The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during the years 1901-1912.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 28.
As the 20th century dawned, many Americans wanted something new and different. They wanted reform that hadn’t been seen since Rockefeller was a toddler. This new way of thinking was called ‘Progressivism’. At the forefront of this movement was newly-instated President Theodore Roosevelt.
Those who supported progressivism fought hard against large corporations and stuck up for the little guy. Much literature was produced that defined this progressive era, namely Riis’ How the Other Half Lives. This publication would not only inspire a nation, but young Teddy Roosevelt himself. Socialism was also on the rise as European immigrants voted for socialist candidates. Feminists and people of faith would also have their say as suffrage and the situation of America’s soul was widely debated.
The Progressive era also gave rise to large number of sensationalist magazines and newspapers which criticized the old way of doing things. Roosevelt would later label these writers as ‘muckrakers’, as he claimed that they were against the public and corporations and couldn’t grasp the celestial crown above them (a metaphor for a halo or holiness).
But Roosevelt’s words only ignited them as such mags as McClure’s, Cosmopolitan, and Collier’s slung mud weekly. Their articles would address a wide range of topics such as corrupt politicians, the trafficking of women, and potent medicine vendors that sold poison as panaceas. In the end, these muckrakers would make the American public conscious once more.
But back to the Progressives, their main motives were to get rid of trusts and kill all socialism by doing what it proposed: improve the commoner’s living and labor conditions. They did this by getting voters’ voices heard. They also strived for ‘referendums’ (when voters could vote on laws) and ‘recalls’ (essentially impeachment). Their reforms went so far that primaries were established and the 17th Amendment was introduced, which stated that senators must be directed elected by the people.
Progressivism also entered the cities and states as the days of political bosses would soon be numbered. Reforms of all kinds took and gave certain rights to the people. This reform era narrowly divided civil servants and politicians. Some were all for new reform against large corporations while others sat lazily back as their wallets were stuffed.
Women also fought on the front lines even though their rights were few. Many women’s clubs sprouted up as their traditional roles were salvaged for independence. There were also groups that demanded lots of reform for factories and tenements. The 1908 case Muller v. Oregon championed women’s rights as it was determined once and for all that women deserved special rights in the workplace. Even so, the Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy occurred three years later.
Both Muller’s case and the Triangle tragedy spearheaded legislative reform. With new laws in place, companies became more selective about their workers and those who drank were frowned upon. Many women’s groups, namely WCTU, worked vigorously for prohibition. It was finally made law in the 18th Amendment in 1919.
Teddy Roosevelt was a crazy cowboy who wanted to ensure everybody was well taken care of. He sought to do just that in his Square Deal that combined capital, labor, and the public all into one. His program called for triple C’s (sadly not a bra size): corporation control, consumer protection, and conservative of nature. The first ‘C’ got a test when Roosevelt threatened to sent in federal troops to operate a mine if compromise wasn’t reached between strikers and management. His bluff worked.
Roosevelt went on to control more corporations by setting up the Department of Commerce. Theo went on a hot streak, passing reform after reform for everything from railroads (Elkins ’03 Act) to bribes (Hepburn ’06 Act) to J.P. Morgan himself. Teddy went on to separate good trusts from bad ones and put large corporations under control for the time being.
The authors refer to Teddy’s ‘large stick’ a lot in this chapter. To clarify, they are not referring to his male member. He once said to “Speak softly and carry a big stick,”
In addition to greedy corporations, the meat market was also in need of reform. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle shocked Americans as the practice of meat factories were brought into the lime light. Roosevelt passed the Meat Inspection Act in 1906 that made meat only slightly healthier than it was to begin with. The FDA was also created in 1906.
Another area greatly in need of reform was our natural resources. Decade upon decade of un-regulated land use had left the frontier weak and withered. The first reform came in 1891 with the Forest Reserve Act. Roosevelt charged forward and set out to preserve the last of America’s wilderness. But Theo also wanted to make use of the vast resources, but did so with caution and great resource management. Sort of like how the Native Americans would use every part of the buffalo after it was slain. Like always, corporations found loopholes to the reforms and things went on less-efficiently, but as usual.
During the first few years of Teddy’s first tenure things were great. But a small panic in 1907 did him in. He was fully blamed for the financial crisis. Soon afterwards Roosevelt, albeit embattled, would past even more reforms to weather the storm. Roosevelt probably saw this as the last straw on the camel’s back and decided to hand off the nomination to someone he could trust… or not?!
William Taft, long a friend of Teddy’s, got the Republican nomination in 1908. Running for the third time on the Democratic ticket was Bryan. A huge shocker was the some 420,000 votes for a socialist. Theo expected Taft to walk in his footsteps, but was sadly mistaken. No doubt, Roosevelt left behind a legacy.
Taft actually wanted to follow in Teddy’s footsteps, at least in terms of success. Sadly Will, for the most part, was incompetent. Taft wanted to enlarge the US’ economy and the strength of its dollar. He did so by trying, and failing, to invest in China and ensuring investors that the Caribbean was in dire need of help. All in all, his schemes failed.
However, Taft was very successful at busting trusts. In fact, he busted more than Teddy. Taft would eventually take down the US Steel trust, which made Roosevelt extremely jealous. He would later seek revenge in 1912.
Taft had a way of making people take sides. This was most prevalent over the issue of tariffs and conservation. Certain Repubs stuck with Taft, while others prayed for Teddy to run again. This division would lead to huge pick-ups in the mid-terms for the Democrats.
Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t take it any more. His party was in shambles and its leader, he believed, was clueless. The Republican party, still split, ended up nominating Taft again anyway. Roosevelt supporters followed him into the fray of a third party.
*If you wish to learn more about the practices of the food industry, visit http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/default.aspx.