The Wilson Administration

The Battle of Manila Bay, depicted in a lithograph by Butler, Thomas & Company, 1899

Woodrow Wilson

Underwood-Simmons Tariff (1913)

Wilson took office in 1913 and quickly achieved several major political successes.  The first was the Underwood-Simmons Tariff.  Because Wilson had campaigned on a promise of lowering the protective tariff, he called a special session of Congress to deal with the issue.  The House of Representatives introduced a bill calling for a lower tariff, but the Senate tried to raise the rates.  Wilson took the issue to the public, creating pressure on Congress.  The final bill lowered the tariff rates for the first time since the Civil War.  American companies no longer needed the protection from competition that high tariffs provided, and the lower rates caused the price of goods like eggs, milk, and bread to drop for American consumers.  This major reform represented an important political triumph for Wilson.

Federal Reserve Act (1913)

One of the most important acts of the twentieth century, the Federal Reserve Act created the Federal Reserve System.  It maintained private enterprise banking, but it allowed government regulation of interest rates through the leadership of a government-appointed Federal Reserve Board.  The Act created the first central banking system in the United States since Andrew Jackson destroyed the Second Bank of the United States.

Clayton AntiTrust Act (1914) and Federal Trade Commission Act (1914)

The complicated Clayton AntiTrust Act strengthened existing antitrust laws, specifically making certain business activities illegal and allowing corporate officers to be held responsible for antitrust violations.  The Act also legalized peaceful labor protest.  Even though the Act toughened the government’s stance against trusts, Wilson felt it did not do enough.  He gave his support to the Federal Trade Commission Act, which handed the federal government the power to regulate all interstate business.  This idea had been part of Roosevelt’s platform.  Wilson achieved his New Freedom goals and then went further, bringing in a proposal from Roosevelt’s New Nationalism.


Extending Progressivism

As Wilson looked ahead to the election of 1916, he realized he would need to get votes from progressive Republicans in order to win.  Many progressives expressed concern over Wilson’s reluctance to enact further reforms.  To reassure them, he acted on the rest of Roosevelt’s New Nationalism ideas, including social justice reforms.

Although much of Wilson’s motivation in supporting these reforms stemmed from his desire to win the next election, they ended up being of less importance than expected in 1916.  World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, and the war made foreign policy the key election issue in 1916.  Wilson ran on both progressivism and peace, defeating Republican Charles Evans Hughes by a narrow margin.  After running on a platform of peace, Wilson led the nation into war in 1917.  The Progressive Era ended when the United States entered World War I.

Louis Brandeis

Louis Brandeis

Charles Evans Hughes

Charles Evans Hughes