The Progressive era illustrates the ineffectiveness of American society and government in dealing with issues of control over industrial capitalism. In Europe, the working classes pushed through effective controls of capitalist excesses. In America, however, the racist white working class (which saw itself as part of the middle class) never adequately supported measures to limit the excessive powers of industrialists. This failure of the American labor movement is little acknowledged by either white liberal or radical scholars. In part, this blindness is the result of both racism and simplified Marxism.

The defeat of the South in the Civil War cleared the way for the dominance of industrialism in the entire nation. With the race issue conveniently swept under the southern rug, the major political issue of the post-Civil War era was what to do about the increasing concentration of industrial ownership. By 1909, 1 percent of the total industrial firms produced 44 percent of the manufactured goods (Mowry 1958:7-11). Perhaps the best-known example of the trend was that of financier J.P. Morgan, who purchased some of John D. Rockefeller's iron mines and Andrew Carnegie's entire steel business. In February 1901 the financier combined the two into the U. S. Steel Corporation. The entire business cost $1 billion, a first in American industrial history.

The idea of Social Lamarckianism both justified and blessed this concentration (see Goldman 1955). As the concentration proceeded apace, however, it threatened the nation's entire democracy, for corporations could virtually buy any favorable legislation they wanted. The situation had to be corrected. Searching for solutions, there were a number of false starts. A more effective answer to the problem of the concentration of wealth and political corruption would not come until followers of the Progressive movement came to power.


Civil Service Reform

What was the response in America to the growing corruption of the political process? One response was to expose the situation to a wider public. Journalists such as Thomas Nast worked to bring New York City's corrupt Tweed Ring to justice. Another proposed remedy was civil service reform. The main debates in the presidential election campaigns in the early post-Civil War years largely revolved around this issue.

One man who worked for civil service reform was newspaper editor Horace Greeley of New York City. Greeley did not share the great enthusiasm that swept Ulysses S. Grant into the presidency in the 1868 election. And when the new president supported the more conservative faction in New York Republican politics, Greeley bolted from the party he had helped found. While Greeley distanced himself from the Republican party, a similar revolt swept Missouri in 1870, giving birth to the Liberal Republican movement. One of their chief concerns was civil service reform, which they saw as a means of limiting political corruption. The liberals held a national convention in Cincinnati in 1872 and nominated Greeley as their presidential candidate. The Democrats also accepted Greeley as their candidate, knowing this was their only hope of defeating Grant.

The election campaign was so nasty that Greeley wondered at times if he was running for the presidency or the penitentiary. The cartoons of Thomas Nast were especially hurtful. To make a long story short, Grant easily won the election. Terribly exhausted by the campaign, the death of his wife, and the loss of his power on his newspaper, Greeley died shortly after the election.

An Honest Man

Related to the search for civil service reform was the search for an "honest" man to throw the rascals out. Americans had given the majority of their votes to such a man in the presidential election of 1876. Their choice was Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, who had fought many legal battles against Boss Tweed of New York City. But, as mentioned previously, election fraud gave the victory to Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes worked to combat some of the more corrupt aspects of the former Grant administration, even pushing for civil service reform. Partly because of this, the professional politicians did not like him. In turn, Hayes did not like being president and chose not to run for a second term.

A liberal Republican dark horse, James A. Garfield, won the presidential election in 1880, but he was soon assassinated by a disappointed office seeker. Vice-President Chester A. Arthur assumed the presidency. Arthur had become vice-president because he was a favorite of New Yorker Roscoe Conkling's Republican machine. But Arthur proved to be a big disappointment to machine politicians, for he became somewhat of a reformer. One of the more important measures passed under the new president was the 1883 civil service reform sponsored by George Pendleton. This law set up a Civil Service Commission, required open competitive examinations for all appointments, and forbade the payment of money by civil service appointees to the federal officials who hired them.

Arthur proved too much of a reformer for the Republican conservatives, known as Stalwarts, and not enough of a reformer for the Republican reformers, known as Half-Breeds. The Stalwarts succeeded in getting their man, James G. Blaine, nominated as the presidential candidate. But Blaine was a man with a very shady past. This was the last straw for liberal Republicans, known as Mugwumps, and they proclaimed that they would support the Democratic candidate if the party came up with a decent man.

And find a decent man the Democrats did. In fact, the single outstanding feature of Grover Cleveland was his integrity. This former mayor of Buffalo had been chosen governor of New York largely because of this trait, and fortunately for him, the nation was looking for an "honest" man in 1884.

Cleveland received the Democratic nomination for the presidency again in 1888, but lost to Benjamin Harrison. The main campaign issue was that of tariffs, with Cleveland supporting lower rates. The Democratic party again turned to Cleveland for the 1892 election. This time he defeated Harrison in a dull contest with no new issues. Cleveland's second term in office was a miserable one. The depression of 1893 wreaked havoc on the economy and on his plans. He refused to intervene, believing the economy would right itself in time. This inactivity and the continued sufferings of the people made the president extremely unpopular, and he in turn eagerly awaited the end of his term. As seen by Cleveland's example, it would take more than simple honesty to provide an effective answer to political corruption (see Tugwell 1968 for a good criticism of the inadequacies of Cleveland's conservative approach.)


We have already discussed the failure of the populist approach in dealing with the establishment of Jim Crow in the South.


The socialist movement wanted government to play a much stronger role in the direction of the economy, some even preferring a centrally controlled, planned system. Socialism, like populism, was an occupationally specific movement, tied to the growth of blue-collar occupations. And, like populism, its occupational base dwindled considerably over time.

Socialism in America never had the success that populism enjoyed. The hostility of religious (and racist) America to any brand of socialism, combined with the country's great wealth, made it extremely difficult for any such movement to thrive here. This atmosphere also forced the American labor movement to be very cautious in its actions. The greatest success for the socialists came in the 1912 election when candidate Eugene Debs received over a million votes.

There were several groups pushing for more equality in the nation. Among these groups were the feminists, the "antimonopoly" movement (especially strong in the West), and the labor movement. As these movements pushed for more equality for themselves, more and more Americans came to feel threatened socially (see Foner 1988:479- 480 and Montgomery 1967). They especially felt that labor threatened the capitalist structure of the nation. (Racism also infected those white groups pushing for greater equality. For instance, all across the country, nearly all unions barred blacks from membership. White labor, not wishing to cooperate with blacks, forced the creation of separate black and white labor organizations.) In addition to antilabor sentiment, many southerners felt that if white women received the vote, it would strengthen the claim of black women and, later, black men for the vote.

President William McKinley

All the attempts to improve American government and move it out of the clutches of big money were not successful. This is apparent with the election of Congressman William McKinley of Ohio to the presidency. Whereas Grover Cleveland was an honest man, McKinley was a man of the party machine, groomed by Ohio big businessman Marcus Alonzo Hanna.

McKinley won the election of 1896 against populist William Jennings Bryan. The new president supported the Dingley tariff of 1897, which blatantly favored the monopolists. Seeking a diversion, the Republicans turned their attentions to the Cuban revolution against Spain. The United States began the Spanish-American War soon after the explosion in February 1898 that destroyed the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor. Spain asked for terms by the end of July of the same year. Victory in war and continued prosperity at home led to McKinley's reelection in 1900, but the president would be dead in less than a year.


Given the great wealth in the nation, businessmen were able to corrupt the political process in general and Congress in particular. President McKinley's elections are just one instance of the overinfluence of business on the American political scene. One could not expect much reform leadership from such a business-dominated institution.

The primary role of the Supreme Court in the post-Civil War period was in supporting the business corporation. Bernard Schwartz (1974:117) in The American Heritage History of the Law in America refers to the years from 1860 to 1910 as the laissez-faire period when the courts provided constitutional support for laissez-faire capitalism. An influential book providing the justification for this approach was that of a professor of law at the University of Michigan, Thomas M. Cooley. In Constitutional Limitation he turned the Fourteenth Amendment, designed to protect individuals (especially blacks), into "a virtual Magna Carta for business." Under ideas such as Cooley's, the courts defined the corporation as a "person." Cooley also showed the courts how they could use the due process clause of the Constitution to strike down any law felt to interfere with business operations.

Compounding Cooley's narrowness of vision, the courts adopted the Social Lamarckian ideas of the English social philosopher Herbert Spencer. Legal Lamarckianism became the order of the day, and judges found themselves using the Fourteenth Amendment as an instrument to ensure the survival of the fittest (usually the businessman). The age became the heyday of property rights (Schwartz 1974:159). Also contributing to the poor performance of the Supreme Court in this age were mediocre chief justices: Salmon P. Chase (1864-1873), who tried to use his position as a steppingstone to the presidency; Morrison R. Waite (1874-1888); and Melville W. Fuller (1888-1910).

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court used the due process test to block state attempts to pass protective legislation for the individual. The Court invalidated statutes regulating hours of labor, prohibiting child labor, guaranteeing minimum wages, barring "yellow-dog" contracts (that said when a worker was hired he or she could not join a union), or restraining the ability of business to use injunctions against striking laborers. As in the previous two cycles of increasing equality, the Court was out of step, reflecting a past period rather than the current one.

In the area of race relations the Supreme Court contributed to the misery of blacks. The 1896 decision in Plessy v. Ferguson legally sanctioned separate facilities. This did a great deal to accelerate the passage of Jim Crow laws in the South.

The situation for blacks in the North deteriorated. The most important reason for the increase in biological racism and racial conflict in the North was that blacks had increasingly migrated from the South to northern urban centers (Wilson 1973:105). Once in the North, blacks lost out in the economic struggle as employers preferred to hire among the massive wave of white immigrants. Northern laws became increasingly restrictive regarding civil rights. Racism even found a voice in northern magazines and the biological and social sciences (see Wilson 1973:104-105). Biological racism retained its firm hold over American thought.


The incomplete solution to the threat to democracy posed by the vast concentration of wealth was found in the Progressive movement, which was largely a conservative movement with a liberal tinge. Progressives believed in the new industrial order, but realized that government had to take a more active role in regulating some of the more flagrant business abuses. Whereas populism concentrated on legislative corruption, Progressivism was more concerned with directly attacking the role of the corporations and seeing that government took a larger part in helping the average citizen. The farmers were not as interested in this as they focused more on protecting their own freedom to be let alone by a government corrupted by corporate interests.

Who were the proponents of Progressivism? They were people reacting against the age of corporate dominance. They were laborers, and some farmers, but also white-collar workers and small businessmen. The movement may have grown out of populism, especially its home in the Middle West, but it differed from populism in that it had a more industrial than agricultural focus.

It is important to stress the limited nature of the programs of the Progressives. The plan was to modify only slightly a poorly performing laissez-faire capitalism, rather than fundamentally change it into a more humane capitalism. The American labor movement has always been divided by racism, and this has denied the nation a solid source for progressive change. Whereas European nations had labor movements that moved their countries in the direction of progressive changes, America's labor movement has used its influence to gain wage concessions from employers. The American labor movement largely wanted to be more a part of the laissez-faire system, not change it. And become a part of it they did for, in present-day America the unions are able to use their organizational powers to increase the wage gap between union and nonunion workers. The laissez-faire system is not fundamentally altered by these maneuvers because corporations are able to pass on the high labor costs to the public in general.


Reform Lamarckianism arose to challenge Social Lamarckianism (see Goldman 1955). This idea system simply changed the stress of Spencerian Lamarckianism from survival of the fittest to the idea of the importance of evolutionary progress. Just as nature progressed toward higher forms, society would progress toward greater equality. Lester Ward in sociology, Henry George in politics, and John Dewey in philosophy were but a few of the outstanding spokesmen for this point of view. The new reform views sanctified the belief that the corporations had placed too many restrictions on the equality-of-opportunity structure. Therefore, the power of the corporations had to be limited to a small degree.

Progressivism was very compatible with American racism. Theodore Roosevelt himself had to accept and work within a racist context (Allen 1974:89-90). The story is the same for the southern racist Woodrow Wilson. Even the progressive social scientists, such as Lester Ward, Charles H. Cooley, and E. A. Ross, believed in the inherent inferiority of the dark races (Allen 1974:85).

Many black leaders joined the white socialist movement (Allen 1974:232). Included in the movement were W. E. B. Du Bois, Cyril V. Briggs, Chandler Owen, and A. Philip Randolph. Needless to say, they were just as ignored by the white middle class as were white socialists.

One sign of progress was the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (N.A.A.C.P.) in 1910. Du Bois and others had established the radical Niagara Movement in 1905 in response to the conservative leadership of Booker T. Washington. Whites borrowed many of these ideas when they called for the establishment of the N.A.A.C.P. Du Bois was the only black officer in the organization, but many liberal whites denounced the organization as one that would adopt the radical measures of the Niagara movement. The N.A.A.C.P. soon became the dominant and most effective black protest organization in the nation (Morris 1984:14).

Although white liberals established the N.A.A.C.P., it became a black parallel system to the liberal white system of power distribution. The N.A.A.C.P. was never a radical organization. It represented an expression of a class and regional division within the black population. In other words, primarily northern or northern educated blacks and the black professional class were the primary supporters of the N.A.A.C.P. It is in this sense an elitist organization. It is definitely not a supporter of mass movements, such as those that would have been favored by a Vernon Johns and a Martin Luther King, Jr. And in this sense, the black power distribution, Tuskegee, and the N.A.A.C.P, merely reflected the political continuum of the distribution of power among whites between conservatives and liberals. And, more importantly, neither the white or the black liberals were interested in radical chance. And that is true of the situation today.


The Progressive era started with the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and lasted through the presidencies of William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson.

President Theodore Roosevelt

Interestingly enough, it was not the Democrats who began to modify the system of corporate dominance, but the Republicans. Theodore Roosevelt came from a wealthy family, but he had a natural sympathy with the underdog. As police commissioner of New York City, he accompanied the photographer Jacob Riis, author of How the Other Half Lives, on his photographic tours of the city. The absolute squalor Roosevelt saw appalled him.

Roosevelt thought that government should take a more active role in regulating the giant industrial companies that had developed since the Civil War. In addition, he believed in strengthening the bargaining position of the lower income groups. Like most Americans, Roosevelt tended to see issues in terms of good and bad. And business was "bad" when it created trusts that overcharged customers. He did not fundamentally change the system, but asked that capitalism not destroy itself by completely eliminating competition. As a long-term solution, however, the ideas of Roosevelt were totally inadequate.

Roosevelt became president by an accident of history. He was vice-president under William McKinley when, on September 6, 1901, the anarchist Leon Czolgocz shot the president twice at close range during a reception in the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The president died eight days later. Roosevelt assumed the highest office of the land.

Although the nation had not voted for a Progressive president, they suddenly had one. Interestingly, the new president immediately incited controversy by inviting the black leader Booker T. Washington to the White House. In New Orleans, whites rioted to protest the black leader's visit, leaving thirty-four dead.

Roosevelt wanted to break up the Northern Securities Company, a railroad conglomerate formed by E.H. Harriman and J.P. Morgan. In March 1902 the nation's attorney general announced that the Sherman Anti-Trust Act would be enforced. Up to that time the act had been used primarily against labor unions, not corporations. Sounding more as if it came out of the New Deal era, the Newlands Reclamation Act, named for its sponsor, Representative Francis G. Newlands of Nevada, was signed by the president in June. It allowed the proceeds of western public land sales to be used for the construction of dams, reservoirs, canals, and other works necessary to irrigate arid tracts in the West.

The new president also showed his mettle in a long-drawn-out coal miners' strike, which had started in May 1902. The employers were determined not to give in to the miners. George Baer, president of Reading Iron & Coal, declared that striking coal workers must defer to "the Christian men to whom God has given . . . the property interest of this country." General Bobin ordered the militia to shoot if striking coal miners became hostile. The president told the employers that if arbitration failed to settle the dispute, troops from the U.S. Army would mine the coal. Frightened by the threat of "state socialism," the mine owners decided to abide by the decisions of a panel of arbitrators. The striking miners agreed to return to work. The Coal Strike Commission decided that the miners should have increased wages and shorter hours. It forbade strikes, but also lockouts. This was the first time that government had offered to intervene on the side of labor.

February 1903 was one of the most active months of the president's term. Congress passed the Expedition Act, giving antitrust cases priority in the courts. Next, Congress created the Department of Commerce and Labor to help foster long-term stability in the nation's economy, and a circuit court judge ruled against the beef trust. Then Congress passed the Elkins Act, which outlawed rail rebates on published freight rates, but stopped short of actual rate regulation.

The U.S. Supreme Court backed some of Roosevelt's actions against the corporations. In March 1904 the Court upheld the government's claim that the Northern Securities Company represented an illegal merger between the Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railway companies. The opinion, written by Justice Harlin, held that Congress had the right to control interstate commerce. In March 1906 the Court ruled that corporations must yield incriminating evidence in antitrust suits.

As the 1904 election approached, Roosevelt moderated his actions and rhetoric in order to make peace with the conservative wing of the Republican party. In fact, the Republican platform proved highly pleasing to conservatives, causing many of them to conclude that they had misjudged the president.

Reelected, Roosevelt turned again to Progressive programs and ideas. He spoke of the corporations having grown too powerful and the need for government intervention in the economy. Backing words with action, the president supported the Esch-Townsend bill that proposed setting rates for the railroads. The actual Hepburn rate bill that passed in June 1906 authorized the regulation of freight rates, but it was a compromise, pleasing neither the conservatives nor the progressives.

As the Midwest joined the West in backing Progressive reforms, Roosevelt responded with an increasing number of suits against corporations. In February 1905 Roosevelt ordered an inquiry into Standard Oil's business practices. Then in September the president started an official investigation of corruption in the insurance industry. Early the following year, the Armstrong report on mismanagement of insurance companies was presented to Congress. In April 1906 the president proposed an inheritance tax on large fortunes. In May he warned Congress that Standard Oil was in violation of antitrust laws. At a hearing of the Interstate Commerce Commission, witnesses testified that the company drove independent dealers out of business through price-cutting schemes and used bribes to obtain vital information from employees of the smaller, independent oil concerns. In June the president announced the opening of an antitrust suit against Standard Oil.

In October 1906 Roosevelt spoke at a dedication of the new state capitol in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. He warned against letting the country become "the civilization of a mere plutocracy, a banking- house, Wall Street-syndicate civilization." The following January, Congress outlawed direct corporate campaign contributions.

In January 1908 the president sent to Congress a message in which he criticized the nation's courts for their being all too willing to use the injunction against labor unions. He proposed workingmen's compensation, more power over rates for the Interstate Commerce Commission, and a method to control speculation in the stock market. This, of course, infuriated the conservative Republicans. As if to confirm Roosevelt's critical remarks about the courts, in February the Supreme Court ruled that union-sponsored boycotts were illegal, maintaining they were a violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act.

In addition to his antitrust actions, Roosevelt periodically tried to help the blacks, but no American president can do very much as their hands are tied by racism. At the 1904 Republican party convention he had a black man second his nomination. And in April 1908 he publicly announced an injunction requiring equal railway accommodations for blacks in the South.

As Roosevelt approached the end of his second term, he looked for a successor. Wanting someone who would continue his programs, he turned to his current vice-president, William Howard Taft, who had conscientiously carried out every progressive assignment given to him by the president. This proved to be a major mistake, for Taft eventually aligned himself with the reactionaries.

Roosevelt had faced considerable opposition from Congress. After all, he had become president through assassination, not election. The new president gained the office in a period of congressional dominance of national politics characterized by influential Speakers of the House. Speaker Joseph G. Cannon was a staunch conservative Republican from Illinois who did not share Roosevelt's ideas. A true reactionary, Cannon was so powerful that he almost controlled the House, appointing all its committee members. Cannon's reign did not end until 1910 when a coalition of Democrats and Progressive Republicans upset his rule.

The situation in the Senate was similar. Party bosses dominated. Of particular importance were Republican Senators William B. Allison of Iowa and Nelson W. Aldrich of Rhode Island and their fellow members of the School of Philosophy Club. Similar to the revolt against Congressman Cannon, western Republicans revolted against the Aldrich machine (Boinville 1982:237). The "Band of Six" (including Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin) led the revolt, but were unsuccessful in beating a tariff bill supported by Aldrich. Nevertheless, the Republicans suffered a setback in the 1910 congressional elections.

President William Howard Taft

Taft easily won the 1908 election. Both conservative and Progressive wings of the Republican party felt good about their choice. The conservatives saw him as conservative, while the Progressives saw him as one of their own.

Under Taft, the growing split within the Republican party increased. Taft was personally very likable, but once in office he asserted his basic conservatism. This time it was the Progressive Republicans who became infuriated, seeing Taft as a traitor to the cause. The growing split caused Taft one headache after another. For instance, the Progressives led a rebellion against Speaker Joseph G. Cannon. Taft supported Cannon, which further alienated Taft from the Progressive Republicans.

Yet the suits against monopolies pushed ahead. In February 1909 a government commission reported that six men controlled the tobacco industry. In June, Taft ordered an inquiry into the business practices of the sugar trust. The following June Congress passed the Mann-Elkins Act, allowing the Interstate Commerce Commission to prosecute railways and regulate freight rates.

Nevertheless, Roosevelt became convinced that Taft had betrayed his Progressive policies. When Roosevelt tried to help the administration in New York State, he found that Taft opposed him by cooperating with reactionary state bosses. Roosevelt became so disillusioned that he came out of retirement to work for Progressive programs and ideas. In August 1910 he began a trip through sixteen western states. He talked of the necessity of substantially increasing the power of the federal government. He spoke to his audiences of a New Nationalism and advocated a "square deal." This was an extremely radical program that anticipated the welfare state reforms of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Mowry (1958:144) wrote that this was probably the most radical program ever delivered by an ex-president.

The former president started an attack on the judiciary because he did not like what he viewed as the autocratic powers of the American court system. On several occasions the courts had not supported his programs. As a matter of fact, the courts started to build a barrier against social legislation. Roosevelt responded by declaring the Supreme Court a fundamental barrier to social justice. He especially singled out the Knight sugar case and the New York bakeshop case, claiming that the judiciary was more interested in property than human welfare. He said that public welfare was more important than profit, and corporations should be answerable to the public. He came out for graduated income and inheritance taxes, a comprehensive workingman's compensation act, laws to regulate the conditions and terms of child and female labor, a thoroughgoing revision of the tariff, and greatly increased power for the Bureau of Corporations and the Interstate Commerce Commission.

In January 1911 Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin announced the formation of the National Progressive Republican League. The principal goal of the league was to work for the nomination of a Progressive at the next Republican convention in 1912. One of the demands of the party was granted in April 1911 when the House of Representatives voted in favor of direct senatorial elections. (Previously, state legislatures chose members of the Senate.) The measure became law in June.

In June 1911 the New York courts held invalid a workingman's compensation act. This so infuriated Roosevelt that he said if he became president he would remove every man on the bench who had supported the decision. He described the courts as reactionary and determined to block all industrial, economic, and social reforms. Consequently, Roosevelt supported the idea of the recall of state judicial decisions. Interestingly, he was not as critical of the Supreme Court as of local and state courts. Conservatives became alarmed at this talk, but Roosevelt persisted in his criticisms, even though it cost him considerable support for the Republican nomination he so desired.

Robert La Follette withdrew from the presidential race due to illness, clearing the way for Roosevelt's attempt to win the presidential nomination. The former president was far more popular than Taft. In the thirteen states where Republicans could vote on a preferred candidate, Roosevelt swamped Taft. But Taft had the organization behind him and the outcome was a foregone conclusion. In June 1912 the Republican convention renominated President Taft. Supporters of the former president walked out of the convention. The dissidents then chose Roosevelt as their presidential candidate on an independent ticket. Roosevelt felt cheated out of the nomination and was eager to punish the transgressors. He said the new party's theme would be "Thou shalt not steal." In August the new Progressive party, also known as the Bull Moose party, chose Roosevelt as its candidate for president, thereby confirming the actions of the convention dissidents.

President Woodrow Wilson

Arthur Mann (1963) pointed out that all the candidates in the 1912 election (Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, and socialist Debs) were to the political left of every president between the Civil War and 1900. It certainly was a different era from the early years following the war between the states. It must be remembered, however, that this is a racist political continuum. Only Debs would have been considered liberal by European standards of the day.

Woodrow Wilson was the son of a southern Presbyterian minister and president of Princeton University. As a progressive governor of New Jersey he resisted the state bosses and pushed through a number of reforms: a direct primary system, corrupt practices legislation, workmen's compensation, and strict state control of railroads and public utilities.

Given southern domination of the Democratic party, it is amazing that Wilson ever got to be the presidential nominee. The leading candidate for the nomination had been Champ Clark of Missouri. But William Jennings Bryan and leaders in three states of the solid South distrusted Clark and worked to obstruct his nomination. After twenty ballots, his support started to wane. On the forty-sixth ballot, Wilson gained the nomination. Potter (1972) writes that for the third time in the history of the Democratic party, the South had used the two-thirds rule to block the nomination of a candidate after he had gained a convention majority. Obviously, the South had no idea how strong a president Wilson would prove to be.

Wilson won the 1912 election in spite of the fact that many Progressive votes went to Theodore Roosevelt, who ran a third- party campaign. Actually Wilson was more conservative than Roosevelt. While Roosevelt's New Nationalism was a precursor of the welfare state, Wilson supported a more conservative New Freedom. Roosevelt correctly saw that bigness in business was inevitable and economically beneficial. He just wanted to regulate business to maintain competition and to care for the laboring poor. Wilson, in contrast, while still a Progressive, had his eyes turned to the past. The new president saw large corporations as inefficient and a threat to social mobility. He actually wanted to return to an older, more competitive economy of small enterprise. He thought Roosevelt's program would lead to a paternalistic government that would corrupt freedom and liberty.

During his first term, Wilson applied his conservative version of Progressivism. As Arthur Link (1954) shows in his book on Wilson, between 1913 and 1916 the president often either obstructed or did not encourage the attainment of Progressive reforms. Wilson, for instance, said that he would give no help to labor beyond that which he would give to business interests. He especially opposed any social welfare legislation, originally even opposing a federal child labor law, believing it to be unconstitutional.

He did get many pieces of legislation through Congress, but many of the measures were so watered down that neither the Progressives, the populists, nor labor were happy. In fact, many of the bills were more progressive than Wilson had originally wanted, because the Progressive forces worked to make the legislation more favorable to their cause.

A son of the South, the president was especially harsh in the area of race relations. He believed in segregation and gave the approval of the federal government to the southern apartheid system.

One of Wilson's most lasting reforms (until challenged by the Reagan laissez-faire era) was that of the federal progressive income tax, which went into effect October 1913. This tax made it impossible for most of even the wealthiest citizens to maintain mansions like those found in Newport, Rhode Island, and along Long Island's Gold Coast.

Wilson changed in a more liberal direction while he was in office. He worked hard and was an activist president. He formulated a complete legislative program and cooperated with committee chairmen to get it through Congress. One advantage that Wilson had that was not available to Roosevelt was that Wilson's party had a majority of seventy-three in the House during the critical first two years of his administration. Many of the new Democratic members were new and inexperienced, and Wilson easily took a leadership role. In addition, in the Senate many Progressives were anxious to aid the administration. Wilson got the Democratic Congress to pass the Federal Reserve Act, which created twelve Federal Reserve banks to serve as depositories of 213 member banks; the Clayton amendment to the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which granted labor the right to strike and picket, exempted unions from antitrust prosecution, and restricted the powers of the courts to grant injunctions in labor disputes; and La Follette's Seamen's bill, designed to free American sailors from the bondage of their contracts and to strengthen maritime safety requirements. In September 1916 Congress activated a Workmen's Compensation Act encompassing half a million federal employees and created an interstate trade commission.

Wilson gradually came to feel that the Clayton bill and the weak interstate trade commission did not offer an effective way to influence American business. As an alternative, the president supported the Federal Trade Commission Bill, which outlawed unfair trade practices and established a trade commission endowed with plenary authority to oversee business activity and, by the issuance of cease and desist orders, to prevent the illegal suppression of competition. But this attempt at regulation was chiefly meant to be friendly to business.

As the election of 1916 approached, Wilson suddenly became more of a Progressive president in the Roosevelt tradition. Link (1954:224) says that Wilson realized that he needed to capture a large number of former Progressives in order to win the election. So the president set about to show that he could use his office to reform government. The administration passed the Kern-McGillicuddy bill, a model workmen's compensation measure for federal employees, and the Keating-Owen Child Labor bill (barring items made by child labor from interstate trade). Wilson's rebirth was so complete that by the fall of 1916 the Democratic congressional majority had enacted almost every important plank in the Progressive platform of 1912. The actual election witnessed an almost perfect alignment of Progressives and conservatives into two opposing camps. Wilson won reelection.

Wilson had worked closely with the Democratic leadership in both houses. This enabled him to pass four major pieces of legislation: the Underwood Tariff, Federal Reserve, Clayton Anti-trust, and Federal Trade Commission acts. Nevertheless, the president's own party opposed him on foreign policy issues during the first term (Boinville 1982:130). During World War I, Wilson had almost dictatorial powers over Congress. By his second term, however, party unity had fractured completely. Nevertheless, Wilson's reforms had not ended, for he was a key party to the extension of the vote to women.


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