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Woodrow Wilson

Biography

New Freedom: 1912–1916

Summary New Freedom: 1912–1916

Finally, with two promises fulfilled, Wilson turned to strengthening the nation's antitrust laws. Since the days after Reconstruction, big business had boomed in the United States, unfettered and unchecked. Within only a couple of decades, many of the nation's core industries had developed into trusts, large corporations designed to create a monopoly on a specific product by eliminating competition. By the turn of the century, scores of trusts existed to control the output and prices of many of the country's domestic goods; there was a sugar trust, a steel trust, an iron trust, and so on. Armed with the 1890 Sherman Anti-trust Act, President Theodore Roosevelt had achieved unprecedented success in his campaign against the trusts. However, nothing of consequence had been accomplished during Taft's administration. As a result, many of the once-defeated trusts were regaining strength, and American consumers were suffering the consequence of higher prices.

Progressives clamored for more reform, and Wilson answered their call. Unlike Roosevelt, however, Wilson chose to attack the trusts quietly and without fervor. Along with House Democrats, Wilson proposed a series of bills to strengthen the Sherman Act, to create the Interstate Trade Commission, the Federal Trade Commission, and other commissions. Only a few of the bills were enacted into law, and even these were heavily watered down by the time they passed through the Senate. For his efforts, Wilson was not only attacked by the pro-business Republicans, but ironically also from organized labor, which feared they might one day be considered a trust themselves. Although Wilson technically succeeded in strengthening the Sherman Act, he did not accomplish much of substance.

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