Today in Canada's Political History - February 3, 1924: Mackenzie King pays tribute to former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson

America’s First World War leader Woodrow Wilson passed into history on this date in 1924. His health had never recovered after he suffered a stroke towards the end of his White House years. Prime Minister Mackenzie King was among the world leaders who celebrated Wilson’s life and legacy in the aftermath of his death.

“The light of history, will assuredly assign him the crown of martyrdom," King said. “Throughout the Dominion there will be a feeling of deep sympathy with the United States in the loss of another of her first citizens. Whilst Mr. Woodrow Wilson did not die in office, as was the case with his distinguished successor (Warren Harding), it was at the White House that death first placed her hand upon his shoulder. At the moment adversaries and friends may dispute whether his will be the shadow or the crown of martyrdom, the light of history will assuredly assign him the crown.”

Prime Minister King was just getting going. “Conceding limitations, he will be numbered among those who have given their lives for the creed they held, and the policies they sought to make prevail,” King continued. “To the cause of industrial and international freedom he brought the trained and informed mind of the philosopher and historian, and not a little of the zeal and vision of the prophet. If he fell short in the accomplishment of his great mission of faith in men and in nations, it was that he failed in practice sufficiently to apply the democratic ideals to which he held so strongly in principle. Had he died at Versailles his fame would have gained a world-wide immortality. Now that he is no longer a living force in the politics of his country, the partial eclipse which came with the defeat of his policies, will doubtless begin to disappear, the policies themselves may gain a readier acceptance and his name once more assume the honoured place which in an hour of the world's greatest need it so largely enjoyed.”

Sir Robert Borden, who worked alongside Wilson, particularly as the Treaty of Versailles was negotiated, also released a statement honouring the late American President.

“In the death of Mr. Wilson, the world has lost the voice of a great man,” Borden said. “Splendid courage and remarkable tenacity characterized his attitude on every question of principle. It is the irony of fate that men of less brilliant parts might perhaps have won more enduring results in the latter episodes of his public career. In every allied nation his name will be held in honour and in grateful remembrance for his conspicuous service to the cause of humanity and especially for the supreme effort that his country made under his leadership and inspiration when the need was so vital in the fateful spring and summer of 1918.”

Arthur Milnes is an accomplished public historian and award-winning journalist. He was research assistant on The Rt. Hon. Brian Mulroney’s best-selling Memoirs and also served as a speechwriter to then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper and as a Fellow of the Queen’s Centre for the Study of Democracy under the leadership of Tom Axworthy. A resident of Kingston, Ontario, Milnes serves as the in-house historian at the 175 year-old Frontenac Club Hotel.