presbyterian morality had strong appeal in greater New England. In national elections, Wilson proved to be an omnibus reformer with exceptional breadth of support throughout the nation.

In 1912, a division in Republican ranks gave Wilson his opportunity. Former President Theodore Roosevelt indulged in a style of highly personal politics which were akin to the ways of his border ancestors. His antics split his party and alienated the normally Republican voters of the northern states. The Republican coalition disintegrated, and regional voting patterns disappeared beneath the Democratic landslide, which put a southern-born President in the White House for the first time since 1865. Wilson’s exceptionally broad personal popularity gave him a victory in 1916 as well.

But Wilson’s national popularity did not attach to Progressivism in general. Votes for and against leading Progressive measures continued to be primarily regional. A case in point was women’s suffrage. The Congressional suffrage resolution of 1919 was strongly supported in the northern states, and strenuously opposed in the south. The suffrage amendment failed of ratification in ten states—all southern. These regional patterns cannot be explained by any material factor. Here was a question that turned primarily on cultural values. Many other Progressive measures showed similar voting patterns.14

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