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Domestic Legislation in 1916

Despite the distractions of the war in Europe and the accompanying crisis on the high seas, the Wilson administration devoted some of its energies to domestic legislation in 1916. A political motivation was clearly evident. Most progressives were returning to the Republican Party and the president needed support from that element to ensure his reelection in the fall. The Democratic Congress responded with the following legislation:

  • Federal Farm Loan Act. Farmers had long been a neglected segment of American society, but their votes were always important and the Democrats feared that a new third party movement might emerge to serve rural needs. The legislation established 12 regional Farm Loan Banks that would grant loans to farm cooperative associations. Farmers could borrow from their local institution, using their land and improvements as collateral.
  • Keating-Owen Act. This measure made it illegal to ship across state lines any product manufactured by Child Labor (a child being defined as under 14 years of age). This issue had earlier caught public attention through the activities of some of the muckrakers, but was highlighted again by a report issued by the Department of Labor's Children's Bureau. The impact of this law was not lasting. The U.S. Supreme Court in Hammer v. Dagenhart (1918) declared Keating-Owen unconstitutional, reasoning that the law had been designed to regulate manufacturing conditions, not interstate commerce. (This latter position would stand until reversed again in United States v. Darby (1941).)
  • Workingmen's Compensation Act. The effort to extend financial assistance to injured workers was a prime concern of many progressives. The 1916 legislation extended partial coverage to federal workers who were injured on the job.
  • Adamson Act. This measure established the eight-hour day and overtime pay guidelines for railway workers who were employed in interstate runs. The Adamson Act was passed in September 1916, due largely to appeals by the president. Railway unions were preparing for a strike and Wilson feared a potential crippling of the economy; his concerns were not far-fetched in an age before the development of a long distance trucking system. The last thing Wilson wanted was to see the economy in turmoil as the country drifted toward entry into the European war.

See earlier domestic legislation.