The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era


Birth of a Quotation: Woodrow Wilson and “Like Writing History with Lightning”

Mark E. Benbowa1

a1 Marymount University


In February 1915, upon viewing The Birth of a Nation at a special White House screening, President Woodrow Wilson reportedly remarked, “It's like writing history with lightning. My only regret is that it is all so terribly true.” This line has appeared in numerous books and articles over the past seventy years. This article examines the history of this alleged quotation and the sources where it has appeared. The article weighs the evidence that Wilson effusively praised in these words one of the most racist major movies in American history.