It is not clear how Wilson, the ultra-democrat, came to consider himself the beneficiary of Rousseau’s volonte generale, a concept soon to be voraciously exploited by Europe’s new generation of dictators. Perhaps it was his physical condition. In April 1919 he suffered his first stroke, in Paris. The fact was concealed. Indeed, failing health seems to have strengthened Wilson’s belief in the righteousness of his course and his determination not to compromise with his Republican critics.
In September 1919 he took the issue of the League from Congress to the country, traveling 8,000 miles by rail in three weeks. The effort culminated in a second stroke in the train on 25 September. Again, there was a cover-up. On 10 October came a third, massive, attack, which left his entire left side paralyzed. His physician, Admiral Gary Grayson, admitted some months later, “He is permanently ill physically, is gradually weakening mentally, and can’t recover.” But Grayson refused to declare the President incompetent. The Vice-President, Thomas Marshall, a hopelessly insecure man known to history chiefly for his remark “What this country needs is a good five-cent cigar,” declined to press the point.
The private secretary, Joseph Tumulty, conspired with Wilson himself and his wife Edith to make her the president, which she remained for seventeen months.During this bizarre episode in American history, while rumors circulated that Wilson was stricken with teritary syphilis, a raving prisoner in a barred room, Mrs. Wilson, who had spent only two years at school, wrote orders to cabinet ministers in her huge, childish hand (‘The President says…”), sacked and appointed them, and forged Wilson’s signature on Bills. She, as much as Wilson himself, was responsible for the sacking of the Secretary of State, Lansing (‘I hate Lansing,’ she declared) and the appointment of a totally inexperienced and bewildered lawyer, Bainbridge Colby, in his place.
Wilson could concentrate for five or ten minutes at a time, and even foxily contrived to deceive his chief Congressional critic, Senator Albert Fall, who had complained, “We have petticoat government! Mrs. Wilson is president!” Summoned to the White House, Fall found Wilson with a long, white beard but seemingly alert (Fall was only with him two minutes). When Fall said, “We, Mr. President, we have all been praying for you,” Wilson snapped, “Which way, Senator?”, interpreted as evidence of his continuing sharp wit.[Modern Times, 33]