In December 1918 Woodrow Wilson arrived in Paris. For the man who had taken the United States into the First World War, the French had prepared the most spectacular triumph ever enjoyed by a modern democratic leader. As Wilson’s car carried him from the railway station, thousands lined the route to wave their hats and cheer. When he reached the Arc de Triomphe, the American president saw that its chains had been removed to allow him to pass through, as Napoleon had before him. And as he drove along the Champs Elysées, the crowds were packed even more densely than before. ‘Every inch’, Wilson’s wife Edith wrote later, ‘was covered with cheering, shouting humanity.’ What France offered that day, according to Wilson’s biographer A Scott Berg, was ‘the most massive display of acclamation and affection ever heaped on a single human being’.
It all ended in tears, of course. Despite Berg’s best efforts, the overriding impression at the end of his new life of the 28th president is one of ultimate failure. No American leader had ever walked as tall on the world stage, yet none was so savagely humiliated at home.