Wilson’s New Freedom

February 7, 2011

Woodrow Wilson Proclaims a New Progressive Order: The New Freedom

Woodrow WilsonWoodrow Wilson (1856-1924) is known best for his public life: he was governor of New Jersey for two years before being elected the twenty-eighth president of the United States, and as president led the nation during and after World War I. It is less well known that Wilson was also a prolific academic, who had been writing and speaking about the principles of government long before he came onto the public stage. His many academic writings and lectures served as a launching point for the progressive politics of Wilson’s public life.

The New Freedom helps to mark Wilson’s transition from academic to political life. The book, published in 1913, is simply an edited volume of Wilson’s principal speeches from his successful 1912 presidential campaign. In it, Wilson speaks to the radically new circumstances facing America in the twentieth century, contending that our original principles and model of government were no longer suitable for the many new needs brought about by the force of historical change. “The old order changeth,” Wilson remarks in one of these speeches, and he defines “progress” as the necessity of keeping the government and the laws in conformity with the new order. Like most Progressives, Wilson pointed particularly to the concentrations of wealth that had come about through the advent of trusts; he argued that such concentrations of wealth had led to a concentration of power in the hands of a few, and that a more robust and centralized government was required in order to deal with this problem.

In spite of its strong progressive themes and its sharp criticism of America’s founding principles, Wilson’s tone in the New Freedom campaign was actually more conservative than that of his principal opponent, Theodore Roosevelt. Wilson attacked Roosevelt as paternalistic, though not because Wilson disagreed with Roosevelt’s progressive philosophy. Rather, Wilson’s victory in 1912 hinged on his ability to draw the support of the traditional constituencies of the Democratic Party, and so The New Freedom makes the kinds of criticisms of big government combining with big business that were necessary to appeal, especially, to the Bryan Democrats who were essential to Wilson’s victory. Wilson’s speeches are nonetheless fueled by the strong progressive principles that he had developed over his long career as an academic, and Wilson’s presidential administration quickly abandoned any calculated caution from the campaign trail by adopting many of Roosevelt’s priorities.

Ronald J. Pestritto, Charles and Lucia Shipley Chair in American Constitution and Associate Professor of Political Science, Hillsdale College

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Master of American History and Government at Ashland University

Ashland University’s master’s program in American History and Government is designed with high school teachers in mind. Courses are offered only during the summers, and you may earn the degree in as little as three summers of intensive coursework. If you already have a Masters degree or would simply like to obtain additional CEU’s, you may also attend specific courses for continuing education credit. Uniquely, the program engages in the substantive study of history and government. All courses emphasize the use of primary historical documents. Learn more about the program.

A Sample Core Course in the MAHG program: The Progressive Era

The transition to an industrial economy posed many problems for the United States. This course examines those problems and the responses to them that came to be known as progressivism. Emphasizing the political thought of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the course covers the economic reforms introduced by these leaders and also examines World War I as a manifestation of progressive principles. It is taught by Ashland University professor John Moser and Wofford College professor J. David Alvis during Session Two. Moser is the author most recently of Right Turn, a biography of the controversial columnist John T. Flynn, whose changing opinions during the 1930s and 1940s parallel a shift in the direction of American liberalism during the same period. During Session Five, the course is taught by Ronald J. Pestritto of Hillsdale College and William Atto of the University of Dallas. Pestritto is the author of Woodrow Wilson and the Roots of Modern Liberalism, a study of Wilson’s political thought that gives particular attention to Wilson’s departure from traditional constitutionalism. Pestritto and Atto have co-edited a collection of primary source documents, American Progressivism: A Reader.

Partner with the Ashbrook Center on a Teaching American History Grant

Each year, the Ashbrook Center works closely with a few school districts and local education agencies to develop customized Teaching American History Grant partnerships. These grants support professional development projects that aim to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of traditional American history.

The Ashbrook Center can provide assistance to local education agencies in writing their Teaching American History Grant applications and in planning and identifying educational opportunities for teachers served by the grant. Grant funds can be used to facilitate high-quality in-service or pre-service professional development activities to improve American history content knowledge of teachers, collaboration between teachers and history experts, and mentoring and coaching of teachers. They may be designed to combine study at Ashbrook’s intensive week-long summer institutes with training and enrichment programs, offered by other grant partners, through one- or two-day workshops held during the school year.

This year’s deadline for submission of grant proposals is April 4, 2011. For more information about partnering with Ashbrook, contact Christian Pascarella at, or call the Ashbrook Center at 419-289-5411.

Presidential Academy for American History and Civics

Apply now for the 2011 Presidential Academy for American History and Civics. This unique program leads secondary school teachers in a careful study of the pivotal moments in American history memorialized by the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the “I Have a Dream” speech. Participating teachers will spend five days in Philadelphia studying the American Revolution and Founding, six days in Gettysburg studying the Civil War, and five days in Washington, DC studying the Civil Rights movement. Faculty in the program include leading American historians David Hackett Fischer and Allen Guelzo.

Presidential AcademySixty teachers will be accepted — one from each state, one each from the District of Columbia and a US territory, and eight at-large candidates. The Presidential Academy will be available at no cost to participants, and each will receive a $1,500 stipend to cover the cost of travel. The program takes place between Sunday, July 10 and Thursday, July 28, 2011. The deadline for applications is April 1. Please don’t hesitate to apply and spread the word. The application is available on-line at

And don’t forget to alert your students to the Congressional Academy for American History and Civics. Rising high school seniors are invited to apply to this program, which covers the same turning points in American history covered in the Presidential Academy for teachers. Taught by university professors drawn from across the country, the program takes place between Sunday, June 26 and Friday, July 8, 2011 in Washington, DC. It is offered to 112 students who are led in seminar-style discussions in four team-taught classes. Day trips to Philadelphia and Gettysburg as well as visits to historic sites in and around the capital are part of the program.

New Features at EDSITEment

February is Black History Month, and EDSITEment offers a variety of new resources to help classrooms explore the social history of African Americans during and after slavery and the contributions that African Americans have made to the history and cultural development of the United States.

Frederick DouglassThe new NEH-sponsored website Voyages: the African Slave Trade Database aggregates information on almost 35,000 slaving voyages that forcibly embarked over ten million Africans for transport to the Americas between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The website offers researchers, teachers and, students a chance to rediscover the reality of one of the largest forced migrations of people in world history.

First-hand accounts of American slaves’ experience are limited primarily because it was difficult for slaves to acquire literacy, since teaching reading and writing to slaves was often illegal. Nevertheless, the two-part lesson Families in Bondage draws on letters written by African Americans in slavery and by free blacks to loved ones still in bondage, singling out a few among the many slave experiences to offer students a glimpse into slavery and its effects on African American family life. And of course one of the most eloquent first-hand accounts of the slave’s experience is the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. The curriculum unit From Courage to Freedom: Frederick Douglass’s 1845 Autobiography helps students understand the historical context of Douglass’ autobiography and appreciate the rhetorical devices he uses to expose the injustice of slavery.

Franklin Delano RooseveltFor Presidents Day, the NEH website designed especially for teachers and students features several new lesson plans that complement the PBS’ American Experience series on the Presidents. Among the lesson plans listed, check out FDR’s Fireside Chats: The Power of Words which guides students in analyzing the unique communication skills of this president, the first to effectively utilize the new medium of radio. In the lesson, students both listen to and read two key fireside chats of FDR, discussing the difference between the spoken and written word. They also read letters listeners wrote to FDR after hearing his radio addresses and study newspaper cartoons on his policies, using these to assess FDR’s success in generating public support for his policies. You can find transcripts of FDR’s most notable speeches in our online library.

This lesson plan may offer a good companion to classroom observation of the 100th birthday of President Ronald Reagan (February 6), another 20th century president renowned for communication skills. The PBS series on American Presidents will air Part I of a biography of Ronald Reagan on February 7 and Part II on February 14. For transcripts of Reagan’s most notable speeches, visit our online library.

Constitution Booklets Available

A pocket-sized booklet that holds key texts of the American founding, including the Declaration of Independence and the entire text of the US Constitution and its amendments, as well as key primary texts interpreting these. Copies of the booklet are available for $1.00 each. A 10% discount is available for purchases of 25 or more.

To order, call (877) 289-5411 or visit

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