Wilson as President   Leave a comment

It’s hard now to see that Wilson’s contemporaries in the academic world considered him a conservative when they persuaded him to run for Governor of New York. That’s right, in 1910, Wilson was a “conservative”. During the campaign, he asserted his independence from the conservatives and the machine that had nominated him, endorsing a progressive platform, which he pursued as governor. When nominated for President in 1912, he campaigned on a platform called the New Freedom, which stressed individualism and states’ rights. He won a three-way election with only 42% of the popular vote, but the overwhelming electoral vote.

Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, was inaugurated as the 28th President of the United States on March 4, 1913, proclaiming it his duty “to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore, to correct the evil without impairing the good, to purify and humanize every process of our common life without weakening or sentimentalizing it.”

He then set about to maneuver major legislation through Congress. First, the Underwood Act enabled a lower tariff and a graduated Federal income tax, which would later survive a Supreme Court challenge. The passage of the Federal Reserve Act provided for a more elastic money supply. The Clayton Antitrust legislation in 1914 established the Federal Trade Commission to prohibit unfair business practices and legalized many union activities. That same year, John D. Rockefeller – one of the richest men in America – donated $100 million to establish the Rockefeller Foundation, which remains the largest philanthropic act in American history.  Henry Ford established the first automobile assembly line to produce the Model T, paying his workers an unprecedented sum of $5 a day as he believed higher wages could lead to greater worker productivity and loyalty.

Almost immediately, the “anti-war” Wilson became suspicious of Mexico and began issuing edicts to the Mexican government. By 1914, we were on the verge of war because a US General had demanded Mexican forces salute an American Flag as an apology for arresting drunken American sailors in Vera Cruz.

In Summer 1914, a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo, Serbia, resulting in most of Europe being drawn into what should have been a minor incident. The United States officially proclaimed neutrality. While Wilson gave lip service to staying out of the war, he pursued a very active role in various negotiations and the American merchant marine was actively involved in transporting American arms to Britain and France. Secretary of State Williams Jennings Bryant would resign in 1915, claiming Wilson was deliberately antagonizing Germany.

That same year, the Smith-Lever Act provided federal funds for agricultural instruction for farmers and state college students and the Panama Canal was completed.

The mid-term elections saw large Democratic gains in the Senate and a retained majority in the House.

Congress, reasoning the country was admitting too many poorly-qualified immigrants into the country, required literacy tests for all immigrants, but Wilson vetoed the bill. In 1915, he authorized the invasion of Haiti “to teach them to elect good men.” The United States occupied Haiti until 1934. The next year, Wilson would order the invasion of the Dominican Republic, which we would occupy until 1924.

In 1916, Wilson introduced legislation prohibiting child labor and limiting railroad workers to an 8-hour day and the Federal Farm Labor Act, which established a banking system for farmers to improve their holdings. While campaigning assiduously as the man who “kept us out of war”, Wilson began to beef up the military in preparation for war and blamed bombings on American soil on either the labor movement, socialists or German saboteurs. Margaret Sanger, Fania Mindell, and Ethel Burne opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York.

Less than a month after his second  inauguration, Wilson declared war on Germany. Quickly, he established the Espionage Act that severely limited freedom of expression, chilling criticism of the military or the government by imposing a $10,000 fine or up to 20 years in prison. Federal agents raided the offices of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) in 24 cities, seizing literature and arresting 10, including William “Big Bill” Haywood. Congress also passed the Sedition Act which coupled with the Espionage Act virtually suspended first amendment. Prominent socialist and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs was sentenced to a 10-year jail term for violating the Espionage Act, the result of an antiwar speech.

Congress submitted the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution to the states for ratification, which forbade the sale, manufacture, or transport of alcohol except under special circumstances and food administrator, Herbert Hoover called for one meatless day, two wheatless days, and two porkless days each week to promote food conservation. Wilson issued an executive order created the War Industries Board, an agency designed to coordinate wartime production and transportation. By August, the Labor Department announced that the cost of living jumped 17% in New York City from July 1917 to July 1918.

In a January 1918 address to Congress, President Wilson listed his “14 Points” for a just and lasting peace. His objectives included the self-determination of nations, free trade, disarmament, a pact to end secret treaties, and a league of nations to realize collective security. This speech became the basis for Wilson’s peace proposals at the end of the war.

The world-wide influenza epidemic reaches its height in the United States in October. The extremely virulent strain of the disease first developed in East Coast cities and spread rapidly across the country and the Atlantic as a result of war-related transportation. The epidemic eventually claimed more than 600,000 lives in the United States and perhaps 20 million globally.

In November, Republicans won majorities in both houses of Congress, securing a two-seat majority in the Senate and a comfortable cushion of fifty votes in the House. Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated the throne of the German Empire after revolution broke out in Germany. Allied and German military leaders implemented an armistice as the new German government issued an appeal to President Wilson to negotiate peace along the lines he enumerated in his Fourteen Points speech. Wilson announced plans to attend the Paris Peace Conference and signed the Wartime Prohibition Act, banning the manufacture of alcohol for domestic sale effective from June 30, 1919, until demobilization.

The Paris Peace Conference opened in January 1919, two weeks after President Wilson received glowing welcomes in Rome and Paris. The State Department announced the ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution as of January 16, 1919, when Nebraska’s approval achieved the amendment’s required three-fourths majority. A nation-wide ban on the sale, distribution, or production of alcoholic beverages would go into effect on January 16, 1920. President Wilson presented his draft for the League of Nations covenant to the Paris Peace Conference in February.

In March, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Espionage Act in Schenck v. United States, establishing that civil liberties can be restricted by the government if there is a “clear and present danger” to law and order.

Congress adopted the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, giving women the franchise in May. Wilson had previously campaigned that women’s suffrage was vital to the war effort. The joint resolution read: “The right of citizens of the U.S. to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

In July, after failing to secure a peace without rancorous provisions from his fellow Allied leaders, President Wilson submitted the Treaty of Versailles and League of Nations to the Senate for ratification. Senatorial deliberation on the treaty would last longer than the Paris Conference itself.

In September, against the advice of his doctors and advisors, President Wilson opened his nation-wide speaking tour to promote the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations in Columbus, Ohio. Police in Boston walked out on strike.

In October, President Wilson suffered a serious stroke in Wichita, Kansas, in the middle of his national speaking tour and returned to Washington, DC. It is unclear how much of the rest of his term of office was Wilson acting as President and how much was his wife acting on his behalf, with or without his knowledge. Later that month, Congress overrode President Wilson’s veto of the Volstead Act to provide enforcement power to the 18th Amendment.

After a lengthy national debate, the Treaty of Versailles failed to achieve ratification in the Senate by a vote of 53 to 38.

In December, foreign-born radicals arrested by the Department of Justice in the “Red Scare” raids of 1919 were deported to the U.S.S.R. In January 1920, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer staged the most extensive series of raids of the entire “Red Scare,” arresting nearly 2,700 people in 33 cities. The Senate defeated a resubmitted version of the Treaty of Versailles with reservations added by Foreign Relations Committee chairman Henry Cabot Lodge.

In April, US forces ceased their operations in support of counter-revolutionary forces in Siberia and were withdrawn.  In May, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring an end to the war with Germany. President Wilson vetoed the resolution. In June, Republicans gathered in Chicago to select candidates for the presidential and vice presidential elections. After party leaders broke the convention deadlock in what one attendee called a behind-the-scenes deal “in a smoke-filled room,” Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding was nominated for the presidency. Massachusetts governor Calvin Coolidge received the vice-presidential nomination.  Ohio governor James M. Cox and Franklin Delano Roosevelt of New York received the nominations for President and vice president at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco.

In August, the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote, officially became law. In a speech given from his front porch in Marion, Ohio, Harding denounced the League of Nations.

In November, Warren G. Harding was elected the 29th President of the United States with an overwhelming 404 electoral votes (60.3% of the popular vote to Democratic rival James Cox’s 127 electoral votes (only 34.1% of the popular vote). Eugene V. Debs garnered nearly one million popular votes for the Socialist Party despite his imprisonment for violating the Espionage Act the previous year. The election split the North and South, with Cox winning all states (except for Tennessee) below the Mason-Dixon line and Harding winning the rest.

Later that month, Woodrow Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to secure a lasting peace after the Great War.

In January 1921, the US Census Bureau reported that for the first time in American history, 51% of Americans lived in cities and towns of more than 2500 people.

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