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Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom: Definition, Plan & Platform

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  • 0:02 What Was the New Freedom?
  • 0:23 Wilson vs. Roosevelt
  • 2:02 Wilson's Plan
  • 3:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Derrick Goodrich
The presidential election of 1912 was a crucial moment in American politics. Offering up his vision of what needed to be done, Woodrow Wilson offered his New Freedom. In it, he spelled out both the core problems America faced and the reforms he hoped to implement, including reining in the big corporations dominating the country's economy.

What Was the New Freedom?

In its simplest definition, the New Freedom was a collection of speeches Woodrow Wilson made during his presidential campaign of 1912. The speeches promised significant reforms for greater economic opportunity for all, while ensuring the tradition of limited government. The collection was later published into a book of the same name in 1916.

Election Platforms: Wilson vs. Roosevelt

The election of 1912 represented a pivotal moment for the United States. Americans had experienced the rise of U.S. corporations in an economy that was transforming from a second Industrial Revolution. There was a sharp increase in wealth inequality, along with a growing sense among Americans that large corporations were controlling the government.

Illustrating the reform-minded sentiment of the country, the presidential election saw a 4-way race between the presidential incumbent William Taft, the former president and appointed leader of the Progressive Party Teddy Roosevelt, the Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs, and Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson. It became a 2-way race between Roosevelt and Wilson, who offered the public competing visions of how the country should look going forward.

Roosevelt offered a reform package he dubbed New Nationalism. It called for leaving behind the tradition of a weak federal government and unregulated capitalism. In its place, Roosevelt offered a strong federal government that heavily intervened in the economy to break up large corporations not serving the public interest and guaranteed social justice for the working class.

Wilson offered a competing reform package, New Freedom, that agreed with the public's concern over large corporations, but sought to keep government limited and out of the economy. Instead of the strong government intervention advocated by Roosevelt, Wilson sought reforms that would alter the rules of the game the market operated under, focusing on tariffs, the banks, and the trusts.

Wilson's Plan

Wilson argued that the high tariffs placed on imports protected large corporations who did not need protection from foreign competition. Instead, the tariffs allowed these large corporations to keep prices high because foreign imports were made uncompetitive by tariffs. He called for the first set of tariff reductions since the Civil War, in order to spur foreign imports and bring new competition into the market.

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