Wilson, Woodrow (1856–1924)

Author:Dennis J. Mahoney

Page 2911

Dr. Thomas Woodrow Wilson was both a scholar and an active participant in American constitutional development. Trained in history and law, Wilson became one of the first practitioners of the new academic political science that was born in America toward the close of the nineteenth century. He taught at Bryn Mawr College and Wesleyan University, and became a professor at, and later president of, Princeton University.

As a political scientist, Wilson urged fundamental reforms in the American system of government. In his first book, Congressional Government (1885), he argued that instead of the balance of powers envisaged by the Founders, American government was dominated by the legislative branch and, in particular, by a few powerful congressional committees. Wilson advocated cabinet government as he supposed it to exist in Great Britain, dominated by a strong executive. In Constitutional Government in the United States (1908), Wilson argued that under the Constitution the President had authority to exercise vigorous leadership of the whole American political system. In other works, Wilson advocated the scientific study of techniques of public administration and the training of a new class of civil servants who would be independent of political influence or control. Professional administrators, Wilson believed, should be left free to devise the most efficient means of carrying into effect the general policy decisions of the political branches of the government. (See PROGRESSIVE CONSTITUTIONAL THOUGHT.)

A progressive Democrat, Wilson was elected governor of New Jersey in 1910, and President of the United States two years later, when THEODORE ROOSEVELT broke with President WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT and split the Republican party. Wilson's platform called for a "New Freedom," characterized by a vigorous ANTITRUST policy, reduced tariffs, legislation to benefit organized labor, and creation of the federal reserve banking system.

During Wilson's terms of office, the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and NINETEENTH AMENDMENTS were added to the Constitution. But ordinary legislation did as much to change the distribution and use of governmental power as did formal constitutional amendments. The FEDERAL RESERVE ACT (1913) placed control of the nation's money and credit in the hands of an independent, semi-private banking system. The FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION ACT (1914), brainchild of Boston attorney LOUIS D. BRANDEIS, created an...

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