The 1910s Government, Politics, and Law: Overview

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The 1910s Government, Politics, and Law: Overview

During the 1910s, a number of highly determined interest groups pushed for changes and reforms in government, politics, and law, making the decade one of social and political turbulence. The political elections reflected the dynamics of the period. Former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) once again threw his wide-rimmed hat into the presidential race in 1912 and split the Republican Party into two factions. As a result, a relatively inexperienced politician, Democrat Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), was elected to the country's highest office. For much of the decade, Wilson's administration was able to enact legislation effectively through a supportive, Democrat-dominated Congress. With the 1918 elections, however, both the Senate and House majorities were handed to the Republicans. Without congressional support, Wilson's ability to transfer his political philosophies into law ended. Particularly in 1919, the president's carefully drawn plans for international peace were taken up by European leaders but stifled in the United States by party politics.

The United States became involved in international politics mainly through "dollar diplomacy," which was a form of political-economic intervention. With U.S. banks and businesses dispersed throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, the American government either supported or squelched leadership in these regions, based on how American investments were affected by those in power in any given place or time. Relations with Mexico, in particular, were strained throughout the 1910s. Through the power of the dollar, the United States became a world power as the decade progressed.

From 1914 through 1918, The Great War—known later as World War I—was raging in Europe, and for almost three years, the United States managed to stay out of the conflict. However, by 1917 world events, particularly Germany's initiation of unrestricted submarine warfare, compelled the United States to enter the war alongside Great Britain, France, and Russia, against Germany and Austria-Hungary, which were also aligned with Ottoman Turkey and Bulgaria. America quickly prepared for entry into the conflict by building up war-related industries. The government was soon developing an army trained for perilous trench warfare.

As the economy developed and became more compartmentalized, so did America's political factions. Farmers, laborers, industrialists, educators, social workers, and scientists all called for laws to benefit their aims. Minorities, too, protested to gain equal voices in society: Women's groups pushed for voting rights, while African Americans fought for the civil rights that had been denied them through "Jim Crow Laws" (Southern laws that kept blacks separated from whites).

Youngsters being exploited through unregulated child labor practices needed representation. Reformers had published exposes of the brutal treatment of children in factories and mines, but change was coming very slowly. As early as 1890, social activist Jacob Riis documented the miserable conditions of child laborers dwelling in New York City tenements, including widespread illiteracy and no access to schooling. During the 1910s, there was some progress on this issue, especially since the public began to see education as a means toward creating good citizens.

The attitude toward workers' compensation changed as the decade advanced. In 1910, workers injured on the job were considered to be responsible for their predicaments. The only way workers could pursue compensation was to sue their employers. By the end of the decade, many employers began to carry insurance against on-the-job injuries, and legislation was helping to set up standardized workers' compensation. Meanwhile, certain industries began investing in safer equipment to make onthe-job injuries less apt to occur.

Important legislation of the decade involved morality. The most explosive enactment of the period was the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment in 1919, which prohibited the sale and transportation of alcoholic beverages. Under Prohibition the nation went "dry," meaning that alcoholic beverages were no longer legally available, but this situation ultimately spawned an illegal trade in intoxicating liquors that lasted until the amendment was repealed in 1933. Other morality-charged legislation involved regulation of narcotics and illegal medicines. Also the sensationalized, though real, practice of white slave trafficking (abducting young innocent women for the purpose of prostitution) was made a felony through the enactment of The Mann Act.

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The 1910s Government, Politics, and Law: Overview

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The 1910s Government, Politics, and Law: Overview