Noble Failure Is A Step Towards Ultimate Success

Noble Failure Is A Step Towards Ultimate Success

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about a Woodrow Wilson quote.

“I would rather temporarily fail with a cause that will ultimately succeed than to temporarily succeed with a cause that will ultimately fail.”

At first, I thought, of course, everyone wants to succeed in the end if it means paying your dues in the beginning. Then it began to occupy my mind a little longer.

Visiting The Sites Of Woodrow Wilson

A few years ago I visited Woodrow Wilson’s Presidential Library and Birthplace. It was interesting to walk the streets of Staunton and experience the Scots-Irish, progressive presidents life. The tour discussed a lot about his families influence. His father served as a Confederate Chaplain and helped form the Presbyterian Church in the United States which would later split.

A year later I would visit the Alexandria Waterfront along the Potomac River where the Alexandria Shipbuilding Company would build sub-chasers for World War I near Jones Point. I had the privilege of visiting the World War I National Memorial in Kansas City several times when I lived there four years ago. All these places give just a glimpse into the life of Former President Woodrow Wilson.

Influences and Experiences

My reflection of these sites, attempts to give a perspective of what Wilson might have experienced to say those words about temporary failure and eventual success. Wilson’s father was a Presbyterian minister along with his grandfather. At the age of 9, he moved to Augusta, Georgia where he experienced the Civil War. He would spend his time between Georgia and summers in Virginia.

He married Ellen Axson Wilson, a Savannah, Georgia Minister’s daughter. Another place I have visited recently. During his tenure as president, the 19th amendment was passed, the Internal Revenue System was created, and he reinstated the State of the Union.

Woodrow Wilson’s Failing Health

What is not well know about Wilson is his health was hidden. Not that this has not happened before with American presidents, but Wilson was a bit fragile than most realize. Wilson would suffer a stroke while in the White House. The stroke occurred while seeking support for the Treaty of Versailles and America’s. He would disappear from most public life after that. Insiders revealed in their journals about how his presidency limped along for the last 18 months.

I believe when I learned about Wilson’s childhood that brought even more attention to temporary failures. Wilson could not read for the first ten years of his life. Some thought he might have had a learning disability. Even so he would still go to Princeton, John Hopkins, Governor of New Jersey and become the President of the United States.

Overcoming Obstacles at Princeton and In Politics

Failure for Wilson was only a stepping stone to success. While he would appear successful, he also faced opposition in his academic career. At Princeton his health was a topic of discussion where he suffered from probably minor strokes and run-ins with Former President Grover Clevland, who was a trustee and Andrew West, who was the Dean of Grad Students. Wilsons’ behavior was described as impatient and intolerant. Some believed this lead to some errors in judgment.

During the Democratics National Convention Wilson was opposed. It would take over forty ballots before he would become the candidate for the Democratic Party. Some even say the split Republican Party over Taft and Roosevelt helped him win the White House.

Even after the loss of his wife in 1914 he suffered six months of depression. Shortly after he meet Edith Bolling Galt and fell in love quickly. Even though she denied his first request and his political advisors petitioned him to hold off, they eventually got engaged and married three months later.

Success Requires Purpose and Persistence.

While I never found the source to his words about temporarily failing for a cause that will ultimately succeed. Looking back at his life, I can develop a greater appreciation for what he may have meant.

You should never give up because failure is not fatal unless you quite. Grit and perseverance alone are not enough but combining those qualities with a noble cause will likely see eventual success.

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  • I got an email back from the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library. Mrs. Elizabeth Shortt, the Head Archivist, states that the quote is from a talk Woodrow Wilson delivered to New York State Democratic Leaders in Syracuse on September 12, 1912. I attempted a Google search but couldn’t come up with the speech, just some extracts. It can be found in The Papers of Woodrow Wilson published by Princeton University in Volume 25, p. 143-146 according to Mrs. Shortt.

  • Hi Kirby,
    That’s a good quote to remember. It highlights for me the importance of discernment and having an eye on the potential consequences of the decisions we make today.

    I learned some new things about Wilson. Thanks for sharing. There are some good life lessons to be learned from the experiences of past Presidents.