President #28

17 02 2008

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday. So today I will be presenting two posts, starting with #28 – Woodrow Wilson. And once again, due to lack of time, I am posting part of Wikipedia’s entry.

President Woodrow Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson (December 28, 1856February 3, 1924), was the twenty-eighth President of the United States. A devout Presbyterian and leading “intellectual” of the Progressive Era, he served as president of Princeton University then became the reform governor of New Jersey in 1910. With Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft dividing the Republican vote, Wilson was elected President as a Democrat in 1912. He proved highly successful in leading a Democratic Congress to pass major legislation including the Federal Trade Commission, the Clayton Antitrust Act, the Underwood Tariff, the Federal Farm Loan Act and most notably the Federal Reserve System. Wilson was a proponent of Segregation during his presidency.

Narrowly re-elected in 1916, his second term centered on World War I. He tried to maintain U.S. neutrality, but when Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare he wrote several admonishing notes to Germany. Subsequently he asked Congress to declare war on the Central Powers. He focused on diplomacy and financial considerations, leaving the waging of the war primarily in the hands of the military establishment. On the home front he began the first effective draft in 1917, raised billions through Liberty loans, imposed an income tax, set up the War Industries Board, promoted labor union growth, supervised agriculture and food production through the Lever Act, took over control of the railroads, and suppressed anti-war movements. He paid surprisingly little attention to military affairs, but provided the funding and food supplies that helped the Americans in the war and hastened Allied victory in 1918.

In the late stages of the war he took personal control of negotiations with Germany, especially with the Fourteen Points and the Armistice. He went to Paris in 1919 to create the League of Nations and shape the Treaty of Versailles, with special attention on creating new nations out of defunct empires. Largely for his efforts to form the League of Nations, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. Wilson collapsed with a debilitating stroke in 1919, as the home front saw massive strikes and race riots, and wartime prosperity turn into postwar depression. He refused to compromise with the Republicans who controlled Congress after 1918, effectively destroying any chance for ratification of the Treaty of Versailles. The League of Nations went into operation anyway, but the U.S. never joined. Wilson’s idealistic internationalism, whereby the U.S. enters the world arena to fight for democracy, progressiveness, and liberalism, has been a highly controversial position in American foreign policy, serving as a model for “idealists” to emulate or “realists” to reject for the following century.

Federal Reserve 1913

The Federal Reserve Act was one of the more significant pieces of legislation in the history of the United States. Wilson outmaneuvered bankers and enemies of banks, North and South, Democrats and Republicans to secure passage of the Federal Reserve system in late 1913. He took a plan that had been designed by conservative Republicans—led by Nelson W. Aldrich and banker Paul M. Warburg—and passed it. However, Wilson had to find a middle ground between those who supported the Aldrich Plan and those who opposed it, including the powerful agrarian wing of the party, led by William Jennings Bryan, which strenuously denounced banks and Wall Street. They wanted a government-owned central bank which could print paper money whenever Congress wanted. Wilson’s plan still allowed the large banks to have important influence, but Wilson went beyond the Aldrich plan and created a central board made up of persons appointed by the President and approved by Congress who would outnumber the board members who were bankers. Moreover, Wilson convinced Bryan’s supporters that because Federal Reserve notes were obligations of the government, the plan fit their demands. Wilson’s plan also decentralized the Federal Reserve system into 12 districts. This was designed to weaken the influence of the powerful New York banks, a key demand of Bryan’s allies in the South and West. This decentralization was a key factor in winning the support of Congressman Carter Glass (D-VA) although he objected to making paper currency a federal obligation. Glass was one of the leaders of the currency reformers in the U.S. House and without his support, any plan was doomed to fail. The final plan passed, in December 1913, despite opposition by bankers, who felt it gave too much control to Washington, and by some reformers, who felt it allowed bankers to maintain too much power.

Wilson named Warburg and other prominent bankers to direct the new system. Despite the reformers’ hopes, the New York branch dominated the Fed and thus power remained in Wall Street. The new system began operations in 1915 and played a major role in financing the Allied and American war efforts.

Wilsonian economic views

Wilson’s early views on international affairs and trade were stated in his Columbia University lectures of April 1907 where he said: “Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed must be battered down…Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process. Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused”. — From Lecture at Columbia University (April 1907)
(cited in William Appleman William’s book, “The Tragedy of American Diplomacy”, p. 72).

Other economic policies

In 1913, the Underwood tariff lowered the tariff. The revenue thereby lost was replaced by a new federal income tax (authorized by the 16th Amendment, which had been sponsored by the Republicans). The “Seaman’s Act” of 1915 improved working conditions for merchant sailors. As response to the RMS Titanic disaster, it also required all ships to be retrofitted with lifeboats.

A series of programs were targeted at farmers. The “Smith Lever” act of 1914 created the modern system of agricultural extension agents sponsored by the state agricultural colleges. The agents taught new techniques to farmers. The 1916 “Federal Farm Loan Board” issued low-cost long-term mortgages to farmers.

Child labor was curtailed by the Keating-Owen act of 1916, but the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in 1918. Additional child labor bills would not be enacted until the 1930s.

The railroad brotherhoods threatened in summer 1916 to shut down the national transportation system. Wilson tried to bring labor and management together, but when management refused he had Congress pass the “Adamson Act” in September 1916, which avoided the strike by imposing an 8-hour work day in the industry (at the same pay as before). It helped Wilson gain union support for his reelection; the act was approved by the Supreme Court.

Please remember that this is only a small part of this President’s life. For more reading, visit your local library.

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2 responses

17 02 2008
Mike Harmon

I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you.

Mike Harmon

18 02 2008
thebrainiac

Thanks Mike! Nice to hear that someone is enjoying my blog! (besides my friends that read it only because I ask them about it…) 🙂 I hope to hear more from you and other readers. Keep me informed on subjects that you want to read about and I’ll happily provide loads of Useless Tidbits! 😉

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