Industrialization led to the rise of big businesses at the expense of the worker. Factory laborers faced long hours, low wages, and unsanitary conditions. The large corporations protected themselves by allying with political parties. The parties, in turn, were controlled by party leaders, rather than by the members. Many people felt that all power rested with the politicians and businessmen. Reformers known as Progressives attempted to undo the problems caused by industrialization. The Progressive movement sought to end the influence of large corporations, provide more rights and benefits to workers, and end the control possessed by party leaders. At the national level, Progressivism centered on defeating the power of large businesses. The Progressive Era was a period in American history in which improving working conditions, exposing corruption, improving the way of life, expanding democracy, and making reforms were the objectives at hand. With the emergence of the Progressive Era two important figures gradually emerged as well. One of the mentioned figures, President Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded to the Presidency when President McKinley was assassinated in 1901, helped the Progressive movement greatly. Another figure, although a Democrat is Woodrow Wilson who much like Roosevelt still pushed for progressive reforms. Each of the mentioned figures did their share in re-establishing a “fair” government that would work for the people and not for the large corporations and monopolies.
President Theodor Roosevelt, the most dominant personality of the Progressive Era, targeted monopolistic business practices for reform. Roosevelt persuaded Congress to create a Bureau of Corporations to investigate and regulate big business, then brought an anti-trust suit against J.P. Morgan’s Northern Securities Company, a railroad trust controlled by the Wall Street financier, with the United States Supreme Court upholding the closure of the trust in the case of Northern Securities Co. v. United States issued in 1904. During Roosevelt’s Administration, over 40 major corporations were sued for antitrust or price-fixing violations. Roosevelt greatly expanded the powers of the government within the economy, often by endorsing new power for organized labor to organize and put forth leverage against employers. By supporting labor in the settlement of the Anthracite Coal Strike of 1902, Roosevelt became the first president to assume such a direct role in intervening in labor disputes, including the threatened use of the U.S. Army to seize the coal mines and operate them until the owners agreed to arbitration to settle the strike. Rosevelt unlike many of his successors really took advantage of the power given to him as president. During his presidency he revived the Sherman Antitrust Act ,which was an act that sought to prevent companies from combining into trusts and gaining monopolies. Roosevelt was also one to enforce the Hepburn Act, which allowed the Interstate Commmerce Commission to regulate railroads. The railroads had allied themselves with large businesses, charging higher rates to those business’ competitors. By enacting the Hepburn act he prevented large businesses from gaining even more power. Roosevelt also championed the cause of conservation. He set aside large amounts of land as part of the national park system.
Democrats nominated Woodrow Wilson, the scholarly governor of New Jersey called for moral revival and reform, including low tariffs, the breaking up of all monopolies, and for the government to be an umpire in disputes between labor and business. One of the first successes of his administration was the lowering of tariffs, which he accomplished in 1913. Wilson believed that increased foreign competition would spur U.S. based manufacturers to lower prices and improve their goods. That same year, Wilson passed the Federal Reserve Act, which created twelve regional banks that would be run by a central board in the capitol. This system gave the government more control over banking activities. Wilson also pushed for governmental control over business. In 1914, Democrat-controlled congress established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate companies that participated in suspected unfair and illegal trade practices. Wilson also supported the Clayton Antitrust Act, which joined the Sherman Antitrust Act as one the government’s tools to fight trusts the same year.By the end of Wilson’s First term, progressives had won many victories.
Many American citizens eagerly demanded a change in numerous areas such as business, labor, the economy, and an increase of democracy. Democracy flourished during the Progressive Era. Many new plans were constructed to help the American People. This was the true goal of all Progressives, to help the American society. It was definitely a movement of passion in which the most important figures truly fought for its people. It was rather disappointing, though, that the entire movement lost steam as Americans became much more interested in international affairs, towards the end of Wilsons presidency, when war had broken out in Europe in 1914.