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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·The Roosevelt Domestic Policies · The Administration of President Taft·»

Legislative and Executive Activities

Economic Legislation.—When President Roosevelt turned from the field of opinion he found himself in a different sphere. Many of his views were too advanced for the members of his party in Congress, and where results depended upon the making of new laws, his progress was slow. Nevertheless, in his administrations several measures were enacted that bore the stamp of his theories, though it could hardly be said that he dominated Congress to the same degree as did some other Presidents. The Hepburn Railway Act of 1906 enlarged the interstate commerce commission; it extended the commission’s power over oil pipe lines, express companies, and other interstate carriers; it gave the commission the right to reduce rates found to be unreasonable and discriminatory; it forbade “midnight tariffs,” that is, sudden changes in rates favoring certain shippers; and it prohibited common carriers from transporting goods owned by themselves, especially coal, except for their own proper use. Two important pure food and drug laws, enacted during the same year, were designed to protect the public against diseased meats and deleterious foods and drugs. A significant piece of labor legislation was an act of the same Congress making interstate railways liable to damages for injuries sustained by their employees. When this measure was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court it was reënacted with the objectionable clauses removed. A second installment of labor legislation was offered in the law of 1908 limiting the hours of railway employees engaged as trainmen or telegraph operators.

Courtesy United States Reclamation Service.
The Roosevelt Dam, Phoenix, Arizona

Reclamation and Conservation.—The open country—the deserts, the forests, waterways, and the public lands—interested President Roosevelt no less than railway and industrial questions. Indeed, in his first message to Congress he placed the conservation of natural resources among “the most vital internal problems” of the age, and forcibly emphasized an issue that had been discussed in a casual way since Cleveland’s first administration. The suggestion evoked an immediate response in Congress. Under the leadership of Senator Newlands, of Nevada, the Reclamation Act of 1902 was passed, providing for the redemption of the desert areas of the West. The proceeds from the sale of public lands were dedicated to the construction of storage dams and sluiceways to hold water and divert it as needed to the thirsty sands. Furthermore it was stipulated that the rents paid by water users should go into a reclamation fund to continue the good work forever. Construction was started immediately under the terms of the law. Within seventeen years about 1,600,000 acres had been reclaimed and more than a million were actually irrigated. In the single year 1918, the crops of the irrigated districts were valued at approximately $100,000,000.

In his first message, also, President Roosevelt urged the transfer of all control over national forests to trained men in the Bureau of Forestry—a recommendation carried out in 1907 when the Forestry Service was created. In every direction noteworthy advances were made in the administration of the national domain. The science of forestry was improved and knowledge of the subject spread among the people. Lands in the national forest available for agriculture were opened to settlers. Water power sites on the public domain were leased for a term of years to private companies instead of being sold outright. The area of the national forests was enlarged from 43 million acres to 194 million acres by presidential proclamation—more than 43 million acres being added in one year, 1907. The men who turned sheep and cattle to graze on the public lands were compelled to pay a fair rental, much to their dissatisfaction. Fire prevention work was undertaken in the forests on a large scale, reducing the appalling, annual destruction of timber. Millions of acres of coal land, such as the government had been carelessly selling to mining companies at low figures, were withdrawn from sale and held until Congress was prepared to enact laws for the disposition of them in the public interest. Prosecutions were instituted against men who had obtained public lands by fraud and vast tracts were recovered for the national domain. An agitation was begun which bore fruit under the administrations of Taft and Wilson in laws reserving to the federal government the ownership of coal, water power, phosphates, and other natural resources while authorizing corporations to develop them under leases for a period of years.

The Prosecution of the Trusts.—As an executive, President Roosevelt was also a distinct “personality.” His discrimination between “good” and “bad” trusts led him to prosecute some of them with vigor. On his initiative, the Northern Securities Company, formed to obtain control of certain great western railways, was dissolved by order of the Supreme Court. Proceedings were instituted against the American Tobacco Company and the Standard Oil Company as monopolies in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust law. The Sugar Trust was found guilty of cheating the New York customs house and some of the minor officers were sent to prison. Frauds in the Post-office Department were uncovered and the offenders brought to book. In fact hardly a week passed without stirring news of “wrong doers” and “malefactors” haled into federal courts.

The Great Coal Strike.—The Roosevelt theory that the President could do anything for public welfare not forbidden by the Constitution and the laws was put to a severe test in 1902. A strike of the anthracite coal miners, which started in the summer, ran late into the autumn. Industries were paralyzed for the want of coal; cities were threatened with the appalling menace of a winter without heat. Governors and mayors were powerless and appealed for aid. The mine owners rejected the demands of the men and refused to permit the arbitration of the points in dispute, although John Mitchell, the leader of the miners, repeatedly urged it. After observing closely the course affairs, President Roosevelt made up his mind that the situation was intolerable. He arranged to have the federal troops, if necessary, take possession of the mines and operate them until the strike could be settled. He then invited the contestants to the White House and by dint of hard labor induced them to accept, as a substitute or compromise, arbitration by a commission which he appointed. Thus, by stepping outside the Constitution and acting as the first citizen of the land, President Roosevelt averted a crisis of great magnitude.

The Election of 1904.—The views and measures which he advocated with such vigor aroused deep hostility within as well as without his party. There were rumors of a Republican movement to defeat his nomination in 1904 and it was said that the “financial and corporation interests” were in arms against him. A prominent Republican paper in New York City accused him of having “stolen Mr. Bryan’s thunder,” by harrying the trusts and favoring labor unions. When the Republican convention assembled in Chicago, however, the opposition disappeared and Roosevelt was nominated by acclamation.

This was the signal for a change on the part of Democratic leaders. They denounced the President as erratic, dangerous, and radical and decided to assume the moderate rôle themselves. They put aside Mr. Bryan and selected as their candidate, Judge Alton B. Parker, of New York, a man who repudiated free silver and made a direct appeal for the conservative vote. The outcome of the reversal was astounding. Judge Parker’s vote fell more than a million below that cast for Bryan in 1900; of the 476 electoral votes he received only 140. Roosevelt, in addition to sweeping the Republican sections, even invaded Democratic territory, carrying the state of Missouri. Thus vindicated at the polls, he became more outspoken than ever. His leadership in the party was so widely recognized that he virtually selected his own successor.

«·The Roosevelt Domestic Policies · The Administration of President Taft·»