Progressivism Reaches the White House

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Progressivism Reaches the White House

When the Spanish-American War (1898) (see Chapter 7) broke out in Cuba, thirty-nine-year-old Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) served as commander of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, a unit better known as the Rough Riders. (The Spanish-American War occurred because Cuba wanted independence from Spanish rule; the United States fought on the side of Cuba and beat Spain within three months.) Roosevelt had left his job with the navy to join the cavalry, which included more than twelve hundred men of all backgrounds from New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and other western states.

Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders

Roosevelt and Colonel Leonard Wood (1860–1927) trained their volunteers so well that the regiment, or unit, was allowed to engage in battle, something not all volunteer units experienced. They formed in Texas and shipped out to Cuba on June 14, 1898. Ironically, though they were called Rough Riders, they fought mainly on foot because there was no room for their horses on the ship to Cuba.

The Rough Riders landed in Cuba on June 22 and saw their first battle two days later. Their next assignment was to join trained military forces in the attack on the Spanish city of Santiago on July 1. Roosevelt's unit, along with regular regiments and the Buffalo Soldiers (African American infantrymen), captured Kettle Hill and moved on to San Juan Heights. With Buffalo Soldiers reaching the crest of the hill first, the Rough Riders joined in the battle, and the hill was captured. Santiago surrendered soon after, and the war was over in just three months. According to historian Virgil Harrington Jones, no American unit in the Spanish-American War suffered as many casualties (deaths) as the Rough Riders, which lost 37 percent of its men before leaving Cuba.

Although the Rough Riders are often given most of the credit for the capture of San Juan Heights, the Buffalo Soldiers played a key role in that battle. According to the General Joe Wheeler Foundation, Rough Rider Frank Knox (1874–1944) wrote of his impression: "In justice to the colored race, I must say that I never saw braver men anywhere! Some of those who rushed up the Hill will live in my memory forever."

Roosevelt returned to New York a war hero and used his popularity and status to get elected his state's governor in November 1898. He immediately set to work reforming the corrupt political system. In 1900, the Republicans chose Roosevelt as the running mate for incumbent (current) president William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901), who was running for his second term. (McKinley's first-term vice president, Garret A. Hobart, had died in November 1899.) As a campaigner, Roosevelt covered more than 21,000 miles (33,789 kilometers), and made hundreds of speeches in 567 cities and 24 states. McKinley, in contrast, gave speeches from the front porch of his home. Many historians believe Roosevelt's popularity helped McKinley win the election (see Chapter 7). When McKinley died from an assassin's bullet on September 14, 1901, forty-two-year-old Roosevelt became the youngest president of the United States.

Roosevelt's first term
in office

Roosevelt was an enthusiastic president whose friendly personality and unceasing activity made him one of the most popular presidents in American history. Roosevelt made it clear that he enjoyed being in the spotlight, and he was not afraid to speak his mind about any and all issues of the day. He was physically energetic in his speeches, often using broad gestures and waving his arms as he spoke. Roosevelt did not hesitate to share his moral judgments with anyone who would listen, and most of America loved him for it.


electoral votes:
The votes a presidential candidate receives for having won a majority of a state's popular vote (citizens' votes). The candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state wins all of that state's electoral votes. Each state receives two electoral votes for its two U.S. senators and a figure for the number of U.S. representatives it has (which is determined by a state's population). A candidate must win a majority of electoral votes (over 50 percent) in order to win the presidency.
The practice of one country extending its control over the territory, political system, or economic system of another country.
Progressive Era:
A period in American history (approximately the first twenty years of the twentieth century) marked by reform and the development of a national cultural identity.
Spanish-American War:
A war fought in 1898 in Cuba. Cuba wanted independence from Spanish rule. The United States fought on the side of Cuba and beat Spain within three months.
The concept of several companies banding together to form an organization that limits competition by controlling the production and distribution of a product or service.

Roosevelt used the media and press to cultivate his popular position, and he had a flair for the dramatic. His six children had complete run of the Executive Mansion, the presidential home Roosevelt renamed the White House. Stories of their antics appeared in newspapers on a regular basis. One particularly popular account told about a time when his young children led one of their many horses into the White House and gave it a ride in the elevator. Roosevelt's role as a loving father only increased his popularity, and the attention given to his family served to further endear the Roosevelts to the American public.

Reform president

Although Roosevelt was forced rather abruptly into the presidency, he immediately took control. The president recognized the need for the kinds of reforms expressed in the writings of new journalists known as muckrakers (those who "rake" through "muck" are digging through dirt and filth). These writers exposed scandalous and unethical practices among established institutions in America. Some of the more famous muckrakers were Ida Tarbell (1857–1954), for her series on the Standard Oil Company; Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), for exposing the dangers and poor working conditions of the meatpacking industry in Chicago; and Lincoln Steffens (1866–1936), for his investigation of the scandals among city and state politicians. In fact, it was Roosevelt who gave these journalists their nickname in a 1906 speech. Though the president disliked the negative focus of muckraking, he believed in what the writers did because they focused on uncovering the truth.

Roosevelt believed that the government was responsible for promoting the common good of all citizens. He did not approve of the majority of economic power resting in the hands of a wealthy few. Roosevelt became known as a "trustbuster" because of his determination to break up trusts. (A trust was formed when several companies banded together to limit competition by controlling the production and distribution of a product or service.) Trusts were illegal under the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and Roosevelt's administration began more than forty lawsuits against companies. The president was more in favor of regulating trusts than he was of dismantling them; he called the Sherman Anti-Trust act "foolish." Congress refused to enact his suggestions for federal licensing and regulation of interstate companies, which would have limited their power. The only choice Roosevelt had, then, was to enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.

Roosevelt earned the somewhat misleading reputation as a trustbuster when, in 1902, he took action against both the Northern Securities Company (a railroad monopoly) and the beef trust. (In a monopoly, one company dominates a sector of business, leaving the consumer no choices and other businesses no possibility of success.) Northern Securities Company had been established by some of the country's wealthiest businessmen: John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), J. P. Morgan (1837–1913), James Hill (1838–1916), and Edward Harriman (1848–1909). Roosevelt ordered the Justice Department to file a suit to dissolve the company. Within a few months, the president filed suit against a Chicago meatpacking company called Swift & Company. America cheered as it watched the unethical companies struggle against the law. Roosevelt had made his point: Big business would have to deal with the federal government if it broke the law. For his hard-line stance on regulating big business—and on punishing it if the law was broken—Roosevelt became known as a "bully" activist.

The coal strike of 1902

In May 1902, coal miners in Pennsylvania went on strike (refused to work). They had tried for months to meet with management and mine owners to negotiate better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. When negotiations failed, the workers refused to enter the mines.

In 1902, anthracite (hard) coal was used to fuel trains and heat houses and businesses. As spring passed into summer and then into fall, Americans became concerned that the continued strike would result in a coal shortage. Businesses would close and citizens would freeze. President Roosevelt also felt concerned, and in October he invited representatives from the miners and the coal operators to the White House. In doing so, he became the first president in history to mediate a labor strike. The meeting was called the Coal Strike Conference of 1902, and during the conference, Roosevelt expressed his concerns. The miners agreed to go back to work if they could get a small, immediate pay increase and a promise that negotiations would continue. The coal operators refused, despite the president's involvement.

When Roosevelt realized the strike would continue, he took direct action. He threatened to send military troops to take over operation of the mines. If this were to happen, miners and owners alike would lose money. Both sides entered in to negotiations with a committee appointed by Roosevelt, and miners returned to work on October 23. They had received a 10 percent increase in wages as well as a guarantee of shorter work days.

Roosevelt's involvement in the mining dispute set a precedent (established example) of what could happen in future labor-management conflicts. The working class realized it had the support of an intelligent, influential president. Big business was all too aware that its authority was no longer limitless. Roosevelt called his program the "square deal," meaning both sides got fair treatment and consideration.

Hero of the conservation movement

Roosevelt was America's first environmentalist. Having spent his childhood sickly and often bedridden, he developed a special appreciation for the outdoors. An avid big game hunter, Roosevelt went west in 1883. What he saw was not at all what he had imagined. The last of the big bison herds were gone, wiped out by careless hide hunters and disease. As years went by, Roosevelt became more alarmed over the state of the land and its wildlife.

Conservation became a personal interest. When Roosevelt became president, he used his power to establish 4 game preserves, 51 bird reserves, and 150 national forests. In 1902, Roosevelt signed the National Reclamation Act, which created the U.S. Reclamation Service (later renamed the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation). Reclamation is the process of altering or restoring a region or land to a healthy ecosystem. The Reclamation Act financed irrigation projects in western deserts, with a goal of making these regions inhabitable by humans. The Theodore Roosevelt Dam near Phoenix, Arizona, was one of the agency's first major projects. The dam formed Theodore Roosevelt Lake; both projects were completed in 1911.

Known by many as the Conservationist President, Roosevelt has a national park named after him in North Dakota. He is also represented in sculpture form on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, along with fellow presidents George Washington (1732–1799; served 1789–97), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826; served 1801–9), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865; served 1861–65).

In 1903, Roosevelt passed a bill to establish the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor. Later that year, he passed the Elkins Act, which prohibited railroad companies from giving rebates to those shippers who used their services most (see Chapter 2).

Big Stick diplomacy

Days before President McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt spoke at the Minnesota State Fair. During his speech, he explained his stance on foreign policy by reciting an African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." By quoting this saying, Roosevelt expressed his belief that to be effective, one did not have to be the mightiest, but just needed the power to fight back if necessary. This philosophy became known as Big Stick diplomacy, and it was one the president embraced throughout his two terms in office.

Roosevelt proved the effectiveness of his philosophy in 1902. During that year, the Venezuelan government found itself heavily in debt to other countries. Germany, Italy, and Great Britain wanted to invade Venezuela to claim some of its territory as repayment. Roosevelt stepped in to help the countries reach an acceptable agreement, thereby avoiding war.

Election of 1904

Roosevelt knew he had come to the presidency by accident; no one had ever actually expected him to lead the country when McKinley was reelected in 1900. Armed with this knowledge, Roosevelt spent his first term strengthening his relationship with the public in both a personal and political way. When it was time to run for president on his own in 1904, Roosevelthad earned the trust of the Republican Party, including Southern African Americans. In 1901, he was the first president to invite an African American to the White House, when he had lunch with reformer Booker T. Washington (1856–1915).

The Republican Party nominated Roosevelt for president unanimously. Roosevelt was fairly certain he would win the presidency. The Republican Party (also known since 1880 as the Grand Old Party, or GOP) was the national force in politics. Roosevelt had made great efforts in appealing to a greater ethnic base that included African Americans and immigrant populations. The Democratic Party continued to be split from within (see Chapter 7), which weakened whatever political power it had.

Although William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) had been the Democratic candidate in the presidential elections in 1896 and 1900 (and would be again in 1908), Democrats did not nominate him for the 1904 race. Instead, they selected Alton B. Parker (1852–1926), chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals. Roosevelt and his running mate, U.S. senator Charles W. Fairbanks (1852–1918) of Indiana, did not travel extensively during the campaign. Roosevelt instead directed the campaign from the front porch of his home in Oyster Bay, New York. In addition, he turned to the some of the nation's wealthiest businessmen for funding. Edward Harriman, Henry Frick (1849–1919), and J. P. Morgan donated 70 percent of the more than $2 million raised by the Republican Party. These donations raised the ethical issue of campaign contributions by large corporations, a practice that logically gave one political party an advantage over the other (in this case, meaning the Republican Party over the Democratic Party). Within three years, Congress would prohibit contributions by national banks and corporations, but not by their officers as individuals.

Roosevelt beat Parker, 336 electoral votes to 140. Electoral votes are the votes a presidential candidate receives for having won a majority of a state's popular vote (citizens' votes). The candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state wins all of that state's electoral votes. Each state receives two electoral votes for its two U.S. senators and a figure for the number of U.S. representatives it has (which is determined by a state's population). A candidate must win a majority of electoral votes (over 50 percent) in order to win the presidency. Roosevelt also won the popular vote by a majority never seen in the country's history before—57.4 percent. Not only was Roosevelt the first man to be elected president on his own after serving out his deceased predecessor's term, he was viewed by many as the most popular president in history at that point. John Whiteclay Chambers II reported in his book The Tyranny of Change that upon learning he had won the election, Roosevelt told his wife he was "no longer a political accident."

TR Firsts

Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to:

  • own a car
  • have a telephone in his home
  • fly in an airplane
  • invite an African American to the White House
  • be submerged in a submarine
  • travel outside the United States while in office
  • win a Nobel Prize (he was also the first American to do so)

Second term in the
White House

Roosevelt became more aggressive in his domestic policy during his second term as president. Two major reforms were established, both in June 1906. On June 29, Roosevelt directed the passage of the Hepburn Act (named after U.S. representative William P. Hepburn [1833–1916] of Iowa, chairman of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce), which strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission by adding two more members and allowing the committee to determine fair rates after complaints surfaced of a railroad shipper charging unfair rates. The Interstate Commerce Commission was established as a result of the Interstate Commerce Act, which had passed in 1887. The act demanded that all railroad shipping rates be fair and reasonable. The Commission's job was to enforce the new laws.

The other major reform applied to the food industry. One day after signing the Hepburn Act into law, Roosevelt passed the Pure Food and Drug Act. This act was designed to protect consumers from fraudulent food labeling and unsafe food. Although individual states had enacted food laws, they were difficult to enforce. Dr. Harvey Wiley (1844–1930), head of the Bureau of Chemistry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lobbied for stricter laws regarding food handling. Wiley enlisted the support of the more ethical food producers and drug manufacturers. Even so, his concerns were largely drowned out by the powerful Beef Trust (the five biggest meatpacking companies) as well as large pharmaceutical companies and small producers of patent medicines.

During the Spanish-American War, America experienced a beef scandal. Meat was being sent overseas to U.S. troops, and soon reports were printed claiming the beef was tainted with embalming fluid to preserve it. (Embalming fluid is what corpses are injected with to delay the decaying process.) Shortly after the war ended, muckraker Charles Edward Russell (1860–1941) wrote a serial documentary exposing the greed and corruption of the Beef Trust. In 1906, journalist Upton Sinclair wrote the groundbreaking novel The Jungle, which detailed horrifying accounts of how meat was handled and processed in Chicago's meatpacking industry. With the public in an uproar over this health issue, Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as its accompanying Meat Inspection Act. The Meat Inspection Act required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect all slaughtered animals to insure safety in the handling and processing of the meat. Lawbreakers could be jailed, fined, or both. These two food-related pieces of legislation were considered major efforts in progressive reform. Although the president did not introduce them, he is often given credit for doing so.

Panic of 1907

Throughout his second term, Roosevelt remained committed to ridding society of what he felt were "evil" trusts. He filed suits against DuPont, Standard Oil, American Tobacco, and New Haven Railroad. These lawsuits did nothing to improve the president's relations with the business community. The situation was only made worse with the Panic of 1907.

Several businesses and financial firms went bankrupt (declared themselves unable to pay their debts; often, this means the business closes) in the summer of 1907. In October of that year, the Knickerbocker Trust in New York and the Westinghouse Electric Company closed their doors to business, setting off what became known as the Panic of 1907. Stock market prices decreased, and people and businesses began pulling their money out of banks for fear they would lose it. Banks began closing rapidly.

In an attempt to restore order to the American economy, President Roosevelt called upon businessman J. P. Morgan for assistance. He had served in a similar role several years earlier, when President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97) was in office. Morgan was a financier, an investment banker who works on a grand scale with large amounts of money. Morgan called upon the best bankers and financial experts, and together the men gathered in Morgan's home. From there, they channeled money to the weaker businesses and institutions in an effort to keep them from going bankrupt. Economic conditions improved within weeks, and the crisis passed.

The Panic of 1907 led reformers from both political parties to call for change in the banking business and its procedures. Business leaders, however, blamed Roosevelt's reform legislation (such as his trust regulating), claiming it had upset the natural order of the economy. As a direct result of the panic, banking reforms and legislations were passed. The Federal Reserve System was established in 1913 and became the banking headquarters of the United States.

Foreign policy

Winning the Spanish-American War made America a world power for the first time. The victory gave the United States the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico and allowed America to purchase the Philippine Islands. Taking over foreign countries and controlling their political and economic systems is known as imperialism, and Roosevelt was a firm believer in it. Many Americans disagreed. These anti-imperialists felt that imperialism was too costly and would eventually attract too many non-whites into the country.

The president preached his philosophy vigorously. "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat," he wrote in a collection of essays titled The Strenuous Life (1900).

Roosevelt dealt with foreign policy with the doctrine of "New Imperialism." Nations he personally believed were uncivilized would gain independence only once they conformed to the American model of government and democracy. The president believed in the superiority of his country's morals and history, and this belief justified America's involvement in countries with which it had little interaction. Under this direction, the United States became a sort of watch-dog throughout the western half of the world. Under Roosevelt's leadership, America's empire grew to include the Philippines, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico.

The Panama Canal

Perhaps the most famous of Roosevelt's foreign policy initiatives was the Panama Canal (a man-made waterway). For years, American naval leaders wanted to build a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through Central America. Now that America owned territory that stretched into the Pacific, a canal took on even greater importance, as it would drastically reduce the amount of shipping and travel time.

Building of the canal across the Isthmus of Panama (then a territory of Colombia) had officially begun in 1878 by Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805–1894), the French engineer who had built the Suez Canal in Egypt. Construction came to a halt when laborers contracted tropical diseases and engineering problems arose. Even so, a French company retained rights to the project, so no one else could continue the construction. Roosevelt tried to buy those rights for $40 million. He also offered to pay $10 million for a 50-mile stretch across the isthmus, but Colombia refused. Roosevelt correctly predicted a revolution in Panama, and he sent in a naval ship and military troops to support Panama's government. When Roosevelt presented the rebels with the $10-million offer, they happily accepted, and America had total control of a 10-mile canal zone.

Thousands of workers began digging the canal. Many died of yellow fever, a disease carried by mosquitoes. Despite the disapproval of many Americans who felt Roosevelt acted in an unconstitutional manner, work continued. On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened for business. In addition to building the canal, workers also constructed three railroads and a lake.

The Anti-Imperialist League

A bloody revolution took place in the Philippines soon after the Spanish-American War (see Chapter 7). The Philippine Insurrection occurred because Filipinos were not willing to accept America as either their landlords or their bosses. They did not want to be told how to run their country. They rebelled in what would be one of the bloodiest wars of the era. In reaction to the revolution, a small group of Americans formed the Anti-Imperialist League in 1899.

The Anti-Imperialist League was formed by men who were opposed to territorial expansion and the idea of colonialism in general. Under colonialism, a country is not permitted to make its own laws or run its own country. At the turn of the century, America was a major colonial power. The men who opposed imperialism were liberal (progressive), and many had ties to the antislavery movement.

Men such as writer Mark Twain (1835–1910) and millionaire industrialist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) joined the league, which is considered one of the first peace movements in history. Although the league began in Boston, it soon had a national membership of more than thirty thousand. Followers believed America could not possibly extend constitutional rights to citizens of other countries, nor could it absorb more ethnicities. It was already having difficulty dealing with the obvious racism against its African American citizens. To try to take on more at that point, they believed, would lead only to further injustice.

In 1900, the government threatened to imprison antiwar activists, which would include Anti-Imperialist League members. In addition, then-President William McKinley agreed to begin withdrawing troops from the Philippines. Those two events led to a decrease in the influence of the league. It was unable to save the Philippines from thirty years of colonial rule. By the time the war officially ended in 1902, more than two hundred thousand Filipino civilians (some historians estimate the figure as a half-million or higher) had lost their lives. Unofficially, the fighting continued well into the second decade of the twentieth century.

The project cost $400 million and was considered one of the world's greatest engineering projects. For ten years, thirty thousand workers, most from the West Indies, were paid 10 cents an hour for ten-hour shifts. By 1925, more than five thousand merchant ships had traveled the Panama Canal. The water way shortened the trip from San Francisco, California, to New York, New York, by nearly 8,000 miles (12,872 kilometers). Equally as important, the canal became a major military asset that made the United States the dominant power in Central America.

The Panama Canal remained an American asset until December 31, 1999, at which time it (and its surrounding land) was handed over to Panamanian authorities. During his presidency, Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) signed a transfer agreement. During the twenty years between the signing of the agreement and the actual transfer, the Canal was run by a transitional committee, which was led by an American leader for the first decade and a Panamanian leader for the second. Along with the Canal, Carter offered Panama his apologies and acknowledged that although Roosevelt's vision was to be praised, the feelings of American colonialism in Panama created controversy. The agreement holds that the United States can interfere if the Canal loses its neutrality or threatens American interests in any way.

Russo-Japanese War

War erupted between Russia and Japan in 1904. Both countries had ideas for what they planned to do with Korea and Manchuria. At the time, China had control of a port in Manchuria that Russia wanted to take over. It convinced China to lease the port, which gave Russia occupation within southern Manchuria. Japan was angered over this move because Russia had forced Japan to give up its own right to be in Manchuria when Japan beat China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95). Then in 1896, Russia ended an alliance with China against Japan and won the rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across parts of China-controlled Manchuria. This gave Russia control of an important territory in Manchuria. Roosevelt had been expecting the conflict, and his sympathies lay with Japan. America had long wanted to put an end to Russia's plan of taking over Manchuria, and now that Japan was fighting the battle, America would not have to.

The war ended in 1905 with Japan defeating Russia's navy and overrunning Manchuria's neighbor, Korea. This defeat prohibited Russia from expanding its power in the Far East, while at the same time made Japan the first Asian power to defeat a European power. This victory suddenly made Japan a much stronger nation than it had been in the past, which concerned Roosevelt. To add further worry, Japan had already established an alliance (a partnership with another country or countries) with the powerful Great Britain in 1902. This alliance threatened the United States' desire to be the dominant superpower.

Roosevelt kept in mind the Open-Door policy the United States had with China. This policy stated that all trading nations of the world would have access to China's market. In order to keep the policy in action, he invited leaders from Japan and Russia to New Hampshire to work out a peace treaty. Japan, though victorious in its war against Russia, was in trouble financially, and both countries agreed to negotiate. Roosevelt would later be awarded the Nobel peace prize for his peacekeeping efforts. Although Roosevelt's mediation brought peace, the conference did not go quite as he had hoped. The president had to give Japan a similar position and influence in China that America demanded for itself in the Western Hemisphere. This was power he did not want to share.

In keeping with his belief that the world could be made up of great superpowers that maintained stability even as they competed, Roosevelt negotiated a secret deal with Japan in 1905 called the Taft-Katsura Agreement. This deal assured the United States that Japan had no interest in the Philippines, which had remained an important interest for America; in return, America pledged not to interfere in Japan's relations in Korea. Soon after, Korea became a Japanese protectorate (under the protection and partial control of a country).

Continued conservation reform

Roosevelt remained a dedicated environmentalist throughout his second term, and indeed, his life. By the time his presidency ended, he had placed under legal protection 230 million acres of land in the United States. He also established the U.S. Forest Service in 1905 and signed the 1906 American Antiquities Act, which allowed him to proclaim eighteen sites as national monuments. This designation gave the sites federal protection for the preservation of their natural value and importance.

A fellow conservationist named Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946; pronounced PIN-show; see box) had been appointed chief of the Division of Forestry in 1898. Around the same time, Pinchot met and formed a friendship with Theodore Roosevelt. The men recognized in each other a common concern for and love of the land and all its resources. Both agreed that forest lands needed to be federally protected in order to keep them from being exploited (used to someone's advantage) by private interest groups. They also agreed that forests required ongoing management if they were to be sustained.

In 1905, the Division of Forestry was moved from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture and renamed the U.S. Forest Service, eventually to be known as the National Forest Service (NFS). Roosevelt appointed Pinchot the leader of the NFS, and within five years, America's forest land grew from 56 million acres to 172 million acres.

TR's positions on other issues

Roosevelt initiated many major progressive reforms while in the White House. Reform became such a big part of his reputation that the public credited him with reforms even when he did not initiate them. Controversy did not scare Roosevelt. He publicly spoke and wrote about hundreds of issues while in office, including birth control (immoral), morality, divorce (weakened the family bond), football, and even spelling (it should be made simpler.)

Roosevelt was not a champion of equality between men and women, though he did support women's suffrage (right to vote). He believed girls should be educated, becoming aware enough of world events to better the society in which they lived. He thought boys should be encouraged to use their fighting instincts to stand against injustice; cowards should be sternly punished.

On the issue of race, the president did not truly believe in equality among the races, nor did he believe African Americans could be integrated into American society. According to, he agreed with the idea that they were little more than "burdens" on the white race. Whites, however, should deal with them and welcome them out of a sense of Christian duty. His racist attitudes were not limited to African Americans. He considered Asian Americans and Native Americans burdens as well.

Roosevelt's racism was evident in his everyday speech and behavior. A glaring example of it was his refusal to acknowledge the key role of the Buffalo Soldiers in the Battle of San Juan Heights. Not only did the Rough Riders leader not give the African American soldiers any credit in his written or oral accounts of the siege, they were not depicted in illustrations, paintings, or commemorations of that historical battle.

Election of 1908

During the 1904 election, Roosevelt had promised he would retire after his second term. He kept that promise and chose Secretary of War William Howard Taft (1857–1930) to be his successor. Taft was nominated by the Republican Party and ran against Democrat, and two-time presidential loser, William Jennings Bryan. Although Taft had been personally chosen by Roosevelt to succeed him, Bryan told the American public he would be the candidate more likely to uphold Roosevelt's policies. The public did not believe him, however, and Taft won the election by a landslide (321 of the electoral votes, 51.6 percent of the popular vote). Taft became the twenty-seventh president of the United States, with former U.S. representative James S. Sherman (1855–1912) of New York as his vice president.

Gifford Pinchot: Controversial Conservationist

Gifford Pinchot was born in 1865 to a wealthy Connecticut family. Because no colleges or universities at the time offered degrees in forestry, Pinchot studied in France. Upon his return, he immediately found work and was soon a government employee with the Division of Forestry.

Pinchot's proven wisdom and friendship with Theodore Roosevelt earned him a leadership role with the National Forest Service. In 1910, after five successful years, Pinchot was fired by President William Howard Taft (Roosevelt's successor), who did not believe in government regulation of land. Pinchot's firing was directly related to a public controversy between himself and one of Taft's appointees.

The decision of Pinchot and Roosevelt to remove millions of acres of land from the public domain (ownership) infuriated many western senators and their voters, who wanted to use that land for mining, lumber, and grazing leases. Secretary of the Interior Richard A. Ballinger (1858–1922) sympathized with these men from the West, and returned a million acres of land to the public domain. An outraged Pinchot spoke against Ballinger in public meetings; he wrote magazine articles in which he attacked the secretary and accused him of corrupt political activity prior to his term in the Interior.

Taft's response was to fire Pinchot, a move that angered the public and only served to turn them against Taft. An investigation followed in which Ballinger was found not guilty of the charges against him.

In 1914, Pinchot ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. In 1922 and 1930, he was elected governor of Pennsylvania. When Roosevelt's fifth cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945, served 1933–45), was elected president, Pinchot served as his advisor on conservation issues. The environmentalist died of leukemia (a blood disorder) in 1946 at the age of eighty-one.

Taft takes office

Following in Roosevelt's footsteps as president of the United States was no easy task. America had grown accustomed to the "bully" activist president's loud and rowdy ways. Taft, in comparison, was restrained and quiet. As a boy, he had been anxious, eager to please his parents, yet sure of their disapproval. His weight fluctuated a great deal throughout his lifetime, a physical symptom of his anxiety. He was 5 feet 11½ inches tall and weighed 320 pounds when he entered the White House. By the time he left, he had gained an additional 15 to 20 pounds.

When it became clear that Taft could not be favorably compared with Roosevelt, his public relations advisors took a different approach and turned the president's sluggishness into an asset by saying he never wanted to say anything negative about his opponents.

Reform legislation

Taft was determined to continue Roosevelt's progressive program. But unlike his predecessor, Taft was not focused on pushing through legislation. He concentrated instead on administration. Regardless of his personal feelings about a particular law, Taft felt most comfortable in enforcing the law. This was where he was self-assured.

This does not mean reform legislation was ignored throughout Taft's presidency. One of the first reform acts was the reduction of tariffs. Tariffs were taxes imposed on products imported from other countries. High tariffs brought in extra money but also impeded global commerce because foreign manufacturers did not always want to pay the high tariffs.

One of the most important pieces of legislation passed during Taft's term was the Mann-Elkins Act of 1910. This law gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the authority to suspend railroad rate hikes and set rates. It also expanded their power beyond railroads to cover telephones, telegraphs, and radio.

Taft also boldly divided the Commerce and Labor Department into two separate departments. During his time in office, the president supported the statehood of New Mexico and Arizona. In 1913, Taft pushed the Sixteenth Amendment into law, meaning Americans paid income taxes for the first time. With much less enthusiasm, he supported the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, which allowed senators to be directly elected by citizens of a state, rather than appointed by the state legislature.

Taft found himself in the midst of controversy when he decided the president should be the one to submit a government budget to Congress for approval. In the past, each agency of the federal government submitted its own budget. Congress refused to allow Taft that power, but in 1921, the Budget and Accounting Act was passed. Too late to affect the authority of Taft (who, by this time, had been out of office for eight years), the law gave all subsequent presidents expanded power in the control of the executive branch of the government.

More trust-busting

Roosevelt may have been known as the trust-busting president, but more trust lawsuits were pursued during Taft's presidency. Two of the most famous cases, involving Standard Oil Company and American Tobacco Company, began under Roosevelt, but ended in victory under Taft. In all, nearly one hundred trust suits were completed under Taft. Although usually victorious in his trust-busting efforts, one such case—involving U.S. Steel—did not end in Taft's favor. The suit pitted Taft against his good friend Roosevelt, who had approved of the company's formation in 1901. The former president accused Taft of being unable to distinguish between "good" and "bad" trusts, and the men's friendship dissolved. The case remained without a verdict until 1920, at which time the federal Supreme Court ruled that U.S. Steel was not in violation of antitrust laws. The Court's decision came a year after Roosevelt's death and seven years after Taft left office.

Two big mistakes

Taft made two irreversible errors while president. The first was his signing of the Payne-Aldrich Tariff. Sponsored by U.S. senator Nelson Aldrich (1841–1915) of Rhode Island and U.S. representative Sereno Payne (1843–1914) of New York, the bill called for only modest tariff reductions. This bill did not satisfy most Republicans, who were, as a group, in favor of more severe tariff reductions. Despite the fact that he had publicly threatened to veto all bills that did not provide sufficient reductions, Taft called the Payne-Aldrich Tariff the best tariff bill ever passed by Congress. Progressives felt betrayed by this reversal of philosophy, and they did not forget their feelings when it came time to vote in the 1912 presidential election.

The second mistake was Taft's firing of Gifford Pinchot. This action seriously damaged the friendship between Roosevelt and Taft, and most of America sided with Roosevelt and Pinchot.

Relations abroad

Roosevelt was committed to imperialism; Taft was equally enthusiastic about expanding foreign trade. He implemented a program called "dollar diplomacy" to encourage U.S. investments overseas. He encouraged American banks to rescue Honduras by sending along loans and grants. The president used military power to stabilize Nicaragua's U.S.-friendly government when rebels threatened to overthrow their leadership.

Despite Taft's efforts, foreign relations under his administration worsened. Trade with China decreased, and the "dollar diplomacy" program did little more than aggravate the feelings of resentment Central America had already had due to Roosevelt's imperialistic policy.

The decline in foreign affairs prompted a Pan-American (relating to North, South, and Central America) Conference. The purpose of the conference was to find a way to keep the United States from influencing and intervening in the affairs of South and Central America. Soon after, Taft ordered two thousand troops to the border of Mexico. They were ordered to intervene in a revolution taking place there so that U.S. investments would be protected. When Congress refused to approve this move, Taft backed down and left the Mexico situation for the next president to handle. This surprise move earned him the nickname "Peaceful Bill."

Opinions about Taft

America had mixed feelings about its president. Though married with three children, he never quite fit the traditional role of president for several reasons.

His religion was a problem for many Americans. He was a Unitarian, which is a branch of Christianity that acknowledges God but rejects the divinity of Christ. In other words, Unitarians believe Heaven is open to people even if they have not accepted Jesus as their savior. At a time when religion was of great importance to the American public, many confused Unitarianism with atheism (disbelief in God). Taft also loved sports. He was the first president to play golf, a sport whose popularity surged as a result of Taft's interest. But his critics advised the president to spend less time on the golf course and more time in the White House.

Size was another issue that affected the image of the president. His largeness offended some; others were simply amused and could not take the man seriously. One of the most famous anecdotes about Taft involved the time he got stuck in the White House bathtub and had to be helped out by six of his staff. This prompted the building of a bigger tub. A new 7-foot, 41-inch tub was installed; it could hold four average-sized men.

Although the teasing and humorous remarks regarding Taft's weight were made gently throughout his first year in office, the tone of them became hostile and critical as his presidency wore on. In addition to the issue with his size, Taft was known to embarrass his family and friends by falling asleep at concerts and even while presiding over his staff. Taft himself seemed to accept his size as well as his need for sleep after eating or physical exercise, but the American public had more trouble doing so. Modern medical experts generally agree that Taft most likely suffered from what is known as obstructive sleep apnea, a condition worsened by obesity in which people stop breathing for brief periods throughout the night.

Taft in Hong Kong

Newspapers and magazines made light of William Howard Taft's enormous size, and the president himself was a good sport about his weight problem. At other times, his weight was a serious topic and one that required special consideration.

On his first visit to Hong Kong in 1907, Secretary of War Taft's sedan [portable] chair broke under his weight. At the time of collapse, local unskilled laborers called coolies were transporting Taft and his chair. Prior to his second visit, officials in Hong Kong contracted with a local chair builder to fashion a chair that would hold up under Taft's weight. The paperwork was forwarded to Washington and released to newspapers in New York. As noted in Henry F. Pringle's 1939 book The Life and Times of William Howard Taft: A Biography, an excerpt of that contract read:

I, the undersigned, Yu Wo of 15B Wellington Street agree to make a sedan chair for the American consul general. … This chair is to be used to carry the American giant, the Honorable William Howard Taft. Said Taft being one of the most conspicuous [obvious] ornaments of the American Wai Wu Pai [Imperial Cabinet], it would obviously discredit this nation if the chair should disintegrate [fall apart]. … To avert [avoid] international complications of this sort, I, Yu Wo, assert my skill as a chairmaker.

It shall be reinforced at all weak points. … The shafts shall be of double diameter. The body itself shall be of eventful width. … Red cloth shall adorn the seat of the chair and gleaming brass look defiantly out to a point that unconsciously, [people] shall say: "Certainly this nation of the open door that has so long befriended the Middle Kingdom is a great power."

The consul general may have the use of the chair October 11 and 12, 1907, after which the chair belongs to me, with the understanding that if ex-president Cleveland, also reputed to be of heroic size, tours the world, the consul general shall direct his steps to my shop. … With such precautions do I safeguard the dignity of a friendly power and contribute an honest chairmaker's part in preserving the Peace of the East.

Women's issues

Women continued their struggle for suffrage throughout Taft's presidency. The fight brought to the public forefront the issue of female identity. Prior to 1910, women who worked toward suffrage were part of the "women's movement." This term indicated their intention to push the limits of the role attributed to their gender. No longer content to remain in the home, women activists worked to be accepted as equal to men in social and political spheres. Their struggle was based on the idea that women's superior morality would lift up society.

Around 1910, however, a new word was being used for the movement. "Feminism" and its supporters placed more emphasis on women's rights and seizing opportunities to live up to their potential in every way and less on duty and moral obligation.

Taft took no strong stance for or against suffrage and feminism during his tenure as president. His wife, Nellie Taft (1861–1943), was in favor of partial suffrage for women, though she smoked, drank liquor, and gambled without reservation at a time when "proper" women did not engage in what many viewed as immoral activity. Later, as chief justice of the United States, Taft handed down several rulings regarding women's rights that were progressive at the time.

The race issue

African Americans were the victims of great racial violence throughout the first two decades of the twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1914, white mobs lynched (hanged) more than one thousand African Americans. Lynching was meant to be a warning to other African Americans who might try to vote or otherwise assert their independence. Given this social atmosphere, it is not surprising that very few African Americans voted in the presidential elections of 1908 and 1912.

Many African Americans began migrating north at the turn of the century. They were met with segregated (separated) neighborhoods, job discrimination, and poor schooling, but at least they did not fear for their lives as they had in the South. (Despite the fact that slavery had been outlawed after the Civil War [1861–65], most Southerners held onto their deep-seated belief that African Americans were an inferior race.) As they gathered strength in urban ghettos (the poorest sections of the inner city), powerful African American leaders emerged. Men like W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), who established the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1914, and Booker T. Washington, who established the Tuskegee Institute, a school for African Americans, empowered their fellow African Americans with words of encouragement.

Leaving the White House

Taft was unable to live up to the Roosevelt legacy. His gentle personality, coupled with his lack of leadership, led to most of his difficulties as president. Rather than make sound decisions when called upon, he tended to consider every issue from all sides, a habit that led directly to indecisiveness. From the outset of his administration, Taft let others influence his leadership. For example, Congress made 847 amendments to the president's initial tariff reform package. Taft made no efforts to defend his reform proposal, and the result was a package of laws that meant nearly nothing.

Arthur Link, biographer of President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–1921), considered Taft's administration a "disaster," and most historians agree. Taft lost the election of 1912 but went on to become chief justice for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1921. This appointment was Taft's lifelong dream, and a job for which he was much better suited. Taft retired in 1930 due to ill health. He died that same year due to complications from his weight.

The presidential election of 1912

Taft agreed to run for reelection in 1912, but not because he really wanted to remain in office. Theodore Roosevelt, the man who nominated Taft for the presidency in 1908, had felt personally attacked and betrayed by several decisions Taft had made while president, including his dismissal of Gifford Pinchot and the lawsuit filed against U.S. Steel, a trust Roosevelt considered to be "good." By the time of the campaign, Roosevelt was convinced Taft would ruin the Republican Party. He was determined not to let that happen, and worked to replace him as the 1912 Republican candidate. Taft decided to run for a second term because he felt the need to defend himself against Roosevelt's many and public attacks on his judgment and ability.

The 1912 election was the first election in which presidential candidates would go through primaries. This meant the public would vote on who was to be the candidate for all political parties (in the past, candidates were nominated by party leaders). The early primary system was carried out at the state level, so not all states conducted primary elections. In fact, thirty-six states had no direct popular Republican primary. In these states, delegates were chosen by state conventions, and the delegates to the state conventions had most often been chosen in local conventions. This allowed for domination by professional politicians, men who did not necessarily represent the best interests of their state's citizens. As a result, many state delegates were competing for the same seats. In 1912, 254 delegate seats to the Republican convention were contested.

The Republican National Committee had the power to decide the delegate disputes. Most of the members of that committee were Taft supporters. As could have been predicted, Taft was awarded the majority of those 254 seats (235, compared to Roosevelt's 19). This unfair treatment split the Republican Party into two sides: those who supported Taft, and those who supported Roosevelt. When Roosevelt lost the primary election, he and his supporters broke away from the Republican Party and established the Progressive Party, commonly referred to as the Bull Moose Party. The resulting three-man election marked the first time an incumbent president ran for reelection against a former president as well as a future president.

The National Progressive Party

The Progressive Party membership was well educated and respectable. It consisted of no professional politicians and a large number of professional and civic-minded women. As a result of this mix, it was the only major political party of the election to support women's rights. Aside from women's rights, the central idea of the party was to redistribute the nation's wealth so that more Americans could enjoy a better quality of life. Despite this concern for the nation's workforce, Progressives were not a labor party. They wanted to help, but not engage the participation of the workers themselves. Progressives were cultured, middle-class Americans, and that is how they intended the party to stay.

With the Republican Party now split in two, it was highly unlikely either Roosevelt or Taft would win the election. The winner of the election was New Jersey governor Woodrow Wilson, the first Democrat to serve in the White House in sixteen years. Wilson won 435 electoral votes, compared to Roosevelt's 88 and Taft's 8. Wilson claimed 41.9 percent of the popular vote, leaving 27.4 percent to Roosevelt and 23.1 percent to Taft; the remaining votes were divided between Socialist Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926) and Prohibition Party leader Eugene W. Chafin (1852–1920).

Wilson's economic program was called "New Freedom," and it attacked Roosevelt for catering to the wealthy trusts. Wilson promised to reduce tariffs and increase opportunity for small businesses to compete in the marketplace. A progressive thinker, Wilson signed into law more reform legislation than Roosevelt and Taft combined. Unlike Roosevelt, who was constantly in motion and earned a reputation as a "bully" activist, Wilson was quiet and thoughtful, a man who gave great consideration to the issue at hand before deciding how to proceed. But once he decided, he moved with conviction.

A most important president

Historians generally agree that Wilson was one of the most important presidents in American history not only for the reforms he passed, but for the way he dealt with the events of his time. Among the reforms passed during his two terms as president:

  • Labor: Wilson passed the Keating-Owen Child Labor Act (1916), which limited the number of hours children could legally work and prohibited the interstate sale of goods produced by child labor. He supported the La Follette Seaman's bill (1915), which improved working conditions of sailors. He also signed into law the Adamson Act (1916), which limited interstate railroad workers to an eight-hour day. In addition, he passed legislation in support of labor unions.
  • Suffrage: Wilson supported the Nineteenth Amendment, which was signed into law in 1921 and gave women the right to vote.
  • Finance: Wilson passed the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, which provided for currency and banking reform. The Federal Reserve System is still in place in the twenty-first century.
  • Trustbusting: Wilson passed the Federal Trade Commission Act as well as the Clayton Anti-Trust Act in 1914. Both laws strengthened the antitrust laws already in place and expanded the power of labor.

What Is Socialism?

For hundreds of years, America has operated in a capitalist society. Capitalism is an economic system in which production and distribution of goods are privately controlled. Its motivation is profit, or making more money than is spent on production.

Capitalism has always had its share of vocal opponents. Those opposed to this system dislike it for its uneven distribution of wealth: a small number of individuals control the largest percentage of wealth, leaving the rest to get by on comparatively little income. Opponents blame capitalism for the existence of poverty, and many advocate for a socialist economy.

In socialism, the public or government owns and controls the production and distribution of goods. In theory, a socialist economy would provide even distribution of wealth and eradicate poverty. Communism is a form of socialism.

In the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, socialism was held up as a means of dealing with the serious levels of intense poverty that suddenly seemed to spread throughout the nation as a result of rapid growth in industrialization. The socialist movement was closely related to the labor movement during that time, as it was the working class that suffered the most under capitalism.

Although socialist presidential candidates participated in many elections, the party had its best showing in the election of 1912, when its candidate, Eugene V. Debs, won 6 percent of the popular vote.

Wilson led America into World War I (1914–18), and his peace program, called "Fourteen Points," helped bring the war to a victorious end for America. Wilson's vision for the future, which was outlined in the Fourteen Points, imagined a world without imperialism or secret alliances. He wanted weaker countries to be heard alongside the stronger ones. The last of his Fourteen Points was the formation of a League of Nations, an organization of representatives from all countries that would work to solve international disputes without war. Although the League was established in 1920, the U.S. Senate voted against joining. The majority of its members believed America was already involved in too many of Europe's disputes and conflicts, and many American citizens agreed. As a result, the United States never joined the League of Nations. As World War II began (1939–45), it became clear the League had failed to prevent war. It was eventually replaced by the United Nations. For his efforts toward international peace, Wilson earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920.

The shaping of America

The Progressive Era greatly influenced the shaping of modern America. It made clear not only the possibilities but also the limitations of reform and progress. That era saw America transform from an agricultural society into a consumer culture, where competition opened up a vast world of choice and directly connected materialism with success.

Perhaps what the Progressive Era proved once and for all is that history and progress are made through the efforts of all people, not just those in positions of power. Nowhere is this more evident than in the labor movement. This period in history forced people to accept the changes imposed upon them or summon their courage and fight for their values and goals. It was a time of greed and corruption, but also of great generosity and hope.

What lies ahead

America had survived World War I, and within two years, Prohibition (the outlawing of the sale and consumption of alcohol) would sweep the nation. It would be marked by a dramatic rise in organized criminal activity as well as a 24-percent increase in the number of homicides (murders) and burglaries between 1920 and 1921 alone. The number of federal convicts over the thirteen years that Prohibition was in effect increased 561 percent. Clearly, the law that aimed to reduce immoral and criminal behavior served only to increase it, as illegal drinking establishments called speakeasies dotted the urban landscape and bootlegging moonshine (illegally manufacturing alcohol) became a new career for thousands.

The 1920s would give America Time Magazine and Reader's Digest. Inventions would include bubble gum, the lie detector, and the first talking movie. Women would wear their hair and their dresses short, and dances like the tango and the Charleston would become the latest craze. The first winter Olympic games would be held, and Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974) would make the first successful Transatlantic flight.

America would once again find itself involved in political conflicts as it dealt with the rabid fear of communism in Russia, an American phenomenon known as the Red Scare(red is the color used to represent the Communist Party). The white supremacist terrorist group called the Ku Klux Klan would peak at five million members nationwide, and African Americans would be the targets of hate crimes at an intensity never before seen in the United States.

If the Progressive Era was one of hope, the Roaring Twenties was a decade of cultural and social decadence (decline in values) and political uncertainty.

For More Information


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Progressivism Reaches the White House

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