The size of the federal government in the United States took a quantum leap with U.S. entry in World War I. It is a textbook case of how a military crisis abroad can be parlayed into opportunities for significant institutional change in the relationship between government and individual
In 1916, Woodrow Wilson campaigned on the slogan “he kept us out of war”, but barely two years later, Wilson could not resist the opportunity to participate in the war to advance a progressive agenda throughout the world. For Wilson, it was about power; recall Wilson is the first President to speak openly and disparagingly about the U.S. Constitution.
Forces at home and abroad gave Wilson an excuse to seize as much power as he could, including U.S. holders of British bonds; a willing cadre of establishment intellectuals, willing to interpret events justifying American involvement in the war; and Winston Churchill. When U.S. merchant ships were sunk in the Kaiser’s declared open submarine warfare zone, Wilson asked and Congress declared war.
In the essay, “On Power”, the author notes that
What the Progressive Era was unable to achieve in transforming the United States from a market-oriented society into a government-dominated corporatist garrison, the war accomplished handily.Without exaggeration, the economic system in America during its participation in the war has been dubbed “war socialism.”
The Conditioning of the American Public
This war socialism had begun even before the United States entered the war. In response to a shipping shortage, Wilson pushed Congress to create a federal shipping company as well regulations of carriers and their rates. By the time the war ended, Wilson had control over
shipbuilding, wheat trading, and building construction; undertaken to lend huge sums to business directly or indirectly and to regulate the private issuance of securities; established official priorities for the use of transportation facilities, food, fuel, and many raw materials; fixed the prices of dozens of important commodities; intervened in hundreds of labor disputes; and conscripted millions of men for service in the armed forces.
By far the most fascist and insidious bureaucracy established by the Wilson administration was a ministry of propaganda, the Committee on Public Information, known as the Creel Committee, which, among other things, recruited intellectuals to persuade Americans to support the war, censured newspapers, and combined with the 1917-1918 Espionage and Sedition Acts, terrorized and jailed thousands of Americans.
More important, the experience of “war socialism” further accustomed the American people to government control of their lives. While most of the programs put in place by Wilson were ‘ended’ at the end of the war, many were also just put on the shelf for use at future times. In little more than a decade after Wilson’s tenure, enduring structures of statism would be erected by Franklin Delano Roosevelt on this foundation.
While the federal government would never shrink back to its pre-war size, the graph below illustrates the results of the Wilson administration in terms of overall government spending. Remember that through the borrowing from the Federal Reserve and the taxing authority fraudulently granted in the non-ratified 16th Amendment–all during Wilson’s tenure, the balance of power between the government and the people radically changed.
It is not surprising that the next President, Warren G. Harding, would run on a campaign theme of ‘a return to normalcy’, which “…called an end to the abnormal era of the Great War, along with a call to reflect three trends of his time: a renewed isolationism in reaction to the War, a resurgence of nativism, and a turning away from the government activism of the reform era.”
The next big spike in the graph occurs in 1931 and then 1941, the next “Great War”, where again government grew to an enormous size and the practices of the Wilson administration returned through FDR.
Wilson gave us the Federal Reserve and a non-ratified, unconstitutional federal tax on income. Then came WWI, vastly expanded government powers, propaganda ministries, sedition acts, free speech restrictions, media censorship, and a nationalized society organized around war…not around our Country, but around war.
Thus the foundation for fascism in America was laid by Woodrow Wilson, and lives to this day. We can learn that the socialists, fascists, and progressives always search for ways to expand government and to use emergencies as vehicles to fundamentally change society.
Why does this sound so familiar? 😕