What cause did President Theodore Roosevelt initially latch on to early in his political career?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Early on in his Presidency, Roosevelt latched onto the label of "trustbuster." His insistence on limiting the power of wealthy corporations was one of the earliest elements of Roosevelt's tenure as President. President Roosevelt recognized that the power of big business was becoming oppressive. He understood a public sentiment that was growing increasingly dissatisfied with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few at the cost of so many.  Roosevelt's ascension to the Presidency might have reflected this state of unrest as McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist.  Roosevelt recognized that the national mood reflected a sharp division between the few that had wealth and the majority that was placed in challenging positions because of it.

President Roosevelt did not seek to radicalize the economic system.  It was evident that Roosevelt, himself quite wealthy, understood that the capitalist, free enterprise system should not be dismantled.  Yet, President Roosevelt clearly understood the abuses of power by those in the position of economic control was becoming an issue that needed to be addressed early on in his tenure.  He latched onto this reality in his first address to Congress as President:

Therefore, in the interest of the whole people, the Nation should, without interfering with the power of the States in the matter itself, also assume power of supervision and regulation over all corporations doing an interstate business. This is especially true where the corporation derives a portion of its wealth from the existence of some monopolistic element or tendency in its business. There would be no hardship in such supervision; banks are subject to it, and in their case it is now accepted as a simple matter of course. 

"The interests of the whole people" became part of the cause onto which he latched early on in his Presidency.  President Roosevelt demonstrated that his "trust busting" approach was designed to make the system more transparent and enable more people to have faith in it.  Roosevelt seized upon the idea that government regulation and monitoring was the only way to restore faith in this system and ensure that workers had a chance to find economic success: "My action on labor should always be considered in connection with my action as regards capital, and both are reducible to my favorite formula – a square deal for every man." This early note continued throughout his leadership as President.

Increasing and substantiating the power of the federal government to oversee the proper execution of business practices became one of Roosevelt's earliest political stances.  Legislation was squarely aimed at resolving corporate abuses and restoring public faith in business practices.  The establishment of the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 as well as the Pure Food and Drug Act represented legislation that expanded this initial latching onto the rights of the public outweighing corporate greed and corrupt practices.  President Roosevelt understood the need to latch onto the issue and demonstrate that Executive power can be used to curb the practices of "bad" trusts.  For Roosevelt, the attack on corrupt business enterprises represented one of his earliest chords sounded and served as the basic melody to his administration.  In "broadening the use of executive power," President Roosevelt made it clear that he saw an issue and sought to use it to define much of his leadership.  

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