Roosevelt started his progressive campaign by attacking large companies, ones he believed to be monopolies. He did so by filing anti-trust suits against these companies, and his first target was J.P. Morgan Northern Securities. Northern Securities was an alliance between several northwestern railroads designed to stop panicked competition, and it suffered from heavy criticism from the time of its' inception. Many shippers feared it as a monopoly. He succeeded in breaking apart the company and went on to break up many other monopolies. After his attack on J.P. Morgan, he organized a national coal workers strike. Fifty thousand United Mine Workers of northern Pennsylvania went on strike in May, demanding a 10-20% pay raise, recognition of their union, an eight-hour workday, and fringe benefits. The UMW tired to negotiate with the owners of the six big mines in the region for five months, but the owners refused. Roosevelt eventually threatened to send national troops in to take control of the mines, if the mining corporation did not settle the demands of its' workers. Theodore Roosevelt's administration began a total of forty-four antitrust suits, including ones against the American Tobacco Company and against John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company.
All of these proceedings established guidelines for later prosecutions. Roosevelt defined antitrust proceedings for the first time, and this helped to bring down future monopolies. Many people gave Roosevelt the nickname "trust-buster." Although Roosevelt did not particularly like the name, because he was not opposed to all big business, after all he believed all people have the right to succeed, but he was opposed to corrupt big business that treated their employees improperly, and that is precisely who he went after. He had no objection to consolidation for the purpose of preventing damaging competition, but Roosevelt was concerned with equal treatment for all, and he was opposed to monopolies designed to stifle all competition. His attacks on these monopolies were the government's first effective regulation of big powerful business.
Roosevelt also broke up big business by new legislation. In his annual message to Congress after his reelection, he called for drastic railroad regulation, which was granted in June of 1906 by Congress, which passed the Hepburn Act. This gave the Interstate Commerce Commission actual authority over the regulation of rates, extended the jurisdiction of the ICC, and broke up the railroads mixed interests in steamship lines and coal companies.
Under Roosevelt, the spirit of Progressivism inspired the national government. Soon Congress had created a new Department of Commerce and Labor. One bureau of the new department was empowered to investigate the affairs of big business aggregations. In 1907 it discovered that the American Sugar Refining Company had defrauded the government out of a large sum in import duties. Further legal actions recovered more than $4 million and convicted several company officials. Then the Standard Oil Company of Indiana was indicted for receiving secret "discounts" on shipments through the Chicago and Alton Railroad. The fine imposed, amounted to $29,240,000 on 1,462 separate contracts. These actions truly reflected the spirit of the times.
President Taft was elected after Roosevelt, in 1908, but did a bad job at furthering the aims of Progressivism, and Woodrow Wilson was the next president to make significant gains for the cause. In 1909 Wilson's progressive programs and innovations as president of Princeton University attracted the attention of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party decided to help get him elected Governor of New Jersey. Although instead of following orders, Wilson ended up cleaning house and ridding the New Jersey house of much of its' deep-seated corruption. However, his presidential aspirations cut his term as Governor short. His writing skills, oratory skills, and progressive accomplishments gave him enough publicity and popularity to attract Democrats looking for a national leader. He became a natural success at national politics.
As President, Wilson's first legislative step was to replace the current tariff. The current tariff placed unnecessary burden on the average American and provided an environment in which trusts and monopolies seemed to flourish in. "The tariff duties must be altered," Wilson said. "We must abolish everything that bears any semblance of privilege." Through skillful statesmanship and determined leadership Wilson passed the bill through both houses of Congress. The Underwood Tariff, signed on October 3, 1913, provided substantial rate reductions on imported raw materials and foodstuffs, cotton and woolen goods, iron and steel, and removed the duties from more than a hundred other items. The "New Freedom" which included legislation regarding tariff reform, also included legislation concerning currency reform, and child labor reform. It was a significant achievement and may have been the start of a legacy if not for the troubles that began to erupt in Europe.
Next Wilson wanted to reform and reorganize the banking and currency systems. "Control," said Wilson, "must be public, not private, must be vested in the government itself, so that the banks may be the instruments, not the masters, of business and of individual enterprise and initiative." In the Federal Reserve Act of December 1913, Wilson's accomplished this reform. This act imposed a new organization upon the existing banking system that divided the country into 12 districts, with a Federal Reserve Bank in each, all supervised by a Federal Reserve Board. These banks were to serve as depositories for the cash reserves of the banks that joined the system. Previous to the act, the U.S. government had left control of its money supply, for the most part, to unregulated private banks. While the official medium of exchange was gold coins, most loans and payments were carried out with bank notes, backed by the promise of redemption in gold. The trouble with the old system was that the banks were tempted to go beyond their cash reserves, which often times prompted panics, during which fearful depositors raced to turn their bank notes into specie. After the passage of the act however, greater flexibility in the money supply came about, and provisions were made for issuing Federal Reserve notes to meet business demands.
The next item on Wilson's reform agenda was trust regulation, and investigation of corporate abuses. Congress authorized a new body, the Federal Trade Commission, to issue orders banning "unfair methods of competition" in business practices in interstate trade. A second law, the Clayton Antitrust Act, outlawed many corporate practices that had not yet been considered illegal per se, such as interlocking directorates, price discrimination among purchasers, use of the injunction in labor disputes and ownership by one corporation of stock in similar enterprises.
During Wilson's presidency, farmers and other workers were not forgotten. A federal loan act made credit available to farmers at low interest rates. Also the Seamen's Act of 1915, improved living and working conditions onboard ships. Soon after, in 1916, the Federal Workingman's Compensation Act authorized allowances to civil service employees for injuries received at work. Finally the Adamson Act, also of 1916, passed, and it established an eight-hour work day for railroad laborers.
Wilson's and Roosevelt's political achievements as president earned them a firm place in American history as some of the nation's most important political reformers ever (Wilson's reforms probably would have continued too, if the U.S. had not had to enter World War I). Their reforms helped to create the U.S. we know and appreciate now. They helped to stop much of the corruption in the government, and they helped to create better lives for the common working class people of the country. Both presidents were instrumental in fighting the corrupt unfriendly monopolies of the country, and they set precedents, which continued to live on for many years, many of which still do. They left America a better place to work in, a better place to live in, and an easier place to rest in. Roosevelt and Wilson started a chain reaction in American that has continued since then and is still going.