The New Freedom

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The New Freedom has two meanings. The first comprises the campaign speeches and promises of Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential campaign; it called for limited government. the second meaning, the more common, comprises the Progressive programs enacted by Wilson as president during his first term (1913-1916), when the Democrats controlled Congress. Wartime policies are not generally considered part of the New Freedom; and after the 1918 elections the Republicans took control of Congress, and were generally hostile to the New Freedom. As President, Wilson focused on three types of reform:[1]

1. Tariff Reform:[1] This came through the passage of the Underwood Tariff Act of 1913,[1] which lowered tariffs for the first time since 1857 and went against the protectionist lobby.[1]

2. Business Reform:[1] This was established in 1914 through the passage of the Federal Trade Act, which established the Federal Trade Commission to investigate and halt unfair and illegal business practices by issuing "cease and desist" orders,[1] and the Clayton Anti-Trust Act.

3. Banking Reform: This came in 1913, through the creation of the Federal Reserve System, and in 1916, through the passage of the Federal Farm Loan Act,[1] which set up Farm Loan Banks to support farmers.[1]

Campaign slogan in 1912[edit]

Wilson's position in 1912 stood in opposition to Progressive party candidate Theodore Roosevelt's ideas of New Nationalism, particularly on the issue of antitrust modification. According to Wilson, "If America is not to have free enterprise, he can have freedom of no sort whatever." In presenting his policy, Wilson warned that New Nationalism represented collectivism, while New Freedom stood for political and economic liberty from such things as trusts (powerful monopolies).[citation needed] Wilson was strongly influenced by his chief economic advisor Louis D. Brandeis, an enemy of big business and monopoly.[2]

Although Wilson and Roosevelt agreed that economic power was being abused by trusts, Wilson ideas split with Roosevelt on how the government should handle the restraint of private power as in dismantling corporations that had too much economic power in a large society.

Wilson in office[edit]

Once elected, Wilson seemed to abandon his "New Freedom" and adopted policies that were more similar to those of Roosevelt's New Nationalism, such as the Federal Reserve System. Wilson appointed Brandeis to the US Supreme Court in 1916. He worked with Congress to give federal employees worker's compensation, outlawed child labor with the Keating-Owen Act (though this act was ruled unconstitutional in 1918) and passed the Adamson Act, which secured a maximum eight-hour workday for railroad employees. Most important was the Clayton Act of 1914, which largely put the trust issue to rest by spelling out the specific unfair practices that business were not allowed to engage in.[3]

By the end of the Wilson Administration, a significant amount of progressive legislation had been passed, affecting not only economic and constitutional affairs, but farmers, labor, veterans, the environment, and conservation as well. The reform agenda of the New Freedom, however, did not extend as far as Theodore Roosevelt's proposed New Nationalism in relation to the latter's calls for a standard 40-hour work week, minimum wage laws, and a federal system of social insurance. This was arguably a reflection of Wilson's own ideological convictions, who according to Herbert Hoover adhered to the classical liberal principles of Jeffersonian Democracy[4] (although Wilson did champion reforms such as agricultural credits later in his presidency, and called for a living wage in his last State of the Union Address). Despite this, the New Freedom did much to extend the power of the federal government in social and economic affairs, and arguably paved the way for future reform programs such as the New Deal and the Great Society.

Legislation and programs[edit]


  • The 1914 Smith-Lever Act tied vocational education in home economics and agriculture to the land-grant college system. It also led to the support of the federal government to support farm cooperatives, bringing about a system of country agents to assist farmers in conducting more efficient and scientific stock-raising and crop-growing.[5]
  • The Cotton Warehouse Act (1914) authorized the federal government to license warehouses. The intention of this legislation was to ensure that the better handling of crops “would make warehouse receipts more readily acceptable by banks as collateral for loans.”[6]
  • The Agricultural Extension Act (1914) authorized federal grants-in-aid to the state agricultural colleges for the purpose of supporting a program of extension work in farm areas.[6]
  • The Federal Farm Loan Act of 1916 provided federal credit to small farmers via cooperatives.[5]
  • The Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act extended the Smith-Lever provisions of 1914 and supported teacher training and other instruction in industrial occupations, home economics, and agriculture.[5]
  • The Warehouse Act of 1916.
  • The Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916.
  • The Grain Standards Act of 1916 mandated the grading and inspection of grains under federal license.[7]


  • The LaFollette-Peters Act (1914) mandated an eight-hour workday for most women workers in the District of Columbia.[8]
  • The Seamen's Act of 1915 aimed to protect merchant seamen. It outlawed their exploitation by officers and ship owners by practices such as indefinite hours, inadequate food, poor wages, and abandonment in overseas ports with back pay owing.[5]
  • The Adamson Act gave railroad workers on interstate runs an eight-hour workday.[5]
  • The Clayton Act strengthened anti-trust regulation while exempting agricultural cooperatives and labor unions, thus putting an end to the court’s habitual rulings that boycotts and strikes were “in restraint of trade.”[5]
  • A Department of Labor was established (1913), designed to promote the welfare of workers through improving conditions of work, tracking changes in employment-related economic factors, and safeguarding benefits.[9]
  • The Workingmen's Compensation Act (Kern–McGillicuddy Act).
  • The Keating-Owen Act
  • The Kern Resolution of 1913.
  • The Saboth Act of 1913.
  • The Newlands Labor Act of 1913.
  • The Federal Boiler Inspection Act of 1915.
  • The Occupancy Permits Act of 1915.
  • The Fraudulent Advertising Act of 1916.

Health and Welfare[edit]

  • The Cutter Service Act of 1914.
  • The Federal Aid Road Act of 1916.
  • The Rural Post "Good" Roads Act of 1916.
  • The Sundry Civil Appropriations Act authorized $200,000 for the newly formed Division of Scientific Research for the United States Public Health Service.[10]
  • An Act was passed (1916) authorizing hospital and medical services to government employees injured at work.[11]
  • An anti-narcotics law was passed (1914).[12]
  • A cooperative Federal-State program of cash grants for public health services was established (1917).[13]


Environment and public works[edit]



In 1910 Woodrow Wilson's book The New Freedom was released, detailing his thoughts about the concepts and program.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Woodrow Wilson, The Progressive. Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  2. ^ By: Strum, Philippa Strum, "Louis D. Brandeis, the New Freedom and the State," Mid America, 1987, Vol. 69#3 pp 105-124
  3. ^ Link,Woodrow Wilson and the Progressive Era p 69-72
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Progressivism by Walter Nugent
  6. ^ a b Encyclopedia of South Carolina By Somerset Publishers, Staff, Editorial
  7. ^ Roots of reform: farmers, workers, and the American state, 1877-1917 by Elizabeth Sanders
  8. ^
  9. ^ The American economy: a historical encyclopedia by Cynthia Clark Northrup
  10. ^ The Mosquito Crusades: A History Of The American Anti-Mosquito Movement From The Reed Commission To The First Earth Day by Gordon Patterson
  11. ^ Public health reports United States. Public Health Service, United States. Marine Hospital Service, 1926
  12. ^ The National government and public health by James Alner Tobey
  13. ^ Social Security History. (1923-03-05). Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  14. ^ Time-Life Books, Library of Nations: United States, Sixth European English language printing, 1989

Further reading[edit]

  • Chace, James. 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs--The Election that Changed the Country (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Flehinger, Brett, ed. The 1912 Election and the Power of Progressivism: A Brief History with Documents (2002)
  • Gould, Lewis L. Four Hats in the Ring: The 1912 Election and the Birth of Modern American Politics (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Grantham, Dewey W. "Southern congressional leaders and the new freedom, 1913-1917." The Journal of Southern History (1947) 13#4 pp: 439-459. in JSTOR
  • Link, Arthur S. Woodrow Wilson and the progressive era, 1910-1917 (1954)
  • Link, Arthur S. "The South and the" New Freedom": An Interpretation." The American Scholar (1951): 314-324. in JSTOR
  • Link, Arthur Stanley. Wilson: The Road to the White House (1947); Wilson: The New Freedom (1956); Wilson: Campaigns for progressivism and peace, 1916-1917 (1965)
  • Walworth, Arthur. Woodrow Wilson 2 Vol. (1958), Pulitzer prize winning biography.
  • Wilson, Woodrow. The New Freedom, A Call For the Emancipation of the Generous Energies of a People, (1913).

External links[edit]