In a related question Ben Crowell asked, Was World War I a war of liberals against authoritarians? in that discussion, Woodrow Wilson was called a liberal. I have always believed, this has become a modern systemic mischaracterization of the United State's 28th President. Wilson's administration stymied progress on liberal causes of the time, including:
- Race Relations
- Womans Suffrage
- Prohibition of Child Labor
- Breaking up Monopolies (Trust Busting)
- Promoting Individual Rights over States Rights
And the policies which are most often cited as his progressive credentials are those which
- Were conservative programs previously
- Programs Wilson objected too for a significant period and only endorsed when he had no choice but to sign on
- Programs which failed to be enacted
- Programs which were were quickly repealed after being enacted
My question: Was Woodrow Wilson really a liberal?
Those who would call Wilson a Liberal often cite:
Wilson committed United States armed forces to WWI, the United States had been a country which avoided entangling itself in foreign wars prior to Wilson (Wars between rather than with foreign powers). Wilson action was thus treading new ground.
a- doing so when the war was more than half over, public opinion in the US had turned against neutrality due to unrestrictive U-boat warfare, and the nation's banking system had heavily invested in France and Great Britain's war effort.
instituted the Federal Income Tax.
a. The federal government had adopted an income tax in the 1890s, but that tax had been struck down by the Supreme Court in the case of Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. before taking effect.
Started the Federal Reserve Bank.
a. Reincarnation of the Bank of the United States, the first national bank chartered by Congress which was discontinued after criticism from Liberals.
Initiated the Federal Trade Commission
a. an institution dedicated to increasing trade, which reduced tariffs under Wilson
- He supported raising wages of railroad workers when they threatened a nationwide strike in 1916 as well as the 8 hour work day for certain vocations including rail road workers.
- Objected to the Treaty of Versailles as too harsh on Germany - but lobbied the Senate to ratify the treaty.
- Championed the League of Nations, the fore runner of the United Nations an organization the United States never joined.
- Wilson was an southern evangelical, typically not associated with liberalism.
- Wilson inherited a desegregated civil service and segregated it.
When Woodrow Wilson Segregated the Federal Workforce
Here’s how William Keylor, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, describes the atmosphere in government when Wilson took office in 1913:
Washington was a rigidly segregated town--except for federal government agencies. They had been integrated during the post-war Reconstruction period, enabling African Americans to obtain federal jobs and work side by side with whites in government agencies. Wilson promptly authorized members of his cabinet to reverse this long-standing policy of racial integration in the federal civil service.
- Wilson was personal friends with Thomas Dixon Jr., the author of the book Clansman, which the Movie Birth of a Nation was based upon.
- Wilson generally thought the Klan was a positive organization. This Quote from Woodrow Wilson appears in the film, which Wilson hosted a special screening of at the White House.
- Wilson won the presidency in 1912, with the conservative vote, the liberal Republican vote being split by Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
- Wilson revised antitrust-laws ending what was a Teddy Roosevelt policy of "trust-busting".
- Wilson Ran for office in 1912 on a States Rights Platform in opposition to progressive candidate Teddy Roosevelt's policy.
Wilson's New Freedom Program Wilson's position in 1912 stood in opposition to Progressive party candidate Theodore Roosevelt's ideas of New Nationalism, particularly on the issue of antitrust modification. According to Wilson, "If America is not to have free enterprise, he can have freedom of no sort whatever." In presenting his policy, Wilson warned that New Nationalism represented collectivism,
- When Wilson ran for Gov of NJ in 1910, it was Conservative Democrats who recruited him and supported him not Liberals
In 1912 the progressive or liberal agenda included:
Tariff reform, - Wilson passed Tariff reform which lowered tariffs for the first time since the civil war.
Women’s suffrage, - Luke warm support for woman suffrage for first 7 years of his presidency, until violent demonstrations at the Whitehouse prompted him to speak out.
Woodrow Wilson and the Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reflection.
In 1917, suffragist picketed outside of the White House demanding Wilson’s support extend beyond what they deemed as mere lip service for the cause. While at first largely peaceful, the protests later turned violent resulting in the detention of several women who then protested their incarceration with hunger strikes. Wilson was appalled when he discovered that many of these women were being force fed in the prison and finally stepped in toward the fight for women’s enfranchisement, finally joining his daughter, leading suffragist Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre.
- Prohibition of child labor, Wilson signed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act(1916), went in effect Sept 1, 1817 his seventh year in office, and it was repealed by Supreme Court 9 months latter.
Keating Owen Act(1916) sought to address child labor by prohibiting the sale in interstate commerce of goods produced by factories that employed children under fourteen, mines that employed children younger than sixteen, and any facility where children under fourteen worked after 7:00 p.m. or before 6:00 a.m. or more than eight hours daily.... went into effect September 1, 1917. However, nine months later, in Hammer v. Dagenhart, 247 U.S. 251 (1918),6 it was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States
- Pollock v. Farmers' Loan and Trust Company
- Woodrow Wilson and the Women's Suffrage Movement
- Woodrow Wilson
- Keating Owen Act(1916)
- When Woodrow Wilson Segregated the Federal Workforce
- African Americans and the War
- The Life and Presidency of Woodrow Wilson
- New Freedom Program
- Woodrow Wilson and the Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reflection