Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

America: From Colony to Superpower. Part II: 1876- 1929

In his second term, Roosevelt exerted more federal control over American industry, and attempted social and labour reforms. His basic principle was converting power over industry from private hands to the government. He strove to increase presidential powers over Congress and the Supreme Court. Roosevelt loved nature and achieved much work in conservation of American landscapes. He added to the natural forests in the West, established huge irrigation projects and set up land reservations.

Roosevelt was responsible for America's emergence as a world power. The emerging doctrine of manifest destiny was growing in popularity. It preached the greatness of the United States and how it had a duty to spread its power throughout the developing world. Congress approved an army general staff that began modernising the army, and the navy moved forward too. Roosevelt believed that America should use its power to preserve peace in the world, as a peaceful equilibrium was best for business and long-term safety. He personally conducted his foreign policy. American control of the Caribbean was seen as an essential part of national defence. The U.S. intervened in Venezuela and covertly helped to bring about revolution in Panama to drive out European powers. He ensured the consruction of the Panama Canal, which allowed a strategic shortcut for the U.S. navy between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In Africa, European nations increasingly rattled each other as the scramble for land intensified. Roosevelt knew of the complicated alliances that could turn any dispute between two European powers into a world war, and so he favoured negotiate peaceful settlements when such disputes arose. He succeeded in getting all nations involved in the French-German Moroccan crisis in 1905 to attend a peace conference. In Asia, Roosevelt felt that weakened China was of no account, but that a balance was required between Russia and Japan to maintain peace. His work in helping to bring an end to the Russo-Japanese War in the summer of 1905 earned him a Nobel Peace Prize.

The president preached the maintenance of American military and naval strength. This strength was to be deployed only when the accepted status quo of world peace was at risk. But its very existence gave the United States the power to influence world affairs. Under President Roosevelt, America had truly emerged as a global power.

Roosevelt maintained the tradition of not running a third time for president, despite public clamour for him to run again. He instead used his influence to secure the Republican nomination for William Howard Taft, whom he believed was the best equipped to carry on his policies. With progressivism on the up again, the Democrats returned to Bryan, but Taft had the twin strengths of his own considerable reputation and the powerful endorsement of President Roosevelt. Taft polled 52 percent of the popular vote and carried the Electoral College 321 to 162. Roosevelt went off to hunt in the jungles of Africa, leaving President Taft to carry on his reforms and uphold America's reputation on the world stage.

The Revival of Progressivism-

Taft, the twenty seventh president of the United States, rose through the ranks via administrative posts. He had served as Secretary of War under President Roosevelt. Taft was more conservative than Roosevelt, and believed in reforming at a slower pace. His tariff policies alienated many Midwesterners who went over to the Democrats. In the 1910 elections the Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1892. Republican tariffs became identified with the increased cost of living, and the Democrats exploited this by championing themselves as the party of progressivism. Little attention was paid to Taft's success in initiating eighty antitrust suits and that Congress submitted to the states amendments for a Federal income tax and the direct election of senators.

A further problem for the Republicans was the rift that developed in the party. President Taft and Roosevelt publicly fell out, and this reverberated throughout the party. The Old Guard rallied around Taft and those who favoured faster paced reforms remained allies of Roosevelt. Taft's belief in the Supreme Court to oversee business was contrary to Roosevelt's aims of federal authority and agencies in this area. On foreign policy, Taft engaged in commercial competition with Japan in China, ahead of fostering relations with Japan. Roosevelt, who had previously declared that he had retired from politics, now announced that he wanted to run again in the 1912 presidential election. The Republican party was torn apart as he and Taft conducted a power struggle to secure the Republican presidential nomination. Although Roosevelt enjoyed huge popular support in the Republican party, Taft's forces controlled the party apparatus, and with this power he secured his nomination.

Although he ran for re-election, Taft did not enjoy the presidency. Following his defeat, he served as a Professor of Law at Yale until President Harding made him Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This appointment was, to Taft, his greatest honour. 'I don't remember that I was ever president,' he later wrote.6

Roosevelt and many of his followers bolted the party. In August 1912 they reconvened as delegates of the new Progressive party. Intellectuals, feminists, social workers and those who admired Roosevelt flocked to the party. Roosevelt's charter called for women's suffrage, the popular election of U.S. senators, and outlined a comprehensive social welfare program. But by splitting the Republican party Roosevelt had handed the Democrats a gild-edged opportunity to return to the White House's corridors of power. The Democratic candidate was Woodrow Wilson, the governor of New Jersey. Wilson had an excellent record as a progressive during his governorship, and the Democratic party campaigned as the party of reform.

The election came down to a contest between the Democrats and the Republicans. Guaranteed of Southern support, handed opportunities elsewhere by the Republican split, the Democrats had to gain the upper hand to secure Progressive votes. This they did with Wilson introducing his New Freedom economic program in response to Roosevelt's New Nationalism. Wilson secured the South, urban ethnic groups long loyal to the Democrats, and small-town, middle-class America. Wilson won a telling victory, though he polled only 41.9 percent of the popular vote. Roosevelt received only 27.4 percent and Taft only 23.2. In the electoral count Wilson led his rivals 435 to 88 and 8, and the Democrats carried both houses of Congress. The Democrats, who ran best in the areas of their traditional strength, had needed the Republican division to win. The returns were just as clearly a triumph for reform.

Informed and assisted by his subordinates, Wilson made his own major decisions and gave a personal stamp to his executive leadership. Right after his inauguration he called a special session of Congress to fulfill the Democratic pledge of tariff revision. But money would be needed to be raised elsewhere for this policy, and so his bill levied a modest graduated income tax, which ratification of the Sixteenth Amendment (which provided for an income tax) had legalised two months earlier. Wilson succeeded in getting the aims of his New Freedom economic program through the Senate, which had a Democratic majority of just three. He got the Federal Reserve Act passed which gave the U.S. its first efficient banking system since the era of Andrew Jackson. Wilson succeeded in passing enough social reforms that he could boast in 1916 that the Democratic party had &ldquocome very close to carrying out the platform of the Progressive party” as well as their own.

World War I-

President Wilson believed that countries should obey international law when dealing with other countries. His principals would be put to the test by the outbreak of World War I in August 1914. The United States declared itself neutral, but Wilson wanted their neutral rights of trade and use of the seas to be upheld. This caused problems both with Germany and Great Britain. German submarines sometimes accidentally hit American ships, or in the case of the Lusitania, British ships with Americans on board. But Wilson resisted cries to war from some quarters, including Roosevelt's. He expanded the army and navy in case, but did not spend the zillions on national defence that the war hawks demanded.

Against the backdrop of war, the presidential election in 1916 was held. The Republicans nominated Charles Evans Hughes, a successful reform governor of New York. Foreign policy became the core of the campaign for Hughes and President Wilson. Hughes argued that he would have been tougher on Germany for the Lusitania affair, which Wilson had ended by securing an eventual apoligy and reparations from the Germans. Hughes was damaged by German-American and Irish-American extremists who openly supported him. Wilson, on the other hand, could argue that he had kept America out of the war and that he had had a policy of reforms that would impress even the progressives. Despite carrying the South, the states west of the Mississippi and Ohio, Wilson won a tight election. The result came down to California, where the ballots were so close that Hughes went to bed thinking he would be the next president only to wake up and find Wilson had taken the state. In all, Wilson received 49.4 percent of the popular vote to 46.2 percent for Hughes and carried the Electoral College 277 to 254. Crucial to his victory had been the continued split in the Republican party, which had prevented some Republicans who were Roosevelt sympathisers voting for it.

During his re-election campaign Wilson was aware that the United States may yet be dragged into the war. America's demands for neutrality and freedom to operate on the open seas were untenable in the light of British and German naval aggression. America would have to sacrfice honour (by ceasing trading) or peace (by entering the war). Germany may have interpretated President Wilson's re-election as a sign that America was afraid of war and would attempt to avoid it.7 Germany's decision to resume unrestricted submarine warfare, probably on the above rationale, and their dalliances with Mexico tempting them to engage in hostilities with the United States eventually tipped the scales. War was declared on Germany as the Americans entered the Allied side.

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