Woodrow Wilson and The PresidencyFrom the beginning of the 1912 election, the people could sense the newideas of Woodrow Wilson would move them in the right direction. Wilson’s ideaof New Freedom would almost guarantee his presidential victory in 1912. Incontrast to Wilson’s New Freedom, Roosevelt’s New Nationalism called for thecontinued consolidation of trusts and labor unions, paralleled by the growth ofpowerful regulatory agencies.
Roosevelt’s ideas were founded in the HerbertCroly’s novel, The Promise Of American Life written in 1910. Although bothWilson and Roosevelt favored a more active government role in economic andsocial affairs, Wilson’s favored small enterprise, entrepreneurship, and thefree functioning of unregulated and unmonopolized markets. Obviously, from theresults of the 1912 election, the people favored Wilson’s New Freedom.Wilson entered office with a more clear cut plan of what he wanted toachieve than any other president before him. The new president called for anall out assault on what Wilson called “the triple wall of privilege”: the tariff,the banks, and the trusts.
In early 1913, Wilson attempted to lower the tariff.Wilson shattered the precedent set by Jeffer-son to send a messenger to addressCongress when Wilson himself formally addressed Congress. This had a hugeeffect on Congress to pass the proposed Underwood Tariff Bill, which provided asubstantial reduction of rates. The new Underwood Tariff substan-tially reducedimport fees.
It also was a landmark in tax legislation. Under authoritygranted by the Sixteenth Amendment, Congress enacted a graduated income tax. By1917, revenue from income tax was greatly more than from the tariff and wouldcontinue on this trend for many years.Next, Woodrow Wilson was determined to conquer the Bankers. The oldbanking system had been greatly outgrown by economic expansion. The country’sbanking was still under the old Civil War National Banking Act which revealedmany glaring defects.
In the Panic of 1907, many flaws of the banking system,including the inelasticity of the currency, were overwhelmingly obvious. Wilsonwas determined to fix these problems. In June of 1913, Wilson made his secondpersonal appearance to address Congress, this time for a plea to reform thebanking system. And in 1913, again appealing to the public, Wilson signed theFederal Reserve Act, now considered the most important piece of eco-nomiclegislature between the Civil War and the New Deal. The new Federal ReserveBoard, appointed by the president, oversaw a nationwide system of twelveregional re-served districts, each with its own central bank. The finalauthority over these banks was granted to the Federal Reserve Board, whichguaranteed a substantial measure of public control.
The board was alsoempowered to issue paper money called “Federal Reserve Notes.” The amount ofmoney in circulation could be swiftly increased as needed for the legitimaterequirements of business.In 1914, Woodrow Wilson tried to tame the trusts. Again making apersonal ap-pearance to address Congress with his propositions helped dramatizethe situation and sway the support towards his ideas. Congress responded withthe Federal Trade Commis-sion Act of 1914.
The new law empowered apresidentially appointed commission to toughen regulations on interstatecommerce. This was supposed to crush monopolies by wiping out unfair tradepolicies. Next came the Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914, which was meant tofurther strangle the major monopolies. It lengthened the list of businesspractices deemed objectionable in the Sherman Act.
Now, price discriminationand inter-locking directorates were gravely forbidden.Wilson had caught the attention of the public by conquering the “triplewall of privilege.” With the full support of the public, Wilson pressed aheadwith further reforms.
The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 made credit availableto farmers at low rates of inter-est. The Warehouse Act of 1916 authorizedloans on the security of staple crops. Other laws also benefited rural Americaby providing for highway construction and the estab-lishment of agriculturalextension work in the state colleges. In 1915, Wilson passed the La FolletteSeamen’s Act which required decent treatment and a living wage on Americanmerchant ships. Wilson further helped the workers with the Workingmen’sCompensation Act of 1916, granting assistance to federal civil-service employeesduring periods of dis-ability. In the same year the president approved an actrestricting child labor on products flowing into interstate commerce, though theSupreme Court deemed the law unconstitu-tional. And in 1916, the Adamson Act of1916 established an eight-hour work day for all employees on trains ininterstate commerce, with extra pay for overtime.
Wilson made giant steps inimproving the quality of life for Americans.Although Wilson had much success in America policies, Woodrow Wilson didlack the ability to achieve greatness when dealing with foreign policy. Wilsonstopped dollar diplomacy immediately after entering office. Then in 1914,Wilson persuaded Congress to repeal the Panama Canal Tolls Act of 1912, whichhad exempted American shipping tolls which provoked major protests from Britain.Wilson also signed the Jones Act in 1916 granting the Philippines independenceas soon they could operate a stable governmental system.
Wilson also partiallydefused a dangerous situation between Japan and California. California passed alaw prohibiting Japanese settlers from owning land. The main reason Californiadid this was to discourage Japanese from settling in California. Secretary ofState, William Jennings Bryan pleaded with California to ease its position.California gave in and the problem was partially defused for the time being.
But Wilson did have trouble in Haiti and Mexico. The climax ofdisorders was in 1914-1915 when the Haitian leader was overthrown. Wilson senttroops into Haiti to protect the American citizens living there.
Wilsonconcluded a treaty with Haiti under the conditions that the United Statesprovide supervision of finances and the police for the Haitian nation. In thesame year Wilson sent marines to stop rioting in the Dominican Re-public. Andin 1917, Wilson purchased from Denmark the Virgin Islands in the West In-dies.Wilson’s plan of anti-imperialism did not hold any more.In April, 1914, a small group of American sailors was mistakenlyarrested in the Atlantic Seaport of Tampico, Mexico. The Mexicans promptlyreleased the captives and apologized, but they to give the twenty-one gun salutethat the American admiral de-manded.
Wilson, determined to eliminate Huerta,asked Congress for authority to use forces against Mexico. Before Congresscould act, Wilson ordered the navy, which was seeking to intercept a German shipbearing arms to Huerta, to seize the Mexican port of Vera Cruz, Huerta as wellas Carranza condemned this American intervention. If it was for theintervention of the ABC PowersArgentina, Brazil, and Chile, America would havemost likely gone to war with Mexico over this ridiculous issue. But in January1916, “Pancho” Villa killed eighteen American citizens in Santa Ysabel, Mexico.Then in March 1916, Villa and his gang shot up Columbus, New Mexico, killingseventeen Americans. Under Wilson’s orders, General John J. (“Black Jack”)Pershing commanded his army into Mexico killing most of Villa’s gang andinnocent bystanders, but they never caught Villa himself.
This was not one ofAmerica’s finest moments.But Wilson’s greatest blunder in foreign policy was after the end ofWorld War I. Wilson’s fourteen points was a brilliant set of ideas to help boththe Allies and the Central Powers. Wilson was never out to hurt any country,unlike Britain and France who wanted revenge on Germany.
Wilson knew that ifthey punished Germany for World War I, that it would only come back to hauntthem. He was right. But many people did not listen to him. Wilson decided togo to Paris in person to fight for his fourteen points. This infuri-ated theRepublicans. The Republicans were even more infuriated with what Wilson didnext.
Wilson needed people from Congress to attend the Paris Peace Conferencewith him. He neglected to bring one Republican from the Senate. Little did heknow that the Republicans would not sign the treaty because of Wilson’spolitical blunder. In Paris, Wil-son was extremely disappointed with Britainand France. They did not agree with his fourteen points and at the end Wilsonhad to sacrifice many of his ideas to get the League of Nations in the treaty.
As you know, the United States did not enter the League because of Wilson’sstubborn attitude of all or nothing. Wilson’s political blunder in dealing withforeign relations hurt him as president.Although Wilson was a master in forming American polices, his scheme onforeign policies was not as clear cut and precise.
In America, Wilson passedmany invaluable laws fighting the tariff and the trusts. He also set up abrilliant banking system which could fluctuate with the good times and bad times.But Wilson was stubborn, which was espe-cially seen when his fourteen pointsfailed. He would not settle for just some of his plan. It was either all ornothing. And as it turned out, it was nothing. Wilson was a genius at workingwith the Americans, but failed at being one of our greater presidents dealingwith foreign policy.