Historical Highlights

President Woodrow Wilson Addresses a Joint Session to Avert a National Railroad Strike

August 29, 1916
President Woodrow Wilson Addresses a Joint Session to Avert a National Railroad Strike Image courtesy of Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives An 11-term Congressman, William Adamson of Georgia served as chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee for three terms.
On this date, during the 64th Congress (1915–1917), President Woodrow Wilson addressed a Joint Session to discuss a looming national railroad crisis. To try to prevent a crippling nationwide strike by union railroad workers, President Wilson asked Congress to pass a six-point act which would establish an eight-hour day as the legal basis for railroad work, as well as overtime benefits. After the Joint Session, Wilson discussed the situation with Speaker of the House James Beauchamp (Champ) Clark of Missouri, Majority Leader Claude Kitchin of North Carolina, Minority Leader James Mann of Illinois, and Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee Chairman William Adamson of Georgia. The Constitution vested Congress with the power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, thus giving it authority over the railroad industry. A modified version of President Wilson’s request was introduced and passed the House on September 2, 1916, by a vote of 239 to 56. Known as the Adamson Act, the bill passed the Senate and was signed into law the next day. The legislation averted the potential strike and became the first labor law to provide for oversight of nongovernment employment. After the passage of the bill Adamson admitted that the legislation was provisional and would be perfected after the crisis had passed. He added, “We now put in the eight-hour law and provide for preserving the status quo until a commission can investigate the dispute between the two classes of our servants. Afterward we will make complete and adequate regulation, taking care of the interests of both classes of our servants, and doing justice to the people.” With the growing possibility of U.S. intervention in World War I, President Wilson proclaimed government control over the railroads in late 1916. Congress subsequently reinforced that action with the Railroad Control Act of 1918.

Related Highlight Subjects