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American Experience - Woodrow Wilson
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Wilson - A Portrait
Woodrow Wilson
Ellen Axson Wilson
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Wilson - A PortraitMajor Legislative Victories

Wilson's performance as President between 1912 and 1914 is ÷ brilliant. John Morton Blum, Historian 

Woodrow Wilson settled into his new job as president with a deep sense of mission. His domestic program, called the New Freedom, sought to extend opportunity to all, and wrest power away from entrenched interests.

Wilson signing legislation

Tariffs Reduced
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The Democrats carried majorities in both houses of Congress, and many newly elected rank-and-file lawmakers were eager to gain favor with Wilson by supporting his agenda. Party leaders, controlling powerful committee chairs after many terms in the minority, were also willing to give the president much of what he wanted. Wilson exerted his power boldly-more than any chief executive had done before-by drawing from his strengths as orator, educator and political scholar. He cast complex legislation in moral and uplifting terms. He often conferred with party leaders, to find and build consensus. He participated actively in drafting the details of proposed legislation.

Income Tax
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Wilson speaking before CongressThe first two years of Wilson's first term÷ saw more reform agenda accomplished in that brief moment than in virtually any other two year period in the 20th Century. David M. Kennedy, Historian

Most dramatically, Wilson journeyed more often to Capitol Hill than any president had before. To inaugurate his unprecedented legislative effort, he broke with 113 years of tradition by personally addressing a joint session of Congress, drafting his speech himself on a newfangled machine -- the typewriter. But Wilson didn't stop there. The day after his historic congressional address, Wilson lobbied legislators from the Capitol's rarely used President's Room. He also found useful operatives in political aides drawn from the Democratic Party's various blocs. These aides provided conduits through which Wilson received counsel and compelled discipline. His first two years produced some of the most enduring reform in history, including the establishment of the Federal Reserve and passage of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act.
Nearly all who came to see him were struck by the president's deep sense of mission. When the chairman of the Democratic Party came to demand a job in return for helping Wilson win the presidency, Wilson told him that it was not the Democratic Party, but God, who had made him president.

Federal Reserve
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Woodrow Wilson

Wilson was fortunate that in his early days in office there was little organized opposition to his plans for change. Yet although Wilson accomplished many major legislative goals during his first two years in office, events appeared to stall continued reform. Political opposition strengthened when the newly reunified Republican Party eroded Democratic control of Congress at the midterm elections in 1914. Enthusiasm for reform was inhibited more by the onset of an economic recession, which triggered pro-business legislation as a means of revitalizing the economy. It seemed Wilson's political future was dependent upon a move to the right.




Wilson signing legislation

Looking ahead to re-election, however, Wilson calculated that further reform was the only politically viable means to capture a second term. Wilson saw as his best course a consolidation of his support among Democratic Party progressives and those of the former Progressive Party. Political realities dovetailed with his own convictions to produce a legislative agenda attractive to social reformers, farmers and labor. In a second flurry of legislative productivity, Wilson championed some of his more far-reaching, previously shelved reforms, including the Nineteenth Amendment extending suffrage to women.

Legislation During the Wilson Administration


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