(The UNITED STATES to 1914 – continued)

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The UNITED STATES to 1914 (10 of 11)

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Taft Out, Woodrow Wilson In

In 1912 the Republican Party remained divided between those friendly with big business and big money and the progressives led by Theodore Roosevelt, still a force in the Party. President Taft was attentive to the law and had launched numerous anti-trust suits, but his cabinet choices were almost never progressives, and he was more friendly with business where the law allowed him to be. Taft appeared and his followers were more sympathetic with employers in their struggle with organized labor, and Taft annoyed Roosevelt and progressives by firing the conservationist Secretary of the Interior leftover from the Roosevelt administration and putting in his place Richard Ballinger, considered by progressives to be in league with big timber interests.

During the national convention in June, Roosevelt tried to block Taft's renomination, but failed. He then launched a third party and became its presidential candidate. In November, Roosevelt won 27.4 percent of the popular vote, Taft 23.2 percent – a combined total of 50.6 percent. The Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, won with a mere 41.8 percent but with 435 electoral votes compared to 88 for Roosevelt and 8 for Taft.

The Socialist Party candidate, Eugene Debs, more than tripled the vote he received in 2008, to 6 percent. But the Socialist Party lost its one seat in the House of Representatives.

The Democrats gained 5 seats in the Senate, leaving them 51 seats compared to 44 for the Republicans. Roosevelt's progressives gained but one Senate seat. Socialism as an idea had little support in the United States.

The Democrats gained 61 seats in the House of Representatives, leaving them with 290 seats compared to 134 for the Republicans.

The Wilson Presidency

In January, 1913, recession returned to continue into the Wilson presidency all the way to December 1914, according to Wikipedia with a drop of 19.8 percent in "trade and industrial activity."

On February 2, 1913, the 36th state, Delaware, ratified the 16th Amendment to the Constitution, and it became law. Florida, Pennsylvania, Connecticut. Rhode Island, Utah and Virginia did not ratify.

As for the new president, Woodrow Wilson, he had an academic background with a PhD in political science. He had been president of Princeton University from 1902 to 1910 and then governor of New Jersey, benefiting there from the same split among the Republicans that helped him win the presidency. Wikipedia describes Wilson as "a Presbyterian of deep religious faith," and "a virtuoso and a spellbinder during a time when the American people admired oratory above all other political skills." But as a spellbinder he tried appealing to men's intellect and, writes Wikipedia, "only infrequently to their passions." The historian Samuel Eliot Morison was to write that "Wilson lacked the common touch and loved humanity in the abstract rather than people in particular." note4

Wilson took office on March 4, and in his inaugural speech that day Wilson said:

There has been a change in government... Our duty is to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore, to correct the evil without impairing the good, to purify and humanize every process of our common life without weakening or sentimentalizing it... The Nation has been deeply stirred, stirred by a solemn passion, stirred by the knowledge of wrong, of ideals lost, of government too often debauched and made an instrument of evil.

On March 15, he held the first modern presidential press conference. In October, winning against the protectionist lobby, he got the tariff reform he wanted: the passage of the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913, which lowered tariffs for the first time since the American Civil War. He saw free trade and competition as benefitting everyone and tariffs as the small-minded view of "what's good for me is best."

Congress created the Federal Reserve Act, creating the Federal Reserve System, and Wilson signed it into law in December, 1913. It was seen as providing more stability to financial transactions, an extension of government's response to the Panic of 1907, the Aldrich-Vreeland Act and the National Monetary Commission created during the Taft years. A PBS documentary writes:

The banking system was put under governmental supervision, loosening Wall Street's grip on the nation's finances. This act is considered Wilson's most significant accomplishment. note5

Copyright © 2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.