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Hear Wilson’s Speech “On Labor”

The 1912 presidential election featured four candidates: Republican incumbent William Howard Taft, Democratic Governor Woodrow Wilson, former President Theodore Roosevelt representing the breakaway Bull Moose party, and Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs, who was making his fourth run for President. All four presidential candidates appealed directly to working-class voters, who proved pivotal to the outcome. Voter interest, already piqued by the unusual campaign and the candidates’ slashing attacks on one another, was further heightened by the availability of sound recordings of campaign addresses and, for the first time, film footage of the candidates on the campaign trail. In this campaign speech, Wilson argued against a minimum wage for women workers and called for the end of business monopolies. Wilson was the eventual winner, with over six million popular and 435 electoral votes.

Listen to Audio:

Woodrow Wilson: To look at the politics of the day from the viewpoint of the laboring man is not to suggest that there is one view proper to him, another to the employer, another to the capitalist, another to the professional man, but merely that the life of the country as a whole may be looked at from various points of view, and yet be viewed as a whole. The whole business of politics is to bring classes together upon a platform of accommodation and common interest. In a political campaign the voters are called upon to choose between parties and leaders. Parties and platforms and candidates should be frankly put under examination to see what they will yield us by way of progress. And there are a great many questions which the working man may legitimately ask and quest until he gets a definite answer.

The predictions of the leader of the new party are as alarming as the predictions of the various stand-patters. He declares that he is not troubled by the fact that a very large amount of money is taken out of the pockets of the general taxpayer and put into the pockets of particular classes that protect his manufacturers, but that his concern is that so little of this money gets into the pockets of the laboring man and so large a proportion of it into the pockets of the employers. I have searched his program very thoroughly for an indication of what he expects to do in order to see to it that a larger proportion of this prize money gets into the pay envelope—and I have found only one suggestion. There is a plank in the program which speaks of establishing a minimum, or a living wage, for women workers. And I suppose that we may assume that the principle is not in the long run meant to be confined in its application to women only. Perhaps we are justified in assuming that the third party looks forward to the general establishment by law of a minimum wage.

It is very likely, I take it for granted, that if a minimum wage were established by law the great majority of employers would take occasion to bring their wage scale as nearly as might be down to the level of that minimum. And it would be very awkward for the working man to resist that process successfully because it would be dangerous to strike against the authority in the Federal government. Moreover, most of his employers—at any rate, practically all of the most powerful of them—would be wards and proteges of that very government which is the master of us all. For no part of this program can be discussed intelligently, without remembering that monopoly, as handled by it, is not to be prevented, but accepted and regulated.

When you have thought the whole thing out, therefore, you will find that the program of the new party legalizes monopolies and, of necessity, subordinates working men to them and to the plans made by the government, both with regard to employment, and with regard to wages. Take the thing as a whole, and it looks strangely like economic mastery over the very lives and fortunes of those who do the daily work of the nation. And all this under the overwhelming power and sovereignty of the national government. What most of us are fighting for is to break up this very partnership between big business and the government.

Source: Courtesy of the Michigan State University Voice Library.

See Also:Hear TR's Speech "The Liberty of the People"
Hear Taft's Speech "On Popular Unrest"
Debs Attacks "the Monstrous System" of Capitalism