Grant and Wilson Public Policy
As governments evolved and adapted from the ancient city states it became necessary to implement projects that were designed to improve the structure and function of the government. Public policy is a guide for the administrative function of the state to implement laws, regulatory measures and funding priorities that will benefit the citizenry. Generally, it is embodied within macro constitutional or legislative documents and acts, and/or judicial decisions (Schuster, 2009).
In general, when Ulysses Grant came into office, he preferred to try his best to avoid the political infighting that resulted after Lincoln’s assassination. Rather than form public policy based on party lines, he sought to surround himself with people who would give him accurate advice and a continuation of the reconciliation with the South rather than retribution or appeasement. Add to this, though, his need to ensure that the Federal government protected the newly freed slaves and prevented former Confederate separatists from regaining power in the South (Grant: A Reference Resource, 2011).
President Woodrow Wilson believed in a strong, active role for the central government and during his term established legislation that significantly enlarged the government’s regulatory powers. Most of these issues surround a reformist platform, and even before his Presidency was one of the three most prominent public administrationists of the late 19th century. As governor he continued this policy, preparing himself for his role in such issues as immigration, women’s suffrage, and child labor (Woodrow Wilson, 2011).
Grant and Reconstruction- Reconstruction dominated Grant’s presidency. Reconstruction is the name for the period in United States history that covers the post-Civil War era, roughly 1865-1877. Technically, it refers to the policies that focused on the aftermath of the war; abolishing slavery, defeating the Confederacy, and putting legislation in effect to restore the nation — per the Constitution. Most contemporary historians view Reconstruction as a failure with ramifications that lasted at least 100 years later: issues surrounding Civil Rights were still being debated in the 1970s, corrupt northern businessmen “carpetbaggers” brought scandal and economic corruption, monetary and tariff policies were retributive and had legal results in the north as well. However, that was not the intent of Grant, who truly believed that the Union should be preserved and that the rights of all citizens protected (Foner, 2002).
One particular issue that was important to grant was the idea of the newly freed slaves and their right to vote. Beginning in 1870, Congress passes a series of laws known as the Enforcement Acts, designed to protect the right to vote. One of these, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, was specifically pushed by Grant to protect southern blacks from the Klan by providing a civil remedy for abuses committed in the South. While the Southern States could not legally prevent Blacks from voting, they often utilized the Klan to terrorize and prevent former slaves from exercising their new right. President Grant did not want the Federal Government to be continually involved in arbitration or enforcement procedures with the states, but used the situation in South Carolina to have the Federal authority broadened so that he could intervene on the side of the former slaves. After the Act was passed (April 20, 1871) Grant had the power to suppress state disorders on his own and to suspect the right of habeas corpus. Grant was firm on his belief in this regard and used this public authority on numerous occasions, and as a result the Klan was dismantled, first in South Carolina, and then in other Southern States and did not resurface until after the 20th century (Scaturro, 1999, pp. 70-2).
Wilson and the Reformist Agenda- Woodrow Wilson came into the presidency almost as a radical priest. He was intent on expanding economic opportunities for that portion of society at the bottom of the rung, and wanted to eliminate the constant and endemic privileges that the richest and most powerful seemed to enjoy. He focused on tariff reform in the Underwood-Simmons Act by arguing that high tariffs created monopolies and hurt consumers, pushed to end certain child labor practices, and above all tried to engender a fairer distribution of public funds for housing, utilities, and public projects (Wilson, 2011).
However, looking back at his pre-World War I policies, it was his adamant work on currency and banking reform that seemed to have the greatest impact on American society. The Federal Reserve’s Monetary Policy is the most important function of the Fed and is probably the most used policy in macroeconomics. Monetary policy refers to the actions undertaken by a central bank, such as the Federal Reserve, to influence the availability and cost of money and credit to help promote national economic goals. The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 gave the Federal Reserve responsibility for setting monetary policy. The Federal Reserve controls the three tools of monetary policy- open market operations, the discount rate and reserve requirements. Open market operations, purchases and sales of U.S. Treasury and federal agency securities, are the Federal Reserve’s principal tool for implementing monetary policy. The discount rate is the interest rate charged to commercial banks and other depository institutions on loans they receive from their regional Federal Reserve Bank‘s lending facility; the discount window. The Federal Reserve Banks offer three discount window programs to depository institutions: primary credit, secondary credit, and seasonal credit, each with its own interest rate (Colander, 2007).
Prior to this Act, the U.S. was without a central bank after the Second Bank of the United States ended. After various financial panics, particularly a severe on in 1907, Wilson and others believed that it was necessary to have a central agency that would protect the U.S., provide a ready reserve of liquid assets, and allow currency and credit to expand. Wilson believed that the only way the United States could become a world power, and have the type of economic system in which there was confidence at home and abroad, was to give a central agency power to regulate banking. The largest opposition to Wilson came from business-friendly Republicans who saw this as just another way the Federal government was exerting its authority over all aspects of society. Instead, Wilson was able to place a new agency with obligations both to the U.S. Treasury and to the American people, to build confidence in funding and issue policies that would be favorable to all aspects of society — not just the wealthy (Johnson, 2010).
In many ways, we can find some similarities between President’s Grant and Wilson. Even though they were members of different political parties, they both issued legislation designed to affect the lowest segment of society and believed that domestic policy should serve the greater public good. Wilson was an intellectual, Grant a soldier, yet both believed they were personal representatives of the people of the United States. Both governed at a time of great crisis — the crisis of rebuilding the Union for Grant, the crisis of an economy and political system in flux under Wilson. Yet both managed to find ways to utilize public policy to buttress their message and viewpoint.
Grant: A Reference Resource. (2011). Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Cited in: http://millercenter.org/president/grant/essays/biography/4
Woodrow Wilson. (2011). Conservapedia.com. Cited in: http://www.conservapedia.com/Woodrow_Wilson
Wilson: A Reference Resource. (2011). Miller Center at the University of Virginia. Cited in:
Foner, E. (2002). Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution: 1863
Johnson, R. (2010). Historical Beginnings: The Federal Reserve. Boston: The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Cited in: http://www.bos.frb.org/about/pubs/begin.pdf
Scaturro, F. (1999). President Grant Reconsidered. Lanham, MD: Madison Books.
Schuster, W.M., (2009). For the Greater Good: The Use of Public Policy. Houston Law Review. 46 (1); 467-79. Cited in: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1368469
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