Progressivism implies a philosophy that welcomes innovations and reforms in the political, economic, and social order. The Progressive movement, 1901 to 1917, was ultimately the triumph of conservatism rather than a victory for liberalism. In a general sense, the conservative goals of this period justified the Liberal reforms enacted by Progressive leaders. Deviating from the “traditional” definition of conservatism (a resistance to change and a disposition of hostility to innovations in the political, social, and economic order), the Conservatist triumph was in the sense that there was an effort to maintain basic social and economic relations vital to a capitalist society. The Progressive leaders essentially wanted to perpetuate Liberal reform in order to bring upon general conservatism.
Expansion of the federal government’s powers, competition and economic distribution of wealth, and the social welfare of American citizens concerned the many leaders of this era. The business influence on politics was quite
significant of the Progressive Era. Not only did the three leading Progressive political figures, Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson, bring upon new heights to government regulation, but also the great business leaders of this era defined the
units of political intervention. With political capitalism rising to fame, Progressive politics experienced new themes and areas. The inevitability of federal regulation policies, reformation of social welfare, conservation, and various innovations with banking led to one conservative effort: the preservation of existing powers and economic/social relations. The political leaders of this ear were conservative in that they all believed in the fundamentals of basic capitalism. The various forms of anti-trust legislation presented by each president made the nation one step closer to providing a stable, predictable, and secure, therefore, conservative capitalist society. Theodore Roosevelt’s statist tendencies brought new meaning to government regulation. Roosevelt’s Anti-Trust policy of 1902 pledged government intervention to break up illegal monopolies and regulate corporations for the public good. Roosevelt felt that “bad” trusts threatened competition and markets. in order to restore free competition, President Roosevelt ordered the Justice department to prosecute corporations pursing monopolistic
practices. However, the Judicial Branch repudiated its duty (right of reason) and now, even if the impact of the market was not harmful, actions that restrained or monopolized trade would automatically put a firm in violation of the
Sherman law. In 1902, the United Mine Workers were willing to submit to arbitration, but the coal operators adamantly opposed any recognition of the union. Thus, the union members decided to strike over wages, safety
conditions, and union recognition. The Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902 ended with the appointment by Roosevelt of an arbitration commission to rule on the issues. Business men did not regard politics (government regulation) as a necessary evil, but as an important part of their position in society. Roosevelt did not see big business as evil, but a permanent development that was necessary in a modern economy. Roosevelt couldn’t rely on the courts to distinguish between “good” or “bad” trusts. The only solution was for the executive to assume that responsibility. Roosevelt’s ingenious “square dealings” and “gentlemen’s agreements” controlled many firms. In 1903, a new cabinet position was created to address the concerns of business and labor (Department of Commerce and Labor). Within the department, the Bureau of Corporations was empowered to investigate and report on illegal activities of corporations. The abuse of economic power by railroads proposed another problem for Roosevelt. However, in 1903,
the Elkins Act empowered the ICC (Interstate Commerce Commission, first American federal regulatory agency) to act against discriminatory rebates. Also, in 1906, the Hepburn Act increased the ICC membership from five to seven.
The ICC could set its own fair freight rates, had its regulatory pwer extended over pipelines, bridges, and express companies, and was empowered to require a uniform system of accounting by regulated transportation companies.
Besides economic relations, Roosevelt involved himself in many important conservative social relations. The Secretary of treasury created an inspection organization to certify that cattle for export were free of disease. With disappointing results, Germany and other European countries banned the importation of American meant. Federal regulation helped improve exports to Europe, free competition, another conservative effort. In 1906, the Meat
Inspection Act provided for federal and sanitary regulations and inspections in meant packing facilities. Also, the Pure Food and Drug