Lecture 11_12: National Progressivism under Roosevelt and Taft


I. We have discussed previously the reform efforts undertaken by progressive leaders at the local and state levels. They included:

A. Attempts to eliminate or reduce the corruption of “Machine Politics” at the municipal (city) level. 

B. The widespread introduction of institutions for social welfare—houses, soup kitchens, and other institutions aimed at helping poor and unemployed people during hard times (Social Gospel reforms). 

C. Political reforms at the state level—direct election of Senators, the Primary Election system, initiative and referendum, etc. 

II. Now we will look in more detail at the Progressive reform efforts that were occurring at the national level. 

III. The federal government was somewhat slower to respond to the Progressive impulse sweeping the nation after the turn of the century, but everyone recognized that change at the national level was essential for true progress to be made. 

IV. The basic changes people sought were both conservative and liberal in nature, but they all reflected one common theme: the federal government was expected to take an active role in shaping society and the economy.

V. Theodore Roosevelt was the first progressive president. We have seen that in foreign affairs, Roosevelt led the nation to new levels of international activism. The role of the federal government and especially the President in American society reflected that new activism as well. 

A. Roosevelt believed that the federal government should serve as an “honest broker” in relations between conflicting factions in the economy—for example—labor and corporations.

1. Previous governments had favored corporations exclusively. Roosevelt sought to treat labor and capitol evenhandedly. 

2. In 1902, a coal strike threatened the nation’s supply of heating coal. Roosevelt invited the miner’s union and the mine owners to the white house to negotiate a settlement—the unions accepted, but the owners refused. Roosevelt threatened the owners with a federal takeover of the mines, and they finally agreed to negotiate. Labor got about half of the pay increase it was asking for.  

3. On other occasions, Roosevelt used federal troops to keep companies operating during strikes.

B. One of the first industries Roosevelt decided to exert greater control over was the Railroad industry.

1. Roosevelt sought to give the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission) significantly greater powers in regulating the railroads and setting rates. He pushed a bill through the House of Representatives, but conservatives in the US Senate blocked it. After some negotiation, the Hepburn Railroad Regulation Act became law.

2. The Hepburn Act was followed by a series of further regulatory bills, many inspired by the work of Muckrakers like Upton Sinclair. Following Sinclair’s publication of The Jungle, an expose’ of the Chicago meat-packing industry, Roosevelt pushed for and got the Meat Inspection Act, which allowed the government to send inspectors randomly to any company involved in meat packing and processing. 

3. Other regulatory efforts were also undertaken:

a. The Pure Food and Drug Act—to regulate drugs.

b. Regulation of the Stock Market

c. 8 hour workaday

d. Workman’s Compensation

e. Railroad Property Valuation (by the ICC)

f. Inheritance and Income tax 

C. A second front on Roosevelt’s Progressive agenda was in the arena of Conservation. Roosevelt was an ardent sportsman and naturalist and he believed strongly that America’s wealth of wilderness should not be wasted. 

1. Roosevelt, following the advice of his chief forester, Gifford Pinchot, began early in his administration to restrict the use of federally owned lands by private concerns. 

2. Westerners and conservatives in Congress tried to stop him, but with Pinchot, he was able to add 125 million acres to the national forest system, and millions of acres of other lands containing valuable mineral deposits to the federal system. 

3. Pinchot and Roosevelt were attacked from both sides for their conservation activities—for the conservatives, placing land in federal hands permanently seemed like socialism; for the preservationists, it did not go far enough.  

D. The struggle between conservation and preservation was one of the more interesting of the Progressive Era—and it is one that continues today. 

1. Conservationists, led by Gifford Pinchot, believed in carefully managed development of America’s wild lands and natural resources. They wanted efficient, scientific development controlled by the federal government. 

2. Preservationists, led by John Muir (founder of the Sierra Club) argued that much of America’s wild lands were intrinsically valuable and had an aesthetic value in and of themselves. They believed that such lands should be left alone forever, and that all development of them should be prohibited forever. 

a. Yellowstone Park had been established in the 1870s, and Muir and his followers wanted huge chunks of the American West (and Alaska) protected. 

b. He took Roosevelt camping in what is now Yosemite National Park and convinced him to designate it a national park. 

3. The preservationists won some battles, but lost most to the conservationists.

4. Today, the same division exists within the US environmental movement, with groups like the Sierra Club and EarthFirst! representing the preservationist view and groups like the National Wildlife Federation and Ducks Unlimited representing the conservationist point of view. 

5. Roosevelt left the Presidency in 1908, choosing not to run for another term. He left the country changed in many ways, most important of which was his re-definition of the role of the president and the general idea of an activist government. 

Lecture 12:Progressivism on Hold: The Presidency of William Howard Taft

I. The increasing "radicalism" of Roosevelt in the final two years of his presidency alienated the "Old Guard" Republican leadership in the US Senate. It became clear, especially after the Panic of 1907, that the Old Guard would oppose his re-nomination, so Roosevelt opted to forgo running for another term as president. 

II. Roosevelt's choice of a successor was William Howard Taft, who had been his "right-hand man." 

III. Taft was a huge man, weighing between 300 and 350 pounds. Though the Progressive wing of the Republican party believed he was one of them and would pursue Roosevelt's reform agenda, the conservative "Old Guard" believed he was a true conservative. 

IV. Taft's Presidency was a disaster, largely because he could not please both the Progressives and the Old Guard. 

A. In almost every instance, Taft sided with the "Old Guard," while maintaining the rhetoric of progressivism.  

V. Unlike Roosevelt, Taft was a cautious president who believed strict adherence to the law. He was not a risk-taker and was not interested expanding the powers and role of the presidency as Roosevelt had been. 

VI. Also unlike Roosevelt, Taft had no charisma and was not an accomplished public speaker. He was bland and had no ideas of his own and no vision of what he hoped to achieve.  

VII. Taft's Presidency began with a continuation of the policies of Roosevelt. The first "fiasco" was tariff reform. 

A. Tariff reduction had been a consistent demand of progressives, who believed that the power of US corporations would be reduced by increased competition from abroad.  

B. Theodore Roosevelt had tried and failed to get significant tariff reductions.  

C. A few months after taking office, Taft called a special session of Congress to consider tariff reform.

D. He got a good reduction passed in the House of Representatives but the bill stalled in the Senate.  

E. Senator Robert La Follett, a leading Progressive in the Senate, believed he could defeat the Old Guard and get the bill passed in the Senate--with the help of the President-- but Taft refused to help-arguing that the President shouldn't use his power to try to influence the Congress.  

F. The Old Guard made many changes in the bill, and the net result was the Payne-Aldrich Tariff--in which some tariffs were reduced a little were others were actually increased.  

G. Senator La Follett believed that Taft had abandoned him and the Progressive wing of the Republican Party.  

VIII. A second arena in which Taft alienated the progressives was in conservation policy.  

A. Roosevelt, on the advice of Gifford Pinchot, had moved aggressively to add land in the west to the public domain, essentially removing it from the private market and preventing its development by private actors. 

B. In 1909, Taft's Secretary of the interior (Richard Ballinger) concluded that Roosevelt had illegally added some one million acres of land to public domain.  

C. He removed the land from the public domain over the objections of Pinchot and the conservation movement, making it available for private purchase and development. Rumors abounded that it had been a deal to help a huge coal company (Morgan-Guggenheim) to gain access to the resources on the lands.           

D. Pinchot, convinced that the rumors were true, took the matter to Taft. Taft naturally sided with Ballinger.  

E. Pinchot then went public and took the matter to the Congress, which opened an investigation and held hearings. 

F. Pinchot was fired by Taft for insubordination, but the whole affair resulted in the widespread belief that Taft had become a tool of big business. He lost all support from the progressives after the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair.  

IX. During these years, Roosevelt had been abroad, first on a long safari in Africa, then on a tour of European capitols.  

X. Upon hearing of the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair, Roosevelt returned the the US, where he met with Pinchot, but refused to meet with Taft.  

XI. Almost immediately, Roosevelt began making speeches, further undermining Taft's leadership of the Republican Party.  

XII. The Congressional Elections of 1910 demonstrated that Taft had lost control of the party, with either progressive Republicans or Democrats making huge gains in state legislatures, state governorships, and in the House of Representatives.  

XIII. Roosevelt insisted that his only objective was to pressure Taft into returning to a Progressive posture. 

XIV. However, in 1911, Taft filed a Sherman Anti-Trust lawsuit against The United States Steel Corporation, arguing that its 1907 purchase of the Tennessee Iron and Coal Company was illegal.  

A. This was a purchase that Roosevelt had personally approved as part of his effort to stimulate the economy during the Panic of 1907.

B. Roosevelt was offended, and bothered more generally by Taft's legalistic approach to the management of larger corporations. He decided to oppose Taft in the Republican primary race for President. 

XV. In the primary campaigns, Roosevelt and Taft ran very close and in several states, the Republican Party was severely split.            

A. It became clear that the Republican candidate for President would be chosen on the floor of the Republican Convention--but some states sent two sets of delegates to the national convention--one set that favored Taft, the other favoring Roosevelt. 

B. The national leadership of the Republican Party had to choose which delegations to seat--and, dominated by the Old Guard, they naturally chose those delegations in favor of Taft.  

C. This meant that the nomination for President would go to Taft. 

D. Roosevelt took his followers and left the Republican Convention, announcing the creation of a new party and that he was running for President as the candidate of the "Bull Moose” Party. 

XVI. Roosevelt’s' decision to run as a 3rd party candidate was tantamount to giving the election to the Democrats. 

A. Roosevelt knew he could not win, and he knew that if he ran, neither could Taft.  

B. Perhaps this was Roosevelt's greatest service to his country, for the election of 1912 not only resulted in victory for Woodrow Wilson, the greatest reform-president of the Progressive Era--it also destroyed the power of the Old Guard in the US Congress.