Woodrow Wilson Thomas Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth president of the United States, might have suffered from dyslexia. He never could read easily, but developed a strong power of concentration and a near-photographic memory. The outbreak of World War I coincided with the death of Wilson’s first wife Ellen Axson, who he was passionately devoted to. Seven months after her death his friends introduced him to Edith Bolling Galt, a descendant of the Indian princess Pocahontas, they were married nine months later. By 1912 times were good for most Americans. Farmers were enjoying their most prosperous period in living memory, the cost of living rose slightly, unemployment was lower than it had been for several years, and working conditions were improving. By 1913 when Wilson was inaugurated, American industries were in a flood of consumer goods, including automobiles, telephones, and movies.
However, Wilson almost did not appear on the presidential ballot, the leading contender for the Democratic nomination was House Speaker Champ Clark. It took 46 ballots before the delegates swung to Wilson. In the election, the Republicans were split between Taft and Roosevelt, almost guaranteeing a Democratic, and Wilson victory. He sought ways to build patriotism and to reshape the federal government to govern the nation more effectively. Wilson was a conservative, in his books and articles, he often displayed hostility to reformers and rebels.
Although Woodrow Wilson is mostly remembered for his success in foreign affairs, his domestic reform and leadership abilities are notable as well. Commemorated by the public mainly for his success in guiding the nation during it’s first great modern war, World War I, for getting out of the Mexico/Philippine muddle inherited from ex-president Taft, and for his dream of ending the threat of future wars through the League of Nations, Wilson is also admired for his domestic successes, which represented the Progressive Era of reform. Diplomatically, as well as domestically these events illustrate Wilsons competent leadership skill. Woodrow Wilsons nomination was strongly opposed by the progressives but he eventually passed much of their domestic reforming legislation. The progressive movement backed by Wilson called for some government control of industry and for regulation of railroad and public utilities. Among its other goals were the adoption of primary elections and the direct election of United States senators.
Wilson called Congress into special session to consider a new tariff bill, he personally delivered his legislative request to Congress. Moved by Wilson’s aggressive leadership, the House swiftly passed the first important reform measure, the Underwood Tariff Bill of 1913, which significantly reduced the tariff for the first time in many years and reflected a new awareness that American businesses were now powerful enough to compete in the markets of the world. In the end the Underwood Tariff had nothing to do with trade but the importance was the income tax provision (later the 16th amendment) which would replace the revenue lost when duties were reduced. It also showed that America was powerful enough to compete without protection from the government. As Congress debated the tariff bill, Wilson presented his program for reform of the banking and currency laws.
The nations banking system was outdated, unmanageable, and chaotic. To fix this Wilson favored the establishment of a Federal Reserve Board with presidentally appointed financial experts. The Board would set national interest rates and manage a network of twelve major banks across the country. These banks, which would issue currency, would in turn work with local banks. Congress passed the Federal Reserve act basically in the form the President had recommended. Amendments also provided for exclusive governmental control of the Federal Reserve Board and for short term agricultural credit through the reserve banks. This was one of the most notable domestic achievements of the Wilson administration which modernized the nations banking and currency systems, laying the basis for federal management of the economy and providing the legal basis for an effective national banking system.
The final major item on Wilsons domestic agenda was the reform of big business. Big businesses worked against the public by fixing prices and restraining competition. Business and politics worked together, and Wilson sought to stop that. Determined to accept big business as an inevitable, but to control its abuses and to maintain an open door of opportunity for the genius which springs up from the ranks of unknown men,1 Wilsons hoped to curb big business. He thought that government should intervene in the regulation of business, and that it was essential to control corporate behavior to prevent corporations from stifling opportunities for creative and ambitious people. Business consolidation was inevitable and might be beneficial, yet he insisted that great corporations behave in the public interest: These were the balances Wilson sought to achieve and maintain.
Our laws are still meant for business done, by individuals that have not been satisfactorily adjusted to business done by great combinations and we have got to adjust them,2in that big business was unjust and somebody needed to watch out for the people, and Wilson was just the man to do that. First, the Federal Trade commission, authorized to order companies to cease and desist3 from engaging in unfair competition. Later came the Clayton Anti-trust Act which outlawed a number of widely practiced business tactics. Wilsons’ New Freedom domestic policies produced what turned out to be four constitutional amendments. The 16th amendment assembled a graduated income tax beginning on incomes over $3,000. The 17th, achieved direct election of senators by the people.
The 18th, was prohibition (of the sales or manufacturing) of alcoholic liquors, and the 19th amendment, gave women the right to vote. Some of his Progressive reforms include the Workingmen’s Compensation Act, which granted assistance to federal civil service employees during periods of disabilities; The Adamson Act established the eight hour day for all employees on trains in interstate commerce, with extra pay for overtime, and The Federal Farm Loan Act, made credit available to farmers at low interest rates. Wilsons’ administration produced major legislation on tariffs, banks, business, and labor. It had been responsible for laws that restricted child-labor, promoted the welfare of seamen, and created a credit system for farmers. Although the administration demonstrated a new sensitivity to labor’s interests, it did not generally win management over to its position. Businesses made larger gains than labor as a result of the relaxation of the anti-trust laws, the growth of trade associations, and the businessmen of an effective and publicly accepted union-busting technique. Foreign affairs also demanded much of the presidents’ attention.
He persuaded Congress to repeal the Panama Tolls Act, which had allowed American ships to use the Panama Canal toll-free when sailing between U.S. coastal ports. Wilson believed that this new law violated a treaty with Great Britain. The President also refused to approve a bankers’ loan to China, and put himself on record against dollar diplomacy. Wilson insisted that his party live up to its campaign promises of preparing the Philippines for independence. In 1916, Congress passed the Jones Bill, which greatly increased Philippine self-government and made many reforms in the administration of the islands.
Convinced that freedom and democracy were universal aspirations, Wilson was determined that the United States would work to advance them. In Asia the United States lacked strength to do much, but in the Western hemisphere it had the power to act; and so in Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and elsewhere around the Caribbean basin it did. Wilson was not materialistic and assumed that American assistance would be welcomed, when he realized this was not true he tried to minimize American involvement. Wilson dismissed traditional American political isolationism, making America a world power, citizens of the world.4 Most people did agree that the nations increasing economic and military power obligated and permitted it to play a larger political role in the world. Wilson struggled constantly between isolationist sentiments and the necessity for American involvement in world affairs. Determined to avoid entering World War I, he rigorously pursued neutrality.
At first Wilson merely proclaimed neutrality, even when German U-boats (submarines) sank a US tanker. Then he tried Peace without victory because he realized that the only lasting peace was one in which the conquered nations were not left poverty-stricken, embittered and biding their time for revenge. Neither the Allies nor the Central powers responded. Keeping America out of the war proved to be an extremely difficult, and eventually impossible, job. Wilson’s greatest problems concerned shipping.
Britain had a blockade against Germany, seizing any cargoes bound for Germany. The British paid for the goods confiscated but the United States thought the interference in its sea trade was a violation of both freedom of the seas and neutral rights. The United States’ …