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