Reform Under Taft During the Progressive Era
Reform Under Taft
William Howard Taft, who had served in Roosevelt’s cabinet, was elected president in 1908 with Roosevelt’s support. Taft continued many of the programs that Roosevelt had initiated. His administration filed nearly a hundred lawsuits against trusts. He set aside more public lands as reserves. He supported the elimination of child labor. He signed the Department of Labor into law. Under Taft, Congress passed laws mandating safer working conditions in mines and an 8-hour workday for the laborers in any company that did business with the federal government. Under Taft, the Sixteenth Amendment, providing for a federal income tax proportional to the amount a person earned, was proposed; it was ratified shortly after he left office.
Taft lost the support of Roosevelt and the progressive wing of the Republican Party when he signed the Payne–Aldrich Tariff into law. This tariff raised the prices of consumer goods and led people to accuse Taft of breaking faith with the voters. Taft also had a falling-out with Gifford Pinchot over the sale of a vast tract of land in Alaska to the timber industry. In fact, Taft had an extremely positive record on environmental and reform legislation, but the perception on the part of Roosevelt and the public was that he had failed. During the congressional elections of 1910, Roosevelt actively supported candidates who opposed Taft. His program, which he called New Nationalism, called for laws that would protect the people. The goals of New Nationalism were better and safer working conditions, improved public health, and the regulation of big business. “The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being,” stated Roosevelt.
Roosevelt decided to run for president again in 1912. When Taft won the Republican nomination in spite of the popularity of his opponent, Roosevelt’s supporters created the Progressive or “Bull Moose” Party and nominated Roosevelt as a third-party candidate. With the Republican voters divided between Roosevelt and Taft, the Democratic candidate—quiet, scholarly Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey—won in a landslide of electoral votes to become president in 1912. Like both Taft and Roosevelt, Wilson was a Progressive by inclination. He described his domestic agenda as the “New Freedom.”
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