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WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT AND TRUST-BUSTING

President William Howard Taft, elected president in 1908, had a hard act to follow. Fat and jovial but without Roosevelt's vision or charm, Taft tried to stick to Roosevelt's policies. He took on the U.S. Steel trust and a number of other monopolies, carefully following laws passed under Roosevelt.

In 1911, the Supreme Court ordered that Standard Oil Company be broken up. At the same time, the court issued a rule of reason that said the law applied only to companies that unreasonably restrain trade. This ruling made busting trusts even harder. Even so, Taft went after twice as many monopolies as Roosevelt actually took on.

Republican businessmen generally liked high tariffs on imported goods; it made their products easier to sell at a profit. However , the Progressive wing of the Republican party called high tariffs the "Mother of All Trusts" and vowed to substantially lower the charges. After lots of innerparty wrangling, Congress passed the Payne-Aldrich Bill (1909), which lowered tariffs but only on the items people didn't want anyway.

Taft failed to come through for the Progressive wing of his party. Although he acted to protect U.S. business interests in Latin America with a few invasions of small countries, he got in even more trouble with Progressives for firing environmental hero Gifford Pinchot after Pinchot criticized the sale of public lands for corporate development. Taft also established the Bureau of Mines to protect coal land and water supplies, but this measure was too little too late. The Republicans lost big in Congress and then, with Roosevelt running on a third-party ticket, lost even bigger in the presidential election of 1912 to Democrat Woodrow Wilson.

IDEALISM WITH WOODROW WILSON

The campaign of 1912 was one to remember. Roosevelt's name was put in nomination at the Progressive party convention by Hull House feminist Jane Addams. The convention exploded when Roosevelt declared, "We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord."

During the campaign, Roosevelt was shot in the chest in Milwaukee by a crazy person. Fortunately, the bullet went through Roosevelt's steel glasses case, but he was still wounded and bleeding. Roosevelt refused all help and went on to make an 80-minute speech after he had been shot. Doctors decided the bullet was too dangerous to remove, and he carried it with him for the rest of his life. He took a couple of weeks off and then was back on the campaign trail.

On election day, Democrat Woodrow Wilson won easily because Taft and Roosevelt split the Republican vote (although Teddy got more of the vote). The country's heart was clearly with the Progressives. Not counting the very unprogressive South, which voted for Democrats just because they weren't Republicans, Progressive votes would have easily won the election. Even the perennial Socialist candidate Eugene Debs racked up 900,000 votes. It was time for change in America. In his own way, Wilson was progressive as well.

 
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