Theodore Roosevelt, like Jackson and Lincoln, believed that the president had the duty of initiating and leading Congress to implement a policy of social and economic benefit to the people at large. As he himself put it, he found the presidency ‘a bully pulpit.’ Roosevelt’s policies, designed to secure a greater measure of social justice in the United States, were outlined in his first message to Congress, on December 3, 1901. Roosevelt’s address included demands for federal supervision and regulation of all interstate corporations; for amendment of the Interstate Commerce Act to prohibit railroads from giving special rates to shippers; for the conservation of natural resources; for federal appropriations for irrigation of arid regions in the West; and for extension of the merit system in civil service. President Roosevelt was particularly noted for his policy regarding the trust, a type of business combination that forms for the purpose of reducing competition and controlling prices. The number of trusts in the United States had increased greatly at the end of the 19 th century; only 60 had existed in the United States before the Spanish-American War, whereas 183 were formed between 1899 and 1901. Many of the trusts had practical monopolies of vital commodities such as oil, beef, coal, and sugar or of important utilities such as the railroads.
Roosevelt recognized the right of such combinations to exist, but he also insisted on the right of the government to control and regulate the trusts. At his urging, Congress passed several measures designed to help enforce the antitrust laws already on the statute books. Among the new laws were the Elkins Act (1903), aimed at eliminating the discriminatory practice of secret rebates given by various railroads to certain shippers, and the Hepburn Act (1906), aimed at strengthening the Interstate Commerce Commission in its authority over railroads and other public carriers. During his administrations (after completing McKinley’s administration, Roosevelt was elected in 1904), the Department of Justice instituted 43 suits against the trusts and won several important judicial decisions, including one ordering the dissolution of the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey as a holding company with a monopoly on oil refining. Other domestic reforms in Roosevelt’s program, which he called the Square Deal, were his expansion of forest reserves and national parks; the appointment of the National Conservation Commission in 1908 to promote further conservation; and the passage of the Meat Inspection Act. Also passed was the first of the Pure Food and Drug Acts, which followed a federal investigation of packing-house conditions prompted by revelations made in Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle (1906) (see Sinclair, Upton Beall).
The Great Depression had battered the nation and the economic situation was desperate. During Herbert Hoover's presidency, more than half of all Americans were living below the poverty line. Herbert Hoover was an idealist that believed Americans could reach their potential and so he felt that intervention by the federal government would repress the American potential. Roosevelt understood the ...
Roosevelt gained worldwide importance through his dramatic speeches and actions as president, his inauguration of the building of the Panama Canal, and his activities in ending the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).
Roosevelt declined to run for reelection in 1908 and the Republicans nominated his secretary of war, William Howard Taft, based on Roosevelt’s recommendation. Taft easily defeated his Democratic opponent, William Jennings Bryan.