|RETURN||The Progressive Era (1890s to
As America emerged from the depression of the 1890s the resumption of economic growth was accompanied by a widespread demand for economic and social reform at home and a new assertion of American influence abroad. Domestically, the turn of the century brought sweeping measures to clean up government at all levels, including the cities, many of which were hotbeds of civic corruption and crime. When President McKinley was assassinated and succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt in 1902 this reform movement was accelerated and extended to improving health, education and other services. Government regulation of business was also greatly strengthened through measures which sought to curb business excesses in the utilization of natural resources, to protect consumers from fraudulent business practices, and to strengthen the Sherman Anti-Trust legislation. Such initiatives were much more restrained under Roosevelt’s successor William Howard Taft (in office from 1909 to 1913) but the slowing of reform brought about formation of the Progressive Party which ran Theodore Roosevelt for office in the election of 1912 in opposition to the official Republican nominee Taft. This split in the Republican movement, however, enabled the Democratic contender, Woodrow Wilson, to win the presidency on a platform of lower tariffs and vigorous curtailment of the powers of big business.
Under Wilson the economic power of the federal government was greatly expanded. Under the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution (actually approved by the preceding administration) the federal government had been put in a position to raise vastly increased revenues by imposing taxes on incomes. In 1913 a peculiarly American system of central banking was set up with the establishment of the Federal Reserve System which had authority to oversee monetary policy. The Clayton Anti-Trust Act of 1914 put new teeth in the anti-monopoly apparatus which was also strengthened by the establishment of the Fair Trade Commission in the same year. A step was made in the direction of federal intervention in industrial relations with enactment of legislation to regulate hours of labor on the railroads.
Oddly, this period of reform was also marked by retrograde developments in the racial situation. Many state governments in the south imposed so-called "Jim Crow" laws which in effect legalized segregation of blacks. (The US Supreme Court in 1896 upheld segregation so long as blacks were given access to "separate but equal" facilities.) In 1910 the National Association For The Advancement Of Colored People (NAACP) was founded to resist such conditions, but its efforts were to have limited success for another 50 years.
American economic and political involvement abroad was another conspicuous feature of the Progressive Era. As the industrial sector expanded, many American businesses began looking for markets abroad to supplement the domestic market. How significant a factor this was in shaping the foreign policy of the US during this period is much contested in the literature, but the increasingly interventionist stance of America is beyond dispute. When Cuba revolted against Spanish rule in 1895 the Americans promptly became involved and as an outcome of the Spanish-American War with Spain (1898) , the US acquired control over Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean and over the Philippines and Guam in the Pacific. The Hawaiian Islands were annexed in 1898. Two years later the United States intervened in China, declaring that China’s independence would be supported and that China would be open to trade with the rest of the world. This aggressive policy of foreign involvement was further advanced under Theodore Roosevelt who obtained control over the Panama canal project in 1903 and the following year proclaimed that the US had the right to intervene in any country of the Western Hemisphere if such were necessary to prevent "wrongdoing". Under Roosevelt the US Navy was greatly strengthened and in 1907 a massive flotilla was dispatched on a world cruise to demonstrate what a great power the US had become.