What made Theodore Roosevelt a Progressive president compared to his predecessors?

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Theodore Roosevelt was a Progressive president because he actively pursued solutions for Gilded Age issues that his predecessors ignored due to their belief in laissez-faire economics and support for business interests. Roosevelt defied political machines, intervened in the Anthracite Coal Miners' Strike favoring workers over businesses, and took strong stances against large business organizations. He also initiated conservationist actions, brought the railroad industry under Federal oversight, and pushed for major regulations like the Pure Food and Drug Act.

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If we were to look at the presidents preceding Theodore Roosevelt, they tended to believe in laissez faire economics and tended to uphold the interests of business leaders over those of workers (you can observe this in the resolution of the Pullman Strike, where President Cleveland sent troops to forcibly break the strike). Meanwhile, the US economy continued to be dominated by large-scale, often monopolistic, business interests. The Progressive Movement was one focused on reforming the problems of the Gilded Age, and it made calls for a more responsive government that could actively offer solutions to these problems. Theodore Roosevelt most definitely fits within this narrative.

Roosevelt was always something of a political outsider, even from the beginning. It should be noted, when speaking about politics around the turn of the century, that they were dominated by what were called political machines—large political organizations designed to mobilize voters for the purposes of maintaining their own political power (the most famous of these being Tammany Hall)—and when Roosevelt held the governorship of New York, he defied those machine political interests. This was actually why he was originally selected for the vice president position: believe it or not, in most situations, vice presidents have very little real political power. The idea was to isolate Roosevelt and render him a political nonentity. Of course, this calculus backfired horribly when McKinley died and Roosevelt ascended to the position of president. There, he continued to act as an independent and decisive force in politics.

In 1902, Roosevelt dealt with the Anthracite Coal Miners' Strike in a novel way. Where previous governments tended to respond in favor of businesses (when they responded at all), Roosevelt offered the option of arbitration. When the negotiations broke down, Roosevelt threatened to send in the troops—not in support of the mine owners, but rather to put the operations directly under government control. With the threat of military intervention looming, a compromise was achieved. This was a critical moment in US labor history. It was the first time the president took this kind of strong stance against US business interests, in the interest of the public welfare.

This incident illustrates many of Roosevelt's qualities: he was pragmatic and wasn't afraid to intervene if he believed the ends were justified. As president, Roosevelt has been noted for his adherence to conservationist principles and his willingness to oppose and break up large business organizations. In addition, under Roosevelt's tenure of office, the US government began to take steps to bring the railroad industry more strictly under Federal oversight. Finally, influenced by the horrifying charges made against the meat industry in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Roosevelt provided much of the impetus that resulted in the Pure Food and Drug Act.

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Politically, the presidents at the turn of the twentieth century were bound by necessity to support reform movements. Theodore Roosevelt was given the reputation as a strong Progressive during his tenure as president. He pushed for heavier government regulation of large companies and monopolies through the creation of the Interstate Commerce Commission and his support of the Pure Food and Drug Act. Roosevelt also used the federal government to break up monopolies in court. Teddy Roosevelt is also considered the father of the modern conservation movement because he set aside lands to be used as national parks and forests.

Roosevelt can be considered different from previous presidents for a couple of reasons. Presidents that preceded him tended to stay out of the national economy with a laissez-faire approach. Those that did intercede usually sided with big business and not with the worker or the consumer.

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