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Republican Presidents Theodore Roosevelt & Taft Essay


Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was the 26th president of the United State having assumed power after the Assassination of the incumbent president William McKinley (Harbaugh 1).

He was born in 1858 to a wealth New York family, but this did not prevent him from ordinary struggles such as ill health. His rise to the presidency was unexpected, but his leadership skills were not in doubt. Some of the offices he held before the presidency included Assistant Navy secretary, Rough Rider’s colonel, New York Governor, New York assembly man and the US vice president.

Theodore Roosevelt won the 1901 presidential elections by a landslide victory. His immediate reaction was, “I am no longer a political accident” (White House 2). His years in presidency were markedly full of energy as reports indicate he thought himself as an appointed “steward of the people”.

This meant that his actions were guided by whatever he considered fit for the ordinary American citizens. For this reason, he went down in history as among the presidents who led congress through rigorous domestic reforms as well as through the adoption of stronger foreign policies.

He assumed power at a time when the US had taken up its first overseas empire and as a result, he and his government had to formulate policies that would protect that empire. One of the successful ways that he accomplished this was by strengthening the country’s army and the navy (O’Brien 349).

These would be his government’s tools for bullying other countries into submission. Using the same tools, he was able to obtain land to build the Panama Canal, and also managed to keep other countries from interfering in issues that took place in the western hemisphere as well as in Latin America.

His actions as well as his utterances put the entire world on notice that indeed the US was attaining the world power status. The only restrictions to how much reforms T Roosevelt could carry out was the constitution. Defending his actions latter after his presidency, he stated that, “I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power” (Whitehouse (a) 2).

On assuming power in 1901 at only 42 years old, Roosevelt had indicated that he would carry on with some of McKinley’s Policies. However, he also made it clear that he would seek to establish a legacy as an independent president (O’Brien et al 349). And so he set out to work as the president of the United States consequently becoming known as one of the vigorous presidents that the country had ever had. Consequently, he was well loved by the American people.

Roosevelt endeared himself to the people by embracing the progressivism reform movement that many of his country men had embraced. He was also a president who preached peace, social change and morality. When dealing with economic policies and politics, Roosevelt retained a non-radical stance thus allowing as many people to voice their opinions on what ought to have been done in politics and economic matters (O’Brien et al. 349).

T Roosevelt’s favorite phrase as state by the White House Website was “Speak softly but carry a big stick”, which has been translated to mean that the power of persuasion can help America achieve much both within its borders and internationally. To the ordinary American, T Roosevelt was a dream president who not only considered the interests of workers, business people and farmers in pushing for reform.

To the giant corporations operating in the country at the time, T Roosevelt was like a bad dream come true especially because he pushed for more government regulation on them, eventually leading to the creation of anti-trust laws. This meant that the corporations which could not toe the regulations could easily be dissolved.

In 1902 for example, just a year after he was elected president, he directed the justice system to use the Sherman anti-trust laws to challenge the Railroad monopoly held by the Northern Securities Company. This led to the dissolution of the railroad monopoly, which was jointly owned by some wealthy business men. Due to his actions against the monopolies, he earned the reputation of a trust buster (O’Brien 349).

In his first State of the Union address, soon after taking over power, T Roosevelt stated that he was quite sire that most Americans were convinced that trusts, which were the big corporations had specific features and operational tendencies that hurt the general welfare of other people in the society (Roosevelt 16).

He explained that the need to regulate the trusts was not motivated by personal envy. Nor was a lack of pride in the achievement that some of the corporations had attained. Rather, he stated that he was deeply convicted that “Combination and concentration should be, not prohibited, but supervised and within reasonable limits controlled…” (Roosevelt 16). Considering that the big businesses at that time were considered to engage in cunning business practices that did not work harmoniously with other American businesses.

Domestic policies

During his time, T Roosevelt also pushed for the Bureau of Corporations, which was meant to investigate the operations of interstate Corporations. His actions then were triggered by the extended coal strike that affected the whole country. His intervention in the strike was good news for the workers, since their employers were able to allow then a favorable settlement.

To avoid similar strikes in the labor market, Roosevelt recommended the establishment of the Bureau of Corporations. During this time, he also voiced his support for conservation of America’s coal deposits, rivers, lakes and natural forests (O’Brien et al. 349). He also saw to it that the regulations on railroads were strengthened as well as regulations regarding drugs and food industries.

What is revered as Roosevelt’s significant achievement during his years as president was however the “transfer of 125 million areas of public land into forest reserves” (Harbaugh 4). As a result of Roosevelt’s actions, 51 wildlife sanctuaries were established, 16 national monuments constructed and national parks through out the country doubled.

Overall, T Roosevelt’s domestic policy revolved around promoting reforms in the civil service and the country labor. He went down in history as the president who took the plight of workers at heart especially after realizing the appalling working and living conditions they were exposed to.

He also discontinued the greedy practices of greedy businesspeople much to their chagrin (5). As a result, he earned a name for himself as the agitator for the rights of the ordinary Americans and a president who acted against the special interest of the wealthy and often greedy people. According to Tindall & Shi, T Roosevelt was also responsible for involving government in social welfare where the poor too were to be assisted to some extent by government in their day to day living (717).

His dedication to the creation of a better civil service and his interest in eliminating corruption in government culminated in his support of the Pendleton Act, which sought to replace political appointment with a merit-based system, which would ensure that only people qualified to handle government jobs would be appointed to the positions.

During his time, Roosevelt used every possible allowance in the constitution to extend the executive powers. As a result, Tindall & Shi notes that he was able to correct the deficiency in power that had existed in the executive branch of governance since the country gained independence (717). This is also believed to be the reason that he was able to achieve so many reforms in the country.

T Roosevelt’s accomplishments during the first term led to a successful re-election in 1904 defeating the democratic candidate by a wide margin. In his second term, he continued pushing for reforms among which was the square deal. He however faced opposition in congress as most members therein felt that Roosevelt’s stand against the wealthy and often powerful business people was unwarranted (O’Brien 350).

Some of his accomplishments in the second term included the enactment of the Hepburn Act, which empowered the interstate commerce commission to enforce regulations on rail services and rates. He also saw to the enactment of the “Pure Food and Drug Act” as well as the “Meat Inspection Act”.

The Hepburn Act

Morris (446) states that “The enactment of this Act epitomes the realization of one of Roosevelt’s main goal in power: regulating the railroad”. The bill had received such an overwhelming support in Congress that only votes were cast against it).

As stated by Morris, “ In the Act, Interstate Commerce Commission was given the mandate to set maximum rates (which had to meet the ‘just and reasonable’ criteria) to be used on the railroads, and was also given the authority to discontinue the free passes that had been issued to people considered loyal shippers” (446).

The Pure Food and Drug Act

This act was passed by congress in 1906 and sought to regulate opiate addiction in the country by requiring all drugs that contained opium in their ingredients to state so on their labels (Acts, bills and laws 1). This was done in the wake of heightened awareness about risks posed by careless food and drug preparations, which were increasing drug addictions in the American society.

Though this was not a Roosevelt an entirely Roosevelt initiative, the president, just like other members of the Congress saw sense in the evidenced presented to them by one doctor Harvey Wiley, who had found out that harmful preservatives had been used previously by meat-packers. There was also evidence that patent medicines were heightening drug addiction among deliberate drug users as well as unsuspecting Americans (Acts, Bills and Laws 1).

With the enactment of the Act, the “Food and Drug Administration” was established and given the responsibility of ensuring that all drugs and food items were adequately tested and certified as fit for human consumption. Further, the Act required patients to have written prescriptions from certified physicians before any drug store could sell them specific drugs.

More to this, the manufacturer of “habit-forming” drugs was required by law to label their drugs appropriately so as to ensure that any consumer of the same had the full knowledge of the drug’s ingredients (Acts, Bills and Laws 3). Though lawmakers in Congress were initially reluctant, ‘Acts, Bills and Laws’ reports that the involvement of Roosevelt, who was repulsed by the practices used in some slaughterhouses across America helped to overcome some of the reluctance held by the members of congress (4).

Meat Inspection Act

This act was enacted in 1906 at the height of an uproar created by Upton Sinclair’s book the Jungle which described the disgusting conditions and methods used by meat packers when packing meat and other foods items.

In his book, Sinclair had stated that canned beef could very well be from sick cattle, while improper labeling led to consumers getting different contents from what they labeled can stated. “A can of beef might contain meat from sick cattle. Ground rats and even rat dung might find its way into sausage. Often no chicken was in cans that were labeled as ‘canned chicken’” (McPherson 83).

On enactment, the Meat Inspection Act required the department of agriculture to carry thorough inspections on all livestock intended for human consumption before they could finally be released to slaughterhouses. The Act also sought to ensure that the slaughtering and processing of meat and poultry products was done in hygienic conditions.

More to this, the Act made the postmortem inspection of all carcasses a mandatory procedure in all slaughterhouses. The manufacturers also had to ensure that their products were properly branded under the new act in order to avoid misleading consumers.

Panama Canal

McPherson (83) indicates that “having used the increased US dominance to acquire land where the Panama Canal would be constructed, president T Roosevelt had started the construction project in 1903 and carried on with the same during his second term”. Still McPherson states that “the project was borne by the need to create a connection route between the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans” (92).

Also stated by Tindall & Shi is that “In 1906, T Roosevelt won the Nobel peace Prize for his significant contribution in mediating the Russo-Japanese War” (717). His efforts contributed to the eventual end of the war. More to this, T Roosevelt also advocated for the enactment of the “gentleman’s agreement”, an agreement between Japan and the United States, which sought to curb the immigration of Japanese nationals to the United States.

Conclusion

T Roosevelt was not only a president who had the interest of the American people at heart, he was also a charismatic person who held virtues such as integrity and morality in a high pedestal. Some of his personal principles made the congress resent him, but the support he enjoyed from the American people always ensured that he was in the good books of the electorate.

His persuasion skills and his good relations with the press also ensured that he got the public support that was needed to pressurize even the reluctant Congress to establish laws that were favorable to the American citizens. His main weakness is however identified as his lack of consistency in collaborating with Congress (Tindall & Shi 717). This jeopardized his ability to enforce as many changes in governance as he would have wished.

President William H. Taft

William Taft took over from T Roosevelt in 1908. Consequently, he became the 27th US president. The support he received from the popular T Roosevelt pushed him to power on a republican ticket, and political analysts state that his bid for presidency was almost too easy especially because he was riding on the support he received from people who supported T Roosevelt. Four years later when T Roosevelt could not support him due to ideological differences, Taft did not succeed in his re-election bid.

In his short stay in office however, Taft had his own policies, promises and beliefs despite having come to power on the promise to carry on the reforms that T Roosevelt had started. In Addition to trust-busting, supporting the Roosevelt established Interstate Commerce Commission and reforming the civil service, Taft sough to improve the operations of the American Postal service. It was also during his tenure that the sixteenth amendment.

According to the white house website, Taft was a distinguished jurist before running for president and also an effective administrator. However, he failed the test of being a good president because he did not know how to handle the wars in his government (1). He especially did not know how to handle the battles going on between the conservative politician and the progressives. As a result, he got little or no credit for the achievements that the government made during this regime.

Writing later about the campaigns that led him to the presidency, Taft stated that the campaign period was “one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life” (Benson 69; Whitehouse (a) 4). On taking on power, he was not as intent as Roosevelt in stretching presidential powers. Most notably, his legal background made him a believer in the constitution and thus he thought president should strictly stick to the powers clearly provided by the constitution.

Anti-trust laws

Among his notable achievements as a president was the initiation of 80 anti-trust laws, which were obviously a continuation of trust-busting that Roosevelt had started (Whitehouse (a) 6). The number of anti-trust suits that were instigates under his regime was twice as many compared to Roosevelt’s two terms in office (United States History 2).

“Some of the major victories that his government had won included the suit against the American Tobacco Company and the Standard Oil” (United States History 5). When his regime instituted a suit against US steel and Morgan however, former president Roosevelt criticized Taft stating that he lacked the knowledge on what trusts to bust, and the trusts that were toeing the regulation and hence deserved being left alone.

According to the United States History website, Taft reconsidered the trust-busting tendencies of his regime since 1911 (3). This was partly motivated by advice he received from his friends and the fact that he thought busting the large corporations was reflecting negative on the country’s economy. This was not however before he had started government regulation on the booming telegraph and telephone sectors (History central 6).

Tax reforms

In the 1908 campaigns, Taft had promised that his government would institute tax reforms in the country (United States History 4). On assuming office, Taft seemed to have a deliberate effort to pursue the same (Randolph 6). However, he lacked the energy needed to fight for this promise and when the Payne-Aldrich Tariff was introduced, he accepted the same. In the midst of all this, interests groups against the tariff reduction waged a counter-war against congress’s action managing to raise their tariffs on specific items.

The Payne-Aldrich tariff was a response by senate on tariff reduction. The author of the bill was a multi-billionaire senator who had every intention to ensure that the tariffs were not revised downwards. As a result, the bill not only lowered few tariffs, but also increased many rates (Rumsch 34).

History Central records that although Taft had made a commitment to the American people about lowering the tariffs, his wishes was swept away by congress when only a five percent tariff reduction margin was passed by congress. More specifically, congress reduced the average tariffs from 46 percent to 41 percent.

Overall, tariffs of 650 items were lowered, while the same on 220 items were raised, while another 1,150 items had no tariff revisions whatsoever. During his regime, members of congress passed amendments that recommended senators to be directly elected by the people during national elections. Taft reported signed the bill stating that the tariffs therein were better than the previous learning.

Postal reforms

Taft’s regime was also responsible for establishing a savings system under the postal services (United States History (a) 10). Under the new reforms, which stretched to other areas of the civil service, postmasters and other civil servants were given security of tenure. Before these reforms, civil servants would usually be laid off at the end of every administrative term.

Further, the Interstate Commerce Commission, whose re-alignment had started in the Roosevelt regime, was further directed to ensure that all railroad rates were set at affordable and considerate rates.

Dollar Diplomacy

The Dollar Diplomacy was Taft’s initiation and epitomized his unique way of handling foreign policy (History Central 7). His approach was activist in nature often using the military for its might in the promotion of American interests oversees. When questioned about the same, he stated that it was not only a good policy, but also an extension of what president Monroe had successfully used.

In this type of diplomacy, dollars were exchanged with bullets whenever the country had an interest (Colleta 186).. He also used this a means through which the United States could invest in the infrastructure of developing countries in Asia and Latin America thus building the American relations with the beneficiary countries.

According to History Central however, Taft was a major believer that international disputes were best solved through arbitration. His regime however never faced major international conflict. He however ordered the marines to intervene in Nicaragua. Amid internal government disputes, Taft had sent the US marines to Nicaragua in order to protect the American interests and properties therein. This was to be the first among many American interventions in the country.

Conservation policies seemed to take a back seat in the Taft administration. According to History Central, the major disappointment under Taft’s administration was the appointment of Richard Ballinger to hear the Interior department. Ballinger was one of Roosevelt’s critics and was especially against the conservation efforts by the former regime that has seen to the moving of public land as reserve.

This meant that he had every intention to open up the land which Roosevelt had put under reserves to people interested in using it for commercial purposes. Ballinger’s action led to a controversy between him and Louis Glavis, who was an employee in the Interior government and a supporter of Roosevelt’s long-time friend Gifford Pichot.

This was the infamous Ballinger-Pinchot controversy that arose because the former argued that Ballinger was wrong in opening the coal fields in Alaska to private miners (United States History (c) 2).

While an investigation conducted on the matter exonerated Ballinger of any wrongdoing, and in fact upheld his decision on opening the Alaska mines, the controversy really never ended in the public eyes and was in fact thought to have contributed to the withdrawal of support by Roosevelt on Taft’s administration and re-election. This was further complicated by the sacking of Pichot.

ICC

In business regulation, United States History notes that Taft succeeded in urging Congress to enhance ICC’s powers. This was through Mann-Elkins Act which was enacted in 1910.

Under the new ACT, the ICC was given the mandate of suspending or fixing railroad rates as the organization saw fit. The ICC mandate was also extended to control telegraphs, telephones and radio transmission. Under the act, the commerce commission that would operate interstate was also established to handle all matters rising from the ICC (United States History (a) 7).

Taft’s administration also undertook executive reform whereby the departments of commerce and labor which were previously joined were separated. This was in response to continuing complexity and intensity of labor issues catching the administration’s attention (United States History (a) 8).

Constitutional reforms

Constitutional reforms were the next big thing for the Taft administration. The president was in the fore front of efforts to ratify the 16th amendment, which would authorize federal income taxes. The amendment had received support from unlikely quotas, mainly comprising of people who supported tax reforms (United States History (a) 8).

They argued that the ratification of the 16 amendment was necessary of the president’s promise of revising tariffs downwards was to become a reality. As noted elsewhere in this essay, the Taft administration recommended the direct election of Senators. This was legally entrenched in the constitution through the 17th amendment which received direct support from President Taft.

Under Taft’s regime, Arizona and New Mexico finally joined the Union (United States History (b) 9). Though the president had initially put a veto on state bills presented to him, his contention was mainly because the bill required that judges could be recalled under the state constitutions. To appease the president, the drafters of this bill had to remove the judges recall provision. When this was done, Taft finally gave his consent thus allowing the two states (Arizona and New Mexico) to formally become part of the Union.

Congressional reforms

There were also congressional reforms that took place under Taft’s watch. However, as noted elsewhere in this essay, the president was overwhelmed by the in-fighting in congress and hence could not take all the credit for all the achievements. Most notably also is the fact that a lot of congressional reform came straight from congress itself and not from the executive.

This then suggests that Taft was not as vibrant in enhancing congressional reform. According to United States History (a), the Congress led congressional reforms were mainly as a result of the conduct of Joseph Cannon who was the sitting speaker at the time (10). He was notorious for thwarting all reforms brought to the house by congress men.

Further, he has the powers to appoint people to lead congress committees. Furious about Cannon’s conduct, Congressmen under the leadership of George Norris mobilized efforts to change how congress conducted its business. With majority members supporting such changes, they managed to force the speaker into submission. Among the changes instituted included taking the power to appoint committee members from the speaker and granting it to congressmen. The changes also enhanced the powers of house committees.

Overall, Howard Taft is perceived by analyst as a president who relied more on judicial administration rather than activism to lead the country (Miller Center of public affairs 6). His propensity to think over things before implementing decisions made many people perceive him as not only an indecisive president, but also an ineffectual president. This means that his presidency was largely seen as a failure despite having had some admirable achievements during the single term.

His worst reaction came to the fore when he faced criticism from Roosevelt and his friends especially after reneging on some of the conservation gains attained in the former regime.

When this happened, Miller Center of Public Affairs observes that Taft gave up on trust-busting activities and recoiled to a conservatism position (6). Of essence was hi reluctance to use federal authority granted to the president to enact the 15th amendment, which would have give African-Americans equal rights to participate in general elections (Colleta 28).

This failure by Taft that the government carried on with voting requirements that locked American citizens of African origin from the electioneering process. Colleta (28) states that; during his regime, lynching was a common practice by the white population especially residing in the South”.

The main targets for this practice were the black community. While the president was fully aware of this, he did nothing to stop it. Whenever his believes were tested however, Taft always stood for what he believed was true. Colleta continue to indicate that “Taft had always supported free immigration and hence when a law that restricted immigration to the United States based on one’s literacy test was passed by Congress, Taft failed to assent it stating that it would inhibit free immigration” (42).

Conclusion

Taft had his fair share of successes. Among his dominant accomplishment were in trust-busting activities, reforms in the civil service and in the rail road reform.

He however palled in comparison with Theodore Roosevelt. Unfortunately, the American public seemed to gauge his accomplishments based in Roosevelt’s character. In reality, the two presidents were very distinct. Roosevelt was blunt, daring, confrontation and likeable to the people. More so, he knew how to mobilize support for his policies and he was always ready to confront his opponents.

Taft on the other hand was the extreme opposite of Roosevelt both in personality and in his approach to governance. He not only had a bland personality that neither appealed to congressmen, but was also unappealing to the American people. He also avoided controversies and believed in toeing the law as stated in the constitution. This explains why he did not approve of Roosevelt mode of governance where executive powers were extended.

As a result of his demeanor, he was not a people’s favorite as was the case with Roosevelt. He however had his accomplishment, which were blotted by his personality traits, and failures in his regime which included failing to meet the tariff promises made during his presidential campaigns and his affront on conservation issues when he allowed coal mines in Alaska to be re-opened for use by private minors.

Works Cited

Acts, Bills and Laws. 1906-The Theodore Roosevelt Administration. Pure Food and Drug Act. Web.

Benson, Michael. William H. Taft. New York: Twenty-First Century Books, 2004. Print.

Coletta, Paolo, Enrico. Presidency of William Howard Taft. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1973. Print

Harbaugh, William. . 1996. Web.

History Central. . 2000. Web.

Mcpherson, Stephanie. Theodore Roosevelt. Breckenridge, CO: Twenty-First Century Books, 1972. Print.

Miller Center of Public Affairs. William Howard Taft (1857-1930): A life in Brief. 2010. Web.

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001. Print.

O’Brien, Steven, McQuire, Paula & McPherso, James. American Political leaders: from Colonial times to the present. Berlin: Verlag für die Deutsche Wirtschaft AG, 1991. Print.

Randolph, Ryan. How to draw the life and times of William Howard Taft. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2006. Print

Roosevelt, Theodore. State of the Union Address. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2008. Print.

Rumsch, BreAnn. William Taft. New Jersey: ABDO Group, 2009. Print.

The White House (a). 26. . Web.

The White House (b). 27. William H. Taft 1909-1913. Web.

Tindall, George & Shi, David. America: A narrative History. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004. Print

United States History (a). . 2009. Web.

United States History (b). . 2009. Web.

United States History (c). . 2009. Web.

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