The New Freedom

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The New Freedom comprises the campaign speeches and promises of Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential campaign. They constituted the reforms promoted by Wilson. They called for less government, but in practice as president he added new controls such as the Federal Reserve System and the Clayton Antitrust Act. More generally the "New Freedom" is associated with Wilson's first term as president (1913-1917). 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 the American Civil War 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 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 National War Labor Board was established,[8] which improved working conditions in factories by insisting on an eight-hour workday, no child labor, and better safety conditions.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • The Women's Bureau Act of 1920 established a Women’s Bureau to “formulate standards and policies which shall promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment.”[11]
  • A Child Labor Tax Law (1919) assessed a 10% tax on the net profits of factories and mines employing children “to offset any competitive advantage employers thereby gained. The legislation introduced a minimum age of 14 for workers in most jobs, and of 16 for mining and night work. The legislation also required documentary proof of age and, like the previous Keating-Owen Act, limited working hours for minors. From 1919 to 1922 (the year when the Supreme Court declare the legislation to be unconstitutional), arguably as a result of, or partly because of, this legislation, the number of working children fell by 50%.[12]
  • 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.
  • The Merchant Marine Act of 1920.
  • The Esch–Cummins Act of 1920.[13][14]

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.[15]
  • An Act was passed (1916) authorizing hospital and medical services to government employees injured at work.[16]
  • An anti-narcotics law was passed (1914).[17]
  • A cooperative Federal-State program of cash grants for public health services was established (1917).[18]
  • The United State Housing Corporation was established (1918) to build housing projects for wartime workers.[19]
  • In 1918, the first Federal grants to States for public health services were made available.[20]
  • A federal leprosy hospital was authorized (1917).[17]
  • The Civil Service Retirement System was established (1920) to provide pensions to retired civilian federal employees.[21]
  • The Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1920 (Smith-Fess Act) authorized a joint federal-state vocational rehabilitation program for handicapped civilians.[22]
  • The Death on the High Seas Act (1920) aimed at compensating the wives of sailors who had lost their lives at sea. The legislation enabled survivors “to recover pecuniary damages, or the lost wages of their relatives on whom they depended upon financially.”[23]
  • Under the Industry Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1920 (Smith-Bankhead Act), Congress began providing federal funds for cooperation with the states in the vocational rehabilitation of persons disabled in industry.[24]


  • The War Risk Insurance Act of 1914.
  • The War Risk Insurance Act of 1917.
  • The Rehabilitation Law of 1919 provided disabled veterans with tuition, books, and a monthly subsistence allowance of between $90 and $145.[25]
  • The Public Health Service was made directly responsible for the hospitalization of veterans under the War Risk Insurance Act (1919).[26]
  • The Smith-Sears Vocational Rehabilitation Act (1918) supported programs to help veterans with disabilities return to civilian employment following the end of the First World War.[27]
  • The Bureau of War Risk Insurance was set up to provide direct assistance to the families of soldiers. By the end of the First World War, the bureau was sending regular checks to 2.1 million families.[19]




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. ^ The Institutionalist Tradition In Labor Economics by Dell P. Champlin and Janet T. Knoedler
  9. ^ The Pendulum of Politics: Today's Politics from Yesterday's History by Craig Parkinson
  10. ^ The American economy: a historical encyclopedia by Cynthia Clark Northrup
  11. ^ WB - Our History (An Overview 1920 - 2012). Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  12. ^ Working in America by Catherine Reef
  13. ^ Woodrow Wilson: His Life and Work - William Dunseath Eaton, Harry C. Read - Google Books. Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  14. ^ Work in America: A - M. - Google Books. Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  15. ^ The Mosquito Crusades: A History Of The American Anti-Mosquito Movement From The Reed Commission To The First Earth Day by Gordon Patterson
  16. ^ Public health reports United States. Public Health Service, United States. Marine Hospital Service, 1926
  17. ^ a b The National government and public health by James Alner Tobey
  18. ^ Social Security History. (1923-03-05). Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  19. ^ a b The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People, Since 1865: Volume 2 by Paul S. Boyer, Joseph F. Kett, Clifford Clark, Sandra Hawley, and Andrew Rieser
  20. ^ Social Security Online History Pages. (2005-11-26). Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  21. ^
  22. ^ Vision and aging: crossroads for service deliveryy Alberta L. Orr
  23. ^ History of Nova Scotia, 2000 April 15-30. Retrieved on 2013-07-15.
  24. ^ The politics of American Federalism by Daniel Judah Elazar
  25. ^ The greatest generation comes home: the veteran in American society by Michael D. Gambone
  26. ^ Federal health administration in the United States by Robert Devore Leigh
  27. ^ Encyclopedia of Multiculturalism: Slavery-Zoot-suit riots by Susan Auerbach
  28. ^ a b Time-Life Books, Library of Nations: United States, Sixth European English language printing, 1989
  29. ^ How to draw the life and times of Woodrow Wilson by Melody S. Mis
  30. ^ Mothers Day and Other Family Days, Volume 37 by Reagan Miller


  • 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
  • Link, Arthur Stanley. Wilson: The Road to the White House (1947); Wilson: The New Freedom (1956)
  • 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]