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Roosevelt's Square Deal

Theodore Roosevelt promised Americans a Square Deal: He would control the big corporations, protect consumers, and conserve the environment. When coal miners stayed on strike for almost half a year, the many people who heated their homes with coal were facing a frozen winter. Roosevelt called employers and workers into the White House and became the first president to hammer out a labor agreement. He threatened to use federal troops against the mine owners if they didn't compromise — a big change from previous government actions, when the troops were always ordered in to punish the workers. Congress created the Department of Commerce and Labor (1903) to oversee both business and workers.


Question: How did President Roosevelt handle the coal strike?

Answer: He became the first president to arbitrate a labor settlement.

The all-powerful railroads got slapped around a bit when the Elkins Act (1902) prohibited rebates that kept rates high for little shippers and the Hepburn Act (1906) ended the practice of giving free passes to anyone who could politically help the transportation companies. The heretofore weak Interstate Commerce Commission actually got the power to take action against fares that gouged the public.

Roosevelt busted his first big trust with the Northern Securities Company (1904). Famous American financier J.P. Morgan and his friends were trying to monopolize railroads in the Northwest. Roosevelt slapped them down, and the Supreme Court backed him.


Theodore Roosevelt didn't believe that big business itself was inherently bad. He was against businesses that controlled a market so that they could make people pay unfairly high prices. He probably wouldn't have minded today's big box stores as long as they allowed real competition.

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