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Wilson`s Appeal to the Nation

President Woodrow Wilson’s effort to win support for ratification of the Versailles Treaty, by holding a White House meeting with influential senators, failed in August 1919. He then decided to go over the politicians' heads and appeal to the electorate, in the hope that a public outcry would save the agreement. Wilson's wife and close advisors became convinced that the president was exhausted by travel and long work days. They pleaded with him to stay home, but he ignored them. Departing on September 3, Wilson’s train ventured into the nation’s broiling heartland, where he began to deliver a series of speeches designed to put pressure on his opponents. Initial responses were not favorable. The heavy German-American population in the Midwest proved to be largely unsympathetic. However, as the president moved farther west, both his performance and the reception improved greatly. Huge crowds gathered and wildly cheered the speeches in scenes reminiscent of Wilson’s welcome in the European capitals earlier in the year. The president’s offensive came to an abrupt halt on September 25 in Pueblo, Colorado. The exhausted Wilson collapsed during his speech, suffering either a mild stroke or a nervous breakdown. The train immediately headed back to Washington, where Wilson, against the advice of his doctors, insisted on returning to work. On October 2, he was stricken again. A stroke partially paralyzed his left side and confined him to a bedroom in the White House. For the next seven months, Wilson was essentially cut off from direct contact with the outside world. Any hope that the treaty would be salvaged was dashed in the resulting leadership vacuum.

See also Wilson's Search for Peace.