Woodrow Wilson’s America 100 Years Ago

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American Suffragettes lobbied at the Capitol building in 1913. Library of Congress photo, 1913. No rights or restrictions in use.

American Suffragettes lobbying at the Capitol building in 1913. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On the world stage, the United States was an imperialist power. Directly and indirectly, the spheres of influence included the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Conquering the Philippines came as a result of the Spanish American War and enhanced the career of William Howard Taft who had served as governor of the territory followed by an appointment to Teddy Roosevelt’s Cabinet.

From the War Department, Taft’s next career move was as President. He golfed, ate out of frustration – according to several historians – and worked with the Congress to achieve reforms Progressive legislators deemed paltry while appeasing the money interests.

Reforms and Issues Facing Wilson

But it was Wilson, beginning in 1913, who personally spearheaded reforms like the Federal Reserve and tariff reform. A “brilliant historian and political theorist,” according to Constitutional scholar Alfred Kelly, Wilson modeled his executive leadership more on the British parliamentary system, going to the Congress himself to push through “administration” bills. When lobbying interests opposed him, he took his case directly to the people.

Wilson was, at heart, a schoolmaster, the Princeton professor immersed in research and lecturing. He was conservative by contemporary standards, religiously moral, and an idealist. He supported Prohibition yet fought tenaciously for a new world order at the end of World War I, including the creation of the League of Nations. It was this man, who began every Cabinet meeting with prayer, that rose to lead the nation in 1913.

The “big money trusts,” however, controlled practically every aspect of business and finance. The Federal Reserve Act, crafted by Wilson and Representative Carter Glass of Virginia, was originally conceived on Jekyll Island, Georgia – the “millionaires retreat,” by Senator Nelson W. Aldrich and a small group of bankers.

The Congressional “Pujo Committee,” after months of hearings and interviews, determined that, “In all, 341 directorships in a hundred and twelve corporations [had] aggregate resources of $22,245,000,000.” (Virginia Cowles, 1967). The wealthiest and most powerful man was J.P. Morgan. Morgan’s vast holdings included the British White Star Line which included the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Morgan missed the maiden voyage; his stateroom remained empty.

America in 1913 was both patriotic and religious. Wilson was a conservative Presbyterian. His Secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, was a fundamentalist who would defend creationism in the Scopes Trial in 1925 Tennessee. In 1913, evangelist Billy Sunday was still drawing large crowds to his revivalist meetings where he preached against the sin of alcohol consumption. Yet, according to writer Bob Frost, Sunday earned more in one day than an average American family earned annually.

© Copyright 2013 Michael Streich, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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