Roosevelt’s Progressivism

Roosevelt’s Progressivism

Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency was a driving force for the Progressive movement in the United States in the early twentieth century.

Learning Objectives

Describe the overriding goal of Roosevelt’s Progressivism and the tools he employed to achieve that goal

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Theodore Roosevelt strived to reconcile labor and business through Progressive legislation.
  • The Progressive movement encompassed these reconciliations as well as improvements in other realms of society. It also sought to encourage the scientific approach to problem-solving.
  • Roosevelt’s “Square Deal” exemplified his approach to domestic reform and focused on conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and protection of consumers. Antitrust became a tenant of Roosevelt’s, and under his administration, more than 40 suits were brought against companies that used illegal methods to form monopolies.

Key Terms

  • Trust Buster: A term used to describe Theodore Roosevelt because of his aggressive use of U.S. antitrust laws to break up large business monopolies.
  • Square Deal: President Theodore Roosevelt’s domestic program that focused on conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.
  • Interstate Commerce Commission: A regulatory body in the United States created by the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 with the purpose of regulating railroads (and later trucking) to ensure fair rates, to eliminate rate discrimination, and to regulate other aspects of common carriers, including interstate bus lines and telephone companies.

Roosevelt’s Presidency

Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and reformer who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. As a leader of the Republican Party, he became a driving force during the Progressive Era in the early twentieth century.

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Theodore Roosevelt: A portrait of Theodore Roosevelt painted by John Singer Sargent.

Following the assassination of President McKinley in September 1901, Roosevelt, at age 42, succeeded to the office, becoming the youngest U.S. president in history. Leading his party and country into the Progressive Era, he championed his “Square Deal” domestic policies, promising the average citizen fairness, the breaking of trusts, regulation of railroads, and pure food and drugs. Making conservation a top priority, he established a myriad of new national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources. In foreign policy, he focused on Central America, where he began construction of the Panama Canal. He greatly expanded the U.S. Navy, and sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour to project the United States’ naval power around the globe. His successful efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

Elected in 1904 to a full term, Roosevelt continued to promote Progressive policies, but many of his efforts and much of his legislative agenda were eventually blocked in Congress. Roosevelt successfully groomed his close friend, William Howard Taft, to succeed him in the presidency. After leaving office, Roosevelt went on safari in Africa and toured Europe. Returning to the United States, he became frustrated with Taft’s approach as his successor. He tried but failed to win the presidential nomination in 1912. Roosevelt founded his own Progressive party, the Bull Moose Party, and called for wide-ranging Progressive reforms. The split among Republicans enabled the Democrats to win both the White House and a majority in the Congress in 1912.

Roosevelt and Progressivism

Roosevelt pushed several pieces of domestic legislation through Congress that embodied the Progressive reform movement. Progressivism was a powerful political and social force by the turn of the century, and many Americans considered Roosevelt as the leader of the Progressive movement. To most contemporaries, Progressivism meant the use of science, engineering, technology, and the new social sciences to promote modernization and identify solutions to political corruption and inefficiency. Roosevelt, trained as a biologist, identified himself and his programs with this scientific approach to targeting and eliminating social and political ills.

Progressives such as Roosevelt also bitterly attacked what they perceived as elitist, powerful, and dangerous political machines and large corporations called “trusts,” which were considered unfair and illegal business ventures designed to quash natural market competition and production. While president, Roosevelt targeted these trusts, particularly the railroad monopolies, by increasing the regulatory power of the federal government through the Elkins Act (1903) and the Hepburn Act (1906). The Hepburn Act of 1906 gave the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) the power to set maximum railroad rates and auditing power over the railroads’ financial records, a task simplified by standardized booking systems. Through the Hepburn Act, the ICC’s authority was extended to cover bridges, terminals, ferries, sleeping cars, express companies, and oil pipelines.

Under Roosevelt’s leadership, the attorney general brought 44 suits against business monopolies (most notably against J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company and J.D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company). These suits were largely successful: Standard Oil was dispersed into 30 smaller companies that eventually competed with one another. Furthermore, to raise the visibility of labor and management issues, Roosevelt established a new federal Department of Commerce and Labor. Roosevelt’s successful campaign against corporate monopolies earned him the nickname “Trust Buster.”

Expanding Federal Power

A major part of Roosevelt’s legacy is his conception of the executive branch as a source of regulatory powers for the “good” of the nation.

Learning Objectives

Describe the means by which Roosevelt broadened the scope of executive power

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Roosevelt felt that his power came directly from the people, which authorized him to use his executive power to its fullest extent.
  • Roosevelt’s attitude toward executive power expanded the executive branch considerably.
  • Some scholars consider Roosevelt’s actions inspiration for the central authority-driven legislation of the New Deal.

Key Terms

  • Big Stick Diplomacy: Refers to U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that is characterized by peaceful negotiations simultaneously paired with military threats.

Perhaps one of the most remarkable characteristics of Theodore Roosevelt ‘s presidency was his conviction that the president, by virtue of his election by the nation, was the representative figure of the American people, as opposed to Congress. Accordingly, Roosevelt believed that he could act in any manner that benefitted the needs of the nation, unless specifically and explicitly prohibited by the Constitution. In his own words, Roosevelt claimed, “I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.”

Outgoing US president Teddy Roosevelt (dressed as a cowboy) hands responsibility (in form of a baby that looks like Roosevelt labeled "My Policies") to his successor William Howard Taft (wearing a nurse-maid's apron and bonnet over his suit). TR's secretary William Loeb, dressed as a bell boy, carries Roosevelt's "Big Stick."

“Baby, Kiss Papa Good-By”: This political cartoon satirizes the expectation that Roosevelt would hand his policies over to the incoming president, William Howard Taft, his handpicked successor.

With his “big stick diplomacy” efforts in Latin America, as well as his efforts to expand the regulatory power of the federal government in domestic matters, Roosevelt set a new precedent for his twentieth-century political successors. Some of Roosevelt’s most noteworthy legislative achievements—such as the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Hepburn Act, the Elkins Act, and his conservation laws—embody this concept of the executive branch as an expansive source of regulatory powers for the “good” of the nation. As some scholars have considered, Roosevelt’s domestic policies, taken together, paved the way for the 1930s New Deal legislation as well as for the modern regulatory state and centralized national authority with expansive political power.

Despite Roosevelt’s widespread popularity, many contemporaries resented his policies as encroachments on state power and local authority and accused him of concentrating all real political authority in Washington and replacing municipal and state structures with bureaucratic commissions and departments. Roosevelt, on the other hand, as a Progressive, remained committed to a belief in political efficiency and elimination of unnecessary waste and structures. To that end, by concentrating power in the executive and broadening the scope of federal regulatory power, Roosevelt was arguably attempting to create a modernized, Progressive United States that functioned seamlessly and in the better interests of the nation as a whole, rather than for local political authorities and wealthy interests.

The Square Deal

Roosevelt’s Square Deal focused on conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.

Learning Objectives

Identify the central components of Roosevelt’s Square Deal

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The Square Deal was based on three basic ideas: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.
  • The Square Deal sought to protect both business and labor, and to ease the radical voice in both and reach a compromise.
  • Roosevelt sought to break up large monopolies and did so aggressively, gaining him the name ” Trust Buster.” His Elkins Act made it illegal for railroads to give rebates to favored companies.
  • Another industry that was monitored under this period was the food industry. Mislabeled and tainted food came under scrutiny and was reported in order to protect the health of consumers.
  • Roosevelt was a staunch conservationist and used the federal government to protect natural land across the nation.

Key Terms

  • Elkins Act: A 1903 U.S. federal law that amended the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. This act authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to impose heavy fines on railroads that offered rebates, and upon the shippers that accepted these rebates.
  • Square Deal: A term for President Theodore Roosevelt’s domestic program, formed upon three basic ideas: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.

The Square Deal was President Theodore Roosevelt ‘s domestic program. He explained it in the following way in 1910:

When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.

His policies reflected three basic ideas: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection. These three demands often are referred to as the “three Cs” of Roosevelt’s Square Deal. Thus, the deal aimed at helping middle-class citizens and involved attacking plutocracy and bad trusts while at the same time protected business from the most extreme demands of organized labor. A Progressive Republican, Roosevelt believed in government action to mitigate social evils, and as president, he denounced in 1908, “the representatives of predatory wealth” as guilty of, “all forms of iniquity from the oppression of wage workers to unfair and unwholesome methods of crushing competition, and to defrauding the public by stock-jobbing and the manipulation of securities.” Trusts and monopolies became the primary target of Square Deal legislation.

Control of Corporations

Trusts increasingly became a central issue, as many feared that large corporations would impose monopolistic prices to defraud consumers and drive small, independent companies out. By 1904, 318 trusts including those in railroads, local transit, and the banking industry controlled two-fifths of the nation’s industrial output.

One of Roosevelt’s first notable acts as president was to deliver a 20,000-word address to Congress asking it to curb the power of large corporations. Despite speaking in support of organized labor (to the further chagrin of big business), he endorsed the gold standard, protective tariffs, and lower taxes (much to the delight of big business). For his aggressive use of U.S. antitrust law, he became known as the “Trust Buster.” He brought 40 antitrust suits, and broke up major companies, such as the largest railroad and Standard Oil, the largest oil company.

During both of his terms, Roosevelt tried to extend the Square Deal by pushing the federal courts and Congress to yield to the wishes of the executive branch on all subsequent antitrust suits. An example of this was the Elkins Act, which stated that railroads were no longer allowed to give rebates to favored companies. These rebates had treated small Midwestern farmers unfairly by not allowing them equal access to the services of the railroad. Instead, the Interstate Commerce Commission would control the prices that railroads could charge.

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Senator William Peters Hepburn: Photograph of Senator Hepburn, who  sponsored the Hepburn Act, which regulated railroad fares, one of the goals of Roosevelt’s Square Deal.

The Hepburn Act authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to set maximum railroad rates and to stop the practice of giving out free passes to friends of the railway interests. In addition, the Interstate Commerce Commission could examine the railroads’ financial records, a task simplified by standardized booking systems. For any railroad that resisted, the Interstate Commerce Commission’s conditions would be in effect until a legal decision of a court was issued. Through the Hepburn Act, the Interstate Commerce Commission’s authority was extended to bridges, terminals, ferries, sleeping cars, express companies, and oil pipelines.

1902 Coal Strike

In May 1902, anthracite coal miners went on strike, threatening a national energy shortage. After threatening the coal operators with intervention by federal troops, Roosevelt won their agreement to an arbitration of the dispute by a commission, which succeeded in stopping the strike, dropping coal prices, and retiring furnaces; the accord with J.P. Morgan resulted in the workers getting more pay for fewer hours, but with no union recognition.

Organized labor celebrated the outcome as a victory for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) and American Federation of Labor unions generally. Membership in other unions soared, as moderates argued that they could produce concrete benefits for workers much sooner than could radical Socialists who planned to overthrow capitalism through revolutionary violence. Furthermore, the outcome of the strike was a success for Roosevelt, who argued that the federal government could successfully intervene in conflicts between labor and capital. Journalist Ray Baker quoted Roosevelt concerning his policy toward capitalists and laborers: “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.” The settlement was an important step in the Progressive Era reforms of the decade that followed.

Consumer Protection

Roosevelt responded to public anger over the abuses in the food-packing industry by pushing Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act. The Meat Inspection Act of 1906 banned misleading labels and preservatives that contained harmful chemicals. The Pure Food and Drug Act banned impure or falsely labeled food and drugs from being made, sold, and shipped. Roosevelt also served as honorary president of the American School Hygiene Association from 1907 to 1908, and in 1909, he convened the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 were both widely accredited to Upton Sinclair ‘s The Jungle, which revealed the horrific and unsanitary processes of meat production.

Conservation Efforts

Roosevelt was a prominent conservationist, putting the issue high on the national agenda. He worked with all of the major figures of the movement, especially his chief advisor on the matter, Gifford Pinchot. Roosevelt was deeply committed to conserving natural resources, and is considered to be the nation’s first conservation president. He encouraged the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 to promote federal construction of dams to irrigate small farms and placed 230 million acres under federal protection. Roosevelt set aside more federal land, national parks, and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined.

Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five national parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 new U.S. National Monuments. He also established the first 51 bird reserves, 4 game preserves, and 150 national forests, including Shoshone National Forest, the nation’s first. The area of the United States that he placed under public protection totals approximately 230,000,000 acres.

The Big Stick

Roosevelt’s big-stick diplomacy refers to negotiating peacefully with other nations while simultaneously displaying military might.

Learning Objectives

Describe Roosevelt’s foreign policy and the meaning of the proverb, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The concept of big-stick diplomacy is derived from Theodore Roosevelt ‘s memorable quote: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.”
  • Big-stick diplomacy was a major component of Roosevelt’s international relations policy. The theory is that leaders should strive for peace while also keeping other nations aware of their military power.
  • Roosevelt displayed his policy during the Venezuela Crisis when he amended the Monroe Doctrine to read that the United States would get involved with the affairs of its Latin American neighbors if they defaulted on their debt to Europe.
  • Big-stick diplomacy also was applied to the Panama Canal crisis and the Cuba question; the United States set a list of rules and standards to which it would hold Cuba instead of annexing it.

Key Terms

  • Big Stick Diplomacy: President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign-policy approach that was characterized by negotiating peacefully with other nations while simultaneously displaying military might.
  • Roosevelt Corollary: An addition to the Monroe Doctrine articulated by President Theodore Roosevelt that states that the United States will intervene in conflicts between European and Latin American countries to enforce legitimate claims of the European powers, rather than having the Europeans press their claims directly.
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“The Big Stick in the Caribbean Sea”: A cartoon depicting Roosevelt’s big stick and naval muscle in Latin America.

The term “big-stick diplomacy” refers to President Theodore Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, and is taken from his famous quote, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” Roosevelt attributed the phrase to a West African proverb, “Speak softly, and carry a big stick; you will go far,” but the claim that it originated in West Africa has been disputed. Essentially, big-stick diplomacy is the idea of negotiating peacefully with other nations while simultaneously threatening them with displays of military muscle. Roosevelt first used the phrase in a speech at the Minnesota State Fair on September 2, 1901, 12 days before the assassination of President William McKinley, which subsequently thrust him into the presidency. As president, Roosevelt described his style of foreign policy as, “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.”

The Roosevelt Corollary

The Roosevelt Corollary is an addition to the Monroe Doctrine that was articulated by President Roosevelt in his State of the Union address in 1904. The corollary states that the United States will intervene in conflicts between European nations and Latin American countries to enforce legitimate claims of the European powers, rather than having the Europeans press their claims directly. Roosevelt tied his policy to the Monroe Doctrine, and it was also consistent with his foreign policy included in his big-stick diplomacy. Roosevelt stated that in keeping with the Monroe Doctrine, the United States was justified in exercising, “international police power” to put an end to chronic unrest or wrongdoing in the Western Hemisphere. While the Monroe Doctrine had sought to prevent European intervention, the Roosevelt Corollary was used to justify U.S. intervention throughout the hemisphere.

Background: The Venezuelan Affair

In late 1902, Britain, Germany, and Italy implemented a several-month-long naval blockade against Venezuela because of the Venezuelan president’s refusal to pay foreign debts and damages suffered by European citizens in a recent Venezuelan civil war. The incident was called the “Venezuela Crisis” of 1902–1903, and an international court concluded on February 22, 1904, that the blockading powers involved in the Venezuela Crisis were entitled to preferential treatment in the payment of their claims. The United States disagreed with the decision in principle, and feared that it would encourage future European intervention to gain such advantage. In order to preclude European intervention, the Roosevelt Corollary was created to assert the United States’ right to intervene in order to “stabilize” the economic affairs of small states in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts.

Using the Corollary

The Roosevelt Corollary was supposed to be an addition to the Monroe Doctrine; however, it could be seen as a departure. While the Monroe Doctrine said European countries should stay out of Latin America, the Roosevelt Corollary took this further to say that the United States had the right to exercise military force in Latin American countries in order to keep European countries out. In other words, while the Monroe Doctrine sought to bar involvement by European empires, the Roosevelt Corollary announced America’s intention to take their place. The Corollary rejected territorial expansion, but upheld interventionism.

U.S. presidents cited the Roosevelt Corollary as justification for U.S. intervention in Cuba (1906–1909), Nicaragua (1909–1910, 1912–1925, and 1926–1933), Haiti (1915–1934), and the Dominican Republic (1916–1924). As president from 1914–1921, Woodrow Wilson frequently intervened in Latin America using the justification of the Roosevelt Corollary.

Nicaragua and Panama Canal Affair

Roosevelt also wielded his “big stick” following the questionable diplomatic actions of the U.S. government to sponsor and pursue a canal project across Central America. Both Nicaragua and Panama experienced Roosevelt’s signature diplomacy in canal-related incidents.

In 1901, Secretary of State John Hay pressed the Nicaraguan government for approval of a canal. The deal was that Nicaragua would receive $1.5 million in ratification, plus $100,000 annually, and the United States would, “provide sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity” to Nicaragua. Nicaragua then returned the contract draft with a change: Instead of an annual $100,000, they wished to receive $6 million in ratification. The United States accepted the deal, but after Congress approved the contract, the problem of court jurisdiction arose. Many anti-canal advocates argued that because the United States did not have legal jurisdiction in Nicaragua, it could not sponsor a canal project.

After Nicaragua was ruled out, Panama was the obvious choice for U.S. leaders determined to build a Central American canal. However, Panama also posed numerous logistical and political problems. As Panama was then a region of Colombia, the United States was subject to the whims of the Colombian government and of manufacturing companies that provided the construction materials at a higher price. Roosevelt refused to pay the higher than expected fees and responded with an “engineered revolution” in Colombia that aimed for the secession of Panama.

On November 3, 1903, Panama (with the support of the U.S. Navy) revolted against Colombia and declared itself a republic, receiving $10 million from the United States for the canal project. Colombia had little diplomatic recourse and was no match for U.S. military strength, so it was forced to concede Panama’s independence. Panama also received an annual payment of $250,000, and a guarantee of national independence. The United States, on the other hand, gained the rights to the canal strip “in perpetuity.” Roosevelt later said that he, “took the Canal, and let Congress debate” the matter after the event.

The map includes five labels with arrows. From west to east, a label that says "U.S. sponsored revolution 1903" points to Panama; a label that says "Policy pushed through legislation 1900" points to Nicaragua; a label that says "Platt Amendment/troops" points to Cuba; a label that says "Troops moved in 1905" points to the Dominican Republic"; and a label that says "Anglo-German blockade 1902-3" points to Venezuela.

Big-stick diplomacy in Latin America: A map showing the places affected by Roosevelt’s big-stick diplomacy.

The Election of 1904

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt won a landslide victory for his re-election, enabling him to pursue a number of bold Progressive reforms.

Learning Objectives

Outline the course of the 1904 presidential election

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Theodore Roosevelt had succeeded to the presidency in 1901 following the assassination of William McKinley. In 1904, he won election to the presidency in his own right, and was the first president to do so after the untimely death of his predecessor.
  • The Republican platform maintained the status quo, which was to preserve the protective tariff, uphold the gold standard, and increase foreign trade.
  • The Democrats condemned monopolies, opposed imperialism, called for Philippine independence, and opposed the protective tariff. They also sought enforcement of the eight-hour workday, construction of a Panama Canal, and the direct election of senators.
  • There was little difference between the candidates’ positions, so the race was based largely on their personalities. Theodore Roosevelt won a landslide victory, taking every northern and western state, as well as Missouri.

Key Terms

  • Socialist Party of America: A multitendency democratic-socialist and social-democratic political party in the United States, formed in 1901.
  • Fourth Party System: The term used in political science and history for the period in American political history from about 1896 to 1932 that was dominated by the Republican party, excepting the 1912 split in which Democrats held the White House for eight years.

Incumbent president and Republican candidate Theodore Roosevelt, having succeeded to the presidency upon the assassination of William McKinley in September 1901, was elected to a term in his own right during the election of 1904. During the election campaign, Republicans emphasized Roosevelt’s success in foreign affairs and his record of firmness against monopolies. The nominee of the Democratic Party was Alton B. Parker, chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals. As there was little difference between the candidates’ positions, the race largely was based on their personalities. Roosevelt easily defeated Parker, sweeping every region in the nation except the South. In doing so, he became the first incumbent president to win election to a term in his own right after having ascended to the presidency (from the vice presidency) upon the death of his predecessor.

The map shows that Roosevelt won Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California. It shows that Parker won Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. Present-day Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona are grayed out because they were territories at the time.

Electoral College 1904: In this presidential-election results map, blue denotes states won by Parker/Davis, and red denotes states won by Roosevelt/Fairbanks. Numbers indicate electoral votes allotted to each state. Broadly speaking, Parker won all of the southern states including Texas, while Roosevelt won the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific states.

The election of 1904 was significant because it was the first election in which the Socialist Party of America (a loose coalition of local parties) participated, with considerable success in industrial centers, in rural mining areas in the West, and among German and Finnish communities. The Socialists nominated Eugene Debs as their presidential candidate. The nominee of the Democratic Party, Alton B. Parker, called for an end to “the rule of individual caprice” and the “usurpation of authority” by president Roosevelt.

When the Republicans convened in Chicago June 21–23, 1904, Roosevelt’s nomination was assured. Following the McKinley assassination, from 1902–1903, Roosevelt had effectively maneuvered into control of the Republican Party to ensure that he would have enough supporters to seek reelection. Earlier in the year, several republicans attempted to secure the candidacy of Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio, but Hanna’s death a few months before the convention effectively removed any real opposition to Roosevelt’s candidacy, and in the convention, he was nominated unanimously on the first ballot with 994 votes. The Republican platform insisted on maintaining the protective tariff, called for increased foreign trade, pledged to uphold the gold standard, favored expansion of the merchant marine, and promoted the development of a strong navy.

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Roosevelt campaign poster: A Roosevelt/Fairbanks (Republican Party candidates) election campaign poster.

The Democratic platform, united behind Parker, called for a reduction in government expenditures, condemned monopolies, pledged an end to government contracts with companies violating antitrust laws, opposed imperialism, insisted on independence for the Philippines, and opposed the protective tariff. The Democrats favored strict enforcement of the eight-hour workday, construction of a Panama Canal, the direct election of senators, statehood for the western territories, cuts in the army’s size and budget, and enforcement of the civil-service laws. Parker’s campaign accused the Roosevelt administration of being, “spasmodic, erratic, sensational, spectacular, and arbitrary.”

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1904 Democratic poster: A Parker/Davis (Democratic Party candidates) election campaign poster.

Roosevelt won a landslide victory, taking every northern and western state, as well as Missouri (making him the first Republican to carry that state since 1868). He also won more than 2.5 million popular votes. Parker carried only 1,107 counties, a smaller number than any Democratic candidate in the Fourth Party System had carried except Al Smith in 1928. This poor performance prompted many contemporaries to believe that the Democratic Party could dissolve in the near future.

Roosevelt and Conservation

Theodore Roosevelt embraced legislation aimed at conserving the natural environment.

Learning Objectives

Examine Theodore Roosevelt’s conservation initiatives

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Theodore Roosevelt ‘s administration established the U.S. Forest Service and oversaw the creation of five national parks.
  • Roosevelt embraced legislation aimed at conserving the natural environment, in consultation with chief advisor, Gifford Pinchot.
  • Roosevelt’s legacy reflected the approach of Pinchot, who emphasized efficiency and utility, more than that of naturalist John Muir (with whom Roosevelt worked to preserve Yosemite), who sought to keep such landscapes relatively unspoiled and pristine.

Key Terms

  • Gifford Pinchot: The first chief of the United States Forest Service (1905–1910) and the twenty-eighth governor of Pennsylvania (1923–1927, 1931–1935).

Theodore Roosevelt is credited with many achievements, but he was proudest of his work conserving natural resources and extending federal protection to land and wildlife. Roosevelt was a prominent conservationist, putting the issue at the forefront of the national agenda. He worked with all of the major figures of the movement, especially his chief advisor on the matter, Gifford Pinchot. Roosevelt was deeply committed to conserving natural resources, and historians largely consider him to be the nation’s first conservation president. He encouraged the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 to promote federal construction of dams to irrigate small farms and placed 230 million acres under federal protection. By the time he left office in 1908, Roosevelt had set aside more federal land, national parks, and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined.

Theodor Roosevelt points to a sign posted to a tree that says "Protect and preserve the remaining forests upon public lands from devastation and destruction, which have been the fate of those in forest sections of the country." Text at the bottom of the cartoon reads "A practical forester (a subject that had attention all through Mr. Roosevelt's presidency.) From the Pioneer Press (St. Paul)."

Theodore Roosevelt, the conservationist: This cartoon shows President Roosevelt as forester pointing to a sign that reads, “Protect and preserve the remaining forests upon public lands from devastation and destruction, which have been the fate of those in forest sections of the country.”

Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five national parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he designated 18 new U.S. national monuments. He also established the first 51 bird reserves, 4 game preserves, and 150 national forests, including the nation’s first, Shoshone National Forest. The area of the United States that he placed under public protection totals approximately 230,000,000 acres.

Gifford Pinchot had been appointed by McKinley as chief of Division of Forestry in the Department of Agriculture. In 1905, his department gained control of the national forest reserves. Pinchot promoted private use (for a fee) under federal supervision. In 1907, Roosevelt designated 16 million acres of new national forests just minutes before a deadline.

In May 1908, Roosevelt sponsored the Conference of Governors held in the White House, with a focus on natural resources and their most efficient use. Roosevelt delivered the opening address: “Conservation as a National Duty.”

In 1903, Roosevelt toured the Yosemite Valley with John Muir, and tried to minimize commercial use of water resources and forests. Working through the Sierra Club, Muir succeeded in having Congress transfer the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley to the federal government by 1905. While Muir wanted nature preserved for the sake of beauty, Roosevelt subscribed to Pinchot’s formulation, “to make the forest produce the largest amount of whatever crop or service will be most useful, and keep on producing it for generation after generation of men and trees.” In effect, Roosevelt’s conservationism embodied the Progressive ideal of efficiency: to protect nature in order to render it serviceable to the needs and uses of man for successive generations.