The American society was one of the first ones to jump on the ground of industrialization. Quite obviously, it developed the American society from nothing to a modern one, put foundation for the future supremacy of the United States and stimulated the economic activity. However, soon people started realizing that they are paying a heavy price for this so-called development. It was evident that on the other side of the picture of this glowing development was the bitter truth of child labor, unjust and unfair distribution of wealth, exploitation of resources, exploitation of labor, environmental problems and rising corruption at all levels. Progressivism was a social movement in response to all of these above-mentioned social, environmental, political and ethical issues (Fink, pp. 75-79). It was in the last couple of decades of the 19th century and first couple of decades of the 20th century, when many lawyers, educationalists, business people, women and middle-income group people realized that some thing is needed to be done. Their motto was to make sure that the development of American society has a balance between its short-term progress and long-term sustainability.
Theodore D. Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United States of America and served the office from 1901 to 1909. Born on October 27, 1958 in New York, he came from a wealthy family (Morris, pp. 23-28). However, the immense wealth of his father was not sufficient to make Theodore’s life completely comfortable because he was an asthmatic child. He spent much of childhood suffering from illness and remained interested in zoology. Roosevelt repeatedly wrote in his dairy about the influence on his father on him. According to him, he learned gentleness, courage, unselfishness, strength and determination. These were the principles, which later formed the basis of his great and memorable leadership as the 26th President of the United States of America. The same courage and determination helped him to absorb and survive with the shocks of the death of his mother and wife on the same day. He was an active republican on political grounds and served as Civil Service Commissioner, New York City Police Commissioner and Assistant Secretary of Navy and Lieutenant Colonel (Morris, pp. 23-28). He held his last post during the War of Cuba and played an outstanding role. He left the army and in the year 1898, he won the post of governor of New York. From there, he kept on climbing the stairs of success. He was soon announced as the Vice president of the United States with William McKinley as the president. Sadly, after 6 months, Roosevelt received a telegram that McKinley was shot dead (Mowry, pp. 41-48). Soon, he took the oath as the president of the United States and promised to continue the cabinet and policies of the former president. In addition, he was the youngest president of the United States until 1901. When he went on to contest for the post of president in the elections of 1904 based on his three-year performance, he won the elections with serious majority.
This paper focuses on the progressive policies of President Theodore D. Roosevelt and tries to explore the contributions of Roosevelt for the same. This above section of the paper was just an attempt to familiarize the readers with progressivism and Theodore Roosevelt because the rest of the paper revolves around both of these.
The progressive thoughts and frame of mind of Theodore Roosevelt was evident since he first took the post of civil service commissioner. However, he started making significant and considerable moves towards transforming the society into a progressive one when he was serving as the Governor of New York. Theodore Roosevelt made sure that the long debated reform of secret ballot is passed in his state. In addition, he came up with many others reforms. “Initiative” was a reform that allowed the voters to come up with any desired bill or legislation that they want to be approved. Roosevelt was also the first one governor of New York to come up with the process of “referendum” through which the voters get a chance to decide that should the legislating body pass a bill or not (Mowry, pp. 41-48). Another interesting reform was of “recall” that allowed the voters to fill up a petition if they thought that their elected representatives are not working to their expectations. Lastly, it was the reform of “direct primary” that made sure that the voters are getting the right to select their candidates and not their part bosses are doing a hand puppets show (Kelley, pp. 3-7). Important here to note that all these reforms were concerned with making sure that principle of democracy, liberalism and freedom are effectively applied in the state.
In the year 1902, under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt, the passed an act which is known as “Newlands Reclamation Act” that allowed the building and formation of dams and irrigation projects funded from the sale of semi-arid public lands. Roosevelt believed that it would have a multiplier effect for ensuring environmentalism.
In the year 1903, Roosevelt passed the “Elkins Act” and achieved another milestone of progressivism. Elkins Act was an attempt to eliminate unfair businesses. Under the light of this law, all those rail transport owners would be heavily fined if they offered rebate to the shippers who will accept them. It happened many times before the Elkins Act that the livestock and oil companies made agreements of transportation with railroad companies and then deviated from it by asking for a rebate. Elkins Act was welcomed by railroad companies since it eliminated all the unfair and unethical practices.
Amongst one of his most vital attempts to ensure environmental friendly practices was the “Forest Act of 1905”. According to this legislation, all the forests became a responsibility of department of Agriculture rather than the department of interior. Roosevelt also asked them to make sure the forests are safe and sufficient steps are being taken to for their conservation and sustainability.
At that time, there was a lot of buzz in the market regarding the purity and safety of products that were sold by many manufacturers. The public was extremely concerned about what they were offered and if that was healthy and ethically manufactured or not. This awareness was a result of efforts from Muckrakers, Upton Sinclair, Samuel Hopkins Adams, Florence Kelley and Harvey W. Wiley. However, the credit goes to Roosevelt since he was responsive and quickly passed the “Pure Food and Drug Act” in the year 1906 that asked the companies to label and mention the manufacturing procedure and all the ingredients they use for making of any specific product. This also led to the development of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that was an attempt towards regulating the process to some further extent.
When President Roosevelt heard about the concerns of Upton Sinclair in his publication “the jungle” regarding the “Chicago meat packing industry”, he immediately looked in to this matter carefully. Initial investigations gave proofs of adulterated, misbranded livestock and processing and slaughtering of livestock under unacceptable sanitary and health conditions. Under the instructions of President Roosevelt and his immediate administration, the Federal Meat Inspection Act was passed in June 1906 that ensured safe and healthy meat processing procedures.
Another step to eliminating discrimination was in the form of Hepburn Act of June 1906, through which the Interstate Commerce Commission got the authority to set the maximum possible railroads fee. This also led to the discontinuation of free passes. Another legislation concerning the railroads was passed in the year 1908, named as the “Federal Employers Liability Act” (Link & Leary, pp. 101-111). According to this act, all the employees that would catch any sort of injury during their railway related job would get all the compensation and protection from the State. This act was a major need of that time since with the expansion of railway the health and safety hazards were increasing.
Roosevelt was awarded with Nobel Award for peace in the year 1906 and interestingly he denoted the sum of 40000 US dollars for laying the foundation of “Roosevelt Foundation for Industrial Peace”. According to him, “In this state of developing world, industrial peace is even more essential than international peace” (Gould, pp. 34-37). His progressive thoughts towards striking a balance between employers and employees are quite evident with this statement.
Another aspect of Roosevelt efforts is related to his thoughts on immigrations and immigrants. He strongly believed that America should only welcome the German, Irish, Dutch and others if they are ready to become an American. He thought that that if they want to remain the same then it is useless to have them in America (Gould, pp. 20-24).
Roosevelt also had the courage to start antitrust cases against Northern securities, Swift beef trust and 44 other major corporations. Moreover, he also deserves the credit of making many of the national parks and its systems that people witness today in the United States.
It is also important here to note that Roosevelt efforts for progressivism did not stop with the completion of his Presidential term. He did nominate William Howard Taft as his successor but he soon publicly started expressing his discomfort and disagreement over many of the Taft’s policies. In the year 1912, with the support of some his colleagues from the republican he formed his own progressive party, which is commonly known as the Bull Moose Party. The name Bull Moose came because many of his former colleagues believed that Roosevelt is “as strong as a bull moose”. In the elections of 1912, his part acquired the most number of votes as a third party in the history of United States. This was because most of the middle class people, labors and educationalists were on his side and wanted them to continue his policies. However, this was not enough and Democratic Party leader Woodrow Wilson took advantage of this split of votes of the Republican Party and found himself elected as the president with 42 percent of the votes. The progressive party was then unable to perform well in the local body elections of 1914 and the party eventually was dissolved in the year 1916 (Auchincloss, pp. 56-59). However, it is important to note that in some way or the other, Roosevelt put all his efforts to contribute in the transformation of United States in a progressive society. This movement did not end here but all the upcoming progressive parties would share the same course of action and ideologies as of the Roosevelt.
However, progressives are also criticized for their policies against the inclusion of blacks and Native Americans in the American legal system. Moreover, their repeated efforts to stop child labor were not enough at the end of the day since most of time the courts overruled them.