Progressivism on a National Level

Progressivism on a National Level

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Reform of corrupt businesses and government first drew attention at local and state levels. Big businesses in the late 1800s preferred profit over patriotism, credit over honor, individual gain over national prosperity, and trade and dickering over principles. It was not until 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt became president, that progressivism was brought to the national level. During Roosevelt’s presidency, he would push reform as much as possible by strengthening the power of the federal government.
The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 was an early attempt to try to control abuses by large combinations of businesses called trusts. The Act was weakened by the Supreme Court used against labor unions rather than against monopolies. Roosevelt’s first push for reform on the national level began with a secret antitrust investigation of the J. P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company whom monopolized railroad traffic. After successfully using his powers in government to control businesses, Roosevelt used the Sherman Antitrust Act against forty-three “bad” trusts that broke the law and left the “good” trusts alone.
When united mine workers went on strike demanding less hours, more money, and recognition as a union, the price of coal went from $2.50 to $6.00 a ton. With the nation’s high dependence on coal during the winter, Roosevelt arranged a meeting with representatives from both sides to meet. He threatened to seize the mines and run them with federal troops and eventually settled it by giving them a reduction in the workday and wage increases, but no recognition as a union.
Another Act that expanded the federal government’s power included the Elkins Act which outlawed railroad rebates and created the Department of Commerce and Labor to act as a corporate watchdog. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was created in 1887 to regulate railroads but was never given real power to set rates and prevent discriminatory practices. To increase the power of the ICC, Roosevelt passed the Hepburn Act of 1906, and for the first time, a government commission could investigate private business records and set rates. When Upton Sinclair’s novel The Jungle was published, reformers took another look at the meatpacking industry. The novel’s startling accounts of filthy conditions in the meatpacking plants resulted in the passing of the Pure Food and Drug Act and a Meat Inspection Act.

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The progressives used the power of the federal government to help reform go from a local to a national level. The progressive movement left the nation’s federal government with a stronger hold on “bad” businesses. The federal government now had a stronger involvement in the economy and social welfare. Ultimately, the powers of the presidency increased, the powers of state expanded, and the progressives worked for greater social justice and a better balance between businesses and government.
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