At the beginning of the 20th Century, the ethnically and racially mixed American people were convulsed by a reform movement. The new crusaders, who called themselves "progressives," waged war on many evils including monopolies, corruption, inefficiency, and social injustice.
Well before 1900, politicians and writers had begun to pinpoint targets for the progressive attack. Henry Demarest Lloyd assailed the Standard Oil Company in 1894 with his book Wealth Against Commonwealth. Jacob A. Riisshocked middle-class Americans in 1890 with How the Other Half Lives which described the dark and dirty slums of New York.
Socialists and feminists were at the front of social justice.
Raking Muck with the Muckrakers
Popular magazines, Muckrakers, began to appear in American newsstands in 1902. They exposed the corruption and scandal that the public loved to hate.
In 1902, New York reporter, Lincoln Steffens launched a series of articles in McClure's titled "The Shame of the Cities" which unmasked the corrupt alliance between big business and municipal government.
Ida M. Tarbell published a devastating but factual 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 inThe Bitter Cry of the Children (1906).
Progressive reformers were mainly middle-class men and women.
The progressives sought 2 goals: to use state power to control the trusts; and to stem the socialist threat by generally improving the common person's conditions of life and labor.
Progressives wanted to regain the power that had slipped from the hands of the people into those of the "interests." Progressives supported direct primary elections and favored "initiative" so that voters could directly propose legislation themselves, thus bypassing the boss-sought state legislatures. They also supported "referendum" and "recall." Referendum would place laws on ballots for final approval by the people, and recall would enable the voters to remove faithless corrupt officials.
As a result of pressure from the public's progressive reformers, the 17th Amendment was passed to the Constitution in 1913. It established the direct election of U.S. senators.
Progressivism in the Cities and States
States began the march toward progressivism when they undertook to regulate railroads and trusts. In 1901, the governor of Wisconsin and significant figure of the progressive era, Robert M. La Follette took considerable control from the corrupt corporations and returned it to the people.
Governor of California, Hiram W. Johnson helped to break the dominant grip of the Southern Pacific Railroad on California politics in 1910.
A crucial focus for women's activism was the settlement house movement. Settlement houses exposed middle-class women to poverty, political corruption, and intolerable working and living conditions.
Most female progressives defended their new activities as an extension of their traditional roles of wife and mother.
Female activists worked through organizations like 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.
Caught up in the crusade, some states controlled, restricted, or abolished alcohol.
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 a threatened to operate the mines with federal troops. A deal was struck in which the miners received a 10% pay raise and an hour workday reduction.
Congress, aware of the increasing hostilities between capital and labor, created the Department of Commerce in 1903.
TR Corrals the Corporations
Although the Interstate Commerce Commission was created in 1887, railroad barons were still able to have high shipping rates because of their ability to appeal the commission's decisions on high rates to the federal courts.
In 1903, Congress passed the Elkins Act, which allowed for heavy fines to be placed on railroads that gave rebates and on the shippers that accepted them. (Railroad companies would offer rebates as incentives for companies to use their rail lines.)
Congress passed the Hepburn Act of 1906, restricting free passes and expanding the Interstate Commerce Commission to extend to include express companies, sleeping-car companies, and pipelines. (Free passes: rewards offered to companies allowing an allotted number 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. Backed by the public, President Roosevelt passed the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. The act stated that the preparation of meat shipped over state lines would be subject to federal inspection.
The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 was designed to prevent the adulteration and mislabeling of foods and pharmaceuticals.
The first step towards conservation came with the Desert Land Act of 1887, under 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 to collect money from the sale of public lands in western states and then use these funds for the development of 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." They sought to combine recreation, sustained-yield logging, watershed protection, and summer stock grazing on the same expanse of federal land. Many westerners soon realized how to work with federal conservation programs and not resist the federal management of natural resources.
The "Roosevelt Panic" of 1907
Theodore Roosevelt was elected as president in 1904. President Roosevelt made it known that he would not run for a 3rd term.
A panic descended upon Wall Street in 1907. The financial world blamed the panic on President Roosevelt for unsettling the industries with his anti-trust tactics.
Responding to the panic of 1907, Congress passed the Aldrich-Vreeland Act in 1908 which authorized national banks to issue emergency currency backed by various kinds of collateral.
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.
In Roosevelt's term, Roosevelt attempted to protect against socialism and to protect capitalists against popular indignation. He greatly enlarged the power and prestige of the presidential office, and he helped shape the progressive movement and beyond it, the liberal reform campaigns later in the century. TR 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 had none of the arts of a dashing political leader, such as Roosevelt, and none of Roosevelt's zest. 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. New York bankers thus strengthened American defenses and foreign policies, while bringing prosperity to America.
In China's Manchuria, Japan and Russia controlled the railroads. President Taft saw in the Manchurian monopoly a possible strangulation of Chinese economic interests and a slamming of the Open Door policy. In 1909, Secretary of State Philander C. Knox proposed that a group of American and foreign bankers buy the Manchurian railroads and then turn them over to China. Both Japan and Russia flatly rejected the selling of their railroads.
Taft the Trustbuster
Taft brought 90 lawsuits against the trusts during his 4 years in office as opposed to Roosevelt who brought just 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 Courts handed down its "rule of reason"; a doctrine that stated that only those trusts that unreasonably restrained trade were illegal.
Taft Splits the Republican Party
President Taft signed the Payne-Aldrich Bill in 1909, a tariff bill that placed a high tariff on many imports. With the signing, Taft betrayed his campaign promises of lowering the tariff.
Taft was a strong conservationist, but in 1910, the Ballinger-Pinchot quarrel erased much of his conservationist record. When Secretary of the Interior Richard Ballinger opened public lands in Wyoming, Montana, and Alaska to corporate development, he was criticized by chief of the Agriculture Department's Division of Forestry, Gifford Pinchot. When Taft dismissed Pinchot, much protest arose from conservationists.
By the spring of 1910, the reformist wing of the Republican Party was furious with Taft and the Republican Party had split. One once supporter of Taft, Roosevelt, was now an enemy. Taft had broken up Roosevelt's U.S. Steel Corporation, which Roosevelt had worked long and hard to form.
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.
In February of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt, with his new views on Taft, announced that he would run again for presidency, clarifying that he said he wouldn't run for 3 consecutive terms.
The Taft-Roosevelt explosion happened in June of 1912 when the Republican convention met in Chicago. When it came time to vote, the Roosevelt supporters claimed fraud and in the end refused to vote. Taft subsequently won the Republican nomination.