The Trade Commission and Anti-Trust Act
In early 1914, Wilson made his third appearance before Congress. Moving on from the Roosevelt/Taft program of busting trusts, Wilson encouraged fair competition through the Federal Trade Commission (1914), which reduced monopolistic trade practices.
With the addition of the Clayton Anti-Trust Act (1914), the practices of price discrimination, agreements forbidding retailers from handling other companies' products, and interlocking directorate agreements to limit competition all became illegal. Even better, individual officers of corporations could be held responsible if their companies violated the laws.
The new business laws set out clear guidelines that corporations had to follow, much better than being penalized with no warning under previous, less clear legislation. As a plus for labor, the law ended the silly business of applying antitrust laws to unions.
Victories for ordinary people
Wilson made himself even more popular with working people when, in 1916, he approved legislation (the Adamson Act) that increased wages and cut working hours of railroad employees, thus avoiding a strike. Other victories for ordinary people included the following:
- The Federal Farm Loan Act (1916) and the Warehouse Act (1916) let farmers get much-needed loans at low rates.
- The La Follette Seamen's Act (1915) guaranteed sailors on American merchant ships decent wages and treatment (and eventually doomed the U.S. merchant fleet, which couldn't compete with low paid foreign sailors).
- The Workingmen's Compensation Act (1916) granted help to disabled federal employees.
Wilson's great shortcoming: Government segregation
Wilson had a moral blind spot when it came to the treatment of blacks. A Southerner who fondly remembered seeing Robert E. Lee as a child, Wilson delivered for his racist South Democratic voters by segregating federal offices for the first time since the Civil War and dismissing many blacks from government work.
His segregation of government lasted until after World War II, when the Democrats under Harry Truman decided to do the right thing for civil rights even if it cost Democrats the next election (which it did). Since that time, the South has moved into the Republican column in most presidential elections.
The most important black leader to stand up to Wilson's segregationist tendencies during the Progressive Era was the eloquent W. E. B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP. Du Bois fought for African American progress for most of his 95-year life. He carried the torch until the day he died in Africa, which just happened to be the day before Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.
Question: Who was the most important black leader during the Progressive time period?
Answer: W. E. B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP.
Wilson's international progress
Wilson tried to apply morality to international relations, but it's hard to be idealistic when other people are shooting at you. He withdrew subsidies for U.S. companies investing abroad and stopped giving American ships free passage through the Panama Canal . He reluctantly continued the Roosevelt Corollary by sending U.S. Marines in to tame violence in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Wilson bought the Virgin Islands in the Caribbean from Denmark, thus giving Americans another naval ship base and another place to soak up the sun.
Wilson did his best to stay out of Mexican politics as factions maneuvered after a revolution. Standing up to pressure from American businessmen worried about their Mexican investments, Wilson declared that he wouldn't decide foreign policy "in the terms of material interest."
After innocent Americans had been killed on both sides of the border by Pancho Villa's soldiers, Wilson sent General "Black Jack" Pershing on a lightning cavalry raid into Mexico. Pershing chased Villas's army and was swiftly pulled back. He would be needed elsewhere; the situation in Europe was looking grim.