Domestic Legislation under Wilson

Woodrow Wilson’s call for a New Freedom during the presidential campaign of 1912 focused attention on three major issues: tariff reform, banking and monetary reform, and antitrust legislation. Significant victories were scored on these fronts in 1913 and 1914, but the outbreak of fighting in Europe shifted attention to other matters.

Later, as he faced reelection in 1916, Wilson worried that a reunited Republican Party might be able to mount a serious challenge to his leadership. The incumbent sought therefore to attract progressive elements in both parties by backing legislative solutions to farmers’ credit problems, child labor abuses and labor issues.

A measure not sponsored by the Wilson administration, but clearly in step with progressive legislation, was Robert M. La Follette’s Seamen’s Act of 1915, which was designed to improve working conditions for merchant mariners.

During Wilson’s two terms, three new constitutional amendments were ratified by the states:

  • Seventeenth Amendment. Wilson supported the direct election of U.S. Senators as a means of lessening the power of state political machines.
  • Eighteenth Amendment. The president indicated support for prohibition and faithfully abided by its provisons in the public areas of the White House, but not in the personal quarters.
  • Nineteenth Amendment. Wilson gave only half-hearted backing to women’s suffrage; he harbored doubts about women's political judgments and abilities.