His Republican opponent announced that he would be a constitutional governor, meaning thereby that he would concern himself solely with the administrative function of his office and not seek to influence law making. This rang upon the shield of Wilson like a challenge. Doctor Wilson answered back: "If that is what it means to be a constitutional governor." and there was a gleam in his eye as he said it- "then I will be an unconstitutional governor." And he has been!
This is alarming language. Here's the thing about Wilson. He did not like separation of powers. He was a big fan of the British Parliamentary system, which doesn't have such a hinderance. This is seen in his role as the first Parliamentary of New Jersey. In an article from McClure's titled "Woodrow Wilson: Political Leader" that starts on page 217, the following is written: (page 222)
Need of Leadership in the Executive
Governor Wilson makes no secret of the fact that he admires the British cabinet system. In England the responsible rulers are simply a committee of Parliament, composed of the leaders of the political party which has won the people's confidence at the polls. These leaders control the government in both its executive and legislative branches. They propose and pass needed legislation and they likewise enforce it. They are hampered by no "checks and balances"; they govern directly, with immediate personal responsibility for their success or failure. The one source of their authority is public opinion, and they hold office only so long as the people indorse their acts
And of course, this article too quotes Wilson's words in regard to being an unconstitutional governor. But the meat of the article is on page 226, under the section heading "The Unofficial "Ministry":
And now Mr. Wilson, as party leader, began the work of framing the party program. Like a prime minister he selected a body of advisers in the legislature - a number of leading legislators, who were to join hands with him in framing bills and getting them made law. The New Jersey legislature was by no means destitute of talent. There were men like Fielder, Osborne, Gebhardt, and Silzer in the Senate, Kenny, Simpson, Egan, and Geran in the House - men who for several years had been specializing in "progressive legislation".
And these articles go on. And as usual, I hope those of you who wish to become familiar with progressivism will read on in the articles in greater depth.
These are Wilson's actions as governor. He didn't like American governmental structure, and he acted that way. With regard to his disdain for the separation of powers doctrine, see a previous posting here, in which I discussed Wilson's view of the declaration. In short, we need to move past it.(his view) In addition, see "What Is Progress" one of Wilson's speeches extracted from the book "The New Freedom". In "What Is Progress" Wilson says the following:
He called my attention to the fact that in every generation all sorts of speculation and thinking tend to fall under the formula of the dominant thought of the age.
This is important also in understanding Wilson's view of the living constitution as well as the 'unconstitutional' comment. The constitution is not a living document. What progressives seek to do when they make this claim is to abuse and pollute the English language. A document that is living, and a document that is amendable, are two entirely different things. This 'thought of the age" concept is a reference to the British Constitution, which as R. J. Pestritto brilliantly points out in Constitution 201 part 2, you can't even print out a copy of the British Constitution. There is no single document, that is a living constitution. But this part of Wilson's speech is important for what he says next:
He called my attention to the fact that in every generation all sorts of speculation and thinking tend to fall under the formula of the dominant thought of the age. For example, after the Newtonian Theory of the universe had been developed, almost all thinking tended to express itself in the analogies of the Newtonian Theory, and since the Darwinian Theory has reigned amongst us, everybody is likely to express whatever he wishes to expound in terms of development and accommodation to environment.
Now, it came to me, as this interesting man talked, that the Constitution of the United States had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian Theory. You have only to read the papers of the The Federalist to see that fact written on every page. They speak of the "checks and balances" of the Constitution, and use to express their idea the simile of the organization of the universe, and particularly of the solar system,—how by the attraction of gravitation the various parts are held in their orbits; and then they proceed to represent Congress, the Judiciary, and the President as a sort of imitation of the solar system.
And later in the speech:
The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton.
He's using code words here to try to cloak his true meaning. He has defined "Newton" as the Founding principles, that is, checks and balances, the constitution, and other such things.
And he's rejecting it.
Instead, he puts his support under Darwin. Which as we all know is synonymous with "Evolution". Or, the living document, progressivism, you get the idea. He makes this clear a few paragraphs down, I used the word evolution because he did.
But in understanding the "unconstitutional governor" comment, there's one more detail, in A people awakened: the story of Woodrow Wilson's first campaign by Charles Reade Bacon, the following is written from one of Wilson's speeches (Page 135):
The Republican candidate has in more than one speech, given a sufficiently clear indication of how he expected to act. You will remember that, when he accepted the nomination, he said that he expected to be a constitutional Governor, by which he meant that he would punctiliously confine himself to those things that were intimated as his privileges and duties by the Constitution of the state; that is to say, he would send messages to the legislature, make strong recommendations to them but that if they did not accept his recommendations he would have nothing more to say about it.
I, following about a week afterward, said that if that was the standard I was going to be an unconstitutional Governor, because, if it was unconstitutional to urge upon the citizens of the state, in order that opinion might guide the legislature, the things that it seemed absolutely necessary the legislature should enact, then I was going to take the liberty, the utmost liberty of speech that belonged to me, not merely as Governor, but as an American citizen, to urge upon the people of the state the necessary reforms in legislation and administration
Punctiliously: Strictly attentive to minute details of form in action or conduct.
And having already briefly described Wilson's beliefs in the British Parliament and disdain for checks and balances, you know what he means by these words. On the surface it's obvious, he wants to demagogue the issues. But beyond that, he didn't want to be confined by the New Jersey Constitution, much less the Federal one. And he wasn't. He governed not like a US Governor, but a British Parliamentarian. And by inventing this idea of the living Constitution, he built in his own excuse for importing foreign values into his governing style.