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May 31, 1988

The speech was given in English, but the first paragraph contained a Russian phrase, as did the final sentence.

The speaker mentioned Dostovesky’s quest for truth and Pasternak’s passages on human freedom.  Regarding the author of War and Peace, he hoped that “like the fresh green sapling planted over Tolstoy’s grave,” freedom would “blossom forth at last in the rich fertile soil of your people and culture.”

He quoted Mikhail Lomonosov, the 18th century founder of Moscow State University, who said: “It is common knowledge that the achievements of science are considerable and rapid, particularly once the yoke of slavery is cast off and replaced by the freedom of philosophy.”

He cited the accomplishments of Moscow State University’s most famous 20th century graduate.  Almost one year earlier, when the speaker was in Berlin, he had excoriated this alumnus when he loudly proclaimed: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”  Five years earlier he had called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire.  Today, May 31, 1988, as he spoke to the students at Moscow State University, he commended Gorbachev for signing the INF Treaty the previous December and celebrated Gorbachev’s people for their imagination, beauty, and heart.

In this speech he did not avoid difficult issues or minimize the problems that were ahead, but he also encouraged his listeners to face the future with courage and optimism.  That’s just how Ronald Reagan was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Exactly the Right Priorities

In 2018 it would be equivalent to more than $185,000.  So, when Mary Allen Hulbert, a.k.a. the former Mrs. Peck, asked Wilson for a loan of $7,500, she was not asking for a small amount.   With an annual salary of $75,000, Wilson was quite capable of helping his one-time confidante.  His real problem was political optics rather than personal finance.

In addition, members of the Cabinet were concerned the President would not be re-elected if his courtship of Edith Bolling Galt resulted in marriage before the end of 1916.  A grieving widower might get the sympathy vote of a compassionate nation, but someone who remarried too soon might incur the wrath of the women voters in the Western states,… at least, that’s what the Cabinet thought might happen.  They were probably somewhat relieved that universal suffrage had not yet been ratified.

The Cabinet nominated McAdoo and Colonel House to speak with the President.  McAdoo, who in addition to being the Treasury Secretary was also the President’s son-in-law, told Wilson he had received an anonymous letter which stated that Mrs. Hulbert had been offering to sell some of Wilson’s letters.  That could make the $7,500 look like a payoff instead of a secured loan.  If Wilson were to marry before the 1916 election, surely these letters would also come to light.

Woodrow Wilson took decisive action, but not as the Cabinet might have hoped.  He immediately “confessed” everything to Edith.  Since his relationship with the one-time Mrs. Peck had not been physical or even romantic, it is not exactly clear what he needed to say.  He just didn’t want anything to stand between him and Edith.  They were married December 18, 1915.  Less than eleven months later, despite having given love a higher priority than his political fortunes, Woodrow Wilson was elected to a second term as President.

$7,500

Woodrow Wilson’s “indiscreet but not improper” friendship with Mary Peck looked like an opportunity for his political opponents to defeat him in 1912.  By 1915 this was old news and not likely to affect the President’s chances for re-election.  What mattered more was whether the public would be okay with Wilson’s courtship of Edith Bolling Galt.  It had been fewer than nine months since Mrs. Wilson’s death when the widower President proposed marriage to Mrs. Galt.  Treasury Secretary McAdoo was worried about the political implications.  Wilson’s good friend Colonel House was also uneasy.  Then, to complicate matters, the former Mrs. Peck visited the White House seeking a favor from the President.

Of course, when Wilson thought of Edith, political considerations were the furthest thing from his mind.  Similarly, when his dear friend from bygone days came to the White House, he thought first of what he could do for her, then whether her visit would hinder his courtship of Edith.  It was up to McAdoo and House to discover any political implications.  They wondered whether Wilson’s financial assistance to the former Mrs. Peck would be viewed as a bribery payment.  She may have been a dear old friend, but to Wilson’s enemies she might look like a former lover with an angle.

If Mark Twain were still alive, she could have sought his assistance.  He and others in that circle had enjoyed Mrs. Peck’s hospitality back in the Bermuda days.  Still, there was no one she was closer to than the President.  She may not have been his lover, but she had been his confidante.  He had trusted her enough to discuss his political ambitions.  Now, with minimal embarrassment, she would ask him for a loan of $7,500.

 

 

 

May 1915

Ellen Axson Wilson, wife of President Woodrow Wilson, died on August 16, 1914.  In March 1915 the widower President was introduced to Washington widow Edith Bolling Galt.  On May 3 Wilson told her he loved her and wanted her to be his wife.  Edith, although flattered, was somewhat surprised.  She replied: “Oh, you can’t love me, for you don’t really know me, and it is less than a year since your wife died.”

But Wilson was persistent…  and methodical.  He had already received the approval of his family before broaching the subject with Edith.  He had even arranged to be alone with Edith on the South Portico while his dinner guests were on the South Lawn.  Woodrow Wilson, who had spent most of his life in academia, was no slouch when he needed to execute a plan of action.  However, Edith was not ready to be conquered.

Four days later, right after lunch, the President learned the Lusitania had been sunk.  It would be hours before he would learn the details, including the tremendous loss of life.  Meanwhile, he canceled his golf plans and went for a drive instead.  That same day he wrote to Edith: “My happiness absolutely depends upon your giving me your entire love.”

Over the next few weeks the President seemed to be making progress in his campaign to win a commitment from Mrs. Galt.  Then, on the final day of the month, the former Mrs. Peck visited the White House.  Her financial situation had deteriorated since she had become divorced, and she came to ask the assistance of an old friend who had enjoyed her hospitality during better times.

Washington 1915

For two years in a row Ellen Axson Wilson encouraged her husband to take a winter vacation in Bermuda even though she would not be accompanying him.  On both occasions Mr. Wilson spent a lot of time with Mary Peck, someone he considered to be a good friend and confidante.  He also visited with Mark Twain and other notables who were friends of Mrs. Peck.  Wilson was something of a notable himself.  He had been President of Princeton University since 1902 and had authored many books on government and politics.

In 1910 Woodrow Wilson returned to Bermuda.  Once again Mrs. Wilson did not accompany him.  She was visiting Mary Peck in her New York residence.  Mrs. Peck had been separated from her husband for a couple years.  Some scholars believe her relationship with Mr. Wilson had crossed the limits of propriety by this time.  However, Mrs. Wilson exonerated her husband when she said that although her husband’s fondness for Mrs. Peck had been a source of unhappiness for her, there was nothing “wrong or improper” about it.

By 1912 the Pecks were divorced and Woodrow Wilson was running for President.  The former Mrs. Peck reclaimed her maiden name and the name of her late first husband, styling herself Mary Allen Hulbert.  By the mid-term elections Mrs. Wilson had died, but the President did not pursue courtship with the former Mrs. Peck.  After several months of loneliness, he was introduced to the widow of a prominent Washington jeweler.  They were married in December 1915.

Earlier that year, when the President and the future Mrs. Wilson had known each only a few weeks, Mary Hulbert came to the White House seeking a favor.

Bermuda 1908

“My friends tell me that if I will enter the contest and can be nominated and elected Governor of New Jersey, I stand a very good chance of being the next President of the United States.  Shall I, or shall I not, accept the opportunity they offer?”  That’s what Woodrow Wilson asked Mary Peck in 1908.

For the second January in a row, Mrs. Wilson had chosen not to accompany her husband to Bermuda.  Upon arrival Wilson checked into the Hotel Hamilton, but he eventually spent a lot of time at Shoreby, Mary Peck’s island residence.  During these visits Mr. Wilson would speak constantly about his wife, and Mrs. Peck even offered a place on her mantelpiece to display a photo of Mrs. Wilson.  She also ensured other guests were present in the house during Wilson’s visits.

However, Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Peck did take long walks together.  Perhaps there were others who could see them at all times, perhaps not; but it is certain they were distant enough from Mrs. Peck’s house guests to have private conversations.  During one of these moments Wilson asked for advice as to whether he should seek a political career.

“Why not?” she advised.  “Statesmanship has been your natural bent, your real ambition all your life, and God knows, our country needs men like you in her national life.”

Two years later Woodrow Wilson was elected Governor of New Jersey, and two years after that he was elected President of the United States.

 

 

Bermuda 1907

Mary Allen Hulbert was a widow when she married widower Thomas Dowse Peck in 1890.  The couple separated in 1907, and she sued for divorce in 1911.

Woodrow Wilson was sworn in as Governor of New Jersey in January 1911.  He and Mrs. Peck had become friends four years earlier.  They enjoyed one another’s company, and Wilson did not hide their friendship from his wife.  The one-time Mrs. Peck would even visit the White House during Wilson’s presidency.

There is a famous photo of Wilson standing next to the seated Mrs. Peck.  She is wearing a long white dress and a huge dark Gainsborough hat.  Wilson is leaning away from Mrs. Peck, but his right hand is on her chair behind her left shoulder.  The photo is very much like those displayed in many Cracker Barrel restaurants and would be unremarkable except for its subjects.

In January 1907 Mrs. Wilson encouraged her husband to keep his resolution to take a winter vacation even though she would not be accompanying him on his trip to Bermuda.  He spent his time bicycling, walking the beach, and preparing a lecture series.  On the first Tuesday of February the Mayor of Hamilton, Bermuda gave a dinner party in Wilson’s honor.  Among the guests was Mary Peck.  Their conversation was playful and witty, but not unusual for a Southern gentleman who enjoyed speaking with women.  However, Mrs. Peck was no shrinking violet.  She even smoked cigarettes!

On the night before Wilson left Bermuda, he was again the guest of honor at a dinner party, this time at Mary Peck’s.  Although he and Mrs. Peck were able to briefly discuss one of their favorite authors, most of Wilson’s time was taken by the men at this gathering.

Thus began a friendship that lasted the entire length of Wilson’s political career.