The Progressive movement was fortunate to receive support from the President of the United States consecutively for three different Presidents. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president of the United States to support progressivism, although he considered himself a devote member of the Republican Party. The following two presidents, William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson, continued to address the same problems that the Progressives saw as the most significant. Each of these three presidents succeeded in aiding the Progressive Movement in different areas and through different methods.
It is clear Roosevelt was the first to deal with the problems the Progressive Movement hoped to solve; however, his achievements may not be as impressive on paper as those of Taft or Wilson but Roosevelt is recognized as the President who initiated the Progressive Reform Movement in America. “Theodore Roosevelt adopted a cautious version of progressive reform. He cultivated party leaders in Congress, and he steered away from such political thickets as the tariff and banking issues.” (Tindall & Shi 1084) Although Roosevelt was weary of certain problems, Taft and Wilson were uninhibited in their pursuit of issues Roosevelt purposefully avoided.
“The Progressives had three basic goals; open the government to more people; correct societal abuses; and level the economic playing field.” (Notes) Each of these three presidents attempted at least one or more of these problems. Roosevelt was very successful in beginning to delve into the trust problem; he strongly enforced the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and continued to use his “big stick” to fight against oppressive trusts. “Altogether his administration initiated about twenty-five anti-trust suits; the most notable victory came in Swift and Company v. United States (1905), a decision against the “beef trust” through which most of the meat packers had avoided competitive bidding in the purchase of livestock.” (Tindall & Shi 1087) Roosevelt’s accomplishments in the trust problem are recognized as crucial to starting the crack-down on trusts. William Howard Taft is most likely the largest “trust buster” when compared to Roosevelt and Wilson.
Controlling and monitoring trusts clearly helped to level the economic playing field. Dealing with tariffs was another way to level the economic playing field and that was a problem Taft and Wilson did not hesitate to approach, even though Roosevelt avoided the tariff problem during his presidency. “A tariff bill was passed the House with surprising ease. It lowered rates less than Taft would have preferred but made some important reductions and enlarged the free list.” (Tindall & Shi 1095) Wilson, as well as Taft, made important advancements in lowering tariffs when in the Underwood-Simmons Tariff became law in 1913. “It lowered the overall average duty from 37 percent to about 29 percent.” (Tindall & Shi 1107) The economy was also developed by the Glass-Owen Federal Reserve Act or 1913 which was passed during Wilson’s presidency and created the Federal Reserve Bank. Wilson was also a firm supporter of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which he ultimately revised. Wilson, Roosevelt, and Taft all did wonderfully in dealing with two of the Progressive goals, but one goal was ignored almost completely by each of them; correction of societal abuse. Wilson and Roosevelt can claim small victories when referring to the achievement of this goal, Taft had done virtually nothing. Roosevelt was considered by the public to have assisted the working man when he settled the dispute between coal miners and the mine owners, gaining better wages and shorter work hours for the coal miners. “The agreement enhanced Roosevelt’s prestige, although it produced only a partial victory for the miners.” (Tindall & Shi 1087) Wilson’s progress in the pursuit of a solution to the societal abuse problem is only slightly less insignificant. “Not until the second anniversary of his inauguration (March 4, 1915) did Wilson sign an important piece of societal-justice legislation, the La Follette Seamen’s Act. The product of stubborn agitation by the eloquent president of the Seamen’s Union, the act strengthened safety requirements, reduced the power of captains, set minimum food standards, and required regular wage payments.” (Tindall & Shi 1111) Overall these three presidents tackled a good deal of the problems which significantly concerned the Progressive Movement; however, each also had his own faults and flaws.
In conclusion, it is apparent that the Progressive Movement blossomed as a result of the direct support from three presidents in succession. Each president was strong in working towards at least one of the progressive goals. Roosevelt was clearly the spark which ignited the fire of Progressive Reform, without his support the Progressive Movement may never have advanced beyond its earliest and most vulnerable stages. He made significant advancements in dealing with trusts and monopolies. His methods were unlike Taft’s or Wilson, Roosevelt did not rely on legislation to realize his goals, he used the raw power of his executive position. Although Taft was not as energetic as Roosevelt, he undertook the problems Roosevelt had intentionally avoided such as the tariff problem. Both Taft and Wilson were successful in making crucial progress in lowering tariffs. The societal abuse problem of the Progressive Movement was unfortunately ignored for the most part by all three presidents. Overall the difference in methods and styles of all three presidents in approaching and working out the problems of the Progressive Movement was essential to the success of sustaining Progressive Reform in America.
Microsoft Encarta. America: A Narrative History. George Tindall and David E. Shi