Excerpt from the Platform of the Progressive Party Excerpt from Address by Theodore Roosevelt before the Convention of the National Progressive Party in Chicago
August 6–7, 1912
"We progressives stand for the rights of the people."
In the summer of 1912, Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) was the most popular politician in America. As a Republican, he had been president for seven-and-a-half-years, from the assassination of William McKinley in September 1901 until March 1909. Near the end of his second term, he decided not to run for another term.
But Roosevelt was not happy with his Republican successor, William Howard Taft (1857–1930). The two disagreed particularly over the issue of conservation of natural resources. Both men were dedicated "trustbusters" who favored government lawsuits to break up large monopolies (companies exercising exclusive control of a particular area of commerce) in industries such as railroads and oil. Roosevelt also took a more aggressive approach to issues of social reform, such as child labor and minimum wages.
In February 1912 Roosevelt declared that he would again be a candidate for the presidency, challenging Taft for the Republican nomination. But President Taft influenced many Republican Party officials, and he defeated Roosevelt for the Republican nomination at the party's convention in June 1912. Frustrated by the Republicans, Roosevelt declared that he was as fit as a bull moose, giving his campaign a symbol (the bull moose) of robust energy. Roosevelt's party was called the Progressive Party, but it was more often called by its nickname: the Bull Moose Party.
The Progressive Party was organized to address many of the social problems that had arisen from the rapid rise of factories where workers tended to machinery that did the work formerly done by hand. These problems included long hours and low pay, bad housing, and lack of education. They also included dishonest dealings in the stock market and bribery of public officials. The Progressive Party sought to pass government regulations to protect workers, regulate financial dealings, and prosecute corrupt public officials, as well as to tax the income of wealthy business owners. The term "progressive movement" represented the idea that government should actively address social problems.
Another approach to the social problems of industrialization was represented on the ballot in 1912 by the Socialist Party, led by Eugene Debs (1855–1926). The Socialists favored government ownership of big corporations, which would then be controlled democratically. The Socialists seemed too drastic for most voters in 1912, and Debs received just under one million votes, or about 6 percent of the total.
Things to remember while reading excerpts from the Progressive Party documents:
- A political party platform is a list of ideas and promises. It is written to appeal to as many voters as possible. Once a political party gets into office, some of the promises made in its platform may prove impossible (or inconvenient) to keep. Party platforms are useful, however, in understanding the principles and ideals that politicians believe will succeed in an election. Nevertheless, the 1912 platform of the Progressive Party is a good catalogue of social problems that grew from the Industrial Revolution in an era when government regulation was at a minimum.
- The argument over the relationship between the federal government and business has continued into the twenty-first century. In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, it was widely believed that the government had no active role to play in business. Consequently, companies were free to follow the policies they thought would benefit them most. As time went on, it became obvious that many of those policies—low wages and hiring children for dangerous work, for example—were resulting in widespread human suffering. The Progressive Party represented people who believed that business owners would never voluntarily correct these abuses, and that the only possible answer was government regulations to require that factories pay a minimum wage and laws preventing the hiring of children.
- Every political platform engages in a certain amount of simplification and exaggeration. For example, the Progressive platform accused the Republican Party of the "deliberate betrayal of its trust" by becoming too close to business interests. In fact, President Taft had been at least as aggressive as Theodore Roosevelt in attacking the trusts, or monopolies, by going to court to enforce laws prohibiting such activities. All political platforms and speeches need to be read with the understanding that politicians are trying to win votes, not necessarily to speak the pure truth.
- Similarly, just because an item is on a party's platform does not mean other parties oppose it. For example, the Progressive Party favored creating a U.S. Department of Labor to attend to the problems and issues of working people. In fact, President Taft signed a law creating the Department of Labor in March 1913, only days before he left office.
Excerpts from the Platform of the Progressive Party, August 7, 1912
The conscience of the people, in a time of grave national problems, has called into being a new party, born of the Nation's awakened sense of justice. We of the Progressive Party here dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of the duty laid upon us by our fathers to maintain that government of the people, by the people and for the people [mentioned in the Declaration of Independence] whose foundation they laid.
We hold with Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln that the people are the masters of their Constitution, to fulfill its purposes and to safeguard it from those who, by perversion of its intent, would convert it into an instrument of injustice. In accordance with the needs of each generation the people must use their sovereignpowers to establish and maintain equal opportunity and industrial justice, to secure which this Government was founded and without which no republic can endure.
This country belongs to the people who inhabit it. Its resources, its business, its institutions and its laws should be utilized, maintained or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest.
It is time to set the public welfare in the first place.
The Old Parties
Political parties exist to secure responsible government and to execute the will of the people.
From these great tasks both of the old parties have turned aside. Instead of instruments to promote the general welfare, they have become the tools of corrupt interests which use them impartially to serve their selfish purposes. Behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people.
To destroy this invisible government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.
The deliberate betrayal of its trust by the Republican Party, and the fatal incapacity of the Democratic Party to deal with the new issues of the new time, have compelled the people to forge a new instrument of government through which to give effect to their will in laws and institutions.
Unhampered by tradition, uncorrupted by power, undismayed by the magnitude of the task, the new party offers itself as the instrument of the people to sweep away old abuses, to build a new and nobler commonwealth.…
Nation and State
Up to the limit of the Constitution, and later by amendment of the Constitution, if found necessary, we advocate bringing under effective national jurisdiction those problems which have expanded beyond reach of the individual states.
It is as grotesque as it is intolerable that the several States should by unequal laws in matters of common concern become competing commercial agencies, barter the lives of their children, the health of their women and the safety and well-being of their working people for the profit of their financial interests.
The extreme insistence on States' rights by the Democratic Party in the Baltimore platform demonstrates anew its inability to understand the world into which it has survived or to administer the affairs of a Union of States which have in all essential respects become one people.
Social and Industrial Strength
The supreme duty of the Nation is the conservation of human resources through an enlightened measure of social and industrial justice. We pledge ourselves to work unceasingly in State and Nation for:—
Effective legislation looking to the prevention of industrial accidents, occupational diseases, overwork, involuntary unemployment, and other injurious effects incident to modern industry;
The fixing of minimum safety and health standards for the various occupations, and the exercise of the public authority of State and Nation, including the Federal control over inter-State commerce and the taxing power, to maintain such standards;
The prohibition of child labor;
Minimum wage standards for working women, to provide a living scale in all industrial occupations;
The prohibition of night work for women and the establishment of an eight hour day for women and young persons;
One day's rest in seven for all wage-workers;
The abolition of the convict contract labor system; substituting a system of prison production for governmental consumption only; and the application of prisoners' earnings to the support of their dependent families;
Publicity as to wages, hours and conditions and labor; full reports upon industrial accidents and diseases, and the opening to public inspection of all tallies, weights, measures and check systems on labor products;
Standards of compensation for death by industrial accident and injury and trade diseases which will transfer the burden of lost earnings from the families of working people to the industry, and thus to the community;
The protection of home life against the hazards of sickness, irregular employment and old age through the adoption of a system of social insurance adapted to American use;
The development of the creative labor power of America by lifting the last load of illiteracy from American youth and establishing continuation schools for industrial education under public control and encouraging agricultural education and demonstration in rural schools;
The establishment of industrial research laboratories to put the methods and discoveries of science at the service of American producers.
We favor the organization of the workers, men and women as a means of protecting their interests and of promoting their progress.
We believe that true popular government, justice and prosperity go hand in hand, and so believing, it is our purpose to secure that large measure of general prosperity which is the fruit of legitimate and honest business, fostered by equal justice and by sound progressive laws.…
We therefore demand a strong National regulation of interState corporations. The corporation is an essential part of modern business. The concentration of modern business, in some degree, is both inevitable and necessary for National and international business efficiency, but the existing concentration of vast wealth under a corporate system, unguarded and uncontrolled by the Nation, has placed in the hands of a few men enormous, secret, irresponsible power over the daily life of the citizen—a power insufferable in a free government and certain of abuse.
This power has been abused, in monopolyof National resources, in stock watering, in unfair competition and unfair privileges, and finally in sinister
To that end we urge the establishment of a strong Federal administrative commission of high standing, which shall maintain permanent active supervision over industrial corporations.…
The Progressive Party, believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies political rights on account of sex, pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.…
Department of Labor
We pledge our party to establish a Department of Labor with a seat in the cabinet, and with wide jurisdiction over matters affecting the conditions of labor and living.…
We favor the union of all the existing agencies of the Federal Government dealing with the public health into a single National health service.…
We pledge ourselves to the enactment of a patent lawwhich will make it impossible for patents to be suppressed or used against the public welfare in the interests of injurious monopolies.
Inter-State Commerce Commission
We pledge our party to secure to the Inter-State Commerce Commission the power to value the physical property of railroads. In order that the power of the commission to protect the people may not be impaired or destroyed, we demand the abolition of the Commerce Court.
We recognize the vital importance of good roads and we pledge our party to foster their extension in every proper way, and we favor the early construction of National highways. We also favor the extension of the rural free delivery service.…
We favor the ratification of the pending amendment to the Constitution giving the Government power to levy an income tax.…
Through the establishment of industrial standards we propose to secure to the able-bodied immigrant and to his native fellow workers a larger share of American opportunity.
We denounce the fatal policy of indifference and neglect which has left our enormous immigrant population to become the prey of chance and cupidity.
We favor governmental action to encourage the distribution of immigrants away from the congested cities, to rigidly supervise all private agencies dealing with them and to promote their assimilation, education and advancement.…
Government Business Organization
We pledge our party to readjustment of the business methods of the National Government and a proper co-ordination of the Federal bureaus, which will increase the economy and efficiency of the Government service, prevent duplications and secure better results to the taxpayers for every dollar expended.
Government Supervision Over Investment
The people of the United States are swindledout of many millions of dollars every year, through worthless investments. The plain people, the wage-earner and the men and women with small savings, have no way of knowing the merit of concerns sending out highly colored prospectuses offering stock for sale, prospectuses that make big returns seem certain and fortunes easily within grasp.
We hold it to be the duty of the Government to protect its people from this kind of piracy. We, therefore, demand wise carefully-thought-out legislation that will give us such Governmental supervision over this matter as will furnish to the people of the United States this much-needed protection, and we pledge ourselves thereto.
On these principles and on the recognized desirability of uniting the Progressive forces of the Nation into an organization which shall unequivocally represent the Progressive spirit and policy we appeal for the support of all American citizens without regard to previous political affiliations.
Excerpt from Address by Theodore Roosevelt before the Convention of the National Progressive Party in Chicago, August 6, 1912
We Progressives stand for the rights of the people. When these rights can best be secured by insistence upon States's rights, then we are for States's rights; when they can best be secured by insistence upon National rights, then we are for National rights. Interstate commerce can be effectively controlled only by the Nation. The States cannot control it under the Constitution, and to amend the Constitution by giving them control of it would amount to a dissolution of the Government. The worst of the big trusts have always endeavored to keep alive the feeling in favor of having the States themselves, and not the Nation, attempt to do this work, because they know that in the long run such effort would be ineffective.There is no surer way to prevent all successful effort to deal with the trusts than to insist that they be dealt with in the States rather than by the Nation, or to create a conflict between the States and the Nation on the subject. The well-meaning ignorant man who advances such a proposition does as much damage as if he were hired by the trusts themselves, for he is playing the game of every big crooked corporation in the country. The only effective way in which to regulate the trusts is through the exercise of the collective power of our people as a whole through the Governmental agencies established by the Constitution for this very purpose.
Grave injustice is done by the Congress when it fails to give the National Government complete power in this matter; and still graver injustice by the Federal courts when they endeavor in any way to pare down the right of the people collectively to act in this matter as they deem wise; such conduct does itself tend to cause the creation of a twilight zone in which neither the Nation nor the States have power.…
The antitrust law should be kept on the statute books and strengthened so as to make it genuinely and thoroughly effective against every big concern tending to monopoly or guilty of antisocial practices.
At the same time, a National industrial commission should be created which should have complete power to regulate and control all the great industrial concerns engaged in inter-State business—which practically means all of them in this country.…
This commission should deal with all the abuses of the trust,—all the abuses such as those developed by the Government suit against the Standard Oil and Tobacco Trusts—as the Inter-State Commerce Commission now deals with rebates. It should have complete power to make the capitalization absolutely honest and put a stop to all stock watering. Such supervision over the issuance of corporate securities would put a stop to exploitation of the people by dishonest capitalists desiring to declare dividends on watered securities, and would open this kind of industrial property to ownership of the people at large. It should have free access to the books of each corporation and power to find out exactly how it treats its employees, its rivals, and the general public. It should have power to compel the unsparing publicity of all the acts of any corporation which goes wrong.…
What happened next …
Roosevelt and Taft split the Republican vote, with Roosevelt receiving 27.4 percent of the popular vote to Taft's 23.2 percent. But the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, received 41.8 percent of the popular vote and won the election with 435 electoral votes.
In 1916 Theodore Roosevelt decided not to run again and the Progressive Party dissolved. But the ideas behind his candidacy did not disappear. Twelve years later, Senator Robert La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin ran unsuccessfully for the presidency as an independent who was supported by many progressives. In 1934 his son Robert La Follette Jr. formed a Progressive Party in Wisconsin and achieved some success in the state. In 1948 Henry Wallace organized a new Progressive Party to run for the White House against Harry Truman.
In the meantime, many if not most of the policies advocated by Roosevelt and the Progressive Party in 1912 eventually became law. Women achieved the vote in 1919, minimum wage laws were enacted, and bans on child labor eventually eliminated many of the wretched social conditions created by the Industrial Revolution.
Did you know . . .
Just eight months before the election of 1912, a dramatic strike by textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, had brought the problems of workers to national attention. The strike, which included violent confrontations between strikers and state police and militiamen, involved many young women and girls employed in the many textile mills in Lawrence. Congressional hearings in March 1912 (see Camella Teoli entry) had made public the stories of these girls, among whom were many immigrants. The widespread national publicity, including photos showing militiamen (similar to members of today's National Guard) pointing rifles with bayonets at the strikers, brought widespread sympathy for the strikers.
For more information
Duncan-Clark, S. J. The Progressive Movement: Its Principles and Its Programme (includes Platform of the Progressive Party). Boston: Small, Maynard & Co., 1913.
Gable, John A. The Bull Moose Years: Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Party. Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1978.
Howland, Harold. Theodore Roosevelt and His Times: A Chronicle of the Progressive Movement (includes the Address by Theodore Roosevelt). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1921.
Kennedy, David M., ed. Progressivism: The Critical Issues. Boston: Little, Brown, 1971.
Pinchot, Amos. History of the Progressive Party, 1912–1916. New York: New York University Press, 1958.