Thomas Woodrow Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, twenty-eighth president of the United States, might
have suffered from dyslexia. He never could read easily, but developed a strong
power of concentration and a near-photographic memory. The outbreak of World
War I coincided with the death of Wilson's first wife Ellen Axson, who he was
passionately devoted to. Seven months after her death his friends introduced him to
Edith Bolling Galt, a descendant of the Indian princess Pocahontas, they were married
nine months later. By 1912 times were good for most Americans. Farmers were
enjoying their most prosperous period in living memory, the cost of living rose
slightly, unemployment was lower than it had been for several years, and working
conditions were improving. By 1913 when Wilson was inaugurated, American industries
were in a flood of consumer goods, including automobiles, telephones, and movies.
However, Wilson almost did not appear on the presidential ballot, the leading
contender for the Democratic nomination was House Speaker Champ Clark. It took
46 ballots before the delegates swung to Wilson. In the election, the Republicans
were split between Taft and Roosevelt, almost guaranteeing a Democratic, and Wilson
victory. He sought ways to build patriotism and to reshape the federal government
to govern the nation more effectively. Wilson was a conservative, in his books and
articles, he often displayed hostility to reformers and rebels. Although Woodrow
Wilson is mostly remembered for his success in foreign affairs, his domestic reform
and leadership abilities are notable as well. Commemorated by the public mainly for
his success in guiding the nation during it's first great modern war, World War I, for
getting out of the Mexico/Philippine muddle inherited from ex-president Taft, and
for his dream of ending the threat of future wars through the League of Nations,
Wilson is also admired for his domestic successes, which represented the Progressive
Era of reform. Diplomatically, as well as domestically these events illustrate Wilsons
competent leadership skill.
Woodrow Wilsons nomination was strongly opposed by the progressives but he
eventually passed much of their domestic reforming legislation. The progressive
movement backed by Wilson called for some government control of industry and for
regulation of railroad and public utilities. Among its other goals were the adoption of
primary elections and the direct election of United States senators. Wilson called
Congress into special session to consider a new tariff bill, he personally delivered his
legislative request to Congress. Moved by Wilson's aggressive leadership, the House
swiftly passed the first important reform measure, the Underwood Tariff Bill of
1913, which significantly reduced the tariff for the first time in many years and
reflected a new awareness that American businesses were now powerful enough to
compete in the markets of the world. In the end the Underwood Tariff had nothing
to do with trade but the importance was the income tax provision (later the 16th
amendment) which would replace the revenue lost when duties were reduced. It also
showed that America was powerful enough to compete without protection from the
As Congress debated the tariff bill, Wilson presented his program for reform
of the banking and currency laws. The nations banking system was outdated,
unmanageable, and chaotic. To fix this Wilson favored the establishment of a
Federal Reserve Board with presidentally appointed financial experts. The Board
would set national interest rates and manage a network of twelve major banks across
the country. These banks, which would issue currency, would in turn work with local
banks. Congress passed the Federal Reserve act basically in the form the President
had recommended. Amendments also provided for exclusive governmental control of
the Federal Reserve Board and for short term agricultural credit through the
reserve banks. This was one of the most notable domestic achievements of the
Wilson administration which modernized the nations banking and currency systems,
laying the basis for federal management of the economy and providing the legal basis
for an effective national banking system.
The final major item on Wilsons domestic agenda was the reform of big
business. Big businesses worked against the public by fixing prices and restraining
competition. Business and politics worked together, and Wilson sought to stop that.
Determined to accept big business as an inevitable, but to control its abuses and to
maintain an open door of opportunity for "the genius which springs up from the ranks
of unknown men,"1 Wilsons hoped to curb big business. He thought that government
should intervene in the regulation of business, and that it was essential to control
corporate behavior to prevent corporations from stifling opportunities for creative
and ambitious people. Business consolidation was inevitable and might be beneficial,
yet he insisted that great corporations behave in the public interest: These were the
balances Wilson sought to achieve and maintain. "Our laws are still meant