Progressive Reform and Trusts

Printable Version

Digital History ID 3823

Progressive Reform and the Trusts

Interpreting Statistics

The dull, purblind folly of the very rich men; their greed and arrogance...and the corruption in business and politics, have tended to produce a very unhealthy condition of excitement and irritation in the popular mind, which shows itself in the great increase in the socialistic propaganda.

Theodore Roosevelt, 1906

I think we are in a position, after the experience of the last 20 years, to state two things: in the first place, that a corporation may well be too large to be the most efficient instrument of production and distribution, and, in the second place, whether it has exceeded the point of greatest economic efficiency or not, it may be too large to be tolerated among the people who desire to be free.

Louis Brandeis, 1911

1898 was the beginning of great industrial organization....Within a period of three years following, 149 such reorganizations were effected with total stock and bond capitalization of $3,784,000,000....The success of these [re-]organization led quickly on to a consolidation of combined industries, until a mere handful of men controlled the industrial production of the country....

No student of the economic changes in recent years can escape the conclusion that the railroads, telegraphs, shipping, cable, telephone, traction, express, mining, iron, steel, coal, oil, gas, electric light, cotton, copper, sugar, tobacco, agricultural implements and the food products are completely controlled and mainly owned by these hundred men....With this enormous concentration of business it is possible to create, artificially, periods of prosperity and periods of panic. Prices can be lowered or advanced at the will of the "System."

Robert LaFollette, 1908

If the anti-trust people really grasped the full meaning of what they said, and if they really had the power or the courage to do what they propose, they would be engaged in one of the most destructive agitations that America has known. They would be breaking up the beginning of collective organization, thwarting the possibility of cooperation, and insisting upon submitting industry to the wasteful, the planless scramble of little profiteers.

Walter Lippman, 1914

The effort to restore competition as it was sixty years ago, and to trust for justice solely to this proposed restoration of competition, is just as foolish as if we should go back to the flintlocks of Washington's continentals as a substitute for modern weapons of precision....Our purpose should be, not to strangle business as an incident of strangling combinations, but to regulate big corporations in a thoroughgoing and effective fashion, so as to help legitimate business as an incident to thoroughly and completely safeguarding the interests of the people as a whole.

Theodore Roosevelt

Attempt to sweep the country back into the old era of ruthless competition, which would be the direct consequence of a vigorous enforcement of the Sherman [Anti-Trust] law, and there will return the evils of deceit and fraud in business, violent fluctuations in prices, the deliberate driving to the wall of weak concerns, and the eventual creation of monopolies by survivors.

George W. Perkins

The Democratic party insists that competition can and should be maintained in every branch of private industry; that competition can be and should be restored in those branches of industry in which it has been suppressed by the trusts; and that, if at any future time monopoly should appear to be desirable in any branch of industry, the monopoly should be a public one--a monopoly owned by the people and not by the capitalists.

Louis D. Brandeis

In particular, the party declares for direct primaries for the nomination of State and National offices, for nation wide preferential primaries for candidates for the presidency; for the direct election of United States Senators by the people; and we urge on the states...the initiative, referendum, and recall....

The Progressive party, believing that no people can justly claim to be a true democracy which denies equal political rights on account of sex, pledges itself to the task of securing equal suffrage to men and women alike.

We pledge our party to legislation that will compel strict limitation of all campaign contributions and expenditures, and detailed publicity of both before as well as after primaries and election....

The Progressive party demands such restriction of the power of the courts all leave to the people the ultimate authority to determine fundamental questions of social welfare and public policy....We believe that the issuance of injunctions in cases arising out of labor disputes should be prohibited when such injunctions would not apply when no labor disputes existed....

We pledge ourselves to work...for:
Effective legislation looking to the prevention of industrial accidents, occupational diseases, overwork, involuntary unemployment, and other injurious effects incident to modern industry;
The fixing of minimum safety and health standards....
The prohibition of child labor;
Minimum wage standards for working women, to provide a "living wage" in all industrial occupations;
The general prohibition of night work for women and the establishment of eight hour day for women and young persons;
One day's rest in seven for all wage workers;
The eight hour day in continuous twenty-four-hour industries;
The abolition of the convict contract-labor system....
Standards of compensation for death by industrial accident and injury and trade disease which will transfer the burden of lost earnings from the families of working people to the industry, and thus to the community....
Establishing...schools for industrial education under public control and encouraging agricultural education and demonstration in rural schools;
The establishment of industrial research laboratories to put the methods and discoveries of science at the service of American producers;
We favor the organization of the workers, men and women, as means protecting their interests and of promoting their progress....

We believe that the remaining forests, coal and oil lands, water powers and other natural resources still in State or National control (exception agricultural lands) are more likely to be wisely conserved and utilized for the general welfare if held in the public hands.

Progressive Party Platform, 1912

We have itemized with some degree of particularity the things that ought to be altered: A tariff which cuts us off from our proper part in the commerce of the world, violates the just principles of taxation, and makes the government a facile instrument in the hands of private interests; a banking and currency system based upon the necessity of the government to sell its bonds fifty years ago and perfectly adapted to concentrating cash and restricting credits; an industrial system which, take it on all its sides, financial as well as administrative, holds capital in leading strings, restricts the liberties and limits the opportunities of labor, and exploits without renewing or conserving the natural resources of the country....

President Wilson's first inaugural address, 1913

Questions To Think About

1. Why were Progressives concerned about industrial concentration?

2. What should government do about concentrated economic power? Should it create regulate competition or should it break up big business?

3. Compare and contrast the platforms of the Progressive and Democratic parties.

Study Aid

Progressive Legislation 
New York State Tenement House Law Requires fire escapes, lights in dark hallways, a window in each room
Maryland Workmen's Compensation Law   Provide benefits for workers injured on the job 
Wisconsin Direct Primary Law Allows voters to select candidates 
Oregon Initiative and Referendum laws Gives voters power to initiate legislation and vote on important issues
Newlands Act  Funds irrigation projects in West 
Oregon women's labor law Limits work for women in industry to 10 hours a day 
Elkins Act  Strengthens Interstate Commerce Act 
Hepburn Act  Authorizes Interstate Commerce Commission to set maximum railroad rates
Pure Food and Drug Act  Prohibits sale of adulterated or fraudulently labeled foods and drugs
Meat Inspection Act  Enforces sanitary conditions in meatpacking plants 
Mann Act  Prohibits interstate transportation of women for immoral purposes 
16th Amendment  Authorizes federal income tax 
Seaman's Act  Regulates conditions of maritime workers 

Federal Farm Loan Act  Provide farmers with low interest loans 
Federal Child Labor Law  Barred products produced by children from interstate commerce (declared unconstitutional in 1918)  
18th Amendment  Prohibited sale and production of intoxicating liquors 
19th Amendment   Gave women the right to vote 


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