Theodore Roosevelt's Presidency

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Compare the progressive policies of T. Roosevelt and Taft to that of Wilson.

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Of the three, Roosevelt was perhaps the most progressive in policy. While President, he began a program of "trust busting" to break up the business trusts which had abused American workers and consumers. He could not rely on Congress to do the job, so he instructed his Attorney General to bring suit against the big trusts under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.  His administration brought twenty five lawsuits, including the famous Swift and Company case. After reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, his administration pushed through Congress the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act which prohibited the sale of adulterated, misbranded or harmful foods, drugs or liquors. His administration also pushed through the Hepburn Act which gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the power to set maximum freight rates for the railroads.

William Howard Taft was Roosevelt's handpicked successor; but severely disappointed his mentor. His only true progressive accomplishment was to support the passage of a lower tariff. One critic said that Taft was carrying out Roosevelt's policies--on a stretcher.  Roosevelt was so disappointed in Taft's performance as President that he tried to wrest the nomination away from him in 1912. When he couldn't do so, Roosevelt bolted the party and formed his own Progressive or "Bull Moose" party. He took just enough votes away from Taft to give the election to the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson originally was not progressive; in fact he opposed a number of progressive programs. He said that child labor was a state concern so the federal government should not deal with it; he did nothing for women's suffrage, so much so that Suffragettes sometimes referred to him as "Kaiser Wilson." He had no interest in helping racial minorities; in fact he and most of his cabinet were quite racist. He moved in the direction of Progressive Reform in the 1916 election; however he won not because of his Progressive ideas, but because of the truth of his re-election campaign slogan: "He kept us out of the war." Among the few progressive reforms he supported were the Federal Farm Loan Act which created the Federal Land Bank system, and Smith Lever Act which provided for farm agents to work under the supervision of land grant colleges.

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