Wilsonian Progressivism at Home and Abroad
Woodrow Wilson won the governorship of New Jersey waging a reform campaign in which he attacked the predatory trusts and promised to return the state government to the people.
The "Bull Moose" Campaign of 1912
The Democrats chose Woodrow Wilson as their presidential candidate for the election of 1912. The Democrats saw in Wilson an outstanding reformist leader of whom they felt would beat Republican Taft. The Democrats had a strong progressive platform that called for stronger antitrust laws, banking reform, and tariff reductions.
Theodore Roosevelt ran again in the election as a 3rd party candidate. It was unsure whether Roosevelt's New Nationalism or Wilson's New Freedom would prevail. Both men favored a more active government role in economic and social affairs, but they disagreed over specific strategies.
Roosevelt's New Nationalism campaigned for stronger control of trusts, woman suffrage, and programs of social welfare.
Wilson's New Freedom favored small enterprise, entrepreneurship, and the free functioning of unregulated and unmonopolized markets. Democrats shunned the social-welfare programs and supported the fragmentation of trusts.
The campaign cooled down when Roosevelt was shot by a fanatic. He eventually recovered after suspending campaigning for a couple weeks.
Woodrow Wilson: A Minority President
Taft and Roosevelt split the Republican votes, giving Woodrow Wilson the presidency.
Roosevelt's Progressive Party soon died out due to lack of officials elected to state and local offices.
Wilson: The Idealist in Politics
Wilson relied on sincerity and moral appeal to attract the public. He was extremely smart but lacked the common touch with the public. (He didn't have people skills.) Wilson's idealism and sense of moral righteousness made him incredibly stubborn in negotiating.
Wilson Tackles the Tariff
President Wilson called for an all-out war on what he called "the triple wall of privilege": the tariff, the banks, and the trusts.
Wilson called a special meeting of Congress in 1913 to address the tariff. He convinced Congress to pass the Underwood Tariff Bill, which significantly reduced the tariff rates. Under authority from the 16th Amendment, Congress also enacted a graduated income tax.
Wilson Battles the Bankers
The most serious problem of the National Banking Act passed during the Civil War in 1863 was the inelasticity of currency. Banking reserves were located in New York and a handful of other large cities and could not be mobilized in times of financial stress into areas that needed money.
In 1913, President Wilson delivered a plea to Congress for a reform of the banking system. Congress answered and in the same year, he signed the Federal Reserve Act. The new Federal Reserve Board, appointed by the president, oversaw a nationwide system of 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. Each reserve bank was the central bank for its region. The final authority of the Federal Reserve Board guaranteed a substantial level of public control. The board was empowered to issue paper money, Federal Reserve Notes, backed by commercial paper. Thus, the amount of money in circulation could be increased as needed for the requirements of business. (More information)
The President Tames the Trusts
After Wilson's persuasion, Congress passed the Federal Trade Commission Act of 1914. This law authorized a presidentially-appointed commission to oversee industries engaged in interstate commerce, such as the meatpackers. The commissioners were expected to crush monopolies at the source.
The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 lengthened the Sherman Act's list of business practices that were deemed objectionable. It also sought to exempt labor and agricultural organizations from antitrust prosecution, while legalizing strikes and peaceful picketing. Union leader Samuel Gompers praised the act.
Wilsonian Progressivism at High Tide
The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 made loans available to farmers at low rates of interest. The Warehouse Act of 1916 authorized loans on the security of staple crops.
The La Follette Seamen's Act of 1915 benefited sailors by requiring decent treatment and a living wage on American ships.
President Wilson assisted the workers with the Workingmen's Compensation Act of 1916, giving assistance to federal civil-service employees during periods of disability. Also in 1916, the president approved an act restricting child labor on products flowing into interstate commerce. The Adamson Act of 1916 established an 8-hour work day for all employees on trains in interstate commerce.
Wilson nominated for the Supreme Court reformer Louis D. Brandeis, the first Jew to be a Supreme Court justice.
New Directions in Foreign Policy
President Wilson was an anti-imperialist and withdrew from aggressive foreign policy.
He persuaded Congress in 1914 to repeal the Panama Canal Tolls Act of 1912, which had exempted American coastal shipping from tolls. He also signed the Jones Act in 1916, which granted the Philippines territorial status and promised independence as soon as a stable government could be established.
When political turmoil broke out in Haiti in 1915, Wilson dispatched marines to protect American lives and property. In 1916, he signed a treaty with Haiti providing for U.S. supervision of finances and the police.
In 1917, Wilson purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark.
Moralistic Diplomacy in Mexico
In 1913, the Mexican revolution took an ugly turn when the president was murdered and replaced by General Victoriano Huerta. Because of the chaos in Mexico, millions of Spanish-speaking immigrants came to America.
At first, President Wilson refused to intervene with the war in Mexico. But after a small party of American sailors was accidentally captured by the Mexicans, Wilson ordered the navy to seize the Mexican port of Vera Cruz.
Just as war seemed imminent with Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and Chile intervened and pressured Huerta to step down.
Venustiano Carranza became the president of Mexico. Francisco Villa, rival to President Carranza, attempted to provoke a war between Mexico and the U.S by killing Americans. Wilson, rather, ordered General John J. Perishing to break up Villa's band of outlaws. The invading American army was withdrawn from Mexico in 1917 as the threat of war with Germany loomed.
Thunder Across the Sea
In 1914,World War I was sparked when the heir to the throne
of Austria-Hungary was murdered by a Serb patriot. An outraged Vienna
government, backed by Germany, presented an ultimatum to Serbia. Serbia, backed
by Russia, refused to budge. Russia began to mobilize its army, alarming
Germany on the east, and France confronted Germany on the west.
A Precarious Neutrality
President Wilson issued the neutrality proclamation at the outbreak of WWI.
Most Americans were anti-Germany from the outset of the war. Kaiser Wilhelm II, the leader of Germany, seemed the embodiment of arrogant autocracy. Yet, the majority of Americans were against war.
America Earns Blood Money
American industry prospered off trade with the Allies. Germany and the Central Powers protested American trading with the Allies, although America wasn't breaking the international neutrality laws -- Germany was free to trade with the U.S., but Britain prevented this trade by controlling the Atlantic Ocean by which Germany had to cross in order to trade with the U.S.
In 1915, several months after Germany started to use submarines in the war, one of Germany's submarines sunk the British liner Lusitania, killing 128 Americans.
Americans demanded war but President Wilson stood strong on his stance against war. When Germany sunk another British liner, the Arabic, in 1915, Berlin agreed to not sink unarmed passenger ships without warning. Germany continued to sink innocent ships as apparent when one of its submarines sank a French passenger steamer, the Sussex. President Wilson informed the Germans that unless they renounced the inhuman practice of sinking merchant ships without warning, he would break diplomatic relations, leading to war. Germany agreed to Wilson's ultimatum, but attached additions to their Sussex pledge: the United States would have to persuade the Allies to modify what Berlin regarded as their illegal blockade. Wilson accepted the Germany pledge, without accepting the "string" of additions.
Wilson Wins the Reelection in 1916
The Progressive Party and the Republican Party met in 1916 to choose their presidential candidate. Although nominated by the Progressives, Theodore Roosevelt refused to run for president. The Republicans chose Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes. The Republican platform condemned the Democratic tariff, assaults on the trusts, and Wilson's dealings with Mexico and Germany.
The Democrats chose Wilson and ran an anti-war campaign. Woodrow Wilson won the election of 1916 and was reelected to the presidency.