December 4, 1918: Woodrow Wilson Sails for France

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Woodrow Wilson sailed for France a century ago, ironically in the SS George Washington, a German passenger liner interned in New York City at the outbreak of World War I.  He was the second US President to travel abroad during his first term in office, the first being, of course, Theodore Roosevelt who took a trip to Panama in 1906.

Wilson by going to Paris was largely isolating himself from events in the US.  The first trans-Atlantic telephone call would not occur until 1927.  Radio was very much in its infancy.  Transatlantic telegraph cables were the sole effective means of keeping in contact with Washington.

It had been suggested by his advisors to Wilson that he include Republican Elihu Root, Secretary of State under Theodore Roosevelt, as part of the diplomatic team accompanying Wilson, to give the negotiations a bipartisan flavor.  Wilson had used Root to head a diplomatic mission to the Provisional Government in Russia that held power between the abdication of the  Tsar and the October Revolution.  Now, however, Wilson rejected Root as being too reactionary.  In truth, Wilson planned to run the Paris negotiations personally, and he did not want any competition from a man with as big a public reputation as Root.  The American presence in Paris was going to be a one man show, and that man was Wilson.

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