The Progressive Era (1890–1930)

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The Progressive Era (1890–1930)

How They Were Governed

The Roosevelt Corollary

The Roosevelt Corollary, a statement of foreign policy proposed by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), declared that the United States would not tolerate European intervention in or colonization of independent nations in the Western Hemisphere. In addition, Roosevelt asserted that if any nation in the region—particularly in Central and South America—demonstrated instability or an inability to govern itself, the United States had the right to intervene and take over that nation’s government to prevent it from falling into the hands of a European power. The corollary—a corollary is something that follows from or is added to another statement—was attached to the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, in which President James Monroe (1758–1831) called for an end to European intervention in the affairs of independent nations in the Americas. Roosevelt first proposed the corollary in May 1904, then repeated it in his annual message to Congress on December 6, 1904, and in a special message to Congress on February 15, 1905.

The European Presence

Although Spain had lost its colony of New Spain, which included Mexico, to independence in 1821, Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams (1767–1848), were growing increasingly concerned about the European presence in the Western Hemisphere. During the early 1820s France had briefly installed a king in Mexico—he was a member of the Hapsburg family, an Austrian-based dynasty that had ruled parts of Europe since the late Middle Ages—and England was attempting to exert its influence over Central America. In 1823 Monroe, in his annual address to Congress, declared that the United States would not tolerate any further European intervention in the hemisphere. His declaration became known as the Monroe Doctrine.

Even though the doctrine was a statement of U.S. isolationist, or noninterventionist, foreign policy, it contained no promise that the United States would refrain from intervention in Central and South America—the very action it was warning European powers against. In fact, historians point to the Monroe Doctrine as an early example of U.S. expansionist plans in the hemisphere and the forerunner of manifest destiny, the belief that the United States was destined to expand its territories to include the entire North American continent.

A “Big Stick” Policy

Roosevelt’s assertive approach toward Latin America was sometimes referred to as the big stick policy because of his diplomatic motto: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Although Roosevelt believed in diplomatic negotiations, he also believed in using military force when necessary to defend U.S. interests.

Roosevelt’s corollary grew out of his fear of possible German naval intervention in the Caribbean and the use of force by Germany, Britain, and France to collect debts from Venezuela. Even though the United States opposed this possible use of force, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, ruled that the three European nations had the right to exercise such power. The U.S. Department of State warned Roosevelt that this ruling would weaken the Monroe Doctrine. Another factor that led to the corollary was tension between the Dominican Republic and its German and French creditors. Roosevelt worried that the Europeans would invade the Caribbean island nation to protect their interests.

“An International Police Power”

In his annual message to Congress on December 6, 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) set forth a foreign-policy statement that later became known as the Roosevelt Corollary. The following is an excerpt:

It is not true that the United States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards the other nations of the Western Hemisphere save such as are for their welfare. All that this country desires is to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous. Any country whose people conduct themselves well can count upon our hearty friendship. If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, if it keeps order and pays its obligations, it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.… Our interests and those of our southern neighbors are in reality identical. They have great natural riches, and if within their borders the reign of law and justice obtains, prosperity is sure to come to them. While they thus obey the primary laws of civilized society they may rest assured that they will be treated by us in a spirit of cordial and helpful sympathy. We would interfere with them only in the last resort, and then only if it became evident that their inability or unwillingness to do justice at home and abroad had violated the rights of the United States or had invited foreign aggression to the detriment of the entire body of American nations. It is a mere truism to say that every nation, whether in America or anywhere else, which desires to maintain its freedom, its independence, must ultimately realize that the right of such independence can not be separated from the responsibility of making good use of it.


Transcript of Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, excerpted from his annual message to Congress, December 6, 1904. (accessed April 11, 2007).

From Isolationism to Expansionism

In his corollary, Roosevelt stated that the United States would intervene as a “last resort” to ensure that other nations in the Western Hemisphere fulfilled their international obligations and did not violate the rights of the United States or invite foreign aggression. Even though the Monroe Doctrine was essentially a passive request—it asked Europeans not to increase their influence or to recolonize any part of the Western Hemisphere—by the twentieth century a more confident United States was willing to take on the role of regional policeman. Therefore, the corollary was more than an addition to or emendation of the Monroe Doctrine; rather, it was a departure from the original doctrine. It opposed revolutions in Latin America, declared that the United States had the right to intervene in the region, facilitated U.S. economic control of those nations, and relied on force or the threat of force.

The Corollary’s Impact

Roosevelt’s corollary declared that the United States had become an international police power that would uphold democracy and eliminate “flagrant cases” of wrongdoing wherever necessary. In practice, the United States increasingly used military force to restore what it referred to as “internal stability” to nations in the region.

Many historians note that, in the long run, the corollary had little to do with relations between the Western Hemisphere and Europe. Instead, it served as justification for U.S. intervention in the Caribbean and Central and South America for the next eighty years. They point to examples such as financial controls and interventions in Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cuba, and Nicaragua during the administrations of William Howard Taft (1857–1930) and Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), which were defended on the basis of Roosevelt’s corollary.

See also Isolationism

See also Theodore Roosevelt

See also Woodrow Wilson

The Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent governmental agency that regulates foreign and interstate commerce to ensure that competition is not restricted by unfair and deceptive business practices. It also works to curb the growth of monopolies, which develop when people or groups gain control over the distribution or sale of a given product or service.

A Response to Excesses

The creation of the FTC was a response to the excesses of nineteenth-century capitalism—a time when powerful industrialists who were thought to use unfair business tactics became known as robber barons—and political corruption. Social, economic, and political reform movements rose up, calling for an expansion of government to protect the public interest.

Some federal laws—for example, the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890—were enacted, but no legislation had altered the shift toward the concentration of economic power. When President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) took office in 1901, he asked Congress to create the Department of Commerce and Labor (DCL). Among its objectives were the promotion of domestic and foreign commerce and the encouragement of industrial growth in the United States. (In 1913 Congress divided the agency into the Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor.) As part of the DCL, Congress created the Bureau of Corporations, whose purpose was to investigate and publicize unethical and noncompetitive business practices. The bureau developed a series of informal agreements with large corporations; companies granted the government access to their records, and the bureau approved mergers that were deemed in the public interest.

Wilson and the Federal Trade Commission Act

President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) and the Democrats won a sweeping victory in the 1912 election. A key component of their party platform was a program—Wilson called it the New Freedom—to prevent and destroy industrial and financial monopolies. To accomplish this goal, he proposed a reduction in tariffs (or taxes) on foreign imports, reform of the banking and currency systems, and efforts to strengthen the Sherman Antitrust Act. In 1913 Congress passed a tariff-reduction bill and created the Federal Reserve System, a network of federal banks that regulate the U.S. money supply.

Originally, neither Wilson nor his primary economic adviser, Louis D. Brandeis (1856–1941), advocated the transformation of the Bureau of Corporations into a strong trade commission. Wilson envisioned an agency that would moderate but not excessively restrict business. In keeping with this philosophy, the administration supported a bill that would establish a commission to secure and publish information, conduct investigations as requested by Congress, and support methods of improving business practices and antitrust enforcement.

Congress encountered difficulty when it tried to specify all unlawful trade practices, however, so in consultation with Wilson, it decided on a strategy that would abandon a legislative solution for an administrative one. The result was an independent commission with broad regulatory powers.

The Commission’s Duties

The Federal Trade Commission Act, which was signed into law on September 26, 1914, created a commission with five members (no more than three could be from the same political party—an attempt to limit the control exercised by any president and his party) appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The members served staggered, seven-year terms.

The FTC had two major tasks: to regulate trusts (combinations of businesses that functioned as monopolies or that engaged in other practices restricting free trade) and to prevent unfair competition or deceptive trade practices that affected interstate and foreign commerce. Its work usually started with investigations (of either a single company or an industry) based on consumer complaints, congressional inquiries, or even reports in the media. If the FTC discovered unlawful conduct, it could then seek voluntary compliance by the offending business through a consent order, file an administrative complaint, or initiate litigation in federal court. The FTC could also issue rules that addressed industrywide practices. Perhaps most important, the law did not require an actual deception to occur before the commission could take action; in fact, the FTC had only to find the likelihood that business practices could deceive consumers.

Reinforcing the FTC’s Authority

The last major item on the New Freedom agenda was legislation to strengthen the Sherman Antitrust Act, whose language was imprecise. The Clayton Antitrust Act, which was drafted by Henry De Lamar Clayton (1857–1929), a Democratic representative from Alabama, and signed into law on October 15, 1914, provided specific definitions as well as a list of business practices that were considered illegal.

The Clayton Antitrust Act

The Clayton Antitrust Act, federal consumer-protection legislation enacted by Congress in 1914, clarified and strengthened the language of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. It gave the government more power to prohibit companies from gaining exclusive control (a monopoly) of the market for goods or services.

The Sherman act had outlawed monopolies, trade restraints, and business combinations, called trusts, that were created for the sole purpose of limiting competition. (It exempted labor unions and agricultural cooperatives from antitrust action.) The purpose of the Sherman act—the first antitrust law in U.S. history—was to encourage a free-market system based on industry rivalries and competition. To encourage continuing competition, the law authorized the U.S. attorney general, as well as other companies or groups, to bring lawsuits against companies that were attempting to dominate the market. Because of its language, however, the law could be interpreted in various ways by attorneys representing large companies, such as Standard Oil and American Tobacco. Consequently, the companies continued to concentrate wealth, dominate their industries, and buy out smaller companies, thereby reducing competition.

The Clayton act, which was drafted by Henry De Lamar Clayton (1857–1929), a Democratic representative from Alabama, made clear what had been vague in the Sherman act. It contained extensive definitions and outlawed the following actions: the formation of a trust between two companies with a combined board of directors and access to more than $1 million in capital; price-fixing arrangements between companies that offered competing products; agreements that resulted in the power to control the supply of resources or products; and the use of an industry’s power to gain or maintain a monopoly. The more precise language prevented companies from engaging in price-cutting strategies intended to eliminate competition and from merging with other companies to form monopolies.

The Clayton act was significantly amended in 1936 by the Robinson-Patman Act and in 1950 by the Celler-Kefauver Antimerger Act.

The FTC’s Impact

Creating a bipartisan, independent commission with broad powers was viewed as a radical step in the government’s relationship with business. The FTC was to become perhaps the most controversial of the independent regulatory commissions, largely because its broad authority allowed it to take action in some cases and not to take action in others. From the beginning advocates of the FTC demanded that the commission become more involved in foreign and interstate commerce to thwart unfair or corrupt business practices; however, many others have viewed any FTC action as tampering with the free-market system.

See also Theodore Roosevelt

See also Woodrow Wilson


Isolationism refers to a U.S. governmental policy of avoiding commitments to or alliances with other countries, particularly with nations in Europe. Although this policy had its roots in colonial America, the term was seldom used until the years between World Wars I (1914–1918) and II (1939–1945).

The Origins of the Policy

American colonists, who crossed the ocean to escape war, religious persecution, and other hardships, believed that declaring independence from Britain in 1776 would be a definitive step in severing ties with Europe. Reflecting this desire, the country’s Founding Fathers developed a foreign policy based on neutrality. To safeguard the independence of a new and struggling nation, they thought it best to avoid, if possible, involvement in military and political affairs of the major powers. As important, they wanted U.S. policies to remain free from foreign influence. Their position did not mean disengagement from world affairs, however; contacts with the outside world, especially through trade, were encouraged, and immigration was welcomed.

“A More Prominent Position in World Affairs”

The traditional view began to break down early in the nineteenth century. In 1823 President James Monroe (1758–1831) signaled the nation’s interest in events outside its borders when he issued the Monroe Doctrine, which called for an end to European intervention in the affairs of independent nations in the Western Hemisphere. In the years that followed, rapid industrialization and the opening of vast new lands to agriculture made the United States a serious player in the world economy: it became not only an importer but also an exporter of goods and services. Government officials saw a need for a strong navy to protect the country’s trade and investments and expanded its military power. Advances in technology and communications also moved the country to a more prominent position in world affairs.

Then in 1898, after the U.S. battleship Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba—at the time a Spanish colony—the United States declared war on Spain. U.S. victory ended Spanish colonial efforts in the Western Hemisphere and significantly changed the balance of power.

The United States responded to these sweeping economic and political changes with a more active foreign policy and greater international involvement, especially during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). In 1902 Roosevelt arbitrated agreements that protected longstanding U.S. interests in Latin America. In 1903 he recognized the new country of Panama and acquired territory there on which to build what would become the Panama Canal. A year later he offered the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which said the United States had the right to exercise an international police power throughout the Western Hemisphere. During the next twenty years, U.S. Marines landed in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Haiti, and Mexico. In 1905 Roosevelt used his world position to mediate a peace treaty between Russia and Japan. Despite this participation in international affairs, however, the U.S. policy of neutrality remained officially intact.

The United States Enters World War I

Just three months before the outbreak of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) declared that the United States remained neutral and reasserted a policy of friendship toward all nations and alliances with none. As the war progressed, the debate over possible U.S. entry into the fighting inspired a foreign policy of full-scale isolationism—as opposed to its traditional position of what might be called isolationist neutrality.

However, Wilson eventually supported U.S. involvement and helped create a national pro-war sentiment. He made the case that German actions, especially its submarine warfare, if left unchecked, would eventually threaten U.S. interests. In addition, the United States sent munitions, food, and goods to the Allied powers (including Britain, France, and Russia) at the war’s outset, boosting trade relations as well as the U.S. economy, which gave the United States a tangible material stake in the outcome of the war. The nation formally entered World War I on April 6, 1917.

Wilson’s League of Nations

After the war Wilson advocated more active cooperation with other nations, largely because he was concerned that nations with political systems and economic goals that differed from those of the United States might dominate the world. So, despite his original devotion to neutrality, in a 1918 speech to Congress—referred to as the Fourteen Points speech—Wilson proposed the creation of an international organization to preserve peace and settle disputes by arbitration. His proposal called for full U.S. participation, including military support, in a system of collective security. The formation of that organization—the League of Nations—became one of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which ended World War I.

The U.S. Senate debate over the ratification of the treaty sharpened and clarified the U.S. isolationist position. In Wilson’s view, changing world conditions required a departure from traditional policies. Americans, however, wanted to enjoy their prosperity—they thought getting entangled in the affairs of other nations was not worth the cost or the risk, particularly after the death toll of U.S. troops during World War I. Although many agreed that a traditional isolationist policy was no longer a realistic goal, they did not support Wilson’s abrupt policy reversal. The Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, and the United States did not join the League of Nations. Ironically, Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his role in creating the very organization that his country refused to join.

Isolationism’s Peak and Decline

The election in 1920 of President Warren G. Harding (1865–1923) signaled a new wave of political and economic conservatism. Despite the continuing commercial expansion of the United States and its increasing influence on world affairs, the nation set an isolationist course that could best be described as cooperation without commitment. For the first time in its history, the United States sharply curtailed immigration, excluding Chinese, Japanese, and other Asians, as well as Europeans, particularly those from eastern and southern Europe. The United States did engage in negotiations that would make war less likely. The most celebrated achievement of the period was the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928), an international treaty that renounced war as an instrument of national policy. Although most regarded the pact as a positive contribution to maintaining world peace and order, the agreement had no means of enforcement and did not formally commit the United States to action of any kind. Regardless, it was strongly supported by most of the major isolationists in Congress.

Isolationism was based on the assumption that the United States was safe from foreign attack and that U.S. trade and ideas would continue to find acceptance abroad. It reached its peak in the United States between 1934 and 1939, during the Great Depression, when national economic conditions took precedence over foreign policy and military spending. The rationale for isolationism began to crumble, however, as Nazi Germany, Italy, and Japan advanced their efforts toward world domination. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. naval station in Hawaii, in 1941 signaled that U.S. territory was vulnerable to foreign aggressors, and many Americans began to fear that a direct attack on the United States was possible. In 1941 isolationism ended forever when the United States moved into an alliance with Britain and entered World War II.

See also Theodore Roosevelt

See also Woodrow Wilson

See also World War I

Important Figures of the Day

Jacob S. Coxey

Jacob S. Coxey (1854–1951), a social reformer and businessman, led a march of unemployed workers to Washington, D.C., in 1894. The first public protest of its kind, Coxey hoped that the march would motivate Congress to create jobs. The economic depression and widespread unemployment of the 1890s was caused by a stock market crash, often referred to as the Panic of 1893.

Early Life

Born in Pennsylvania, Coxey went to work in an iron mill at the age of sixteen. After several years in the scrap iron business, he bought a sandstone quarry in Massillon, Ohio, and formed the company Coxey Silica Sand Company, which provided silica sand to iron and steel mills. It was the mainstay of his business holdings for the next fifty years.

Supporting the Greenback

In 1877 Coxey joined the Greenback Party, which advocated switching to paper currency—the greenback—rather than a currency based on gold or silver. Throughout his lifetime he remained devoted to the cause of paper currency.

After being forced to lay off forty workers, he sought ways to help the nation’s unemployed. He got an idea from bicycling enthusiasts—it was a new sport at the time—who were calling attention to the poor condition of country roads. Coxey proposed a federal program, called the Good Roads Bill, to construct a national network of roads financed by $500 million in new greenbacks. Under the program the unemployed would be hired at $1.50 per day for an eight-hour day. A similar proposal, the Non-interest-Bearing Bond Bill, sought to aid the urban jobless through public works projects financed by federally subsidized bonds.

The March on Washington

Coxey, a mild-mannered man who lacked eloquence or charisma, had little success in publicizing his proposals until he met Carl Browne, a former rancher, carnival worker, labor editor, and Greenbacker who dressed like William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846–1917). Browne conceived the idea of a march of jobless men to Washington, D.C.

Coxey chose his hometown as the starting point for the march, which started with about one hundred workers and farmers; by the time it arrived in Washington, the group had grown to about five hundred. Coxey called the group the Commonweal of Christ, whereas observers called it Coxey’s army.

About forty other groups, inspired by Coxey’s marchers but more militant in attitude, were also heading for Washington, particularly from the West. They made government officials apprehensive as Coxey and his followers marched toward the Capitol. When Coxey attempted to speak on the Capitol steps, he and two other men were arrested and sentenced to twenty days in jail for carrying banners (Coxey had a badge on his lapel) and fined for trespassing.

Although Coxey and other marchers remained in the Washington area from May until August, Congress made no attempt to assist the unemployed. Coxey’s Good Roads Bill, which was introduced in Congress by William A. Peffer (1831–1912), a Populist Party senator from Kansas, got no further than a committee report.

Running for Office

For the rest of his life, Coxey combined business affairs with attempts to promote currency expansion. He repeatedly ran for office in Ohio, but was only successful in 1931 when he was elected mayor of Massillon as a Republican. He was not renominated in 1933. Although he later became a presidential candidate of the Farmer-Labor Party, he withdrew in favor of William Lemke (1878–1950), the Union Party candidate.

Coxey’s Legacy

Although Coxey’s march on Washington failed to achieve its goal, it was the first real protest march on the nation’s capital. He publicized issues of relevance to ordinary citizens and pointed the way for others who felt they had a right to voice their demands. Many of the ideas he proposed were later adopted. For example, the public works programs he advocated influenced the efforts of President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945) during the Great Depression.

See also Panic of 1893

William McKinley

William McKinley (1843–1901), the twenty-fifth president, led the United States to victory during the Spanish-American War in 1898, resulting in the end of Spain’s colonial rule in the Americas. He also pushed the Dingley Tariff Act, which created higher tariffs on foreign imports and helped get the nation out of an economic depression, which followed the stock market crash of 1893. McKinley was assassinated during his second term of office and was succeeded by Vice President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919).

Early Life

McKinley, the seventh of nine children, was the son of an ironworker who instilled a strong work ethic in his children. After graduating from the Methodist seminary school in Poland, Ohio, McKinley entered Allegheny College in Pennsylvania, but dropped out after one term because of exhaustion and financial difficulties.

When the Civil War began in 1861, McKinley joined the Twenty-third Ohio Volunteer Army Infantry. He became known for taking risks on the battlefield, especially at the battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day in U.S. military history (the death toll has been estimated at twenty- thousand). Promoted to second lieutenant for bravery at Antietam, McKinley served under Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes (1822–1893), who would later become president. McKinley left the army a brevet major, a title that remained with him throughout his political career.

Following the Civil War, McKinley studied law and opened a practice in Canton, Ohio. After several years as a county prosecutor, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1876 and served nearly continuously until 1891.

As chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee in 1889, he drafted and steered to passage the McKinley Tariff of 1890, the highest protective tariff in U.S. history to that point. The tariff, which was intended to protect U.S. business and manufacturing, raised consumer prices significantly; as a result, angry voters rejected McKinley and many other Republicans in the 1890 House elections. Stunned by his defeat, McKinley returned to Ohio and ran for governor in 1891, winning by a narrow margin.

As governor, McKinley worked to decrease the growing hostilities between management and labor, creating a system of arbitration to settle labor disputes. He persuaded Ohio Republicans, many of whom refused to acknowledge the rights of labor, to support it. Although sympathetic to workers, McKinley was unwilling to agree to all their demands. In 1894 he called out the National Guard to control violence that erupted during a strike by the United Mine Workers.

A Run for President

One of the nation’s most devastating economic collapses, referred to as the Panic of 1893, turned voters against the Democratic Party and gave McKinley a good chance at winning the presidential election in 1896. The Republican platform endorsed protective tariffs and the gold standard—using gold to back the value of money—while leaving open the door to an international agreement on bimetallism (using both gold and silver as standards for currency). McKinley argued that protective tariffs would solve the unemployment problem and stimulate industrial growth. The Republican platform also supported the acquisition of Hawaii, construction of a canal across Central America, expansion of the U.S. Navy, immigration restrictions, equal pay for equal work for women, and a national board of arbitration to settle labor disputes.

McKinley defeated William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), the Democratic candidate, in the largest Electoral College victory in twenty-five years. Four years later McKinley ran and defeated Bryan again. His victories launched a period of Republican power that lasted until 1913, when the Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) was elected president, primarily because of a split in the Republican Party.

During his first year as president, he concentrated on the promises of the Republican platform. For most of 1897 the administration pursued an international agreement to include silver, along with gold, as an acceptable backing for the major currencies. McKinley said he would support bimetallism if England, France, Italy, and Russia would as well. When negotiations failed in late 1897, McKinley began advocating a gold-based currency. In 1900 he signed a law that formally placed U.S. currency on the gold standard, fully backed by gold at a fixed price of $20.67 per troy ounce. (The troy weight system is used primarily for precious metals and gemstones.)

He followed through on plans to increase tariff income as well, believing it would reduce internal taxes and encourage the expansion of domestic industry and employment. The Dingley Tariff Act of 1897, which was sponsored by Nelson R. Dingley (1832–1899), a Republican representative from Maine, raised tariffs on foreign goods to an average rate of 49 percent. McKinley, however, did not continue to support tariffs throughout his presidency. In 1901, only a day before his death, he announced his support for reciprocal trade agreements between nations, indicating a shift in his trade policy.

The Dingley tariff had a side benefit: it solidified McKinley’s favorable standing with organized labor. Labor leaders also appreciated his endorsement of the Erdman Act of 1898, which made it illegal for railroads that participated in interstate commerce to hire only nonunion employees, and his support for the exclusion of Chinese workers. McKinley sent federal troops to keep order during a miners’ strike in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, but he still kept the support of organized labor.

A constituency he did not address was African-Americans. Unwilling to alienate southern white voters, McKinley did and said little about the disfranchisement and exclusion of blacks from political power. Even though he denounced lynching in his 1897 inaugural address, he did nothing formal to stop it. He refrained from taking action to curtail the general antiblack violence in the South, which had reached near epidemic proportions by the end of the nineteenth century. Instead, McKinley’s initiatives in race relations were largely superficial: he appointed thirty African-Americans to positions in diplomatic and records offices.

The Spanish-American War

McKinley led the United States into its first international conflict with a European power since the War of 1812. The decision to go to the aid of Cubans, who were struggling to cast off Spanish colonial rule, was hastened by reports that Spain was responsible for the explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in the Havana harbor. On April 25, 1898, Congress declared war on Spain and promised to secure independence for Cuba once the war ended.

After three months of fighting, the United States was victorious. Even though the peace treaty between the United States and Spain granted Cuba its independence, the island became a U.S. protectorate. The United States was also given control of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam, which had been Spanish colonies. Almost overnight the United States became a colonial power.

That status had its costs, however. Soon after the war with Spain had ended, a grassroots uprising against U.S. rule broke out in the Philippines. McKinley responded by sending thousands of troops to the islands, initiating a bloody conflict that left the United States open to atrocity charges similar to those lodged against Spain in Cuba. The war, which ended with U.S. victory in 1902, claimed the lives of more than five thousand Americans and two hundred thousand Filipinos.

The Open Door Policy in China

Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and Russia, among others, tried to establish their own spheres of influence in China during the 1890s. Concerned that they might close Chinese ports to U.S. commerce, McKinley had Secretary of State John Hay (1838–1905) issue an open door note on China. The statement expressed the U.S. desire to place all commercial nations on an equal footing in China, unrestricted by tariffs or other limitations, and declared U.S. support for Chinese independence from colonial rule.

Then in June 1900 a group of Chinese citizens revolted against foreign influence in their country, killing many Western missionaries and Chinese converts to Christianity. Popularly known as the Boxers (from the Chinese expression for “harmonious fists”), this group also threatened the lives of foreign diplomats in Peking (now Beijing).

Without congressional approval, McKinley sent twenty-five hundred U.S. troops and several gunboats to assist British, German, Japanese, and Russian forces to liberate the diplomats. Hay issued an open door note during the Boxer Rebellion, warning U.S. allies that the United States supported intervention only to rescue the diplomats and not to bring China under European and Japanese control. By August the allied force had successfully ended the rebellion. China was forced to pay compensation of $333 million—$25 million of which went to the United States—for damages, to modify commercial treaties to the advantage of foreign nations, and to allow the stationing of foreign troops in the Chinese capital.


On the morning of September 6, 1901, McKinley gave a speech at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. That afternoon, at a public reception at the exposition’s Temple of Music, Leon F. Czolgosz (1873–1901), an unemployed mill worker with anarchist tendencies, fired a revolver point blank at the president’s chest. Although McKinley’s doctors predicted recovery, gangrene set in, and he died on September 14, 1901, six months after he was inaugurated for his second term.

McKinley’s Legacy

His contemporaries—and many historians—disagreed with his policies and doubted his leadership abilities. However, McKinley’s difficult foreign policy decisions, especially his decision to go to war with Spain over Cuban independence and his policy toward China, helped the United States enter the twentieth century as a major world power.

See also Gold Standard

See also Panic of 1893

See also Spanish-American War

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), the twenty-sixth president of the United States, assumed office following the assassination of President William McKinley (1843–1901). Roosevelt was elected president in his own right in 1904 and served until 1909. He relished the role of trust-buster—his administration took many powerful business conglomerates to court—as well as protector of labor and the environment. Furthermore, he strengthened the U.S. Navy, because he accepted the country’s new role as a world power, and secured the land for the Panama Canal. In 1906 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating an end to a war between Japan and Russia.

Early Life

Roosevelt was a frail and sickly child with poor eyesight and asthma, so as a teenager he undertook an exercise regimen to develop his physical stamina. He became an advocate of the “strenuous life.”

When he was eighteen he entered Harvard College, where he excelled at both academics and sports, and developed interests in politics and history. He enrolled in Columbia University Law School, but soon discovered that he did not want to be a lawyer. So he left the university and entered politics, running for the New York State Assembly, where he served three terms. He quickly gained a reputation for attacking corruption and social problems. Among the many bills he steered through the assembly was a measure to regulate workplaces, a response to the sweatshop conditions that many workers faced.

In 1884, because of poor health and the death of his wife and his mother within hours of each other, Roosevelt abandoned his political career and moved to a cattle ranch in the Badlands of Dakota Territory (which became the states of North Dakota and South Dakota in 1889). An avid hunter, he developed a deep respect for the harsh landscape. In 1886 Roosevelt returned to New York, remarried, and reentered politics.

Over the next decade he was appointed to several posts, including assistant secretary of the navy in the first McKinley administration. After the U.S. battleship Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, and the United States declared war against Spain, Roosevelt resigned from the post and began recruiting the U.S. First Volunteer Cavalry. He went to Cuba as a lieutenant colonel of the regiment—its members became known as the Rough Riders—and gained national prominence for his exploits.

With his new fame, Roosevelt ran for governor of New York in 1898. During his two years in office, his forthright style led to clashes with state political bosses. Fed up with him, they helped him get nominated for vice president. McKinley and Roosevelt won the election in 1901.

Roosevelt had served as vice president for less than a year when McKinley was assassinated. Then forty-two years old, Roosevelt became the youngest president in U.S. history. In 1904 he was elected president on a platform known as the Square Deal.

Roosevelt did not share McKinley’s conservative, pro-business views. Instead, he advanced an aggressive program of reforms, including the regulation of business. Invoking the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, his attorney general filed suit against the Northern Securities Company, a railroad trust, for illegally offering freight rebates—a practice in which railroads returned part of their fees to favored customers. In 1904 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that the Northern Securities Company be dissolved. After that decision, the Roosevelt administration filed forty-two other trust-busting suits.

However, despite his fame as a trust-buster, Roosevelt wanted to regulate large corporations, not destroy them. In 1903 he pushed through Congress a bill to form a Bureau of Corporations, which was intended to investigate the business practices of interstate corporations. He also supported legislation that prohibited railroad rebates of the sort offered by the Northern Securities Company and asked Congress to create the Department of Commerce and Labor.

After winning the election in 1904, Roosevelt turned to more permanent business regulation. He successfully negotiated the passage of the Hepburn Act, which gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the authority to set maximum railroad rates and inspect railroad companies’ financial records. Unlike his predecessors, he defended the right of labor to organize and join unions and objected to the use of federal troops to stop strikes. In 1902 he intervened in a United Mine Workers’ strike and got management to agree to arbitration of the dispute. The arbitrators awarded the miners a wage increase and a shortened workday.

Consumer and Environmental Protection

During his administration, journalists—often called muckrakers—reported on unsanitary conditions in food plants and harmful ingredients in certain foods and medications. In response, Roosevelt endorsed the Pure Food and Drug Act, which prohibited the sale of tainted or improperly labeled foods and medications, and the Meat Inspection Act, which established federal regulations for meatpackers and a system of inspection. Both passed in 1906.

It was also a time of growing public concern about the environment. Preservationists, as they were called, often clashed with businessmen who wanted to develop the country’s natural resources and use wilderness land for commercial and residential development. Even though Roosevelt was a preservationist, he understood the need to compromise with business developers. He established a conservation program that regulated the use of wilderness areas and designated some two hundred million acres as national forests, mineral reserves, and potential waterpower sites. He also added five national parks and eighteen national monuments (including the Grand Canyon, Death Valley, and Crater Lake) to the list of protected lands. In 1908 he created the National Conservation Commission to inventory the nation’s resources and better manage their use.

A “Big Stick” Diplomacy

Roosevelt summed up his approach to foreign policy with the phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick”—he would engage in negotiations but was prepared to use military force if necessary. Having become president shortly after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, he was confident of the country’s status as a world power and sought to maintain that status through aggressive tactics.

Those tactics were especially evident when the United States decided to build a canal across Panama, which would link the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Colombia, which controlled Panama at the time, rejected the terms that Roosevelt offered. His response: he supplied money to foment a revolution and established a naval blockade so Colombia could not land troops in Panama.

The Panama Canal

For many years U.S. naval leaders had envisioned building a passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans through Central America. The need for this passageway became apparent during the Spanish-American War in 1898, which was precipitated by the sinking of the USS Maine in the Havana harbor. To join the U.S. fleet off the coast of Cuba, ships stationed in the Pacific had to sail around the southern tip of South America, a voyage that took two months.

In 1901 the United States negotiated with Britain for support of a U.S.-controlled canal that would be constructed either through Panama, which was under Colombian control, or Nicaragua. After a series of secret meetings, the U.S. Senate approved the Panama route, which was contingent on Colombian approval. Colombia resisted, so the Roosevelt administration backed a Panamanian revolution with money and a naval blockade that prevented Colombian troops from landing in Panama. In 1903 the United States signed the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty with Panama, which gave the United States perpetual control of the canal at a cost of $10 million and an annual payment of $250,000.

The $400 million canal, which took nearly thirty thousand workers ten years to build, prompted advances in technology and engineering. It also made clear how much the balance of power had shifted: the Panama Canal Zone became a major U.S. military base, making the United States the dominant power in Central America.

On September 7, 1977, a new Panama Canal Treaty, signed by the Panamanian leader Omar Torrijos (1929–1981) and the U.S. president Jimmy Carter (1924–), transferred full control of the canal to Panama on December 31, 1999.

Roosevelt’s intervention in Panama was representative of his general approach toward Latin America, where he asserted the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine was intended to discourage European nations from colonizing or asserting their influence in Central and South America; the Roosevelt Corollary went a step further, asserting the right of the U.S. government to intervene when European powers ventured into the region.

In 1904, with several European nations preparing to invade the Dominican Republic, Roosevelt declared that the United States, not Europe, should dominate Latin America. He claimed the United States had no expansionist intentions; however, he also asserted that any “chronic wrongdoing” by a Latin American nation would justify U.S. intervention as an international police power. During Roosevelt’s presidency, the United States invoked the Roosevelt Corollary repeatedly to justify involvement in the affairs of the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba.

The Russo-Japanese War

Roosevelt used his clout in other world arenas as well. When war broke out between Russia and Japan in 1904—both countries wanted access to the rich natural resources of China—Roosevelt stepped in to maintain the balance of power between them. He invited delegates from Japan and Russia to the United States for a peace conference. The negotiations resulted in the Portsmouth Treaty in 1905, which effectively ended the war.

The Progressive Party

Roosevelt lost the Republican presidential nomination to William Howard Taft in 1912, so he established the National Progressive Party (which was also known as the Bull Moose Party). During a campaign stop in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by an assassin, but the bullet was slowed by his steel eyeglass case and a copy of the speech he was carrying in his breast pocket. Despite being shot, he insisted on delivering his ninety-minute speech, declaring that it would take “more than a bullet to stop a bull moose.”

His campaign platform, which he called the New Nationalism, was an ambitious program of economic and social reforms. The campaign focused on Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), the Democratic candidate, but Roosevelt divided the Republican vote with Taft, so Wilson was elected.

Roosevelt’s final years were spent writing, exploring the Amazon jungles of South America, and raising money for the U.S. effort in World War I (1914–1918). He died in 1919 at the age of sixty.

Roosevelt’s Legacy

Even though some U.S. officials and citizens were disturbed by Roosevelt’s push to increase the powers of the federal government, he thought it was the best way to represent and safeguard the interests of all Americans, not just the wealthy few. Roosevelt appreciated the energy that had been building in the United States in the decades following the Civil War (1861–1865), such as the explosion of industrial power and the desire to expand territorially, politically, socially, and economically. He used his presidency to channel this energy, leaving a legacy of sweeping reforms that anticipated the progressive movements of the 1930s and the 1960s.

See also Progressive Party, 1912

See also Roosevelt Corollary

See also Spanish-American War

See also Square Deal

See also William McKinley

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft (1857–1930), the twenty-seventh president of the United States and the tenth chief justice (1921–1930) of the U.S. Supreme Court, was the only person in U.S. history to hold both offices. Chosen by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) as his successor, Taft promised to carry out Roosevelt’s progressive policies if elected.

After assuming office, however, Taft was unable to unite the warring factions within the Republican Party and vacillated from a progressive antitrust program, in which large, powerful companies that controlled markets were broken up, to reactionary conservatism, which opposed any kind of progress. More important, he often backed down from his positions when the criticism became too severe. Although Taft distinguished himself as an administrator, historians generally regard his presidency as a failure.

Early Life

Taft was the son of Alfonso Taft, a lawyer who served as secretary of war and attorney general under President Ulysses S. Grant (1869–1977) and then as an ambassador. Raised in Cincinnati, he graduated with distinction from Yale University in 1878 and from Cincinnati Law School in 1880.

Taft worked as an assistant prosecuting attorney and a collector of internal revenue, but he wanted a judicial post. This goal was realized when he was appointed to fill a vacancy on an Ohio superior court in 1887. The following year he was elected to a term of his own—the only office other than the presidency that he won by election.

In 1890 President Benjamin Harrison (1889–1893) called Taft to Washington to serve as solicitor general, the attorney who represents the government before the U.S. Supreme Court. Two years later Harrison named him to the U.S. Circuit Court for the Sixth District. Taft’s record as a state and federal judge showed that he was honest and competent and that he was receptive to the problems of labor.

The Philippines

Taft gained national stature when President William McKinley (1843–1930) appointed him to two posts in the Philippine Islands, which became a U.S. possession following the Spanish-American War in 1898: he first headed the commission to end military rule in the islands and then became their first civil governor. Taft received high praise as a colonial administrator. He was sympathetic to the problems of the Filipinos and believed in giving them the widest possible degree of self-government. He recognized that the first steps toward Philippine independence were public education and the end of ownership of land by Roman Catholic friars.

The 1902 Philippine Organic Act removed Roman Catholicism as the state religion. Undertaking dollar diplomacy—the practice of using economic incentives rather than bullets to resolve disputes—Taft negotiated an agreement with the Vatican. In 1904 the United States bought most of the friars’ land and then resold it, in small parcels, to Filipinos.

Secretary of War

When Roosevelt succeeded McKinley, he and Taft became close personal friends and political allies—even though they were different in temperament: Roosevelt was dynamic and impulsive, and Taft was reserved and accommodating. Roosevelt came to regard Taft as his eventual successor and invited him to join his cabinet. Taft accepted the post of secretary of war with the understanding that he would continue to oversee Philippine affairs from Washington; he left the task of managing the army to the generals.

He had several other roles in the administration as well. Between 1904 and 1908 he was in charge of constructing the Panama Canal. In 1906, when revolution threatened in Cuba, he brought a degree of peace through negotiations. In Tokyo in 1907 he improved Japanese-American relations, which had been strained by the abuse of Japanese immigrants in California.

A Reluctant Candidate

Initially, Taft had no desire to run for president, but on Roosevelt’s insistence, and with the urging of his wife and brothers, he accepted the Republican nomination in 1908. Benefiting from the popularity of the Roosevelt administration, Taft defeated William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), the Democratic candidate.

His term had few significant achievements. He inherited the widespread demand for a lower tariff and accepted the Payne-Aldrich Act of 1909, a compromise that was denounced by both big business and progressive Republicans. With a characteristic clumsiness that often marked his public statements, he referred to the Payne-Aldrich Act as the best tariff in history. He negotiated an agreement with Canada that promised relatively free trade between the two countries, but Canada ultimately rejected the proposal. Although Taft’s attorney general initiated twice as many antitrust suits against big corporations as the previous administration, Roosevelt is remembered as the trust-buster.

When the Democrats captured control of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1910, progressive Republicans looked to Roosevelt to be their presidential candidate in 1912. Roosevelt, who had broken off his relationship with Taft in 1911 because he thought Taft was too conservative, ran as a Progressive Party candidate against the man whose candidacy he had backed four years earlier. Although Taft won the Republican nomination, he and Roosevelt split the Republican vote; the Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) won the election.

Chief Justice

When Chief Justice Edward D. White (1845–1921) died, President Warren G. Harding (1865–1923) appointed Taft to succeed him. Taft’s greatest achievement as chief justice was to bring greater harmony and efficiency to a deeply divided court.

Taft’s main interest was in speeding up the work of the courts. He never offered a dissenting opinion when the majority disagreed with his position, and he usually sided with property rights over labor interests and government power over civil rights. He retired from the court in 1930, because of heart disease, and died a month later.

Taft’s Legacy

According to many historians, Taft had little talent for leadership. He accepted the role of president with great reluctance, was indecisive, and took little initiative in legislative matters. His term had few significant accomplishments. Taft is often viewed as a conservative bridge between the activist reformers Roosevelt and Wilson.

See also Dollar Diplomacy

See also Spanish-American War

Robert M. La Follette

Robert M. La Follette (1855–1925) was a leader of the Progressive movement, which sought to address social problems that resulted from rapid industrial growth in the United States during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. He is remembered for battling political corruption and corporate greed during his long career in public service—as governor of Wisconsin and as a member of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Known as “Fighting Bob” because of his commitment to reform, his fervent speeches, and his frequent clashes with party bosses, La Follette fought for higher wages and better working conditions for laborers, women’s right to vote, and civil rights legislation.

Early Life

La Follette worked on a farm until 1875, when he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin, where he excelled in social studies and oratory. He established a law practice in Madison and then ran successfully for district attorney—he won over a local political leader by going door to door and speaking to voters directly, an uncommon practice at the time. In 1884, at the age of twenty-nine, he became the youngest member of the House of Representatives. A Republican, he served three terms. Although he was defeated by the Democrat Allen Bushnell (1833–1909) in 1890 and returned to the office of district attorney, La Follette remained active in state politics.

The Political Turning Point

The turning point in La Follette’s career—and the beginning of his days as a political reformer—came in 1891, when Philetus Sawyer (1816–1900), a Republican senator and wealthy lumberman, offered him a bribe to fix a court case against several former state officials. La Follette was outraged; he denounced the attempt and for nearly ten years traveled the state speaking out against the influence of dishonest politicians and the lumber barons and railroad interests that dominated his party.

The Republican Party machine twice stopped his nomination for governor, but he was finally elected to the office in 1900 and reelected in 1902 and 1904. Fighting Bob was popular among farmers, small businesses owners, professionals, and intellectuals who resented the control that wealthy eastern businessmen exercised over credit, railroad freight rates, and political power.

As governor, La Follette advocated what became known as the Wisconsin idea, a broad agenda of social and political reform. To weaken the political influence of party machines and large corporations, he established primary elections that allowed voters, rather than party leaders, to nominate candidates for office—Wisconsin was the first state to adopt the primary system for state offices. He also instituted campaign-spending limits. To guide policy on railroad regulation, the environment, transportation, civil service, insurance, banking, and taxation, he created state commissions. His proposals for taxing corporations, in particular, enraged big business but allowed the state to control tax rates. He also advocated increased funding for education. In an unprecedented move, La Follette employed political and social scientists and economists from the University of Wisconsin to draft bills and administer laws.

In 1905, having gained a national reputation, La Follette ran for the U.S. Senate, where he tried to apply the Wisconsin idea on a national level. He worked to regulate the railroads and other industries, and he spoke about government corruption and the abuse of industrial workers. To check the power and “selfish interests” of large corporations, he supported the growth of trade unions. Among the most notable achievements of his three Senate terms was a 1915 bill protecting merchant seamen from exploitation.

In 1909 he and his wife, Belle La Follette, a suffragist and attorney, founded La Follette’s Weekly (later called the Progressive). It promoted women’s suffrage, racial equality, and other progressive causes.

An Antiwar Senator

La Follette was unsuccessful in seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 1908 and 1912. Although he supported the Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) in the 1912 presidential election because of Wilson’s commitment to social justice, La Follette opposed Wilson’s determination to enter World War I (1914–1918). In April 1917 La Follette voted against declaring war, believing that war could be avoided and that U.S. involvement would most likely put a stop to domestic reforms. Military expansion, he argued, would only reward corporations and their investors. His leadership of the antiwar faction in the Senate made him an outsider: after he made an antiwar speech, members of the Senate tried to expel him for disloyalty. La Follette also opposed the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, the peace treaty that ended World War I and the Senate refused to ratify.

Wilson later adopted many of La Follette’s reform programs, including public disclosure of campaign contributions and graduated taxation. Indirectly, La Follette worked with Wilson to limit the power of big business and was instrumental in the creation of the Department of Labor and the Federal Trade Commission.

Although his critics believed his opposition to the war would end his political career, La Follette was reelected to the Senate in 1922. In 1924 he ran for president on the Progressive Party ticket (a successful third party that advocated tax, judicial, and agricultural reform and government ownership of natural resources and public utilities) but lost to the Republican Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933). La Follette died in 1925.

La Follette’s Legacy

La Follette is remembered as one of the most important political and social reformers in U.S. history. In fact, in 1957 the Senate voted La Follette one of the five most outstanding senators of all time. His policies, which had appeal across party lines, set precedents for state and federal programs in the following decades and improved the lives of farmers, workers, women, and children.

See also Federal Trade Commission

See also Progressive Party, 1924

See also Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), the twenty-eighth president of the United States, advocated progressive reform, steered the United States through World War I (1914–1918), and persuaded members of the Paris Peace Conference of 1919—convened to negotiate the end of the war—to establish the League of Nations.

Early Years

Thomas Woodrow Wilson, born in Staunton, Virginia, was the son of a Presbyterian minister and a minister’s daughter. Like his father, he demanded total loyalty from friends and associates and had few friends he treated as equals. He had a strong sense of duty and justice—which is why, historians say, he treated those who disagreed with him in a condescending manner.

Wilson had difficulty learning to read when he was a boy. Even though he compensated with hard work, the difficulty remained with him throughout his life. He was physically frail and had to withdraw from Davidson College, where he was preparing for the ministry, and rest at home for a year. As an adult, he had several strokes, one of which left him partially paralyzed for the rest of his life.

Wilson studied history at the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton University, and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia and a doctorate from Johns Hopkins University, the top graduate school in the country at the time. His first book, Congressional Government, was based on his doctoral dissertation.

He opened a law practice in Atlanta, Georgia, but the venture was not successful, so he turned to academia. In 1885 he taught briefly at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania and then at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In 1890 he was appointed professor of jurisprudence and economics at Princeton and became the school’s most popular professor. When he was named president of the university in 1902, he introduced curriculum innovations and reforms.

Those reforms led to tiring battles with Princeton’s wealthy, conservative trustees and alumni, however, so when he was offered the Democratic nomination for governor of New Jersey in 1910, he accepted. After an overwhelming victory, he worked with progressives—social, political, and economic reformers—and accomplished a great deal in a short time: he changed policies regarding schools and workmen’s compensation; established direct primaries, which replaced a system in which parties nominated candidates; regulated public utilities; and passed antitrust legislation, which stopped large corporations from amassing too much economic power. Media attention to these sweeping reforms gave Wilson national prominence.

The Reform Candidate

After a successful term as governor of New Jersey, Wilson ran for president in 1912 on a platform offering what the public demanded: reform. Wilson’s opponents included the Republican president William Howard Taft (1857–1930), who favored progressive measures but did not implement them effectively; the former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), who ran on his Progressive Party platform, which was even more reformist than Wilson’s; and the Socialist Party candidate Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926). The Republican vote was split between Taft and the formerly Republican Roosevelt, so Wilson was the unexpected winner.

Once elected, Wilson called a special session of Congress and appeared before it personally, which no president had done since John Adams (1735–1826) in 1800. Impressed by the speech, Congress quickly took up Wilson’s proposal for a lower tariff on foreign imports. When lobbyists tried to persuade Congress not to cut tariff rates, the president called a news conference, another Wilson first. Newspaper reports generated public demand for tariff reform and a flood of mail to Congress, which, in response, passed the Underwood-Simmons Tariff Act of 1913. The law—which reduced tariffs to their lowest level since 1846—also reinstituted a federal income tax to compensate for the lost revenue.

Congress addressed other parts of Wilson’s reform program as well, creating the Federal Reserve System, a centralized banking system for the nation, and the Federal Trade Commission, which investigates and curbs unfair business practices. It also passed the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, which clarified the language of the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which had outlawed monopolies and other large business combinations that limited competition. Labor reforms included a forty-hour workweek for some employees and a law prohibiting child labor (an act later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court). Congress granted funds for precollege agricultural and vocational education and also created the federal highway system.

A Novice at Foreign Policy

Wilson tended to regard himself as an expert in domestic matters, but he had no experience in diplomacy. Regardless, world events would force him to make major foreign policy decisions, especially when World War I erupted in Europe in 1914. The assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by a Serb precipitated a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia; many other European nations soon joined the conflict. Following traditional U.S. isolationist policies, Wilson vowed to keep the United States out of the war. Although he kept his promise for nearly three years, many U.S. citizens, who had strong ties to Europe, found neutrality difficult. Public sentiment favored the side of the Allies—the democracies of Britain, France, and Belgium—rather than the autocracies of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and, later, Ottoman Turkey and Bulgaria, where political power was held by individuals.

When Britain set up a naval blockade of Germany, Wilson did not seriously protest, even though the blockade cut the United States off from a huge trade market. He did warn Germany, however, that he would hold it accountable for any damage done to Americans or their property. The Germans were angered by Wilson’s harsh words. Americans, in turn, became enraged when a German submarine sank the British ocean liner Lusitania, killing more than a thousand people, including 128 Americans. Wilson demanded that Germany end submarine attacks on civilian vessels. In 1916 the German government vowed not to attack unresisting merchant ships, but added that Wilson had to persuade the British to end the blockade. Wilson ignored the challenge.

Even though Wilson had practical plans for war mobilization, he had increased army strength to only 223,000 by 1916—by contrast, Germany had an army of 11 million soldiers. In addition, the government was building mostly battleships; Wilson resisted building destroyers—small, fast ships that are efficient for sinking submarines—because doing so would be, in his words, “unneutral.”

The United States Declares War

Reelected president by a slim margin in 1916, Wilson continued his efforts to mediate a peace between Britain and Germany, but failed. In 1917 Germany began a new submarine campaign. After U.S. ships were sunk, Wilson broke diplomatic relations and threatened war. When the campaign continued, Wilson requested a declaration of war, which Congress granted on April 6, 1917.

Wilson mobilized not only an army of four million men but also all of U.S. industry to provide munitions and other supplies. He advocated a unified command on the western front in France and Belgium, which proved far superior to the four armies operating on their own.

Wilson’s Peace Plan

Wilson proclaimed that U.S. entry into the war made “the world safe for democracy.” In an address to Congress in January 1918, he issued a plan for a lasting peace in Europe, which became known as his Fourteen Points speech. It offered details about the return of occupied lands to their previous owners and suggested that the war should have no victor, because peace could only exist between equals. The plan included the creation of an international organization to guarantee “political independence and territorial integrity to great and small state alike.” That organization would later be called the League of Nations.

By the fall of 1918 Germany, which was near collapse from heavy casualties and the starvation of people and industry brought on by the British blockade, appealed to Wilson for peace on the basis of the Fourteen Points; he agreed. The European Allies, however, adopted only those points that fit their interests. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war, imposed harsh terms on Germany, forcing it to surrender its entire navy and air force and all artillery and to permit Allied forces to occupy western Germany. In addition, France recovered the regions of Alsace and Lorraine, and both France and Britain seized Arab regions from Turkey (arousing anger in what are now Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, and Jordan). France helped create a huge Poland that, because so many Germans, Russians, and Lithuanians lived within its borders, was not a cohesive country, and a large Yugoslavia, which contained many different ethnic and religious groups. In general, the armistice punished Germany so severely that Germans would soon desire revenge.

The Final Years

When Wilson’s pleas to the U.S. Senate to ratify the Treaty of Versailles failed, he took his appeals directly to the American people. On a trip of several thousand miles through the Midwest and West, he gave speeches to large crowds several times a day. Although he changed some voters’ minds, most Americans rejected the League of Nations because they believed it would make the United States an international police power.

As he returned home to Washington, Wilson suffered a massive stroke that left him an invalid. Although extremely ill, he continued his efforts to get the Senate to accept the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, but failed every time a vote was taken. He announced that the presidential election of 1920 would resolve the issue.

By then Americans were tired of reform crusades and war and were reluctant to be involved abroad. When the Republican Warren G. Harding (1865–1923) became the next president, the League of Nations was a dead issue in U.S. politics.

Wilson, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for the creation of the League of Nations, died at his home in Washington, D.C., on February 3, 1924.

Wilson’s Legacy

Historians sometimes refer to Wilson as the first modern president, noting that he understood the power of the president to deal directly with the people. He guided them from a policy of isolationism to one of global participation, and he believed they would eventually embrace his vision of the United States leading a world community of nations. Twenty-five years later, his dream, which was first expressed in the League of Nations, became a reality in the United Nations.

The League of Nations

Toward the end of World War I (1914–1918) President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) called for the creation of a League of Nations, an international body that would, he said, lead to an effective and lasting peace in Europe and the world. He made certain that the League of Nations was an essential part of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the war.

Of the 440 articles in the treaty, the first twenty-six make up the Covenant of the League of Nations, a description of its operations. Article Ten, which caused the most debate in the U.S. Senate, reads as follows:

Article 10. The Members of the League undertake to respect and preserve as against external aggression the territorial integrity and existing political independence of all Members of the League. In case of any such aggression or in case of any threat or danger of such aggression the Council shall advise upon the means by which this obligation shall be fulfilled.

Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1985), a Republican senator from Massachusetts, led the opposition to the league. Although he and Wilson were bitter political adversaries, they had legitimate differences of opinion on the issue. Lodge maintained that, under Article Ten, the organization could require the United States to commit economic or military force to maintain the security of member nations. Wilson, the author of Article Ten, argued that because the United States would be a permanent member of the League Council—the body within the league that would arbitrate disputes—it could veto sanctions. Furthermore, he said, if the league voted unanimously for sanctions, that action amounted only to advice, and the United States would not be legally bound by the league’s dictates. He did maintain, however, that the United States would be morally bound to adhere to the league’s resolutions. From his perspective, a moral obligation was vastly superior to a legal one, and Article Ten was a serious obligation.

Although a compromise was possible—a sufficient number of pro-treaty Republicans would have joined the Democrats to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority—Wilson blocked any compromise after he suffered a massive stroke in October 1919. The vote to ratify the Treaty of Versailles failed.

The United States remained officially at war until August 1921, when President Warren G. Harding (1865–1923) approved a congressional resolution proclaiming that the war had ended. He later signed a separate peace treaty. The resolution and the treaty specified that, although the United States did not sign the Treaty of Versailles, the nation retained all rights and advantages accorded under its terms, with the exception of the League Covenant.

The League of Nations, which was established in 1920, remained in existence until it was superseded by the United Nations in 1945.


The Covenant of the League of Nations. (accessed May 15, 2007).

See also Isolationism

See also World War I

William Jennings Bryan

William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) was a populist—he was called the Great Commoner because of his defense of the common man—lawyer, politician, and Democratic presidential nominee in 1896, 1900, and 1908. He is perhaps best known as the voice of religious fundamentalism in the 1925 “monkey trial,” in which John T. Scopes (1900–1970), a high school teacher, was tried for teaching evolution. He was also a fiery orator who fought against the gold standard, a monetary system that sets the value of currency with gold. Yet, Bryan’s legacy in U.S. politics is more far reaching: he is sometimes referred to as one of the founding fathers of the modern Democratic Party.

Early Life

Born in Illinois, Bryan was the son of a circuit court judge and a high school teacher. Even though he excelled as a debater, he was not an outstanding student. After graduating with honors from Illinois College, he enrolled in the Union College of Law in Chicago. He then practiced law in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Bryan thought his chances for a career in Illinois politics were slim, so he and his wife, Mary Baird, moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1887, where he opened a law office. In 1888 his wife passed the Nebraska bar.

Bryan gave up his law practice when he became a Democratic candidate for Congress. He won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives—in a largely Republican district—by a large majority in 1890 and by a smaller margin in 1892. Two years later he announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate and gave popular speeches but lost the election. To earn a living, he became the editor in chief of the Omaha World-Herald.

The Fight against the Gold Standard

In his first term in the House, Bryan turned his attention to the growing debate over monetary policy in the wake of post–Civil War inflation, depression, and unemployment. The issue was the “free,” or unlimited, coinage of silver versus an adherence to the gold standard.

Free-silver supporters—primarily farmers from the West and South—argued that the gold standard exploited them economically. Rather than enriching the bankers who loaned farmers money, the farmers advocated cheaper dollars to pay off their debts. Bryan supported the farmers and advocated free silver—at a ratio of sixteen ounces of silver to one ounce of gold. He voted against the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890, a law that increased the amount of silver that the U.S. Department of the Treasury was required to purchase each month.

Bryan gave several widely received speeches on the topic, including his famous Cross of Gold speech at the Democratic convention in 1896. It electrified the free-silver contingent, which took control of the convention, casting aside the New York leaders who had run the party for many years.

“Cross of Gold”

At the 1896 Democratic convention in Chicago, William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) made what would become one of the most memorable speeches in U.S. politics. The Cross of Gold speech recounted the effort to back currency with silver and challenged Democrats to make the decision that he believed most Americans had already made: to support the cause. The following is an excerpt:

We have petitioned, and our petitions have been scorned; we have entreated, and our entreaties have been disregarded; we have begged, and they have mocked us when our calamity came. We beg no longer, we entreat no more; we petition no more. We defy them.… Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests, and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.


The Cross of Gold Speech. (accessed February 20, 2007).

The day after his famous speech, Bryan was nominated as the Democratic Party’s candidate for president. He also received nominations from the Populist Party, whose members were mostly farmers who opposed the gold standard, and the National Silver Party. His candidacy was even supported by Republicans who favored free silver.

William McKinley (1843–1901), the Republican candidate, was well financed and likeable. Although Bryan’s speeches were clever and aroused patriotism, some found his solution to the nation’s economic problems simplistic: they thought “free silver” and “sound money” were nothing more than empty campaign slogans. Eastern industrialists convinced their workers that Bryan was a revolutionary, so he failed to convert them to his cause. McKinley won the election.

Foreign Policy Initiatives

Bryan ran unsuccessfully for president again in 1900 and 1908. He did, however, succeed in seeing many of his ideas enacted into law: the popular election of senators, the income tax, the creation of the Department of Labor, Prohibition (which banned the sale, manufacture, import, and export of alcohol), and suffrage for women.

After his 1908 loss, Bryan worked for the election of Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) in 1912 and was rewarded with an appointment as secretary of state. Bryan used his political influence to push measures through Congress, particularly the creation of the Federal Reserve System, the network of banks that controls the money supply.

However, nothing in Bryan’s training prepared him to direct U.S. foreign policy; he knew nothing about international law. A pacifist, Bryan was effective in promoting several treaties designed to delay World War I (1914–1918) in Europe, but his pleas for peace went unheeded. He resigned in protest when Wilson, who had been committed to neutrality, adopted a hard line after a German submarine sank the British ocean liner Lusitania in 1915, killing over a thousand passengers, including 128 U.S. citizens. However, Bryan loyally supported the United States when it entered World War I.

The Scopes Trial

Bryan, who had joined the Presbyterian church as a boy, believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible. As he grew older, he became increasingly hostile to the teachings of biological science. Theories of evolution, he thought, seemed to contradict the words of Genesis and devalue human life, so he undertook a great crusade against the Darwinian theory of evolution.

Bryan was one of the prosecutors at the 1925 trial of John T. Scopes, a Tennessee biology teacher who was accused of violating state law by teaching evolution in his classroom. The trial had a circuslike atmosphere, attracting worldwide attention as a battle between fundamentalism and the theory of the evolutionary origin of human beings. The press called it the “monkey trial.” When Bryan offered to join the prosecution team—even though he had not practiced law in more than thirty years—the renowned attorney Clarence Darrow, nearly seventy at the time, joined the defense team. It became a fierce battle between the two men. In a two-hour examination of Bryan, which was broadcast live on national radio, Darrow confused Bryan and revealed Bryan’s ignorance of science. Scopes was eventually found guilty, but the trial took an enormous toll on Bryan. He died five days after the trial ended.

Bryan’s Legacy

Bryan’s politics were staunchly anticorporate and anti-imperialist. He was an early supporter of labor unions, women’s rights, progressive taxation, and the federal government’s central role in safeguarding the interests of the poor, the elderly, and the sick. He drove the conservatives out of the Democratic Party—they had dominated the party since the Civil War—by advocating high tariffs and low taxes. His efforts set the party on a course it would follow into the twenty-first century.

See also Gold Standard

See also William McKinley

Henry Cabot Lodge

Henry Cabot Lodge (1850–1924), a conservative Republican politician and adversary of the Democratic president Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), favored a strong military and greater U.S. involvement in world affairs. Lodge is best remembered for leading the U.S. Senate’s successful effort to block U.S. entry into the League of Nations.

Early Life

Lodge, who was born into a wealthy political family in Boston, earned a law degree from Harvard University as well as the school’s first doctorate in political science. Rather than enter the legal profession, Lodge taught history at Harvard, wrote a series of books and magazine articles, and edited the journal International Review for four years. Lodge was first elected to the Massachusetts legislature and, after two unsuccessful bids, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1886. In 1892 he was elected to the Senate, where he served four terms.

As a senator, he was a strong supporter of the Spanish-American War (1898)—in which two of his three sons served—and supported U.S. involvement abroad during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). He sponsored a law against child labor, a law mandating an eight-hour workday, and worked on the Pure Food and Drug Act to help ensure food and drug safety.

The League of Nations

From 1918 to 1924 Lodge chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a position he used to stop Wilson’s efforts to establish the League of Nations. Lodge disliked both Wilson’s policies and personality. Because the creation of the league was part of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I (1914–1918), Lodge accused Wilson of jeopardizing the peace process for the sake of his project.

In 1919 Lodge addressed the Senate about the terms of the proposed league. He pointed out a direct conflict between the league and the Monroe Doctrine, which, he said, dictated that Americans settle their problems by themselves. He also questioned whether the United States could fulfill some of the promises outlined in Wilson’s proposal and warned that it could lead to a loss of control over immigration.

Lodge and two other senators crafted a declaration of objections to the league, particularly those involving congressional rights, and gathered signatures of support from Republican senators. He also led a lengthy debate on the Senate floor, followed by hearings in which a variety of representatives from around the world were allowed to testify—all were tactics to wear down Wilson and his supporters and encourage a deadlock.

Ultimately, Congress did deadlock on the issue, and the U.S. public decided the fate of the league in the November 1920 presidential election. James M. Cox (1870–1957), the Democratic candidate, lost to Warren G. Harding (1865–1923), an opponent of the league.

Lodge died on November 9, 1924, at the age of seventy-four.

Lodge’s Legacy

Although Lodge’s goal was to expand U.S. interests in the world, he was often regarded as an isolationist because of his successful effort to prevent the United States from entering the League of Nations. Ironically, Lodge’s grandson, Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (1902–1985), later served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The League of Nations was the forerunner of the United Nations.

See also Woodrow Wilson

Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding (1865–1923), the twenty-ninth president of the United States, was inarticulate and indecisive, avoided issues, and viewed the presidency largely as a ceremonial office. Although his ambition was to be the “best-loved president,” historians often rank him as one of the worst, because his administration was rife with corruption and scandal.

Early Life

Born in Ohio, Harding was the eldest of six children of two doctors. He studied at Ohio Central College and, after unsuccessful attempts to teach, study law, and sell insurance, became a newspaperman. In 1884 he and two friends purchased the near-bankrupt Marion Star for $300. Harding became the newspaper’s publisher and editor, and he eventually bought out his partners. The growth of the city, his business skills—as well as those of his wife, Florence Mabel Kling DeWolfe—and his editorial abilities brought prosperity to the newspaper and some fame to Harding. Both Republicans and Democrats admired the paper because they considered its coverage of political news unbiased.

A Political Career

An amicable conservative who let the party bosses set his agenda, Harding served two terms in the Ohio Senate and ran successfully for lieutenant governor in 1903. After returning to his newspaper for five years, in 1910 he ventured into politics again in a losing bid for governor. In 1914 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he never introduced bills of national importance, missed more sessions than he attended, and avoided taking a stand on issues so successfully that he made few enemies.

At their national convention in 1920, Republicans nominated Harding for president on the tenth ballot. During the campaign his word choice was often ridiculed and characterized as “pompous,” “murky,” and “unclear.” In campaign speeches his inarticulate ramblings on, for example, the League of Nations—the international peacekeeping body advocated by President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924)—stood in stark contrast to the impassioned crusades of the Democratic nominees: James M. Cox (1870–1957), the governor of Ohio, and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), the governor of New York, who would later become president.

Harding told Americans what they wanted to hear: he promised to return the nation to “normalty”—he mispronounced “normalcy,” which is how the media reported his statement. He won by a landslide. Harding’s inaugural address became famous for its promotion of “normalcy.”

Once in office he surrounded himself with both capable and dishonest men who were referred to as the Ohio gang. Many of them were later charged with crimes and sent to prison.

Conservative on trade and economic issues, Harding advocated a higher tariff on foreign products to protect manufacturers of U.S. goods and stricter immigration laws. The Johnson Immigrant Quota Act of 1921 was the first in a series of laws that limited immigration to the United States, especially from southern and eastern Europe.

Secretary of the Treasury Andrew W. Mellon (1855–1937) helped push through tax cuts for the rich; stopped antitrust actions, thereby allowing companies to form powerful conglomerates; and opposed organized labor. Harding left foreign policy to others, especially his secretary of state, Charles Evans Hughes (1862–1948), who convened the Washington Conference to regulate armaments among the major powers.

Teapot Dome and Other Scandals

The worst scandal of the Harding administration was referred to as the Teapot Dome scandal. Albert Fall (1861–1944), the secretary of the interior, secretly leased the Teapot Dome naval oil reserve in Wyoming and the Elk Hills oil reserve in California to private companies in return for some $400,000 in bribes. Fall was eventually found guilty of bribery, fined, and sent to prison for a year. Another scandal involved Charles Forbes, the director of the Veterans Bureau, who diverted alcohol and drugs from veterans hospitals to bootleggers and narcotics dealers and took payoffs from contractors who were building the hospitals. He went to jail for two years. Several of Harding’s closest advisers resigned and two committed suicide under the weight of other corruption charges.

Harding had personal scandals as well. He had a reputation for adultery and fathered a daughter out of wedlock when he was a presidential nominee. He also hosted poker parties at the White House, serving liquor—even though Prohibition, the law at the time, outlawed alcoholic beverages—and gambled away the White House china.

Shaken by talk of corruption among his key officials, including his attorney general, Harding and his wife traveled to Alaska to meet the people and explain his policies. He became suddenly ill—food poisoning was suspected—and was rushed to San Francisco, where, according to many accounts, he developed pneumonia, had a heart attack, and died quietly in his sleep on August 2, 1923. Other theories of his death include stroke, medical malpractice, and even poisoning by his wife because she wished to save him from the charges of corruption that were sweeping the administration. No evidence ever confirmed the rumors about his wife’s involvement in his death; regardless, she would not permit an autopsy. She died the following year.

Harding’s Legacy

Some historians see Harding as an important transitional figure between the idealism of Woodrow Wilson and the prosperity of the Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) and Herbert Hoover (1874–1964) years. However, the majority of historians view Harding as an accommodating, but weak and ineffectual president because he lacked decisiveness and conviction.

See also Temperance and Prohibition

See also Woodrow Wilson

See also World War I

Calvin Coolidge

Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933), the thirtieth president of the United States, took office after the death of President Warren G. Harding (1865–1923). He restored confidence in an administration discredited by scandals and led the nation into a period of seeming prosperity. A strong supporter of business, Coolidge encouraged the financial investment that led to a stock market boom in the 1920s. Eventually, however, stock speculation led to economic collapse and the Great Depression.

Early Life

John Calvin Coolidge, who was born in Plymouth Notch, Vermont, earned a bachelor’s degree at Amherst College in Massachusetts in 1895. He apprenticed in a law office in Northampton, Massachusetts, instead of attending law school—a common practice at the time—and was admitted to the bar in 1897. He opened his own law office in Northampton, where he practiced until 1919.

Coolidge won his first election in 1898, becoming a member of the Northampton city council. Although he lacked the skills of a professional politician, he had loyal supporters. Between 1900 and 1918 he held a variety of posts in Massachusetts. In 1919 he was elected governor.

Coolidge gained national prominence when the Boston police, seeking better wages and working conditions, attempted to join the American Federation of Labor. When the police commissioner suspended nineteen police officers for unionizing, the police voted to strike. At first, Coolidge refused to intervene, but he later sided with the commissioner, who announced that the striking police officers would not be allowed to return to their jobs. “There is no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, any time,” Coolidge said. His photograph and words appeared in newspapers across the country—he was heralded as the “law and order governor.”

His supporters seized the opportunity to get him nominated for president at the 1920 Republican National Convention. However, party leaders chose Harding. Unhappy with that choice, a delegate from Oregon nominated Coolidge for vice president. In the balloting, Coolidge easily defeated Irvine Lenroot (1869–1949), a liberal senator from Wisconsin. Aided by disillusionment after World War I (1914–1918) and the policies of President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), the Republican ticket won by a huge margin.

Called “Silent Cal” because he sat quietly at cabinet meetings and while presiding over the Senate, Coolidge had little enthusiasm for his job and had no power as a national political figure. Then Harding died, and Coolidge was suddenly president. His honesty and simplicity appealed to the American people, as did his belief that government should interfere as little as possible in the lives of its citizens. He was elected president in 1924 and served until 1929.

Coolidge presided over an era of governmental frugality and pro-business policies. Through his appointees he transformed the Federal Trade Commission from an agency intended to regulate corporations into one dominated by big business. He vetoed measures to provide farm relief and bonuses to World War I veterans. With his blessing Congress maintained a high protective tariff on imported goods, instituted tax cuts that favored big business, and decreased government spending. Coolidge continued to oppose U.S. entry into the League of Nations, the international peacekeeping organization, although he did support U.S. participation in the World Court. Perhaps most important, through his public statements Coolidge encouraged the stock market speculation of the late 1920s.

Coolidge chose not to seek reelection in 1928. He retired to Northampton, Massachusetts, to write newspaper and magazine articles and his autobiography.

Coolidge’s Legacy

Coolidge is probably best known for his statement: “The business of America is business.” As president, he adopted policies that favored business and discouraged government intervention in the economy. He influenced speculation in the stock market toward the end of the 1920s, which, most historians believe, precipitated the economic collapse of 1929. Although he was popular while in office, the Great Depression brought Coolidge’s policies into disrepute, and most historians regard him as having been complacent, lacking in vision, and ill equipped to deal with the challenges of the period.

See also Warren G. Harding

Marcus Garvey Jr.

Marcus Garvey Jr. (1887–1940) founded a back-to-Africa movement that encouraged people of African descent everywhere to create their own sovereign nation on that continent. Sometimes referred to as the black Moses, he believed that global black unity was a necessary step toward improving the political, economic, and social conditions of the people of Africa and African descent.

Early Life

The youngest of eleven children, Garvey left school in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, when he was fourteen to work as a printer’s apprentice. He later worked at P. A. Benjamin Manufacturing Company, a printing company in Kingston, where he became a foreman. In 1907, when the printers union—the first trade union in Jamaica—went on strike to protest reduced wages following a company fire and an earthquake, the union elected Garvey their leader. Although the strike failed, most workers got their jobs back. Garvey, however, did not.

Garvey left for Costa Rica and found a job at the United Fruit Company, where he observed the working conditions and exploitation of the black fieldworkers. Although his protests on behalf of the workers were largely ignored and a political newspaper he founded was unsuccessful, his political commitment to the cause of black workers everywhere intensified.

From 1912 to 1914 Garvey lived in London, where he met with black laborers, businessmen, and intellectuals who inspired and educated him on the issues facing black workers in Europe and Africa. Following his return to Jamaica in 1914, he founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and its governing body, the African Communities League (ACL). The organization’s goals were to promote black unity through education, economic independence, and moral reform.

To raise funds for a Jamaican school, Garvey visited the United States in 1916. The school was to be modeled after the Tuskegee Institute, an industrial training school established by the African-American activist Booker T. Washington (1856–1915). Garvey embarked on a lecture tour of thirty-eight cities, encouraging black unity, pride, economic independence, and emigration to Africa.

In 1918 Garvey established the UNIA’s first U.S. chapter in New York and transferred the organization’s worldwide headquarters from Jamaica to Harlem. He also founded a weekly newspaper, the Negro World, which was the organization’s official publication. It quickly developed a worldwide readership and became the most popular black publication in the United States. In the years that followed, Garvey became the most celebrated black leader in the West. The UNIA grew exponentially as well, with hundreds of chapters opening around the world.

The Black Star Line Fiasco

After starting several businesses—including the Negro Factories Corporation, a restaurant, a publishing house, and chain of grocery stores—Garvey founded an international steamship company, the Black Star Line, in 1919. (The company name was a play on the White Star Line, the British shipping company whose most famous vessel was the Titanic.) The steamship line was both a business venture and part of Garvey’s back-to-Africa plan: the ships would transport raw materials, manufactured goods, and produce among black businesses in North America, the Caribbean, and Africa—thereby promoting the economic and political power of black communities—and transport those of African ancestry back to Africa. Shares of the steamship line were sold at UNIA meetings and conventions and through advertisements in the Negro World; many of Garvey’s supporters invested their life savings in the venture. The company failed a few years later, however; Garvey was convicted of mail fraud stemming from the sale of stock in the Black Star Line and sentenced to five years in prison. The sentence was commuted in 1927, and Garvey was deported to Jamaica. Following his conviction, Garvey’s reputation was destroyed, and his influence and popularity declined dramatically. He later moved to London, where he died in 1940.

Ku Klux Klan Connections

Although he claimed not to believe in black supremacy, Garvey said the UNIA and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), the white supremacist organization in the United States, had common goals: racial autonomy and the separation of blacks and whites. In early 1922 Garvey met with Edward Young Clarke, the KKK’s Imperial Wizard, a meeting that drew criticism from both black and white political, labor, and religious leaders. Among his harshest critics was W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963), the cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who claimed that Garvey associated with the KKK only to maintain support for his failing back-to-Africa movement.

Garvey’s Legacy

Although his dream of organizing and unifying blacks everywhere met with limited success, the UNIA became the largest black secular organization in African-American history. Garvey remains a symbol of black freedom and pride and has inspired countless organizations, leaders, and movements worldwide, including the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the black power and black arts movements of the 1960s and early 1970s.

See also W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) was one of the most influential scholars and civil rights activists of the twentieth century. A founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), he was committed to the struggle for economic, civil, and political equality for all Americans.

Early Life

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the only child of Alfred Du Bois, a French Huguenot from Haiti, and Mary Silvina Burghardt, a descendant of slaves, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Du Bois’s father left soon after his birth, and Du Bois lived with his mother until her death in 1884—shortly after his graduation from high school.

While studying at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee, Du Bois taught in rural areas, where he gained firsthand knowledge of Jim Crow laws, which mandated “separate but equal” status for African-Americans, as well as extreme poverty and ignorance. That experience ignited the flame of civil rights activism.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree at Fisk, Du Bois earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard University. He then went to the University of Berlin, which offered an international perspective for his studies of race, history, economics, and politics. His funding was cut short, however, so Du Bois returned to the United States to complete his studies. In 1885 he became the first African-American to receive a doctorate from Harvard. His dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America, 1638–1870, remains the authoritative work in the field.

After teaching at Wilberforce University in Ohio, he accepted a fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania to conduct a sociological study of the black population of Philadelphia. The result of his research, The Philadephia Negro, was published in 1899. With this landmark work Du Bois became the first scholar to apply social science to the study of a racial group. His meticulous detail set the standard for future sociologists in their studies of ethnic groups.

In 1897 Du Bois accepted a teaching position at Atlanta University, where he continued his research and writing. One of his major works from that time was The Souls of Black Folks, a collection of essays published in 1903. It not only examined the damage inflicted by racism but also celebrated the endurance of black people in the United States. More important, it took a strong stand against the political accommodation and passivity of the former slave and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington (1856–1915). Washington encouraged African-Americans to study vocational education and work for gradual change rather than to attempt higher education and engage in active protest against prejudice and injustice.

In 1905 Du Bois helped found the Niagara Movement, which renounced Washington’s policies of accommodation. A group of African-American leaders met at Niagara Falls—they were denied accommodations on the U.S. side of the falls, so they met on the Canadian side—and drafted a plan for aggressive action, demanding full suffrage and civil rights, equal economic and educational opportunities for all, and an end to segregation. The group had limited success in achieving its goals, according to some historians, because of the militant personality of one member: Monroe Trotter (1872–1934). In addition, Washington’s supporters charged the Niagara Movement with fraud and deceit, which hurt its credibility.

In 1909 the group—except for Trotter—formed the NAACP. Du Bois was named the association’s director of publications and research and became the editor of Crisis, the organization’s monthly magazine. The journal campaigned against lynching, Jim Crow laws, and sexual inequality. It also kept its readers informed about advances in civil rights. The magazine developed a huge following among both African-Americans and liberal whites.

A Rift with Marcus Garvey

Although Du Bois initially supported the black nationalist cause, after World War I (1914–1918) he became highly critical of Marcus Garvey Jr. (1887–1940), a popular African-American leader who promoted a back-to-Africa movement and the Universal Negro Improvement Association, which Garvey founded. Du Bois considered Garvey a traitor and worked to expose corruption and mismanagement of Garvey’s Black Star Line, which was set up for trade among black communities in Africa and the West and to take African-Americans back to Africa.

A Marxist Perspective

Du Bois edited Crisis until 1934, when he returned to Atlanta University to chair the Department of Sociology. A former member of the Socialist Party—which advocates a nonracist, classless, feminist society controlled by the working class—Du Bois began to use Marxist theory in his historical investigations, applying ideas about economics to understand race relations. Among his most significant works of the period was Black Reconstruction: An Essay toward a History of the Part Which Black Folk Played in the Attempt to Reconstruct Democracy in America, 1860–1880. It detailed the role blacks played in the period following the Civil War (1861–1865), which had been largely ignored by white historians. Even though the book was often criticized for its use of Marxist concepts and for its claims that white historians overlooked black contributions because they were racist, it is still considered one of the most authoritative books on the era.

In 1945 Du Bois represented the NAACP at the conference that created the charter of the United Nations. In that same year he served as a delegate to the Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England, which demanded an end to racial discrimination, imperialism, and colonial rule in Africa and fought for human rights and equality of economic opportunity for all people of African descent.

In 1951 Du Bois, who had called on the United Nations to examine the crimes of the U.S. government against its own citizens, was indicted as an agent of the Soviet Union. Even though he was later acquitted of all charges, the U.S. Department of State denied him a passport until 1958.

Disillusioned by both U.S. capitalism and racism, he moved to Ghana in 1961 and joined the Communist Party at the age of ninety-three. In 1963 he became a Ghanan citizen, after renouncing his U.S. citizenship, and died shortly thereafter. The Ghanaian president honored him with a state funeral.

Du Bois’s Impact

Du Bois, who is often referred to as the father of social science, was the first to take a scientific approach to the study of black history. His fight for freedom and justice—especially as cofounder of the NAACP—inspired millions of others to take up the cause. His written works include scholarly historical studies, essays, poetry, novels, and plays, many of which laid the groundwork for scholars and writers to follow.

See also Marcus Garvey

Alvin C. York

Alvin C. York (1887–1964) is often referred to as the greatest hero of World War I (1914–1918). He was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor for his heroism.

Early Life

The third of eleven children, Alvin Cullom York was born in the mountains of Tennessee, where his family lived in a two-room cabin. York attended school for only nine months and worked as a semiskilled laborer.

As a boy, he earned a reputation as an accurate shot with pistols and rifles. He spent much of his youth drinking, smoking, gambling, and fighting. However, in 1914, when his best friend was killed in a bar fight, York knew he needed to change his life, so he attended a church prayer meeting at which he experienced a religious conversion. The Church of Christ in Christian Union, a fundamentalist sect with a following limited to Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, forbade drinking, dancing, movies, swimming, cursing, and popular literature. The church also held moral convictions against violence and war. Although he was raised a Methodist, York joined the church, changed his behavior, and became a Sunday school teacher.

When York received his draft notice in June 1917, he sought conscientious objector status, but local and state review boards denied his request because his church was not recognized as a legitimate Christian sect.

Nearly thirty years old, he set off for basic training at Camp Gordon, Georgia. As a member of Company G in the 328th Infantry, he gained a reputation as an excellent marksman—but one who would not shoot at cardboard targets shaped in human form. After weeks of counseling, York relented to the arguments of his company commander and agreed that there were times when war was moral and ordained by God. He and his unit sailed to France in the spring of 1918.

Heroism in Battle

York’s regiment was part of a company assigned to capture a heavily guarded hill near Château-Thierry, France. On October 8, 1918, York and sixteen other soldiers under the command of Sergeant Bernard Early were dispatched to disrupt German supply lines by taking control of the Decauville railroad. The men could not read their map, which was labeled in French, and mistakenly found themselves behind enemy lines. A firefight ensued. German machine gunners killed nine Americans, including York’s best friend in the outfit. Early suffered seventeen bullet wounds and turned the command over to Corporals Harry Parsons and William Cutting. They ordered York to silence the German machine guns.

York maneuvered to a position where, as a sniper, he was able to shoot seventeen German soldiers with his rifle. He then killed eight more with his pistol. The demoralized Germans—4 officers and 128 soldiers—surrendered to the lone Corporal York. With his squad, York managed to get the prisoners to the headquarters of the 328th Regiment.

York was promoted to sergeant and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his feat, even though he never claimed that he acted alone. He was also awarded the French Médaille Militaire and Croix de Guerre and the Italian Croce de Guerra. Early and Cutting were both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1927.

York captured the American imagination because of what he symbolized: a humble, self-reliant, and religious patriot who moved to action only when sufficiently provoked and who refused to capitalize on his fame. Ironically, he also represented a rejection of mechanization and modernization because of his dependence on personal skill.

“What Is the Use of Worrying?”

Alvin C. York (1887–1964), often referred to as the greatest hero of World War I (1914–1918), kept a diary during the war. The following is an excerpt:

July 1, 1918

Montsec Sector, France—A few words on Christian witness in war and why a Christian does worry. Yet there is no use worrying about anything except the worry of so many souls who have passed out into the Deep of an unknown world and have left no testimony as to the welfare of their souls. There is no use of worrying about shells, for you can’t keep them from busting in your trench, nor you can’t stop the rain or prevent a light from agoing up jest as you are half-way over the parapet. So what is the use of worrying if you can’t alter things? Just ask God to help you and accept them and make the best of them by the help of God. Yet some men do worry, and by doing so they effectually destroy their peace of mind without doing anyone any good. Yet it is often the religious man who worries. I have even heard those whose care was for the soldier’s soul deplore the fact that he did not worry. I have heard it said that the soldier is so careless, he realizes his position so little.


Sgt. Alvin C. York’s Diary. (accessed May 15, 2007).

The Return Home

In 1919 York was taken aback by the hero’s welcome he received in New York, which included a ticker-tape parade down Fifth Avenue and a suite of rooms at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Once back in Tennessee, the Rotary Club of Nashville, in conjunction with other Tennessee clubs, planned to present York with a home and a farm. When donations fell short of the goal, the Rotarians gave York an unfinished house with a substantial mortgage but retained the property rights. York received lucrative offers from Hollywood, Broadway, and various advertisers, but he rejected them because he did not believe in profiting from the deaths of others.

As York tried to resume peacetime life, he established a goal: to provide practical education to the children of Fentress County, where he lived. During the 1920s he went on speaking tours to raise money for his school, the Alvin C. York Institute. He also used his fame to garner funds for road improvement and job creation.

In the 1930s, with the renewed threat of war in Europe, York initially spoke out against U.S. intervention. To achieve world peace, he said, Americans should first secure it at home. York changed his position, however, during the making of a film about his life. The Hollywood filmmaker Jesse L. Lasky believed that the United States had to be convinced that war was not only justifiable but sometimes necessary. York’s story seemed to afford a perfect example.

York announced that Lasky’s planned biographical movie, Sergeant York, would portray his life and wartime activities but would not be a war movie—a form his church condemned as sinful. York only agreed to the film because he decided that he could use the profits for his school. However, the film that opened in July 1941 promoted U.S. involvement in World War II (1939–1945). During the shooting of the film, York became convinced of the world threat and supported the call for the country’s first peacetime draft. The Tennessee governor Prentice Cooper (1895–1969) put York in charge of the Fentress County draft board and appointed him to the Tennessee Preparedness Committee. York tried to reenlist in the infantry but was rejected because of age and weight. Through an affiliation with the U.S. Signal Corps, York traveled the country to encourage the sale of war bonds and to aid recruitment.

Later Life

In 1951 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) accused York of tax evasion related to his profits from the movie. Nearly destitute, York spent the next ten years wrangling with the agency. Eventually, Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn (1882–1961) and Joe L. Evins (1910–1964), a Democratic representative from Tennessee, established the York Relief Fund to help cancel his debt. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy (1917–1963), who considered the actions of the IRS a national disgrace, ordered a resolution of the matter.

York’s health deteriorated after World War II. In 1954 he suffered a stroke that left him bedridden for the remainder of his life. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on September 2, 1964, in Nashville and was buried with full military honors.

York’s Legacy

An entire generation of Americans was inspired by the story of a humble man with simple values who served his country to the best of his ability and did not seek to profit from the deaths of others. Even though York was honored for his deeds on the battlefield, he wanted to use his fame for the common good. Through the school he founded, he gave the children of his home county educational opportunities that he never had.

See also World War I

Alice Paul

Alice Paul (1885–1977), an activist for women’s rights, lawyer, and cofounder of the National Woman’s Party, played a major role in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. She was also the author and chief promoter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Early Life

Alice Stokes Paul, the eldest of four children, was born into a Quaker family in Moorestown, New Jersey. Her parents instilled in her and her siblings a belief in gender equality, education for women, and social activism—tenets that were central to their religion. Her mother, a member of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), often took her along to the organization’s meetings.

Paul attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, a Quaker college cofounded by her grandfather, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1905. During her final year at Swarthmore, Paul developed what would become a lifelong interest in political science and economics.

In 1907 Paul received a scholarship to study social work at Woodbrooke Settlement, a Quaker training school, in Birmingham, England. There she became acquainted with the radical suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928) and her daughters. To raise public awareness of the suffrage issue, the Pankhursts resorted to violence, often throwing rocks and smashing windows. Paul’s education as an activist grew with a series of arrests, imprisonments, hunger strikes, and force feedings. Paul and the Pankhursts made front-page news and gathered much public support for their cause in England. Paul maintained that the same militancy was necessary to generate publicity in the United States.

Paul returned to the United States in 1910, determined to renew her suffrage efforts. While a student at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was studying for a master’s degree in sociology, Paul joined the NAWSA and worked for a federal suffrage amendment. Paul gathered together a group of young women—many of whom had also worked with the Pankhursts in England—who were willing to depart from NAWSA’s conservative tactics to get attention for their cause.

Picketing the White House

In 1912 Paul and two of her friends, Lucy Burns (1879–1966) and Crystal Eastman (1881–1928), traveled to Washington, D.C., to organize rallies in support of suffrage. Paul and Burns organized a women’s march on Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913, the day before the inauguration of President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924). The women were verbally and physically attacked while police stood idly by. After newspapers ran stories about the march and the crowd’s reaction, suffrage became a popular topic among the general population as well as the politicians.

Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947), the NAWSA president, disagreed on strategies for gaining the women’s vote. Catt focused on state-by-state campaigns as well as the federal campaign; Paul wanted to work exclusively on the federal level for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In addition, Catt endorsed President Wilson, whereas Paul could not because she thought he neglected the issue of women’s enfranchisement. Paul and her followers initially formed a semiautonomous group called the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage; eventually, they severed all ties to the NAWSA and in 1916 formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP), whose sole aim was to persuade Wilson to push federal legislation to guarantee women’s suffrage.

When NWP members picketed the White House, Wilson ignored them. After the United States entered World War I in 1917, the picketers were attacked by crowds who thought the women were unpatriotic for focusing on the vote during a time of war. When the women were jailed in Virginia, Paul demanded that they be treated as political prisoners and staged hunger strikes. The women, some elderly and frail, were pushed around and beaten; the arrests and imprisonment continued, and Paul and a few other women were force fed. Prison officials even tried to get Paul declared insane and put in a sanitarium.

When news of the prison conditions and hunger strikes spread, however, the press, several politicians, and the public began demanding the women’s release. Concern for the women led many to support their cause. When Paul was released, she had renewed hope for victory.

In 1917, responding to public outcry, Wilson reversed his position and announced his support for a suffrage amendment, which Congress passed two years later. Three-fourths of the state legislatures had to ratify the amendment; that number was reached in 1920 with the vote in Tennessee.

The Nineteenth Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, required very few words:

Section 1. The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.


U.S. Constitution: Nineteenth Amendment. (accessed May 15, 2007)

Her Fight Continues

Paul continued her battle for equality after the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. In 1923 she announced that she would work for a new constitutional amendment for full equality for women, at the time called the Lucretia Mott Amendment after the nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragist. It was later called the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

Throughout her lifetime, Paul worked for passage of the ERA in the United States and for women’s rights worldwide. In 1938 she created the World Woman’s Party (WWP), with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The WWP worked closely with the creators of the United Nations to ensure that gender equality was part of the organization’s charter and that it would establish a United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Paul moved back to the United States in 1941 and once again became active in national women’s issues. She led a coalition that was successful in adding a sexual discrimination clause to Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which made it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.

The reemergence of the women’s movement in the late 1960s led to renewed interest in the ERA, and in 1972 Congress passed the amendment, which went to the states for ratification. However, only twenty-two of the necessary thirty-eight states ratified the amendment by the seven-year deadline Congress had set. The deadline was later extended and then eliminated, but as of 2007, the ERA had not become law.

Paul died on July 9, 1977, in Moorestown, New Jersey.

See also National Woman’s Party

See also Women’s Suffrage Movement

Political Parties, Platforms, and Key Issues

The Populist Party

The Populist Party—originally called the People’s Party—was established in 1881 through a merger of the Farmers’ Alliance, a group of grassroots farmers organizations, and the Knights of Labor, the largest U.S. labor organization in the nineteenth century. The short-lived party advocated public ownership of railroads, steamship lines, and telephone and telegraph systems. It also supported the free and unlimited coinage of silver, graduated income tax, and direct election of U.S. senators (they were chosen by state legislatures at the time).

Origins of the Party

In the late nineteenth century discontent rose among farmers, who were not sharing the nation’s general prosperity. Even though their situation resulted mainly from fluctuations in international markets for agricultural products, they firmly believed that the democratic system was failing them. Starting in the 1870s they mounted political campaigns to rectify what they saw as corruption of the government and the economy by big business and the railroads.

The most successful of the agrarian political movements was the Populist Party. After the 1892 presidential campaign, in which the party’s presidential candidate, James B. Weaver (1833–1912), won more than a million votes and carried four states—Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska—the party appeared to have gained enough support to become a powerful political force. Its major strength came from the nation’s agricultural heartland—states in the South and Midwest—although its leaders reached out to eastern workers.

The party’s 1896 platform had two major goals: to relieve the economic pressure on agriculture and to eliminate what the Populists viewed as the corrupt relationship between business and government. They did not merely object to big business; they also feared that the alliance between business and government would destroy U.S. democracy.

Before the 1896 election the leaders of the Populist Party entered into negotiations with the Democratic presidential nominee, William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), who was one of the foremost promoters of populism in the country. Party leaders believed they had reached an agreement with Bryan that Tom Watson (1856–1922), a Populist senator from Georgia, would be Bryan’s running mate. However, after receiving the party’s support, Bryan announced that Arthur Sewall, a wealthy Democrat from Maine with a record of opposition to trade unions, would be his running mate. Bryan’s decision and his subsequent defeat at the polls severely damaged the Populist Party’s future. Although it continued to hold power in a few western states, the party largely disappeared from national politics after 1896.

The Party’s Impact

Many Populist Party proposals, such as the direct election of senators, the income tax, and tighter regulation of large corporations, were considered radical at the time. However, in following decades most of the party’s issues were absorbed by the Democratic Party and transformed into law.

See also Progressive Party, 1912

The Socialist Party

The Socialist Party of America, formally organized in the United States in 1901, brought together people who were committed to replacing capitalism with a cooperative system in which property and the distribution of wealth were under public, rather than private, control. The party was made up of diverse, and often conflicting, ethnic, class, occupational, and regional constituencies that advocated a variety of methods for improving the daily life of workers.

The rise of socialism in the United States coincided with industrialization, which led to the exploitation of workers. It can be traced to the arrival of German immigrants in the 1850s, who formed such socialistic unions as the National Typographic Union, the United Hatters, and the Iron Molders Union of North America.

The Socialist Party was formed by a merger of two parties. The Social Democratic Party, which advocated a system of cooperative production and distribution of wealth, had been formed by members of the American Railway Union who had gone on strike against the Pullman Company. The other group was a branch of the Socialist Labor Party of America, the oldest socialist organization in the United States. It campaigned for reforms such as the eight-hour workday.

Unlike the Communist Party, the Socialist Party did not require adherence to an international party line. Socialists and other reformers campaigned at the local level for municipal ownership of waterworks and gas and electric plants; they often made progress in their endeavors.

The party related most popular issues to economics. For example, even though individual Socialists spoke out for racial equality—as the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People did in 1910—the party as a whole did not address specific issues pertaining to African-Americans. The party saw racial discrimination as part of a larger problem: capitalist exploitation.

The party achieved its greatest electoral success in the United States before World War I (1914–1918). In 1912 the party’s five-time presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926), the cofounder of the International Labor Union, received nine hundred thousand votes, or 6 percent of the popular vote. Debs took a strong stand against U.S. involvement in World War I and appealed not only to blue-collar workers who were seeking improved working conditions and higher wages but also to intellectuals, such as the novelist and social crusader Upton Sinclair (1878–1968).

Following the election of 1912, Socialist Party membership declined, largely because of internal conflicts. Some members envisioned revolution as the ultimate goal and joined the Communist Party; others advocated continuing reform and became Democrats—they believed they could best achieve their goals by working within a major political party dedicated to reform.

Two laws were factors in the party’s decline as well. The Espionage Act of 1917, which was designed to punish those who “interfered with the draft or encouraged disloyalty” to the United States during World War I, sentenced offenders to jail terms of ten to twenty years. The Sedition Act of 1918 penalized those who obstructed the sale of war bonds, discouraged recruitment, or uttered “disloyal or abusive language” about the government, the Constitution, or the U.S. flag. Under those acts, the government arrested more than fifteen hundred people, many of whom—including Debs—were Socialists.

The party’s membership revived briefly during the Great Depression of the 1930s, but was never a serious factor in national elections after 1936.

The Party’s Impact

The Socialist Party adhered to the belief that social, economic, and political reform was both necessary and possible. The policies it advocated are reflected in a variety of government-owned, -funded, or -subsidized programs later created by both Democrats and Republicans. Social Security, for example, is seen by some as a socialistic system because it is run by the government. A part of the New Deal advanced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), Social Security provides retirement benefits financed by mandatory contributions from workers.

The Square Deal

The name “Square Deal” was given by President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) to his platform of economic and social reforms. He initially used the phrase, following the settlement of a miners’ strike in 1902, to describe his ideal of peaceful coexistence of large corporations and organized labor. He also asserted that he would treat the rich and poor, labor and management, in a “fair and square” manner.

During his administration, Roosevelt was committed to addressing the problems between labor and management; he was also committed to trust-busting, in which huge business conglomerates that dominated markets and eliminated competition were broken up. Unlike his predecessors, Roosevelt defended the right of workers to organize and join unions and avoided calling in federal troops to ease the tensions between striking workers and management. In 1902 he intervened in a United Mine Workers’ strike and got both sides to agree to arbitration of the dispute.

Based on his experiences during the strike, Roosevelt proposed the Square Deal, which advocated fairness for all citizens, whether they were businessmen or wage workers, whether they conducted their business as individuals or as members of organizations. He also thought the government should play an active role in achieving this goal.

He first used the phrase on Labor Day 1903 in a speech about the common interests of management and labor and the danger of allowing either side to pursue selfish goals. To ensure continued national prosperity, he maintained, both business and labor had to share in the wealth produced. To maintain this balance, business and labor had to remain equals and be subject to the same laws. Roosevelt also argued that people should not be judged on the basis of their social standing but on their character and behavior—their capacity for work, honesty, common sense, and devotion to the common good. These virtues were the hallmarks of good citizenship, he said, and their preservation was necessary for the future of the nation and the progress of civilization.

“All for Each and Each for All”

On Labor Day 1903 President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) addressed the New York State Agricultural Association in Syracuse. The following is an excerpt:

It is not enough to be well-meaning and kindly, but weak; neither is it enough to be strong, unless morality and decency go hand in hand with strength. We must possess the qualities which make us do our duty in our homes and among our neighbors, and in addition we must possess the qualities which are indispensable to the make-up of every great and masterful nation—the qualities of courage and hardihood, of individual initiative and yet of power to combine for a common end, and above all, the resolute determination to permit no man and no set of men to sunder us one from the other by lines of caste or creed or section. We must act upon the motto of all for each and each for all. There must be ever present in our minds the fundamental truth that in a republic such as ours the only safety is to stand neither for nor against any man because he is rich or because he is poor, because he is engaged in one occupation or another, because he works with his brains or because he works with his hands. We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less. Finally, we must keep ever in mind that a republic such as ours can exist only by virtue of the orderly liberty which comes through the equal domination of the law over all men alike, and through its administration in such resolute and fearless fashion as shall teach all that no man is above it and no man below it.


“The Square Deal” (September 7, 1903). (accessed May 15, 2007).

Over the next several years Roosevelt broadened the scope of the Square Deal to include economic, environmental, and international affairs. He also used the words in 1912 when he ran for president as a member of the Progressive Party, which was dedicated to social, economic, and political reform.

Roosevelt’s Square Deal was politically significant in that it was the first attempt by a modern president to promote a unified domestic reform program. His program established several firsts that became important in future crises: for the first time labor and business came to the White House on equal terms (in the miners’ strike), for the first time government used its influence to negotiate a settlement, and never before had a president appointed an arbitration board to settle such disputes. Although Roosevelt stepped beyond his legal authority to negotiate a settlement, his actions set powerful precedents. The Square Deal also served as inspiration for future reform-minded presidents, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), whose campaign called for a New Deal, and President Harry S. Truman (1884–1972), who offered a Fair Deal.

See also Theodore Roosevelt

See also Progressive Party, 1912

Dollar Diplomacy

The phrase “dollar diplomacy” was most commonly used to describe the foreign policy of President William Howard Taft (1857–1930). In his annual message to Congress in 1912, Taft summed up his goal as “substituting dollars for bullets.” Taft advocated the use of diplomatic influence and economic pressure to expand and protect U.S. economic and business interests in foreign countries.

Dollar diplomacy had originated during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919). In 1904 the Dominican Republic was $32 million in debt, primarily to European nations. Payments were infrequent or missed, so the Europeans threatened armed intervention. That same year Roosevelt introduced a sweeping new policy—it became known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine—which asserted that the United States had the right to act as an international police power in the Western Hemisphere if “wrongdoing” threatened “civilized society.” Concerned that Europeans would colonize the Dominican Republic, Roosevelt declared that they would not be allowed to use force to collect debts owed by Latin American nations.

Under diplomatic pressure from the United States, the Dominican Republic requested U.S. intervention to solve its financial problems. In 1907 the U.S. Senate approved a treaty that allowed the United States to take over the Dominican Republic’s customs house and duty collection (its largest source of revenue) and use the revenues to pay off the country’s foreign debt. This political domination by the United States caused disorder, which led to occupation of the country by U.S. Marines from 1916 to 1924. The United States continued to control the Dominican Republic’s customs operations until 1941.

This implementation of the Roosevelt Corollary established a pattern of intervention in the region near what is now the Panama Canal. The policy was at first ignored by other Latin American nations, but it later generated much resentment when the United States intervened in Nicaragua and Haiti to protect U.S. investments.

Like Roosevelt, Taft had ambitious plans to expand U.S. influence abroad. With the assistance of Secretary of State Philander C. Knox (1853–1921), Taft developed a plan that encouraged U.S. bankers and industrialists to invest in foreign countries and used diplomatic pressure to force U.S. investment into regions where it was not welcomed.

One of the first regions Taft chose to exercise his new foreign policy was China. In 1910 he persuaded U.S. bankers to finance railroad construction in China and to help China purchase Japanese- and Russian-owned railroads in Manchuria, the northeastern part of China. When Japan and Russia protested, however, the plan was abandoned; the administration did not believe the United States had the military power to force Japan and Russia to agree to the plan.

To safeguard the Panama Canal, Taft intensified dollar diplomacy in the Caribbean. He promoted U.S. investment in the region, arranging it so that U.S. citizens were in charge of finances whenever possible. He sent in U.S. Marines when he could not achieve his objectives by persuasion.

The Policy’s Impact

Dollar diplomacy was severely criticized, both within and outside the United States. President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) repudiated it shortly after he was inaugurated. He said that encouraging bankers to invest in countries such as China implied the possibility of “forcible interference” if the loans were not repaid. In his view this possibility would betray the principles on which the United States was founded.

Most historians view dollar diplomacy as a failed policy, largely because it deepened the antagonism of Latin Americans and Asians toward the United States. As important, they note that the policy was established to avoid military action; in practice, the policy often led to military intervention to protect the interests of U.S. businesses and investors. Following the Taft administration dollar diplomacy took on a negative connotation, referring to the manipulation of foreign policy for economic gain.

See also Roosevelt Corollary

See also Theodore Roosevelt

The Progressive Party, 1912

The Progressive Party—also known as the Bull Moose Party—was an offshoot of the Republican Party. It was founded in 1912 by the former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) and his supporters, who had become dissatisfied with the conservative agenda of the Republican president William Howard Taft (1857–1930). When Roosevelt did not get the Republican nomination for president in 1912, he and his supporters created the Progressive Party so he could run against Taft.

The Party’s Beginnings

Roosevelt became president following the assassination of William McKinley (1843–1901) and was elected in his own right in 1904. For his first two years as president, Roosevelt adhered to the conservative policies of his predecessor. However, Roosevelt was a progressive at heart. He attacked monopolies—he became known as a trust-buster for breaking up powerful groups of businesses that controlled markets and diminished competition. He staked his political future on the premise that individuals were the key to political power, so he became a very public president: he held daily press briefings and traveled on national speaking tours to raise support for his policies.

Roosevelt did not seek to run for president in 1908, holding to the two-term precedent set by George Washington (1732–1799). He chose Taft, who was a close friend, to succeed him. For many Republicans, however, Taft’s policies as president were too conservative. Eventually, Roosevelt agreed and decided to run for another term in 1912.

In 1911 Robert M. La Follette (1855–1925), a Republican senator from Wisconsin, and some colleagues created the National Republican Progressive League, an offshoot of the Republican Party. It supported La Follette for the Republican presidential nomination until Roosevelt announced he would run. La Follette and the Progressive League then endorsed Roosevelt.

Republican Party leaders continued to support Taft, however. Roosevelt and his supporters refused to accept the party’s decision and formed the Progressive Party. It nominated Roosevelt for president and Hiram W. Johnson (1866–1945) for vice president.

The party became known as the Bull Moose Party because of a campaign incident. Roosevelt, who had been frail and sickly as a child, had worked hard to build his stamina and took pride in his physical endurance as an adult. While he was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to deliver a speech, he was shot in the chest by an assassin. The script of the speech—which he had placed in his breast pocket—slowed the bullet. Even though he was bleeding, Roosevelt refused to go to the hospital. Instead, he went on with his ninety-minute speech, declaring that it would take “more than a bullet to stop a bull moose.” The event—and his comment—made headlines.

The New Nationalism

The party’s platform, which was called the New Nationalism, sought a variety of social reforms, including direct election of U.S. senators (they were chosen by their state legislature at the time); the creation of three procedures by which citizens could affect legislation—the initiative, the referendum, and the recall; women’s right to vote; a reduction in tariffs on foreign imports; laws against child labor; and pensions for the elderly. Roosevelt’s agenda received broad support.

Roosevelt received 27 percent of the popular vote to Taft’s 23 percent. However, Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), the Democratic candidate, received 41 percent of the popular vote and most of the Electoral College votes, so he won the election.

In 1916 Roosevelt turned down the Progressive Party’s nomination for president. Charles Evans Hughes (1862–1948) ran for president as a Republican and attracted most of the Bull Moose supporters, effectively ending the party.

The Party’s Impact

As a result of Roosevelt’s rousing candidacy as a Progressive, the public accepted the idea of a more modern and activist president. In addition, most of Roosevelt’s reforms later became law, such as the Seventeenth Amendment, which established the direct election of U.S. senators, and the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.

See also Theodore Roosevelt

See also Progressive Party, 1924

The National Woman’s Party

The National Woman’s Party (NWP), founded in 1913, was an offshoot of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). The NWP organized protest marches and other public demonstrations to publicize its cause: passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that guaranteed women’s right to vote. When that amendment was ratified in 1920, the group began to advocate an Equal Rights Amendment.

The Party’s Origins

In 1890 the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed from two rival suffrage groups: the National Woman Suffrage Association, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906), and the American Woman Suffrage Association, led by Lucy Stone (1818–1893), Henry Blackwell (1825–1909), and Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910).

Alice Paul (1885–1977) and Lucy Burns (1879–1966), who were both members of the NAWSA, believed the organization was not militant enough in its demands for women’s suffrage. In addition, they preferred to work exclusively for passage of a federal amendment rather than on the state-by-state level, the strategy advocated by the NAWSA. So in 1913 Paul and Burns and their supporters founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage, which was renamed the National Woman’s Party three years later.

Most NWP members were young, white, and educated middle- or upper-class women; men were not allowed to join the organization. It was not intended to be a political party—it did not, for example, nominate a candidate for U.S. president—although it did direct much of its protest against the Democratic president Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), because it believed he ignored its cause.

Picketing the White House

NWP members became the first women to picket for women’s rights outside the White House; they also held a suffrage march on the day before Wilson’s inauguration. Many were arrested for their protests and, once in jail, went on hunger strikes. Some, including Paul, were subjected to unsanitary conditions, force feedings, and beatings. The picketing continued, however.

Media coverage of the treatment of the women came at an inopportune time for Wilson: he was trying to build a reputation—for himself and the nation—as an international leader in human rights. The publicity may have contributed to Wilson’s decision to request congressional support for a constitutional amendment that granted women’s suffrage.

The Equal Rights Amendment

Once the suffrage amendment was ratified in 1920, the NWP began lobbying for a measure that became known as the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). It was intended to guarantee equal treatment of all U.S. citizens under the law. Most women’s groups did not support the ERA, however, because they thought it would undo much of the legislation that protected women in the workplace. Because of its agenda, the NWP was supplanted by other women’s groups as the 1920s progressed.

The NWP’s Impact

Along with other women’s organizations, the NWP was instrumental in gaining women’s suffrage in the United States. In the years that followed many former suffragists and their daughters became active in other reform initiatives, such as advocating regulation of workplaces and the workday, world peace, birth control, conservation of natural resources, consumer issues, and legislation against child labor and child abuse.

See also Alice Paul

See also Nineteenth Amendment

See also Women’s Suffrage Movement

The Progressive Party, 1924

Even though it was the heir of the Progressive Party founded in 1912 by the former president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), the Progressive Party of 1924 was a separate and distinct entity with a far more radical agenda. For example, it called for public ownership of natural resources and railroads.

The Party’s Origins

Following World War I (1914–1918) left-wing political activity in the United States increased as farmers and laborers grew dissatisfied with their economic situation. Membership in the Workers’ Party (the Communists), the Socialist Party, and the Farmer-Labor Party expanded in the early 1920s.

One liberal coalition, which called itself the Conference for Progressive Political Action (CPPA), successfully backed a number of liberal candidates in congressional races and envisioned even greater success in the presidential election of 1924. To that end the CPPA—which included members of the Socialist Party, the railroad unions, and the American Federation of Labor—formed the League of Progressive Political Action, popularly known as the Progressive Party.

To gain real political influence, the party sought a presidential candidate with a national reputation. Robert M. La Follette (1855–1925), a Republican senator from Wisconsin, suited their requirements. A reformer, he had failed to win the Republican presidential nomination in 1908 and 1912. At first, he was reluctant to become the standard bearer of the Progressive Party, largely because of possible communist influence on the organization. However, he grew increasingly dissatisfied with the Republican Party’s conservative agenda, especially after the party nominated the incumbent Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) for president. When La Follette was offered full control of the Progressive Party’s platform and the choice of his running mate, he accepted the party’s presidential nomination.

The platform La Follette created called for public control and conservation of natural resources, farm-relief measures, public ownership of railways, tax reduction for those with moderate incomes, the abolition of child labor, the right of labor to organize and bargain collectively, and the breakup of monopolies and other business conglomerates that stifled competition.

La Follette ran against Coolidge and John W. Davis (1873–1955), a Democratic representative from West Virginia. Although La Follette and his running mate, the Montana senator Burton K. Wheeler (1882–1975), gained support from trade unions, the Socialist Party, and a major newspaper chain, the campaign ran short of funds and La Follette was smeared as unpatriotic and a communist. Coolidge won a landslide victory.

The Progressive Party unraveled quickly following the defeat in 1924. It staged a comeback in the 1930s on the state level when La Follette’s sons, Robert Jr. and Philip, forged a successful movement in Wisconsin. That effort lasted until the end of World War II (1939–1945).

The Party’s Impact

La Follette ran for president on a reform platform, promising to do for the nation what he had done for Wisconsin. Although his bid was unsuccessful, many of La Follette’s progressive ideas were transformed into law during the administration of the Democratic president Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945).

See also Progressive Party, 1912

Current Events and Social Movements

The Panic of 1893

The Panic of 1893, a national financial crisis, began when the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, one of the largest railroad companies and employers in the United States, went bankrupt. It was more than $125 million in debt. A short time later, the National Cordage Company, a group of rope manufacturers, also closed its doors. For the first time, gold reserves in the U.S. Department of the Treasury plunged below the accepted minimum level of $100 million, confidence in the U.S. dollar dropped around the world, and in May 1893 the New York Stock Exchange crashed. The financial crisis was followed by four years of depression during which millions of Americans lost their jobs and struggled to survive.

The Roots of the Crisis

In November 1890 the collapse of Baring Brothers, a British banking company, triggered a widespread sell-off of securities in Britain, including a substantial amount of stock in U.S. companies. At the time, the United States was operating on the gold standard, which meant that actual gold backed the value of money. The sale of European-held securities resulted in a vast drain of gold from the United States. Gold reserves were also falling because of a sharp decline in revenue associated with the McKinley Tariff of 1890—the second-largest tariff on imported goods in U.S. history—and the massive pension grants made to veterans during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901). The flow of foreign capital into U.S. businesses slowed, and the export of gold increased.

Several other factors contributed to the crisis. At the beginning of the 1890s the U.S. economy was expanding quickly, particularly in the areas of agriculture and railroads. Prospective farmers and business owners were borrowing huge sums of money to finance their ventures, and many became overextended financially. Although the abundant wheat crop of 1891 caused a brief upturn, agricultural prices fell, as did exports and commerce in general.

Then in 1893 the collapse of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad and the National Cordage Company—the most actively traded stock on the New York Stock Exchange—led to panic in the stock market. Banks and other investment firms began calling in loans, causing hundreds of businesses to go bankrupt. In particular, the failures of steel mills, banks, and railroads—including the Northern Pacific Railway, the Union Pacific Railroad, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad—took a huge toll on the U.S. economy. More than fifteen thousand businesses were forced to shut down, and about 25 percent of the nation’s workforce was laid off. Homelessness soared as unemployed workers were unable to pay their rent or mortgages.

In response to the crisis, President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) asked Congress to repeal the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. That law—sponsored by John Sherman (1823–1900), a Republican senator from Ohio—required the U.S. government to increase its purchases of silver by nearly 50 percent, substantially adding to the number of banknotes in circulation. Those notes could be redeemed in either silver or gold. As the government bought more and more silver, prices fell, so people holding the banknotes began to redeem them for gold rather than silver. By repealing the act, Congress reduced the pressure on the gold reserves.

The Economy Recovers

Economic recovery finally started in 1896. The sale of a new series of treasury bonds brought in gold, allowing the country to sustain gold reserves above $100 million, and new gold was produced. The public and the financial markets became confident again. The depression did not lift substantially, however, until 1897, when poor European crops stimulated U.S. exports, leading to imports of gold. Only then did the stock market stabilize.

The Long-Term Impact

The hard times the United States experienced during the Panic of 1893 forced the nation to alter the pattern and pace of its development. The depression also intensified the sensitivity—of both the government and the general public—to a wide range of economic, social, and political issues that accompanied the transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy.

The poorest elements of society believed they had once again been left at the mercy of large corporations because the reforms of the last quarter of the nineteenth century had not been sufficient. New leadership, they thought, was needed for the next century.

See also Gold Standard

The Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War, a short military conflict between the United States and Spain, erupted after a U.S. battleship exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, then a Spanish colony. The U.S. decision to declare war on April 25, 1898, was also prompted by anti-Spanish sentiment in the United States, the desire to protect U.S. economic interests in Cuba, and the Cubans’ desire for independence from Spain.

On August 12, 1898, only four months after the war began, the United States was victorious. Spain’s overseas empire came to an end, and the United States acquired status as a global military power.

The Spanish Empire

Spain was the first European nation to explore and colonize the Western Hemisphere. It developed an empire in the Americas that extended from colonial Virginia to the southern tip of South America—with the exception of Brazil, which was controlled by Portugal—and westward to California and Alaska. In the Pacific the Spanish empire included the Philippines and other groups of islands. By 1825, however, much of Spain’s empire had been conquered by other nations or granted independence. However, Spain still controlled Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and the Philippine, Caroline, Marshall, and Mariana islands (including Guam) in the Pacific.

Anti-Spanish Sentiment

The greatest challenge for President William McKinley(1843–1901) was managing the growing tension between the United States and Spain over Cuba. Spanish officials had suppressed an independence movement on the island, which was its most profitable Caribbean colony because of sugar exports. Spain forced Cuban men, women, and children into what were called re-concentration camps, ostensibly to protect the civilians by separating them from the rebels seeking independence. The Spanish general Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau (1883–1930), who was known as the Butcher, neglected the camps’ three hundred thousand inhabitants. As a result, starvation and disease became rampant, and thousands died.

Cuban-Americans grew concerned about the treatment of their countrymen. Sensational newspaper articles printed—partly to increase newspaper circulation—by the publishers William Randolph Hearst (1863–1951) and Joseph Pulitzer (1847–1911) further inflamed anti-Spanish sentiment.

Even though McKinley was reluctant to go to war with Spain, he felt compelled to do so, especially after the mysterious explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbor. In 1898 the United States sent the warship to Cuba on what was called a “courtesy visit”; in reality, the ship was sent to protect U.S. citizens and property in Cuba. On February 15, 1898, a mysterious underwater explosion destroyed the ship and killed 266 U.S. sailors. U.S. officials believed a Spanish mine caused the disaster (navy studies in the 1970s suggested that the explosion may have been caused by spontaneous combustion in the ship’s coal bunkers). So McKinley ordered a naval blockade of Cuba, and by April both the United States and Spain had declared war.

To assure the world that the United States was fighting only to protect Cuba and not for colonial gain, Congress passed legislation known as the Teller Amendment (1898), which promised that Cuba would become independent after the war. Once declared, the United States fought the war on a variety of fronts.

As soon as hostilities began, Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), then the assistant secretary of the navy, ordered Commodore George Dewey (1837–1913) to attack the Philippines. On May 1 Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet in Manila harbor. Some historians see that action as a reflection of Roosevelt’s desire to take over and dominate other territories; others maintain that his motivation was simply to attack enemy naval vessels wherever they existed. During the war the United States also invaded Guam and Puerto Rico.

The U.S. ground force in Cuba, under the leadership of General William R. Shafer, was disorganized. However, with the assistance of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry and other units, the United States defeated the Spanish military relatively quickly. The cavalry, which became known as the Rough Riders, was led by Roosevelt, who resigned his navy post in May 1898 to join the group of volunteers.

The Peace Treaty

The treaty ending the war, which was signed on December 10, 1898, established Cuban independence and ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States. It also allowed the United States to purchase the Philippine Islands from Spain for $20 million.

After the war the United States made improvements in Cuban schools, courts, and other infrastructure and prepared to withdraw according to the terms of the Teller Amendment. However, in 1901, before its departure, the United States forced the Cubans to insert a clause into their constitution. Known as the Platt Amendment, the clause gave the United States the right to establish a permanent military base in Cuba at Guantánamo Bay.

The Platt Amendment

When the Spanish-American War ended, Cuba became independent. However, the U.S. government insisted that the Cubans add a clause, known as the Platt Amendment, to their constitution. The following is an excerpt from the amendment:

The President is hereby authorized to “leave the government and control of the island of Cuba to its people” so soon as a government shall have been established in said island under a constitution which, either as a part thereof or in an ordinance appended thereto, shall define the future relations of the United States with Cuba, substantially as follows: I. That the government of Cuba shall never enter into any treaty or other compact with any foreign power or powers which will impair or tend to impair the independence of Cuba, nor in any manner authorize or permit any foreign power or powers to obtain by colonization or for military or naval purposes or otherwise, lodgement in or control over any portion of said island. II. That said government shall not assume or contract any public debt, to pay the interest upon which, and to make reasonable sinking fund provision for the ultimate discharge of which, the ordinary revenues of the island, after defraying the current expenses of government shall be inadequate. III. That the government of Cuba consents that the United States may exercise the right to intervene for the preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty, and for discharging the obligations with respect to Cuba imposed by the treaty of Paris on the United States, now to be assumed and undertaken by the government of Cuba. IV. That all Acts of the United States in Cuba during its military occupancy thereof are ratified and validated, and all lawful rights acquired thereunder shall be maintained and protected. V. That the government of Cuba will execute, and as far as necessary extend, the plans already devised or other plans to be mutually agreed upon, for the sanitation of the cities of the island, to the end that a recurrence of epidemic and infectious diseases may be prevented, thereby assuring protection to the people and commerce of Cuba, as well as to the commerce of the southern ports of the United States and the people residing therein. VI. That the Isle of Pines shall be omitted from the proposed constitutional boundaries of Cuba, the title thereto being left to future adjustment by treaty. VII. That to enable the United States to maintain the independence of Cuba, and to protect the people thereof, as well as for its own defense, the government of Cuba will sell or lease to the United States lands necessary for coaling or naval stations at certain specified points to be agreed upon with the President of the United States. VIII. That by way of further assurance the government of Cuba will embody the foregoing provisions in a permanent treaty with the United States.


Platt Amendment (1903). (accessed May 15, 2007).

In Puerto Rico the United States established a civilian government—based on the Foraker Act, which was passed in 1900—with a governor and executive council appointed by the U.S. president, a House of Representatives with thirty-five elected members, a judicial system with a Supreme Court, and a nonvoting resident commissioner in the U.S. Congress. In addition, all federal laws of the United States were to be in effect on the island.

When the United States assumed control of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican people expected the United States to liberate the island nation, as the United States had liberated Cuba; instead, the United States used Puerto Rico as a coaling station for U.S. ships. The people of Puerto Rico would not receive collective U.S. citizenship until 1917.

The United States annexed the Philippines in January 1899. The Filipinos immediately declared independence. Under Emilio Aguinaldo (1869–1964), who was proclaimed the first president of the Republic of the Philippines, they began a guerrilla war that lasted until March 1901, when the United States captured Aguinaldo.

The War’s Impact

The Spanish-American War signaled the emergence of the United States as a world power and a major player in international affairs. Ironically, the United States, a nation founded in opposition to imperialism, became an imperial power itself. Its response to the Cuban and Filipino struggles for independence inspired the kind of outrage and revolt that other colonial powers had encountered in previous centuries.

The war also revealed the growing power of the media to affect public opinion. Much evidence suggests that sensationalistic journalism, like that published by Hearst and Pulitzer, was intended to encourage anti-Spanish sentiment among Americans. The publishers wanted to encourage a war with Spain because a war would sell more newspapers. The Spanish-American War may have been the first media war in U.S. history.

See also Theodore Roosevelt

See also William McKinley

The Women’s Suffrage Movement

In the United States, the movement for women’s suffrage—also called the franchise or the right to vote—began in the mid-nineteenth century. Through the efforts of many women and men, it ultimately led to ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, which granted women the right to vote.

A History of Suffrage

Several of the thirteen original colonies gave women of property limited voting privileges in local elections. With U.S. independence from Britain in 1776, however, even that limited right was withdrawn, except in New Jersey. Property-holding women took advantage of the vague wording of the New Jersey state constitution, which gave the vote to “all inhabitants” of the state. In 1807, when African-Americans as well as women voted in some elections, suffrage in the state was restricted to free white men.

The Seneca Falls Convention

In 1848 some two hundred women and forty men, including the reformers Lucretia Mott (1793–1880), Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815–1902), and Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), met in Seneca Falls, New York, for the first women’s rights convention. The group laid claim to full citizenship for all U.S. women, rejecting Victorian domesticity and its separation of men’s and women’s spheres. The delegates believed that women were full citizens and not exclusively wives or mothers. Perhaps most significant, they began the suffrage movement.

The Seneca Falls Declaration

In July 1848 the first women’s rights convention in the United States adopted a Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions. The following is an excerpt:

The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world. He has never permitted her to exercise her inalienable right to the elective franchise. He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice. He has withheld from her rights which are given to the most ignorant and degraded men—both natives and foreigners. Having deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides. He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead. He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns. He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming to all intents and purposes, her master—the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement. He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes, and in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given, as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of women—the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of man, and giving all power into his hands. After depriving her of all rights as a married woman, if single, and the owner of property, he has taxed her to support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it. He has monopolized nearly all the profitable employments, and from those she is permitted to follow, she receives but a scanty remuneration. He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known. He has denied her the facilities for obtaining a thorough education, all colleges being closed against her.… He has created a false public sentiment by giving to the world a different code of morals for men and women, by which moral delinquencies which exclude women from society, are not only tolerated, but deemed of little account in man.… He has endeavored, in every way that he could, to destroy her confidence in her own powers, to lessen her self-respect, and to make her willing to lead a dependent and abject life.


Seneca Falls Declaration (1848). (accessed May 15, 2007).

The Reformers

In the years following the convention, reformers failed to secure the vote for women in conjunction with the enfranchisement of blacks by the Fourteenth Amendment—which secured the rights of all citizens under the law—and the Fifteenth Amendment—which secured the rights of all citizens to vote, without regard to race, color, or previous servitude. The American Equal Rights Association was formed in 1866, but policy rifts developed over women’s suffrage in 1869.

As a result, the American Woman Suffrage Association was formed by Lucy Stone (1818–1893), Henry Blackwell (1825–1909), and Julia Ward Howe (1819–1910) and the National Woman Suffrage Association was created by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony (1820–1906). Although bitterly opposed by certain segments of society—including most conservatives, the liquor interests, and organized crime bosses—the suffragists widened their influence through the press and by circulating petitions, lobbying legislators, and speaking at congressional hearings.

Gradually, a few states granted women limited suffrage, usually in local elections. Then, in 1869, when Wyoming organized as a territory, it gave women the right to vote; when it became a state in 1890, the right for women to vote was retained. In 1893 Colorado gave women the vote; in 1896 Utah and Idaho; in 1910 Washington state; in 1911 California; in 1912 Arizona, Kansas, and Oregon; and in 1913 Alaska Territory. In 1913 Illinois, by statute, gave women suffrage in presidential and municipal elections. In 1914 Nevada and Montana granted women full suffrage. In 1917, prompted by women’s active participation in World War I, New York granted women the vote.

Women Challenge Their Roles

More and more women entered public life in the years after the Seneca Falls convention, partly because of greater educational opportunities. Women’s colleges sprang up around the country, enrolling mostly white, middle-class women. By 1870 there were eleven thousand female students in these institutions; a decade later, the number had grown to forty thousand.

Half of all college-educated women in the late nineteenth century never married. Instead, they allied themselves with married women and formed associations geared toward extending the maternal role into the public sphere: educating young children, instituting benefits for the poor, and improving health conditions for both women and children. The associations included settlement houses, which were community centers that served the needs of the urban poor, and reenergized suffrage organizations.

Yet, many segments of society challenged women’s efforts to enter public life. Throughout the 1890s a variety of “scientific reports” were released that claimed too much education could seriously injure the female reproductive system. In 1905 the former president Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) wrote that allowing women to vote would upset the “natural equilibrium” between men and women and cause chaos.

In retaliation, women set out to demonstrate that rather than disrupt the social order, suffrage for women would improve it. The suffragists argued that bringing their roles as mothers into the public arena would impose a kind of civic housekeeping on government and encourage a more nurturing role of the state toward its people. Women such as the Reverend Anna Garlin Spencer (1851–1931), who represented the mainstream suffrage movement, argued for a conservative rather than a radical transformation of women’s role in society.

New Leadership

By 1890 the early suffrage leaders had died, and with a significant number of college-educated women and women’s organizations behind it, the movement found new leadership, including Carrie Chapman Catt (1859–1947), who led the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which combined the earlier suffrage associations. The group’s platform was moderate and argued that women, who were inherently different from men, would restore moral order and harmony if they were allowed the vote. However, the NAWSA excluded black women from membership and garnered significant support from southern women by asserting that the white man’s vote would maintain white supremacy in the South. In response, black women, such as Mary Church Terrell (1863–1954), formed their own organization, the National Association of Colored Women, in 1896.

By 1910 women’s suffrage had become a mass movement. A parallel and much more radical movement was under way in England. Led by the activist Emmeline Pankhurst (1858–1928), British suffragists resorted to violence: they burned buildings, blew up mailboxes, and staged hunger strikes—actions that garnered negative publicity for themselves and their cause. American activists such as Alice Paul (1885–1977) and Lucy Burns (1879–1966) trained under Pankhurst and participated in British suffrage demonstrations.

The Women’s March on Washington

When they returned to the United States, Paul and Burns were not satisfied with the slow gains made by working with state legislatures. Nor were they content with the conservative tactics of the NAWSA. They decided to focus on passage of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Paul and Burns broke from the NAWSA and formed the National Woman’s Party (NWP) to continue their militant tactics.

On March 3, 1913, the day before President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) was inaugurated, about five thousand women united under the NWP’s leadership to picket the White House and demand the right to vote. The women denounced Wilson and the Democratic Party for their failure to enfranchise women. The marchers were shouted and jeered at, and many were jailed. However, their tactics and arrests received publicity for their cause. In addition, Wilson eventually announced his support for the suffrage amendment.

The Nineteenth Amendment

The efforts of both organizations were rewarded with the passage in 1919 of the Nineteenth Amendment. Ratification by three-fourths of the state legislatures did not come immediately, however; many southerners balked, believing that white (male) supremacy would be threatened if women gained the vote. So the NAWSA and the NWP continued to campaign until Tennessee’s legislature voted in 1920 to ratify the amendment. The Nineteenth Amendment immediately granted twenty-six million women—half the nation’s population—the right to vote.

The Movement’s Impact

Although suffrage did not produce the immediate results anticipated by its supporters or include minority women in its successes, it laid the groundwork for women to pursue a life of independence and public action. Women only gradually realized their power as citizens and as voters. The Nineteenth Amendment—like the Fourteenth Amendment before it—was one more step in the fight for equal rights for all U.S. citizens.

See also Alice Paul

World War I

World War I (1914–1918) erupted in Europe following the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863–1914), heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by the Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip (1894–1918). Within months, most of the nations of Europe were at war. The United States did not enter the conflict until 1917.

At the time of the assassination, Bosnia, which was a province governed by Austro-Hungary, was populated primarily by three groups: Croats, who were Roman Catholics; ethnic Serbs, who were Eastern Orthodox; and Muslims, who remained from the days of Turkish rule. Many Bosnian-Serbs resented Austrian rule and wanted their province joined with Serbia across the river, and many in Serbia shared this desire.

Austria declared war on Serbia (July 28, 1914). Then Germany declared war on Russia (August 1, 1914), on France (August 3), and invaded Belgium (August 4). Britain declared war on Germany (August 4). The Central Powers—the combined forces of Germany and Austro-Hungary—fought against the Allies—Britain, France, and Russia. In November 1914 Turkey allied itself with the Central Powers, and in 1915 Italy joined the Allies. The United States entered the war in support of the Allies in 1917.

U.S. Neutrality

At the outset of the war President Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), adhering to the nation’s longstanding isolationist foreign policy, issued a declaration of neutrality. He advocated keeping the Atlantic Ocean open for U.S. trade with all the European nations at war. British naval supremacy, however, nearly eliminated U.S. trade with Germany, so U.S. shipments to the Allies increased dramatically. To curb this trend, German submarines, known as U-boats, torpedoed U.S. merchant vessels bound for Allied ports.

In May 1915 a German submarine sank the British passenger ship Lusitania; more than a thousand passengers, including 128 Americans, died. A strong protest from Wilson subdued Germany’s submarine campaign, but in January 1917 Germany announced its intention to destroy all ships heading to Britain. Although Wilson broke diplomatic ties with Germany, he still hoped to avert war and armed merchant vessels as a deterrent. Nevertheless, Germany began sinking U.S. ships.

The Sinking of the Lusitania

After the outbreak of World War I, ocean voyage became dangerous. To keep war matériels from getting through to Britain, German submarines, known as U-boats, constantly patrolled British waters in search of approaching vessels.

The Lusitania, a British ocean liner with 1,959 people on board—159 of whom were American—departed New York for Liverpool, England, on May 1, 1915. It sailed despite a warning from the German authorities, which had appeared in U.S. newspapers that morning.

By that point in the war, a number of British merchant ships had been sunk by German U-boats, but the ocean liner’s speed was thought to be its best guarantee of safety. While the Lusitania was at sea, a German U-boat sank three British ships in the waters south of Ireland through which it was about to sail, and the ship’s captain received repeated warnings that U-boats were active on his intended course. On May 7, as the Lusitania entered the most dangerous segment of its journey, Captain William Turner (1856–1915) slowed the ship, presumably because of fog. He also failed to use the standard zigzag maneuvers that were intended to evade enemy attacks.

Approximately fourteen miles off the coast of southern Ireland, unknown to either the captain or any of his crew, the German submarine U-20 spotted and targeted the ship. The U-boat launched a torpedo, which hit the Lusitania; almost immediately another explosion occurred.

At the time, the Allies thought the Germans had launched two or three torpedoes to sink the ship. The Germans later maintained that their U-boat fired only one torpedo. Many experts suggested the second explosion was caused by the ignition of ammunition hidden in the cargo hold; others said that coal dust, stirred up when the torpedo hit, exploded. Regardless of the exact cause, the damage from the second explosion caused the ship to sink in eighteen minutes.

Even though the ship had a sufficient number of lifeboats for all passengers, the severe shifting of the ship while it sunk prevented most of the boats from being launched properly. Of the 1,959 people on board, 1,198 died. The heavy death toll shocked the world.

Americans were especially outraged to learn that 128 U.S. civilians were killed in a war in which the United States was officially neutral. Attacking vessels not known to be carrying war matériels countered generally accepted international war protocols. The sinking of the Lusitania helped create a climate of indignation that later prompted the United States to enter the war.

The Zimmerman Telegram

In February 1917 British intelligence gave the U.S. government a decoded telegram from Germany’s foreign minister, Arthur Zimmerman (1864–1940). The telegram had been intercepted on its way to the German ambassador to Mexico. The telegram authorized the ambassador to offer Mexico the portions of the southwestern United States that it had lost in the 1840s if it joined the Central Powers. Because of a campaign promise to keep the United States out of the European war, Wilson did not publicize the telegram initially. He only released the message to the press in March, after weeks of German attacks on U.S. ships had turned public sentiment toward involvement in the war.

On April 2, 1917, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. Four days later a war resolution was passed. The Selective Service System, which registered men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five for possible military service, was created a month later. The draft, along with a large number of volunteers, built the army from less than 250,000 to 4 million during the course of the conflict.

Initially, the United States was not prepared to fight so large a war so far from U.S. soil: it took time to reorganize government and industry to coordinate a war and then recruit, train, equip, and ship out massive numbers of soldiers. General John Pershing (1860–1948), who commanded U.S. forces in Europe, led the first troops to France during the summer.

Building Support for a War

Although many Americans supported the war and many volunteered for service, the scale of the undertaking and time pressures led the government to mount a massive propaganda campaign. The press received carefully selected information on the progress of the war, and more than 75,000 speakers were sent to 750,000 public events, rousing the patriotism of millions of spectators.

The government needed patriotic cooperation because it was completely unequipped to enforce many of the new regulations it adopted. A War Industries Board was charged with gearing up the economy to war production, but it lacked sufficient authority. The Overman Act of May 1918, which gave the president broad powers to commandeer industries if needed, failed to persuade industrialists to retool their manufacturing plants in support of the war effort.

The government took control of only one industry, the railroads, in December 1917, and then only temporarily. In all other industries federal investment, rather than coercion, achieved results. The Emergency Fleet Corporation invested more than $3 billion in the nation’s inactive shipbuilding industry. U.S. production was just gaining strength as the war ended, but the threat that it represented helped persuade an exhausted Germany to surrender.

Repression and the War

The war effort relied on a workforce of unprecedented diversity and on cooperation from increasingly powerful unions. To achieve its goals, the federal government sought to suppress elements that might harm the system. For the first time, it developed a significant intelligence-gathering apparatus whose primary targets were anticapitalist radicals and enemy aliens (e.g., German and Austro-Hungarian immigrants). Radicals were targeted by the Espionage Act of 1917, which outlawed the conveyance of information with intent to interfere with the operation or success of the U.S. armed forces or to promote the success of its enemies. After the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, in which the czar was overthrown, the government sought even broader powers to control public speech. In 1918 Congress passed the Sedition Act, which prohibited “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the government, the flag, or the military and tightened restrictions on disclosure of government and industrial information pertaining to national defense.

The U.S. Department of Justice, through its U.S. attorneys and Bureau of Investigation, cooperated with local and state authorities to suppress radical organizers. Many government agencies developed some intelligence capacity and the private, but government-sanctioned, American Protective League recruited three hundred thousand citizen-spies to keep watch on their fellow Americans.

In this climate of suspicion, German-speaking aliens became fearful, especially when war propaganda dehumanized Germans and ridiculed their culture and language. Large numbers of aliens were screened by the Department of Justice; many who were considered disloyal had their movements restricted and were denied access to military and war-production sites.

U.S. Soldiers on the Front Lines

The end of the war seemed a long way off when U.S. troops first engaged in significant fighting in the spring of 1918. The new Bolshevik government in Russia withdrew from the war in March, so Germany redirected its efforts to the western front. Under British and French pressure, Pershing allowed a limited number of his troops to join with those of the Allies. Now under foreign command, U.S. troops helped stop the renewed German offensive in May and June.

The First U.S. Army was given its own mission in August: to push back the German advance near Verdun, a town in northeastern France, and to seize the important railroad facilities at Sedan, a nearby village. The campaign, which began in September, was a success.

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, which was launched in late September, proved to be much bloodier than the U.S. battle at Verdun. Even though the German position was heavily fortified, more than a million U.S. soldiers simply overwhelmed all resistance. This massive and relentless operation persuaded the German command that its opportunity to defeat the Allies before U.S. troops and industry were fully ready to enter combat had been lost. With U.S. troops ready for battle, the exhausted Central Powers surrendered on November 11, 1918. An armistice, a temporary peace agreement, was declared.

U.S. Casualties

During the war, about two million U.S. soldiers engaged in combat in France. About fifty-three thousand died in battle, and more than two hundred thousand were wounded. An additional sixty thousand died from diseases—several contracted influenza during the epidemic that spread around the world in 1918 and 1919. Furthermore, many surviving combatants suffered psychological damage, known as shell shock, from the horrors of trench warfare.

The Treaty of Versailles

After the war the Paris Peace Conference, which was convened by the Allies, hammered out the terms of peace treaties, including the Treaty of Versailles. Signed on June 28, 1919, it officially ended the war with Germany. Among its 440 articles were demands that Germany accept full responsibility for causing the war, pay heavy economic reparations to Allied countries, and lose territory and much of its right to develop militarily. Other treaties were created for other countries.

The Treaty of Versailles also included articles that established a League of Nations, an international peacekeeping organization like the one first advocated by Wilson in a speech to Congress in 1918. The treaty specified the rules and requirements of membership. However, joining the league ran counter to the traditional views of many members of Congress, who preferred a U.S. foreign policy of nonintervention. As important, many Americans, because of the heavy U.S. death toll during the war, wanted to detach politically from Europe. So the U.S. Senate failed to ratify the treaty, and the United States did not join the league. The United States negotiated a separate peace with Germany, which became official in August 1921.

Aftermath of the War

World War I changed the political, social, and economic conditions of the entire world. Economies were drained, and boundaries shifted. The German and Austro-Hungarian empires ceased to exist. Much of eastern Europe was reconfigured along ethnolinguistic lines, and Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland became independent countries. Several other nations were haphazardly combined into the countries of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia. A major reorganization of the Middle East also took place, establishing the countries later known as Armenia, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq.

Many historians believe that the Allies were excessive in their punishment of Germany after the war and that the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles, rather than fostering peace, encouraged the bitterness and resentment that led to World War II. Although Germany ultimately paid only a small percentage of the reparations, the country’s economy was already stretched thin from the war, so the additional economic burden caused further resentment. Extremist groups, such as the Nazi Party, exploited this humiliation and took political control of the country during the next two decades.

See also Influenza Epidemic

See also Isolationism

See also Woodrow Wilson

See also Alvin C. York

The Influenza Epidemic

During 1918 and 1919 a particularly virulent strain of influenza swept the world, infecting approximately one billion people and killing an estimated fifty million—more than all the casualties of World War I. Within months, the pandemic, or worldwide epidemic, killed more people than any illness in recorded history.

Although the geographic origins of the deadly flu are still unknown, it was first believed that the pandemic originated in China from a rare genetic mutation of the swine virus. In 2005, however, researchers studying the genetic makeup of the virus suggested that it had jumped directly from birds to humans, bypassing swine, and that it probably did not originate in Asia (they were not able to identify the site of its origin). They also learned that the virus was not caused by a mutation of a previously existing virus but was a new strain of virus to which people had little, if any, immunity.

Before and after 1918 most influenza pandemics developed in Asia, then spread to the rest of the world. Unlike the others, the 1918 disease spread in three distinct waves over eighteen months in Europe, Asia, and North America.

The First Wave

The first outbreak of the flu in the United States was recorded on March 11, 1918, at Camp Funston, a military camp in Fort Riley, Kansas. In this early stage, the disease was mild in nature: it began with a cough, then headache and backache, fatigue, high fever, rapid heartbeat, loss of appetite, and difficulty breathing. Victims usually recovered in a few days, and no deaths were reported. In April and May a similar illness struck more than five hundred prisoners in San Quentin Prison in California. Then the disease spread to military camps throughout the United States. Within seven days every state was affected, and forty-eight people were dead. The disease spread particularly quickly where people lived in close quarters.

A Flu Moves with a War

As the armies of various nations, including U.S. soldiers from Camp Funston, moved across continents during the war, the flu spread with them. British and German soldiers were affected in April 1918. When the flu attacked France in May, the virus had mutated; the killer virus, referred to as la grippe, was contracted not only by French soldiers but also by African soldiers who had been recruited into the French army.

Next, the virus showed up in Spain in May and June 1918, and within a short time, eight million people were affected. Many countries involved in World War I censored news of the illness to keep their populations and military personnel focused on the war effort. Spain, however, remained neutral during the war, so it had no need to censor news reports of the illness. Consequently, the Spanish press fully documented the illness and its effects on the human body, calling the disease the Spanish Flu.

Cases had appeared during the spring and summer of 1918 in other countries as well, from Norway to China to Costa Rica to India, where the mortality rate was extremely high. The disease was so deadly that some of the Allies (France, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) thought the pandemic was a tool of biological warfare devised by the Central Powers.

The Second Wave

Then a second, more deadly, wave of influenza developed. By the end of August 1918 the mutated virus led to epidemics of unprecedented virulence—in the same week—in three port cities thousands of miles apart: Freetown, Sierra Leone; Brest, Belgium; and Boston, Massachusetts. Scientists still do not know if this outbreak was the result of three appearances of a single mutation or three different simultaneous mutations.

In August some of the sailors on a ship carrying supplies and machinery into the port of Boston were transferred to Michigan and Illinois, and the influenza spread to the Midwest. Thousands of soldiers fell ill at army bases across the country. By September the disease had spread to the civilian population and moved quickly along the eastern seaboard to New York, Philadelphia, and beyond. That month, twelve thousand Americans died of influenza.

Mysterious Symptoms

Doctors across the nation were perplexed by the symptoms they saw among the flu victims: raging fever, delirium, and nosebleeds, followed by bloody pneumonia. The victims coughed up blood, their faces turned blue, and their autopsies revealed that their lungs had turned blue as well. Some victims died within hours of contracting the disease; others died more slowly. In many cases death was not caused by influenza but by pneumonia that accompanied the infection.

Medical researchers knew the disease was spread through the air (through coughing or sneezing) but were unable to see the organism under the unsophisticated microscopes of the time. They incorrectly identified the cause of the disease as bacterial. While vaccines had been developed for many bacterial diseases—smallpox, anthrax, rabies, diphtheria, and meningitis—doctors were helpless to stop the influenza of 1918. Viruses had not yet been discovered in 1918, and, as was later determined, the epidemic was caused by a virus.

With medical science unable to help them, many people turned to folk remedies such as garlic, castor oil, quinine tablets, kerosene on sugar, morphine, enemas, aspirin, tobacco, hot and cold baths, and expectorants of pine tar.

Public Precautions

When deaths from the disease grew more widespread, theaters, churches, and other public venues were closed. Public gatherings were often difficult to avoid, however. The war effort brought people into the streets for rallies and bond drives—and the influenza spread rapidly. Ordinances made it illegal to spit, cough, or sneeze in public, with the threat of $500 fines in New York City. When people left their homes, many wore gauze masks—often soaked in camphor or a medicine—over their nose and mouth.

In October 1918 the flu reached its peak, killing about 195,000 Americans. A casket shortage developed. In Philadelphia, the dead were left in gutters and stacked in caskets on front porches. Trucks drove through city streets, picking up the caskets and corpses. People stayed indoors and were afraid to associate with friends and neighbors.

On November 11, 1918, when the war ended, people gathered to celebrated Armistice Day with parades and parties for returning veterans. The occasion offered the virus another opportunity to spread.

The Disease Recedes

Just as suddenly as it struck, the disease began to disappear. By mid-November 1918 the numbers of those dying decreased dramatically. During the war about fifty-seven thousand U.S. soldiers died from influenza—more than the fifty-three thousand who had died in battle. An estimated six hundred thousand Americans died of influenza, and about 25 percent of the U.S. population was infected. Worldwide, about 20 percent of the population was affected. The flu killed people on every continent except Antarctica. The death toll was highest in Asia; the highest percentage of the population killed was in India.

The Third Wave

A third wave of the influenza, occurring at the beginning of 1919, was less severe. By then the world was better prepared, and the virus could be quarantined. Although the virus inflicted a rapid death toll, it also disappeared quickly.

New Research

Because viruses had not been discovered in 1918, no one had isolated or saved a specimen of the virus that caused the epidemic. In 2005, however, several teams of British government and university scientists reconstructed the 1918 virus using tiny pieces of lung tissue from people who died in the pandemic—two soldiers, whose tissue had been saved in an army pathology warehouse, and an Alaskan woman, whose body had been buried in permanently frozen ground. Although their results have been disputed, the scientists’ research led them to conclude that the virus jumped directly from birds to humans—very unexpectedly—catching the human immune system off guard.

When they do exist, vaccines to fight viruses offer about 70 percent protection. In new or recently evolved viral strains, however, researchers find that vaccines may be relatively useless because the rate of evolution of the virus outpaces the rate at which new vaccines can be manufactured. For this reason, researchers often call pandemic influenza the largest immediate threat to global human health in the twenty-first century.

See also World War I

The Gold Standard

The gold standard is a monetary system in which a country’s currency can be converted into a fixed weight of gold. The gold standard was shared by many countries—especially Britain, France, Germany, and the United States—between 1870 and 1914. The currencies of those nations were fixed at a set exchange rate to ounces of gold. The gold standard was virtually abandoned by all the major participating nations at the beginning of World War I, although the United States did not officially abandon the gold standard until 1971.

A Way to Stabilize the Global Economy

The gold standard was intended to stabilize the global economy and to require participating nations to limit their issued currency to the amount of gold they held in reserve. Britain officially adopted the standard in 1821; Germany and France followed in the 1870s.

During the days of the American frontier, news of the discovery of gold in a region attracted many new settlers who risked their lives to find gold. The most famous gold rush occurred in 1848 at Sutter’s Mill in California. Gold rushes also occurred in Australia in 1851, South Africa in 1884, and Canada in 1897. Although the United States had technically been on a bimetallic monetary system—gold and silver both served as the basis for currency—the country was essentially on a gold standard during the 1800s because very little silver was traded.

Prompted by the increased supply of gold, the United States unofficially adopted the gold standard in the 1870s. Passage of the Gold Standard Act in 1900, which set the value of gold at $20.67 per troy ounce, made it official. (The troy weight system is used primarily for precious metals and gemstones.) The United States was one of the last developed nations to adopt the standard, largely because of powerful and vocal silver supporters.

From 1871 to 1914 the world was politically stable, and governments worked together to make the gold standard work. All trade imbalances between nations were settled with gold, so governments had a strong incentive to stockpile gold for economically difficult times. Dramatic increases in global trade and production in the nineteenth century—as well as large discoveries of gold—sustained the gold standard well into the twentieth century.

The Effects of World War

The cooperation among countries using the gold standard disintegrated, however, with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. Political alliances altered, international indebtedness increased, prices of exports fluctuated, and government finances deteriorated. The instability stressed an economic system based on a fixed gold standard, creating a lack of confidence. It became increasingly apparent that the global economy needed a more stable monetary base.

As the gold supply continued to fall behind the growth of the global economy, the British pound sterling and the U.S. dollar became the global reserve currencies: smaller countries began holding supplies of these currencies instead of gold. The result was a growing consolidation of gold in the hands of a few large nations and a “gold-exchange standard”: nations supplemented their gold reserves with currencies, such as U.S. dollars and British pounds, that were convertible into gold at a stable rate of exchange.

The Effects of the Great Depression

The U.S. stock market crash of 1929, which began the Great Depression of the 1930s, was felt worldwide and marked the beginning of the end of the gold standard. In the United States the gold standard was revised, and the price of gold was devalued.

The exchange rates of the British pound and the French franc were poorly aligned with other currencies, war debts and repayments were still adversely affecting the German economy, commodity prices were collapsing, and banks were overextended. The high cost of the war, besides the economic depression, finally forced Britain to abandon the gold standard in 1931.

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945) decided to make the U.S. government a large-scale borrower. Until then, the government’s ability to borrow had been automatically controlled because currency was backed by physical reserves of gold: Americans had a constitutional right to demand gold in return for their U.S. banknotes.

In response to a drop in the nation’s gold reserves, Roosevelt issued an executive order in 1933 that outlawed the personal ownership of gold (except for small amounts, such as jewelry and coins in collections). In 1934 the U.S. government revalued gold from $20.67 to $35 per troy ounce, raising the amount of paper money it took to buy one troy ounce. This higher gold price increased the conversion of gold into U.S. dollars. Gold production increased, and by 1939 there was enough gold in the world to replace all global currency in circulation.

A Standard Abandoned

Following World War II (1939–1945) representatives of the major Western powers met in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, to make financial arrangements for the postwar world. They put together the Bretton Woods Agreement (1946), which created a system of exchange rates that allowed governments to sell their gold to the U.S. Department of the Treasury at the price of $35 per troy ounce. They also created the International Monetary Fund, which became the official organization for securing monetary cooperation around the world.

The Bretton Woods system provided the framework for global currency markets until 1971, when President Richard M. Nixon (1913–1994) ended gold trading at the fixed price of $35 per troy ounce. At the time, gold reserves were dwindling, and the United States faced an unfavorable balance of payments with other countries. For the first time in history, formal links between the major world currencies and real commodities, such as gold, were severed.

See also World War I

Legislation, Court Cases, and Trials

The Income Tax of 1894

The income tax of 1894 was a flat-rate federal tax on corporate and individual income. A year later the U.S. Supreme Court declared the tax unconstitutional. In its decision, the Court said the U.S. Constitution allowed Congress to impose direct taxes—taxes paid directly to the government, as opposed to an indirect tax, such as a sales tax, which is paid to an intermediary, such as a store—only if the taxes were levied in proportion to each state’s population. The Court said the provisions of the income tax of 1894 did not meet that requirement. This decision eventually lead to the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

The First Income Tax

An income tax was first proposed in the United States during the War of 1812—a war between the United States and Britain ostensibly over Britain’s violations of U.S. maritime rights in European ports. After two years of war, the federal government had accumulated a huge debt and doubled the rates of its major source of revenue: customs duties on imports. The duties hindered trade, however, and generated less revenue than the earlier rates.

At the height of the war, the government imposed excise—nonincome—taxes on goods and commodities, housing, slaves, and land. In 1816 these taxes were repealed, and instead a high tariff on foreign imports was established to pay off the accumulated war debt. At the time an income tax was defeated by Congress.

Funding the Civil War

The income tax reappeared as a means of funding the Union army in the Civil War (1861–1865), which was costly—about $2 million per day. To meet expenses, the Republican-controlled Congress borrowed heavily, doubled tariff rates, sold public lands, imposed various licensing fees, increased excise tax rates, and created new excise taxes. Revenues still did not meet the government’s wartime needs.

The first income tax was moderately progressive—because it progressed, or increased, with the amount of income earned. The rate was set at 3 percent of annual income over $800. The tax exempted most wage earners, whose annual income fell below $800.

The Internal Revenue Act of 1862

The Internal Revenue Act of 1862 levied excise taxes on a wide variety of goods and services, including items considered luxuries, such as liquor, tobacco, playing cards, carriages, yachts, billiard tables, and jewelry. It also taxed patented medications and newspaper advertisements; imposed license taxes on virtually every profession or service except the clergy; instituted stamp taxes; set taxes for the value added to goods when they were manufactured or processed; established inheritance taxes; levied taxes on the gross receipts of corporations, banks, and insurance companies; and taxed dividends and interest paid to investors. To administer all these excise taxes, Congress created the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The bureau also administered the tariff system.

Most of these taxes and tariffs were consumption-oriented measures that affected lower-income Americans more than higher-income Americans. In an attempt to increase the fairness of the system, Congress implemented a supplementary system of taxation that more accurately reflected taxpayers’ ability to pay. The income tax fulfilled this purpose.

Income Tax Reforms

The 1862 law made important changes in the federal income tax. For example, a two-tiered rate structure was enacted, with taxable incomes up to $10,000 taxed at a rate of 3 percent and higher incomes taxed at 5 percent. A standard deduction of $600 was established, and deductions were permitted for rental housing, repairs, losses, and other taxes paid. In addition, to ensure timely collection, taxes were “withheld at the source” by employers. Taxes were also withheld from the salaries of government employees and from dividends paid to corporations.

In 1863 Congress passed a special 5 percent tax on incomes above $600 to pay for an army-recruitment program. In mid-1864 the income tax rates were raised again, and the tax on interest and dividends was also raised from 3 percent to 5 percent.

Penalties Imposed

Initially, the income tax raised relatively little revenue. Presuming that many large-income earners were escaping the tax, Congress raised the rate on incomes of more than $5,000 to 10 percent and gave tax assessors the power to estimate income and increased the penalties for noncompliance. In addition, fines of 25 percent to 50 percent were assessed for filing fraudulent returns.

The Postwar Years

After the Civil War ended, the government continued to collect an income tax to pay the war debt. However, resistance to the tax grew, so in 1867 a flat tax of 5 percent on annual incomes of more than $1,000 was introduced. The penalty for failure to pay was increased as well.

This income tax expired in 1870 and was replaced with a 2.5 percent tax on annual incomes of more than $2,000. When that law expired in 1872, the United States had no income tax. With a booming economy that produced tariff surpluses for decades, the need for tax revenue declined sharply. By 1868 the main sources of government revenue were the taxes on liquor and tobacco.

Passed and Repealed

Amid the Panic of 1893—a financial crisis in the United States that led to a serious economic depression—Congress established a 2 percent tax on all annual incomes of more than $4,000. The 1894 law exempted the salaries of state and local officials, federal judges, and the president.

The income tax of 1894 was designed to shift the tax burden from the less wealthy to the wealthy. Even though it was not designed to redistribute wealth or restructure society, the tax was designed to redistribute the tax burden and restructure the revenue system. According to some historians, however, the 1894 tax was designed to prevent more drastic alternatives, including a more progressive income tax. They see it as a tool for protecting the status quo rather than an instrument of social and economic reform.

President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) opposed the income tax of 1894 but allowed it to become law without his signature. In 1895 the Supreme Court ruled five to four against the measure, declaring that its provisions amounted to a direct tax, which was prohibited by the Constitution. Sections 8 and 9 of Article I state that direct taxes must be apportioned among the states according to the census.

Later Developments

In 1909 Congress proposed an income tax that would not be based on the population of the states. To do so, it worked around the 1895 Supreme Court objection to the income tax of 1894. Ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913 made the income tax constitutional and allowed the federal government to tax the incomes of individuals directly, without regard to the population of each state. This amendment served as the basis for the federal income tax system—the largest source of federal receipts—into the twenty-first century.

See also Panic of 1893

Plessy v. Ferguson

Plessy v. Ferguson, a landmark case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896, concerned a Louisiana law that required separate railway cars for blacks and whites. To test the constitutionality of the law, Homer Plessy (1863–1925), who was seven-eighths Caucasian and one-eighth “African blood,” as he later described himself, took a seat in a “whites only” car of a Louisiana train in 1892. He refused to move to the car reserved for blacks and was arrested.

Judge John H. Ferguson of the Criminal District Court of New Orleans found the law constitutional, as did the Louisiana Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower courts’ decisions. It ruled that “separate but equal” accommodations for white and nonwhite railroad passengers did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment, which provides equal protection under the law for all people. This decision provided the legal justification for segregating blacks and whites for decades.

Jim Crow Laws

When slavery was abolished after the Civil War (1861–1865), southern and border states enacted a series of “separate but equal” laws that served to define blacks’ “place” in the eyes of the dominant whites. They were called Jim Crow laws, after a fictional black-faced character in minstrel shows. The first Jim Crow law requiring railroads to transport blacks in separate cars or separated from whites by partitions was adopted by Florida in 1887. Mississippi followed in 1888; Texas in 1889; Louisiana in 1890; Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and Tennessee in 1891; and Kentucky in 1892. North and South Carolina and Virginia followed in the final three years of the nineteenth century.

Black Hopes Are Dashed

The postwar commitment to equality, as demonstrated by the passage of a number of civil rights acts, was virtually repudiated by the Jim Crow laws. Mississippi and South Carolina already denied the vote to blacks, and many other states were preparing to follow suit.

On July 19, 1890, the Separate Car Act was passed by the Louisiana General Assembly. The law stated that all railroad companies transporting passengers within Louisiana state lines were required to provide “separate but equal” accommodations for white and nonwhite passengers. The penalty for sitting in the wrong compartment was a fine of $25 or twenty days in jail.

The black community of New Orleans, with its strong mix of French and other nationalities, was in a strategic position to lead resistance to segregation. The state legislature received an official protest from the American Citizens’ Equal Rights Association of Louisiana against Class Legislation, an advocacy group created by New Orleans black professionals in 1891. It denounced the Separate Car Act as unconstitutional, un-American, and unjust. It maintained that such a law would give free rein to anyone wishing to insult and humiliate people whose skin was dark. The advocacy group, along with the East Louisiana Railroad Company, which sought to abolish the law—largely because it cost the company money—sought a test case that would challenge the constitutionality of the law.

Plessy’s Arrest

The two parties chose Plessy, a twenty-nine-year-old shoemaker who was a Louisiana resident and U.S. citizen. On June 7, 1892, Plessy purchased a first-class train ticket from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana, and sat in the railroad car designated For Whites Only. The railroad officials, following through on their arrangement with the American Citizens’ Equal Rights Association of Louisiana Against Class Legislation, had Plessy arrested.

Louisiana Courts Hear the Case

Two white lawyers, Albion Tourgée (1838–1905), a well-known advocate for black rights, and his assistant, James C. Walker, handled the case pro bono (without compensation). Tourgée entered a plea before Judge John H. Ferguson of the Criminal District Court for the Parish of New Orleans, arguing that the Separate Car Act was null and void because it violated the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The Thirteenth Amendment bans slavery, and the Fourteenth Amendment requires that the government treat all people equally under the law. In a previous court decision, Ferguson had stated that the Separate Car Act was unconstitutional if it applied to trains running outside of Louisiana. In this case, however, he argued that the act was constitutional because the train on which Plessy rode was running within the state of Louisiana. Therefore, he found Plessy guilty. The case was appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court Hears the Case

Plessy’s attorneys argued the case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1896. (The case bears Ferguson’s name because he had been named in the petition to the Louisiana Supreme Court, not because he was a party to the initial lawsuit.) The majority (eight of the nine justices), in an opinion written by Justice Henry Billings Brown (1836–1913), upheld state-imposed racial segregation and ruled against Plessy. Separate facilities for blacks and whites satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment, the Court said, as long as those facilities were equal. Brown conceded that the Fourteenth Amendment intended to establish absolute equality for the races before the law, but noted that the amendment was not intended to abolish distinctions based on color or to enforce social equality; therefore, segregation did not in itself constitute unlawful discrimination.

A Dissenting Opinion

Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911) dissented from the majority opinion, asserting that justice should be color blind and that enforcing “separate but equal” measures interferes with the personal freedoms of individuals by legally forcing separation.

“Our Constitution Is Color-Blind”

In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled eight to one that the Fourteenth Amendment created “absolute equality” of blacks and whites, but those rights extended only to political and civil rights and not to social rights (e.g., the right to choose any seat on a train). The following is an excerpt from the dissenting opinion of Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911):

In view of the constitution … there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens.… Our constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guarantied by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a state to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race. In my opinion, the judgment this day rendered will, in time, prove to be quite as pernicious as the decision made by this tribunal in the Dred Scott Case. It was adjudged in that case that the descendants of Africans who were imported into this country and sold as slaves were not included nor intended to be included under the word “citizens” in the Constitution, and could not claim any of the rights and privileges which that instrument provided for and secured to citizens of the United States; that at the time of the adoption of the Constitution they were “considered as a subordinate and inferior class of beings, who had been subjugated by the dominant race, and, whether emancipated or not, yet remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the government might choose to grant them.” The recent amendments of the Constitution … had eradicated these principles from our institutions. But it seems that we have yet, in some of the States, a dominant race—a superior class of citizens, which assumes to regulate the enjoyment of civil rights, common to all citizens, upon the basis of race. The present decision … will not only stimulate aggressions … upon the admitted rights of colored citizens, but will encourage the belief that it is possible … to defeat the beneficent purposes which the people of the United States had in view when they adopted the recent amendments of the Constitution, by one of which the blacks of this country were made citizens of the United States and of the States in which they respectively reside, and whose privileges and immunities, as citizens, the States are forbidden to abridge.


Plessy v. Ferguson (163 U.S. 537 [1896]). (accessed May 15, 2007).

Impact of the Decision

The majority decision in Plessy v. Ferguson served as the legal justification for racial segregation for the following fifty years. It was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education, which declared that separate public schools for blacks and whites were unequal and, therefore, unconstitutional. This ruling signaled the fall of segregation in the United States.

The Seventeenth Amendment

The Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution called for the election of two U.S. senators from every state by popular vote. Before the ratification of this amendment in 1913, state legislatures had elected or appointed U.S. senators. The law was passed after decades of insistence that the public should have the power to elect members of both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate by popular vote.

A Change of Opinion

The framers of the U.S. Constitution had reservations about the wisdom of majority rule and worried that uninformed voters would be determining public policy. Even though they allowed for direct election of members of the House of Representatives, who serve two-year terms, they decided that legislatures would select members of the Senate, who serve six-year terms. When the Constitution was being drawn up, only one proposal for senatorial election by popular vote was offered, and it was soundly defeated. The states did not protest when the Constitution was sent to them for ratification, and during the next several decades the system was generally supported.

By the late nineteenth century, however, the public wanted a more fully participatory democracy. Complaints rose that too much power was concentrated in the hands of state legislatures, which were dominated by party bosses who prevented citizen participation. Evidence of the practical disadvantages of the system, as well as the potential for abuse of power, mounted as well: deadlocks within legislatures resulted in Senate vacancies for long periods, legislative decisions were influenced by corrupt political organizations and special interest groups that “purchased” legislative seats, and the long electoral contests caused lawmakers to neglect their other government duties.

Before the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, some states modified their laws to allow voters to choose senatorial candidates in primary elections. These unofficial nominations were then sent to the state legislatures, which elected senators from among the nominees—usually the candidate who received the majority of the votes. In several states candidates for the legislature had to promise to support the senatorial candidate receiving the most votes in the primary election, regardless of party affiliation. As a result of these legislative changes, by 1912—one year before the amendment was ratified—at least twenty-nine states were nominating senators on a popular basis.

Congress resisted the change, arguing that direct election of senators would rob states of their independence and sovereignty. By 1910, however, thirty-one state legislatures had requested that Congress hold a constitutional convention to propose an amendment. The next year Congress bowed to the pressure and passed the amendment. Within two years the Seventeenth Amendment had been ratified by the states.

The Effects of the Amendment

Ratification of the Seventeenth Amendment changed some operations of the Senate. When states elected senators, they could direct their senators to vote a certain way on matters of great substance. The amendment formally ended that connection because senators were accountable only to voters. Historians disagree, however, on how much the change affected the actual practice of the Senate.

Historians and legal scholars also debate the amendment’s effectiveness. Some view it as a serious surrender of state sovereignty; others see it as a harmless or even positive outgrowth of popular will. Direct election of senators may, in some places, have contributed to a decline in the power of party bosses, which would have suited progressive reformers.

Schenck v. United States

In Schenck v. United States (1919), the U.S. Supreme Court, for the first time, ruled directly on the extent to which the federal government could limit free speech. After reviewing the conviction of Charles T. Schenck, who circulated thousands of leaflets to men who had been drafted into military service, the Court found that, in certain contexts, speech could be curtailed under the U.S. Constitution. The speech had to create what the Court called a “clear and present danger” to bring about “substantial evils” to society.

Involuntary Servitude

To acquire a sufficient number of troops to fight in World War I (1914–1918), Congress passed the Selective Service Act of 1917, which required men between the ages of twenty-one and thirty to register for military service. The age range was later changed to eighteen to forty-five.

Schenck, the general secretary of the U.S. Socialist Party, and his wife, Elizabeth Baer, who served on the party’s executive board, opposed the war and believed that U.S. involvement was wrong. By forcing young men to fight and die for an unjust cause, in their view, the Selective Service Act violated the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude except when a person had been convicted of a crime.

Schenck and Baer published their antidraft views in a leaflet, which they mailed to fifteen thousand recent draftees in Philadelphia. Asserting that the draft was morally wrong and perpetrated by the capitalist system, the leaflet informed draftees of their constitutional rights and urged them to resist. In addition, the leaflet advised the draftees to initiate peaceful forms of protest.

After a few recipients complained to postal inspectors about the leaflets, the Socialist Party headquarters was raided and documents were seized. Schenck and Baer were charged with conspiring to violate the Espionage Act of 1917, which made it illegal to interfere with the operation of the U.S. armed forces. According to the federal prosecutor in Philadelphia, Schenck and Baer’s message promoted disloyalty toward the armed forces and made recruiting soldiers for the war more difficult. Schenck and Baer were found guilty and sentenced to fifteen years in federal prison.

The Appeal to the Supreme Court

Schenck’s attorneys argued, on appeal to the Supreme Court, that the contents of the leaflet were protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech. That freedom, they maintained, granted all citizens the right to speak or print their political opinions as long as those opinions do not incite immediate illegal action.

Attorneys for the U.S. government argued that the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not include the freedom to obstruct the draft by making disparaging remarks about it. As was argued in the lower court, the attorneys asserted that Schenck and Baer’s message promoted disloyalty toward the armed forces and made it more difficult for the U.S. Army to recruit soldiers for the war.

The Court’s Decision

In a unanimous decision, the Court upheld Schenck’s conviction. It said the circumstances in which words are spoken can determine their constitutionality and can allow them to be curtailed. According to the Court, in peacetime Schenck’s pamphlets may have been protected by the Constitution; during wartime, however, no citizen has the right to speak or to publish with the intent of unlawfully obstructing—or inciting others to obstruct—the recruitment process. The Court also made a distinction between speech protected by the First Amendment (e.g., publicly criticizing the government) and unprotected speech (calling for an illegal action, such as resisting the draft).

“A Clear and Present Danger”

In his opinion in Schenck v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841–1935) stressed that the context in which words are uttered determines whether those words violate the First Amendment. The following is an excerpt:

We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done.… The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.… The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. It is a question of proximity and degree. When a nation is at war many things that might be said in time of peace are such a hindrance to its effort that their utterance will not be endured so long as men fight and that no Court could regard them as protected by any constitutional right.


Schenck v. United States (249 U.S. 47 [1919]). (accessed May 15, 2007).

Impact of the Decision

Even though this ruling was later overturned, the Court’s decision was significant in clarifying the standard—the clear and present danger test—by which certain political utterances were judged for the next fifty years. Holmes later maintained that the decision had been abused by the federal government in cases involving the prosecution of political dissidents. In 1919 in Abrams v. United States Holmes reversed himself and modified his test to include only those present dangers relating to immediate and illegal action rather than to ideas. He adhered to his interpretation of protected speech throughout the next decade, and by the 1930s, the test was generally accepted doctrine.

Decades later, the clear and present danger test was further, and most significantly, restricted in Brandenberg v. Ohio. The Court ruled in 1969 that inflammatory speech is only unprotected if it is a call to “imminent action.” Despite the reformulation of the clear and present danger test in subsequent decisions, Schenck v. United States retained constitutional force in cases involving freedom of speech into the twenty-first century.

See also Socialist Party

See also World War I

The Nineteenth Amendment

The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, was passed by Congress in 1919 and ratified by state legislatures in 1920. Achieving the vote took decades of agitation and protest.

A Variety of Strategies

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, several generations of woman suffrage supporters lectured, wrote, marched, lobbied, and practiced civil disobedience to achieve what many Americans considered a radical change to the Constitution. Few early supporters lived to see final victory in 1920.

Between 1878, when the amendment was first introduced in Congress, and 1920, when it was ratified, advocates of voting rights for women tried a variety of strategies to achieve their goal. Some women pursued suffrage laws in each state; nine western states adopted woman suffrage legislation by 1912. Others challenged male-only voting laws in the federal courts. Militant suffragists, such as Alice Paul (1885–1977) and Lucy Burns (1879–1966), the founders of the National Woman’s Party, organized parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes. Often, supporters met fierce resistance and were heckled and jailed.

By 1916 almost all the major suffrage organizations were united behind the goal of a constitutional amendment. When New York adopted suffrage for women in 1917 and President Woodrow Wilson (1913–1921) changed his position to support an amendment in 1918, the political balance began to shift.

On May 21, 1919, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the amendment; two weeks later the U.S. Senate followed. Even though some states in the South rejected it, the amendment passed its final hurdle when Tennessee became the thirty-sixth state to ratify it on August 18, 1920.

The Amendment’s Legacy

When it became law, twenty-six million women—about half the population—suddenly became eligible to participate fully in U.S. politics. Traditional social and political systems were profoundly changed: issues of importance to women could no longer be ignored because they were supported by women’s ability to vote for candidates for political office. Some of the most significant changes in the following decades affected women’s everyday lives, including regulation of workplaces and children’s well-being (e.g., laws against child labor).

See also Alice Paul

See also National Woman’s Party

See also Women’s Suffrage Movement

Gitlow v. New York

In Gitlow v. New York, the U.S. Supreme Court said for the first time that the First Amendment’s free-speech clause applied to state governments as well as to the federal government. The 1925 ruling is considered a landmark case in First Amendment rights and in the relationship between the federal government and the states.

Details of the Case

Benjamin Gitlow (1891–1965) was convicted in New York for publishing and circulating pamphlets and leaflets that advocated harm to the government. One of the pamphlets, the Left Wing Manifesto, called for the overthrow of the government by violent means so a socialist state could be established. Gitlow’s attorney, Clarence Darrow (1857–1938), argued that the statute under which Gitlow was arrested—a New York law that punished those who advocated overthrowing the government by force—violated the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state law and Gitlow’s conviction.

The Gitlow case arose after the Russian Revolution of 1917, which overthrew the czar and began the advance toward communism, and in the midst of the Red Scare in the United States. During the Red Scare—a period of fear of communists, socialists, and other dissidents—Americans believed a revolution such as the one in Russia was possible in the United States.

Government officials fed this fear by spreading rumors of plots to overthrow the U.S. government. Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer (1872–1936) staged raids against “subversive” groups, rounded up “radicals”—many of whom were immigrants and were deported—and set up an antiradicalism division at the U.S. Department of Justice. This new department, which was run by J. Edgar Hoover (1895–1972), later became the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Many states passed antirevolution laws that forbid public statements that called for violent revolution against the U.S. government.

During the Red Scare, New York officials actively sought to enforce a long-dormant law, the Criminal Anarchy Act. The law, which was passed shortly after the assassination of President William McKinley (1843–1901) in Buffalo, New York, by the anarchist Leon F. Czolgosz (1873–1901), imposed a criminal penalty on anyone who advocated violent overthrow of the government.

In 1919 Gitlow, a member of the American Socialist Party, became dissatisfied with the party’s moderate socialism. He and other members of the party’s left-wing faction called for revolution and broke from the party at a convention in New York City. They began to advocate more aggressive tactics, including violence. The left-wing convention appointed a committee, under Gitlow’s leadership, to create a manifesto modeled after the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895). The committee’s Left Wing Manifesto urged the overthrow of organized U.S. government by force, violence, and other “unlawful means” for the purpose of establishing a socialist state.

Under Gitlow’s leadership, sixteen thousand copies of the manifesto were printed and distributed. The June 1919 issue of Gitlow’s radical pamphlet, The Revolutionary Age, reprinted the document. Gitlow also supported the circulation of the manifesto among the American Socialist Party’s left-wing members and traveled throughout New York publicly advocating the manifesto and its principles. He was arrested, charged with criminal anarchy, and convicted in 1923.

Constitutional Issues

Gitlow’s case raised issues pertaining to the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. One issue was whether the New York law against criminal anarchy could deprive Gitlow of his liberty of expression under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits any state from depriving “any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Another issue was whether the New York law was constitutional. For the first time, the Supreme Court was asked to consider whether the Fourteenth Amendment “incorporated” the freedoms of the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—into the constitutions of the states. In Gitlow’s case the specific issue was whether the Fourteenth Amendment afforded Gitlow, in state court, the same protections provided by the First Amendment to a citizen in federal court. The Fourteenth Amendment requires states to provide equal protection under the law to all people within their jurisdictions The question became which portions of the Bill of Rights were guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Gitlow’s attorneys argued that New York could not show that any harm resulted from their client’s exercise of freedom of speech and press. They also maintained that the Constitution protected Gitlow’s speech unless that speech presented a “clear and present danger” to society. There was no evidence, they said, that anyone had been influenced to any action by Gitlow’s manifesto. In addition, they claimed that the New York law was an unconstitutional limit imposed by a state on a First Amendment right. The Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee that states could not make or enforce a law that would curtail the “privileges or immunities” of citizens of the United States was, they argued, violated in this case.

Attorneys for New York argued that any state had the authority to prevent violence and disorder and that the New York legislature had acted properly and constitutionally in creating laws to ensure the public safety. They said Gitlow had violated those laws by engaging in actions that threatened great harm to the people of New York. Furthermore, they argued that the Supreme Court should not interfere in the internal affairs of a state because that action would violate the principles of federalism. Lastly, they maintained that Gitlow’s First Amendment rights to freedom of speech were protected in the New York state constitution.

Decision and Rationale

In a seven to two decision, the Court upheld the conviction and ruled the New York law constitutional. Justice Edward Terry Sanford (1865–1930), who wrote the majority opinion, emphasized that freedom of speech and of the press, which is guaranteed by the Constitution, does not mean that a person is allowed to say anything at any time or that a person is allowed to speak without responsibility.

The Court, Sanford wrote, could not hold that the state infringed on Gitlow’s freedom of speech or press without warrant. Gitlow’s manifesto was not merely “the expression of philosophical abstraction” but was phrased in such a way as to call for direct incitement against the U.S. government. New York had determined that certain utterances involve “danger of substantial evil” and that Gitlow’s utterances involved such evil and deserve to be punished.

Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841–1935) and Louis Brandeis (1856–1941), in their dissenting opinion, argued that “every idea is an incitement” and that “eloquence can set fire to reason.” They wrote, however, that regardless of what others thought about Gitlow’s manifesto, there was no chance that the pamphlet could cause a “present conflagration.” Therefore, it presented no “clear and present danger,” and Gitlow’s conviction should be overturned.

“A Sufficient Danger of Substantive Evil”

In Gitlow v. New York, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that free speech is limited for anyone who advocates a doctrine of violent revolution. The following is an excerpt from the 1925 decision, written by Justice Edward Terry Sanford (1865–1930):

That utterances inciting to the overthrow of organized government by unlawful means present a sufficient danger of substantive evil to bring their punishment within the range of legislative discretion is clear. Such utterances, by their very nature, involve danger to the public peace and to the security of the State. They threaten breaches of the peace, and ultimate revolution. And the immediate danger is none the less real and substantial because the effect of a given utterance cannot be accurately foreseen.… In People v. Lloyd, it was aptly said: “Manifestly, the legislature has authority to forbid the advocacy of a doctrine designed and intended to overthrow the government without waiting until there is a present and imminent danger of the success of the plan advocated. If the State were compelled to wait until the apprehended danger became certain, then its right to protect itself would come into being simultaneously with the overthrow of the government, when there … would be neither prosecuting officers nor courts for the enforcement of the law.” We cannot hold that the present statute is an arbitrary or unreasonable exercise of the police power of the State unwarrantably infringing the freedom of speech or press, and we must and do sustain its constitutionality.… The general statement in the Schenck Case [which involved the extent of the U.S. government’s right to limit free speech] that “the question in every case is whether the words are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils”mdash;upon which great reliance is placed in the defendant’s argument—was manifestly intended, as shown by the context, to apply only in cases of this class, and has no application to those like the present, where the legislative body itself has previously determined the danger of substantive evil arising from utterances of a specified character.


Gitlow v. New York (268 U.S. 652 [1925]). (accessed April 7, 2007).

Significance of the Case

Even though the Supreme Court upheld the state law and Gitlow’s conviction, the importance of the case lies in the arguments that Gitlow’s attorneys brought before the Court. For the first time, the Court considered the implications of what has become known as “incorporation doctrine”—how provisions of the First Amendment were incorporated or added into state constitutions by the Fourteenth Amendment. The argument over incorporation opened the door to landmark decisions in future years.

See alsoSchenck v. United States

See also Socialist Party

Temperance and Prohibition

The temperance movement (1830s–1918) was an organized effort to encourage moderation in or complete abstinence from the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Political pressure from the movement resulted in the ratification in 1919 of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which banned the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors” in the United States. It created a period known as Prohibition, which came to an end in 1933 with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment and restored control of alcohol to the states.

Origins of the Movement

In the colonial era informal social controls in the home and community were effective in maintaining general moderation in the use of alcohol. As the colonies expanded and cities grew, economic change and urbanization led to increasing poverty, unemployment, and crime—which were often blamed on alcoholism. Following the Revolutionary War (1775–1783) the new nation experienced major social, political, and economic changes that affected every segment of society. Social control over alcohol use decreased, antidrunkenness ordinances were relaxed, and alcohol-related problems increased dramatically.

The Rise of Temperance Associations

Given the environment, people sought explanations and solutions for drinking problems. One suggestion came from the physician Benjamin Rush (1713–1813), who signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1784 he noted that excessive use of alcohol was harmful to physical and psychological health. His solution was temperance, or moderation; he did not, however, propose banning the consumption of alcohol. Apparently influenced by Rush’s ideas, which were widely disseminated and discussed, some two hundred farmers in Connecticut formed a temperance association in 1789. Similar associations were formed in Virginia in 1800 and New York in 1808. Within the next decade, temperance organizations formed in eight other states.

The early movement advocated temperance rather than abstinence. Many of the leaders expanded their activities and took positions on gambling, profanity, and other moral issues as well. Political disagreements turned into bickering, so by the early 1820s the movement’s efforts stalled.

Some leaders persevered, however. The American Temperance Society was formed in 1826, aided by a renewed interest in religion and morality in the nation. Within ten years the society had more than 1.5 million members. By 1839 fifteen temperance journals were being published, and many Protestant churches began to promote temperance.

Temperance Leads to Prohibition

Although the temperance movement began with a belief in moderation, between 1830 and 1840 most temperance organizations maintained that the only way to prevent alcoholism was to ban the consumption of alcohol entirely. The Temperance Society was transformed into the Abstinence Society. The Independent Order of Good Templars, the Sons of Temperance, the Templars of Honor and Temperance, the Anti-Saloon League, the National Prohibition Party, and other groups were formed and expanded rapidly. The temperance societies also grew increasingly extreme in their actions, proclaiming their cause with an almost religious zeal.

For temperance advocates the legal prohibition of alcohol became a major issue in every political election from the national to the local level. Prohibitionists turned to pressure politics—not only on candidates running for office but also on voters. Women in the movement sometimes took their children to marches, where they sang temperance songs—one more way to exert pressure on voters.

The Anti-Saloon League stressed its religious character and presented itself as an agent of the churches. Therefore, anything it did was seen as moral and justified because the organization was working to bring about God’s will. The league grew so powerful that national politicians feared its strength.

“The Temperance Army”

“The Temperance Army” was sung by Christian women during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Written by J. M. Kieffer and published by S. Brainard’s Sons of Cleveland, it is part of the collection Music for the Nation, 1870–1885 at the Library of Congress.

1. Now the temp’rance army’s marching,With the christian’s armor on;Love our motto, Christian Captain,Prohibition is our song!

2. Now the temp’rance army’s marching,Firm and steady in our tread;See! the mothers they are leading,Marching boldly at the head.

3. Now the temp’rance army’s marching,Wives and Sisters in the throng;Shouting: “Total Prohibition!”As we bravely march along.


Yes, the temp’rance army’s marching,And will march forevermore,And our triumph shall be sounded,Round the world from shore to shore,Marching on, Marching on forevermore,And our triumph shall be sounded,Round the world from shore to shore.


“The Temperance Army.” (accessed May 15, 2007).

Woman’s Christian Temperance Union

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) was founded after the Civil War (1861–1865). Its name was misleading, for it did not promote moderation or temperance; rather, it insisted on Prohibition. To achieve its goals, it focused on education. Its founders believed that if the organization could gain access to students, it could create an anti-alcohol, or “dry,” reaction that would eventually help the Prohibition cause.

In 1880 the WCTU established a Department of Scientific Temperance Instruction in Schools and Colleges, with Mary Hunt (1830–1906) as the national superintendent. She believed that to make alcohol illegal voters would need to be educated about its dangers. Because students would be the next generation of voters, she encouraged legislation to coerce students toward her point of view. Her ideas led to the compulsory Scientific Temperance Instruction Movement, an anti-alcohol education program in schools.

By 1900 Hunt’s efforts had proved successful. Nearly every state had strong legislation mandating that all students receive anti-alcohol education. The implementation of this legislation was closely monitored—at the classroom level—by vigilant WCTU members. Many historians view the WCTU’s program of compulsory temperance education as a major factor in the establishment of national Prohibition.

Temperance Movement Expands

Because it saw a correlation between drinking and domestic violence, the temperance movement existed alongside various women’s rights groups, including the suffrage movement, which fought to establish the vote for women. Former abolitionists, who had worked to end slavery, joined the temperance movement as well.

The movement was also strongly supported by what is considered the second Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The first KKK, formed by former Confederate (southern) soldiers from the Civil War, worked to stop the integration of freed slaves into the U.S. political, social, and economic systems. The first KKK was disbanded under the Civil Rights Act of 1871. A second KKK, however, was revived in Georgia in 1915, largely to defend that state’s Prohibition laws but also to promote racism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Catholicism. Promoting and even enforcing temperance became a major focus of the KKK’s agenda

Prohibition Laws Passed

After the Eighteenth Amendment was ratified in 1919, Congress passed the Volstead Act to enforce national Prohibition. It established definitions for “intoxicating alcohol” and criminal penalties for violation of the law. It also superseded all state laws regarding Prohibition.

For decades many Americans had embraced Prohibition as a remedy for all of society’s ills, including poverty, crime, and violence. Many communities were so certain it would solve their criminal problems that they sold their jails. The actual consequences of Prohibition were unanticipated—and ranged from undesirable to disastrous and deadly.

The law was immediately countered by illegal activity. Bootlegging, which became the common name for the buying and selling of illegal alcohol, was widespread. Bootleggers sold alcohol brought into the United States from Canada and other countries by organized smuggling operations. Among the most common smuggling operations were the rum rows—lines of ships that anchored just beyond the three-mile limit off the coasts of large cities—that off-loaded their cargo onto speedboats, which smuggled the liquor ashore. Murder and hijacking were common in this dangerous and lucrative business. Prohibition led to massive corruption of politicians and law enforcement officers and helped finance powerful crime syndicates, such as the operation run by Al Capone (1899–1947) in Chicago.

Perhaps the most unexpected side effects of Prohibition were the death and disability caused by bootleg liquor: blindness and paralysis often resulted from contaminants such as lead, embalming fluid, industrial alcohol, and creosote in bootleg liquor.

The Fight for Repeal

Enthusiastic support from industrialists and business leaders had helped enact Prohibition. As time passed, however, an increasing number of those same business leaders, such as John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), became disillusioned because of the consequences of the law.

As surprising, women, who had been pivotal in bringing about national Prohibition because of moral interests—protecting the family, women, and children from the effects of alcohol abuse—proved to be equally pivotal in repealing Prohibition. Their interest, once again, was moral: Prohibition was undermining the family and corrupting the morals of women, children, and all of society.

When the president of the WCTU declared to Congress that she represented the views of all U.S. women, Pauline Sabin (1887–1955) decided to organize women for repeal. In 1929 she founded the Women’s Legion for True Temperance, which was later renamed the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform. Even though she had been a proponent of Prohibition, Sabin became disturbed by what she saw as hypocrisy once the law was passed: politicians would vote for stricter enforcement of the Eighteenth Amendment and then illegally drink alcohol themselves. She also became convinced that Prohibition was counterproductive. Once the law was passed, moderate drinking declined and binge drinking increased, resulting in more public intoxication and disrespect for law and law enforcement. Furthermore, Sabin saw an erosion of personal liberty at the hands of an increasingly intrusive centralized government.

Sabin and millions of other women came to oppose Prohibition for the very reasons they originally supported it: they wanted the world to be a safer place for their children. Furthermore, politically women were much more powerful than before Prohibition; since 1920 they were able to vote.

The number of repeal organizations grew, and the demand for repeal intensified. The country had entered the Great Depression, when millions were unemployed, agricultural prices fell, tax revenues dropped, and the future appeared desolate. Many came to believe that legalizing alcohol would increase prices for grain and other farm commodities; increase the demand for labor to produce, transport, and sell alcohol; and increase revenues from taxes on alcohol.

Prohibition Repealed

In the 1932 presidential election the Democratic Party platform included an anti-Prohibition plank, and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945), the Democratic governor of New York, ran for president promising to repeal Prohibition. Congress passed a constitutional amendment to repeal Prohibition in February 1933; it had achieved ratification by December. The Twenty-first Amendment, which officially brought the Prohibition era in the United States to an end, repealed the Eighteenth Amendment; made it again legal to import, produce, and sell alcoholic beverages; and delegated to the individual states authority for regulating alcohol.

Some states continued to enforce Prohibition at the state level; Mississippi was the last to repeal it in 1966. Almost two-thirds of all states adopted some form of local option, which enabled residents to vote for or against local Prohibition.

Impact of the Movement

Constitutionally mandated Prohibition was generally regarded as an abysmal failure. Its most adverse effects on society included the growth of a large and powerful underworld of bootlegging, smuggling, organized crime, and brutal violence. However, the failure of Prohibition to cure society’s ills eventually made people take a more realistic look at the factors that caused disruptions in families and the workplace. In the decades that followed reformers would call for an end to child labor, advocate better working conditions and the eight-hour workday, and initiate programs that reduced economic uncertainty.



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The Progressive Era (1890–1930)

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