Despite ridicule from his educated and respectable friends, Roosevelt entered politics immediately after graduating from Harvard College in 1880. In 1881,Roosevelt showed the strength of his intention by winning election to the New York State Assembly. He gained reelection twice before personal tragedy, On February 14,1884, in a tragic coincidence, Roosevelt”s young wife died in childbirth just hours after the death of his beloved mother. Emotionally shattered, Roosevelt left politics and fled New York for the Dakota Territory.
In 1886, after a disastrous winter demolished most of his cattle herd, Roosevelt returned east to politics, his first love. For the next 12 years, he held various government positions, from Civil Service Commissioner to Assistant Secretary of the Navy. When the United States went to war against Spain in 1898, Roosevelt resigned and organized a group of volunteers called the Rough Riders. Their successful assault on San Juan Hill in Cuba made Roosevelt a National hero. He rode his new fame to victory in the 1898 race for governor of New York.
When President McKinley prepared to run for reelection in 1900, he needed someone to replace Garret Hobart, his first vice president, who had died in 1899. Roosevelt seemed a logical choice. Basically a man of action, Roosevelt considered the vice presidency a do-nothing position leading to political oblivion. The bosses schemed to kick Roosevelt out of New York to serve as McKinley”s vice president. After he and McKinley won the election, Roosevelt sadly wrote to a friend, “I do not expect to go any further in politics. ” Wherever Roosevelt went he became the center of attention.
During the late 1800s, the country had been designated by strong Congresses and relatively weak presidents. Roosevelt reversed that traditional division of power. The new president employed the considerable powers of his office and his own personal magnetism to bypass congressional opposition. In doing so, Roosevelt became the first modern president. In 1902 Roosevelt supported passage of the Newlands Reclamation Act, which authorized the use of federal funds from the sale of public lands to pay for irrigation and land development projects in the dry farms and cities of the West.
Under new law, Roosevelt supported the construction of 25irrigation or reclamation projects. Roosevelt also backed efforts to save the nation”s forests by preventing shortsighted lumbering companies from overcutting. He appointed close friend Gifford Pinchot to head the U. S. Forest Service. Like President Roosevelt, Pinchot was a firm believer in resource management, the rational scientific management of natural resources such as forests. He added 150 million acres to the national forests, quadrupling the amount of land they contained.
Roosevelt also established five new national parks, created 51 federal bird reservations, and started four national game preserves. Other issues were already on the national agenda when Roosevelt took office. One involved the growth of large trusts, which were giant firms that controlled whole areas of industry by buying up all the companies with which they did business. Buy-outs, takeovers, and mergers reached a feverish pitch between 1897 and 1903. Indeed, by 1899 an elite group of six companies controlled about 95 percent of the railroads in the country.
In 1890 Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act, which was designed to prohibit such monopolies, but it had proven hard to enforce. Industrialists simply devised substitute methods of retaining control, for example, the holding company. Holding companies bought controlling shares of stock in the member companies instead of purchasing the companies outright. While the “held” companies remained separate businesses on paper, in reality the holding company controlled them.
In 1902 J. P. Morgan, a powerful banker, had joined with a handful of the nation”s wealthiest men to finance the Northern Securities Company. This holding company combined the stock of the Union Pacific, Northern Pacific, and Burlington railroads to dominate rail service from Chicago to the Pacific Ocean. Roosevelt, deciding that the company was a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, ordered his attorney general to file suit against the company in 1902. In 1904 the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, sided with Roosevelt, ruling that the Northern Securities Company had indeed violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.
In May 1902 the United Mine Workers (UMW) called a strike of the miners who dug the anthracite, or hard, coal that fired most of the furnaces in the United States. The UMW hoped to win a 20 percent pay increase and to reduce their long workday to eight hours. They simply refused to negotiate the striking workers. As the reality of a cold winter approached, the shivering public demanded a settlement. President Roosevelt stepped in and urged the union and the owners to accept arbitration. A settlement imposed by an outside party.
The minors won a nine-hour workday and a 10 percent pay increase, which was passed along to consumers in the form of higher coal prices. Roosevelt also defended the public interest on consumer issue. The Meat Inspection Act of 1906outlawed misleading labels and dangerous chemical preservatives. Roosevelt agreed that the government, rather than the packers should pay for the inspection. In addition, he dropped the requirement that meat be dated, which would have informed consumers about the meat”s age. Quick doctors sold concoctions of alcohol, cocaine, opium, and other drugs that claimed to heal everything from liver ailments to baldness.
On the same day that Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act, It also passed the Pure Food and Drug Act. This act prohibited the manufacture, sale, or shipment of impure or falsely labeled food and drugs in interstate commerce. The food and Drug Administration (FDA) was not established until much later in 1938. Roosevelt decided not to run for reelection in 1908, Instead, Roosevelt chose his fellow Republican, William Howard Taft, an experienced diplomat and administrator to run for president on the Republican ticket.
Taft, a large, slow-moving, but extremely intelligent man, ran a mild-mannered campaign. Nevertheless, thanks to Roosevelt”s energetic efforts on his behalf, Taft won the election. Although he had none of Roosevelt”s flair, Taft carried out- and went beyond-many of his predecessor”s policies. In only four years as president, Taft prosecuted almost twice as many trusts as did Roosevelt in nearly eight years, including two of the most powerful, Standard Oil and the American Tobacco Company.
He expanded the number of acres of national forests. He supported laws requiring mine owners to improve safety. He established the Children”s Bureau, a federal agency that protected the rights and interests of children. By 1912 Roosevelt had become completely disillusioned with Taft, he was upset over Taft”s failure to exert strong public leadership. With a new presidential eledion on the horizon, Roosevelt wondered if Taft was enough of a progressive activists to warrant his continued support.
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