Before Theodore Roosevelt became president, the federal government had typically sided with big businesses against the people. For example, the government had typically used its power to break strikes rather than to protect strikers. Roosevelt promised that he would give people a “square deal” in which he did not favor any particular group.
Perhaps the most commonly cited instance of Roosevelt providing a square deal came in the anthracite coal strike of 1902. The coal strike caused a national shortage of coal, but Roosevelt did not use the government’s power to break the strike. Instead, he said that he would send in troops to seize the mines so that the government could run them if the two sides did not come to an agreement. Roosevelt’s government helped craft an agreement and the strike was averted.
Two other examples of the square deal are the passage of the Hepburn Act, which increased the strength of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and the stronger enforcement of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Sherman Act was meant to break up monopolies but instead had typically been used against unions. Roosevelt used it as a tool to “bust” trusts that he thought were harmful to the American people (but left alone those that he thought were beneficial). The ICC was meant to regulate railroads to prevent them from abusing their power, but it had had very little strength of its own. The Hepburn Act gave it more power to do its job. Both of these are instances of Roosevelt using government power to help the “little guy” get a square deal.