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The most famous, and the first major trust that Theodore Roosevelt broke up through executive action was the Northern Securities Trust, a major trust controlled by railroads in the Northwest and heavily financed with capital by J.P. Morgan. This was the first high-profile use of the Sherman Anti-trust Act, which had previously been used largely to break up labor unions, to go after monopolistic trusts.
Roosevelt and his Attorney General filed lawsuits against more than 40 other monopolies, including Chicago's "Beef Trust," the American Tobacco Company, the DuPont Chemical Corporation, and Standard Oil. Roosevely, while not at all averse to big business, was interested above all in asserting the power of the federal government to regulate corporations for the good of the American people. Corporations, he argued, could facilitate economic growth, but once their power reached the point where it was contrary to the public interest, it was the government's responsibility to step in:
[A]fter the combinations have reached a certain stage it is indispensable to the general welfare that the Nation should exercise . . . the power of supervision and regulation.
Roosevelt's actions represented a fundamental break with the previously understood relationship between business and the state, especially the executive.
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