Chapter 28

Progressivism and the Republican Roosevelt



The progressive movement started  at the beginning of the 20th Century. It sought to use the government to improve human welfare, and they fought monopolies, corruption, inefficiency, and social injustice.


Progressive Roots

Henry Demarest Lloyd was critical of the Standard Oil Company in 1894 with his book, Wealth Against CommonwealthJacob A. Riis shocked middle-class Americans in 1890 with How the Other Half Lives, which described the slums of New York.

Socialists and feminists were at the front of social justice.


Raking Muck with the Muckrakers

Muckrakers were reform-minded journalists who wrote articles in magazines that exposed corruption and scandal. President Roosevelt coined this term. These reporters went after trusts and politicians.

In 1902, New York reporter, Lincoln Steffens wrote "The Shame of the Cities" which unmasked the corrupt alliance between big business and municipal government.

Ida M. Tarbell published a devastating depiction of the Standard Oil Company.

David G. Phillips published a series, "The Treason of the Senate" in Cosmopolitan that charged that 75 of the 90 senators did not represent the people, but they rather represented railroads and trusts.

Some of the most effective attacks of the muckrakers were directed at social evils.  The suppression of America's blacks was shown in Ray Stannard's Following the Color Line (1908).  John Spargo wrote of the abuses of child labor in The Bitter Cry of the Children (1906).


Political Progressivism

Progressive reformers were mainly middle-class men and women.

The progressives sought 2 goals:  1) To use state power to control trusts;  2) To improve the common person's conditions of life and labor.

Progressives wanted to regain the power that had shifted from the hands of the people into those of the "interests."  Progressives supported the "initiative" so that voters could directly propose legislation. They also supported the "referendum" and the "recall," which allowed voters to directly vote on laws to remove corrupt elected officials, respectively.

The progressive reformers convinced Congress to pass the 17th Amendment in 1913.  It established the direct election of U.S. senators.


Progressivism in the Cities and States

States used public utility commissions to regulate railroads and trusts. Robert M. La Follette was a governor of Wisconsin who took control from the corrupt corporations and returned it to the people.

Governor of California, Hiram W. Johnson helped to break the grip of the Southern Pacific Railroad on California politics in 1910.


Progressive Women

Women formed clubs in which they discussed and proposed solutions for societal problems (club movement). Some of these included the Women's Trade Union League and the National Consumers League.

Florence Kelley took control of the National Consumers League in 1899 and mobilized female consumers to pressure for laws safeguarding women and children in the workplace. 

In Muller vs. Oregon (1908), the Supreme Court ruled that it was constitutional to enact laws that specifically protected women factory workers.

Lochner vs. New York (1905) invalidated a New York law that limited the work day to 10 hours for bakers. The law was eventually upheld in 1917.

Following a series of factory accidents, several states passed stronger laws regulating the working conditions in factories.

The Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was a large anti-alcohol women's group.


TR's Square Deal for Labor

President Roosevelt believed in the progressive reform.  He enacted a "Square Deal" program that consisted of 3 parts:  control of the corporations, consumer protection, and conservation of natural resources.

In 1902, coal miners in Pennsylvania went on strike and demanded a 20% raise in pay and a workday decrease from 10 hours to 9 hours.  When mine spokesman, George F. Baer refused to negotiate, President Roosevelt stepped in and threatened to operate the mines with federal troops.  A deal was struck in which the miners received a 10% pay raise and 9 hour workday.

The increasing hostilities between capital and labor forced Congress to create the Department of Commerce in 1903. This department provided oversight of businesses engaged in interstate commerce.

TR Corrals the Corporations

Although the Interstate Commerce Commission was created in 1887, railroads were able to delay the commission's decisions by appealing to the federal courts.

Railroad companies historically offered incentives, in the form of rebates, to convince companies to use their rail lines. In 1903, Congress passed the Elkins Act, which fined railroads that gave rebates and the shippers that accepted them.

Congress passed the Hepburn Act of 1906, which restricted free passes and expanded the Interstate Commerce Commission. (Free passes:  rewards offered to companies, in the form of free shipments; given to companies to encourage future business.)

In 1902, President Roosevelt challenged the Northern Securities Company, a railroad trust company that sought to achieve a monopoly of the railroads in the Northwest.  The Supreme Court upheld the President and the trust was forced to be dissolved.


Caring for the Consumer

After botulism was found in American meats, foreign governments threatened to ban all American meat imports.  President Roosevelt passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906.  The act stated that the preparation of meat shipped over state lines was subject to federal inspection. 

The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was designed to prevent the adulteration and mislabelling of foods and pharmaceuticals.


Earth Control

The first step towards conservation came with the Desert Land Act of 1887, in which the federal government sold dry land cheaply on the condition that the purchaser would irrigate the soil within 3 years.  A more successful step was the Forest Reserve Act of 1891.  It authorized the president to set aside public forests as national parks and other reserves.  The Carey Act of 1894 distributed federal land to the states on the condition that it be irrigated and settled.

President Roosevelt, a naturalist and rancher, convinced Congress to pass the Newlands Act of 1902, which authorized the federal government use money from the sale of public lands in western states to develop irrigation projects.

In 1900, Roosevelt, attempting to preserve the nation's shrinking forests, set aside 125 million acres of land in federal reserves.

Under President Roosevelt, professional foresters and engineers developed a policy of "multiple-use resource management."  This policy sought to sustainably use federal lands for recreation, logging, watershed protection, and cattle grazing.


The "Roosevelt Panic" of 1907

Theodore Roosevelt was re-elected as president in 1904.  President Roosevelt made it known that he would not run for a 3rd term.

The panic of 1907 was a short economic downturn that resulted in financial reforms. Congress passed the Aldrich-Vreeland Act in 1908, which authorized national banks to issue emergency currency in the event of a currency shortage.


The Rough Rider Thunders Out

For the election of 1908, the Republican Party chose William Howard Taft, secretary of war to Theodore Roosevelt.  The Democratic Party chose William Jennings Bryan.

William Howard Taft won the election of 1908.

During Roosevelt's presidency, Roosevelt greatly enlarged the power of the presidential office, and he helped shape the progressive movement. He also opened the eyes of Americans to the fact that they shared the world with other nations.


Taft:  A Round Peg in a Square Hole

President Taft was not an adept political leader, such as Roosevelt.  He generally adopted an attitude of passivity towards Congress.


The Dollar Goes Abroad as a Diplomat

Taft encouraged Wall Street bankers to invest in foreign areas of strategic interest to the United States (dollar diplomacy).  American bankers thus strengthened American defenses and foreign policies, while bringing prosperity to America.

Japan and Russia controlled the railroads in China's Manchuria. President Taft feared that this monopoly would eventually hurt American merchants. In 1909, Secretary of State Philander C. Knox proposed that Americans buy the Manchurian railroads and then turn them over to China.  Both Japan and Russia rejected the selling of their railroads.


Taft the Trustbuster

Taft brought 90 lawsuits against trusts during his 4 years in office, as opposed to Roosevelt's 44 suits in 7 years.

In 1911, the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the Standard Oil Company, stating that it violated the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890. 

Also in 1911, the Supreme Court laid out its "rule of reason" doctrine. This stated that a trust was illegal only if it unreasonably restrained trade.


Taft Splits the Republican Party

President Taft signed the Payne-Aldrich Bill in 1909, which placed a high tariff on many imports. This angered many Republicans because before he was elected, Taft said that he would lower the tariff.

Taft was a strong conservationist, but his conservationist record was tarnished in 1910 when he fired the chief of the Agriculture Department's Division of Forestry, Gifford Pinchot, for insubordination. (Ballinger-Pinchot quarrel) Pinchot was liked by conservationists.

By the spring of 1910, the reformist wing of the Republican Party was furious with Taft, causing the Republican Party to split.


The Taft-Roosevelt Rupture

In 1911, the National Progressive Republican League was formed with La Follette as its leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. La Follette was chosen because it was assumed that Roosevelt would not re-run for election.

In February of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt decided to challenge Taft for the Republican presidential nomination. (La Follette was replaced by Roosevelt.) Roosevelt and Taft became opponents because Roosevelt felt that Taft had discarded many of Roosevelt's policies.

Taft won the Republican nomination after Roosevelt Republicans refused to vote at the 1912 Republican convention, claiming fraud. Roosevelt continued on as a 3rd-party candidate.


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