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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The Settlement at Paris · CHAPTER XXV·»

Summary of Democracy and the World War

The astounding industrial progress that characterized the period following the Civil War bequeathed to the new generation many perplexing problems connected with the growth of trusts and railways, the accumulation of great fortunes, the increase of poverty in the industrial cities, the exhaustion of the free land, and the acquisition of dominions in distant seas. As long as there was an abundance of land in the West any able-bodied man with initiative and industry could become an independent farmer. People from the cities and immigrants from Europe had always before them that gateway to property and prosperity. When the land was all gone, American economic conditions inevitably became more like those of Europe.

Though the new economic questions had been vigorously debated in many circles before his day, it was President Roosevelt who first discussed them continuously from the White House. The natural resources of the country were being exhausted; he advocated their conservation. Huge fortunes were being made in business creating inequalities in opportunity; he favored reducing them by income and inheritance taxes. Industries were disturbed by strikes; he pressed arbitration upon capital and labor. The free land was gone; he declared that labor was in a less favorable position to bargain with capital and therefore should organize in unions for collective bargaining. There had been wrong-doing on the part of certain great trusts; those responsible should be punished.

The spirit of reform was abroad in the land. The spoils system was attacked. It was alleged that the political parties were dominated by “rings and bosses.” The United States Senate was called “a millionaires’ club.” Poverty and misery were observed in the cities. State legislatures and city governments were accused of corruption.

In answer to the charges, remedies were proposed and adopted. Civil service reform was approved. The Australian ballot, popular election of Senators, the initiative, referendum, and recall, commission and city manager plans for cities, public regulation of railways, compensation for those injured in industries, minimum wages for women and children, pensions for widows, the control of housing in the cities—these and a hundred other reforms were adopted and tried out. The national watchword became: “America, Improve Thyself.”

The spirit of reform broke into both political parties. It appeared in many statutes enacted by Congress under President Taft’s leadership. It disrupted the Republicans temporarily in 1912 when the Progressive party entered the field. It led the Democratic candidate in that year, Governor Wilson, to make a “progressive appeal” to the voters. It inspired a considerable program of national legislation under President Wilson’s two administrations.

In the age of change, four important amendments to the federal constitution, the first in more than forty years, were adopted. The sixteenth empowered Congress to lay an income tax. The seventeenth assured popular election of Senators. The eighteenth made prohibition national. The nineteenth, following upon the adoption of woman suffrage in many states, enfranchised the women of the nation.

In the sphere of industry, equally great changes took place. The major portion of the nation’s business passed into the hands of corporations. In all the leading industries of the country labor was organized into trade unions and federated in a national organization. The power of organized capital and organized labor loomed upon the horizon. Their struggles, their rights, and their place in the economy of the nation raised problems of the first magnitude.

While the country was engaged in a heated debate upon its domestic issues, the World War broke out in Europe in 1914. As a hundred years before, American rights upon the high seas became involved at once. They were invaded on both sides; but Germany, in addition to assailing American ships and property, ruthlessly destroyed American lives. She set at naught the rules of civilized warfare upon the sea. Warnings from President Wilson were without avail. Nothing could stay the hand of the German war party.

After long and patient negotiations, President Wilson in 1917 called upon the nation to take up arms against an assailant that had in effect declared war upon America. The answer was swift and firm. The national resources, human and material, were mobilized. The navy was enlarged, a draft army created, huge loans floated, heavy taxes laid, and the spirit of sacrifice called forth in a titanic struggle against an autocratic power that threatened to dominate Europe and the World.

In the end, American financial, naval, and military assistance counted heavily in the scale. American sailors scoured the seas searching for the terrible submarines. American soldiers took part in the last great drives that broke the might of Germany’s army. Such was the nation’s response to the President’s summons to arms in a war “for democracy” and “to end war.”

When victory crowned the arms of the powers united against Germany, President Wilson in person took part in the peace council. He sought to redeem his pledge to end wars by forming a League of Nations to keep the peace. In the treaty drawn at the close of the war the first part was a covenant binding the nations in a permanent association for the settlement of international disputes. This treaty, the President offered to the United States Senate for ratification and to his country for approval.

Once again, as in the days of the Napoleonic wars, the people seriously discussed the place of America among the powers of the earth. The Senate refused to ratify the treaty. World politics then became an issue in the campaign of 1920. Though some Americans talked as if the United States could close its doors and windows against all mankind, the victor in the election, Senator Harding, of Ohio, knew better. The election returns were hardly announced before he began to ask the advice of his countrymen on the pressing theme that would not be downed: “What part shall America—first among the nations of the earth in wealth and power—assume at the council table of the world?”

General References

Woodrow Wilson, The New Freedom.

C.L. Jones, The Caribbean Interests of the United States.

H.P. Willis, The Federal Reserve.

C.W. Barron, The Mexican Problem (critical toward Mexico).

L.J. de Bekker, The Plot against Mexico (against American intervention).

Theodore Roosevelt, America and the World War.

E.E. Robinson and V.J. West, The Foreign Policy of Woodrow Wilson.

J.S. Bassett, Our War with Germany.

Carlton J.H. Hayes, A Brief History of the Great War.

J.B. McMaster, The United States in the World War.

Research Topics

President Wilson’s First Term.—Elson, History of the United States, pp. 925-941.

The Underwood Tariff Act.—Ogg, National Progress (The American Nation Series), pp. 209-226.

The Federal Reserve System.—Ogg, pp. 228-232.

Trust and Labor Legislation.—Ogg, pp. 232-236.

Legislation Respecting the Territories.—Ogg, pp. 236-245.

American Interests in the Caribbean.—Ogg, pp. 246-265.

American Interests in the Pacific.—Ogg, pp. 304-324.

Mexican Affairs.—Haworth, pp. 388-395; Ogg, pp. 284-304.

The First Phases of the European War.—Haworth, pp. 395-412; Ogg, pp. 325-343.

The Campaign of 1916.—Haworth, pp. 412-418; Ogg, pp. 364-383.

America Enters the War.—Haworth, pp. 422-440; pp. 454-475. Ogg, pp. 384-399; Elson, pp. 951-970.

Mobilizing the Nation.—Haworth, pp. 441-453.

The Peace Settlement.—Haworth, pp. 475-497; Elson, pp. 971-982.


1. Enumerate the chief financial measures of the Wilson administration. Review the history of banks and currency and give the details of the Federal reserve law.

2. What was the Wilson policy toward trusts? Toward labor?

3. Review again the theory of states’ rights. How has it fared in recent years?

4. What steps were taken in colonial policies? In the Caribbean?

5. Outline American-Mexican relations under Wilson.

6. How did the World War break out in Europe?

7. Account for the divided state of opinion in America.

8. Review the events leading up to the War of 1812. Compare them with the events from 1914 to 1917.

9. State the leading principles of international law involved and show how they were violated.

10. What American rights were assailed in the submarine campaign?

11. Give Wilson’s position on the Lusitania affair.

12. How did the World War affect the presidential campaign of 1916?

13. How did Germany finally drive the United States into war?

14. State the American war aims given by the President.

15. Enumerate the measures taken by the government to win the war.

16. Review the part of the navy in the war. The army.

17. How were the terms of peace formulated?

18. Enumerate the principal results of the war.

19. Describe the League of Nations.

20. Trace the fate of the treaty in American politics.

21. Can there be a policy of isolation for America?

«·The Settlement at Paris · CHAPTER XXV·»