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Progressivism started off as a political movement with beliefs in government intervention. Progressives wanted to protect people’s rights against corruption and to fight against the effects of industrialisation. They appealed for social justice with causes such as women’s suffrage and protection of the environment. In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt formed a separate Progressive Party nicknamed the ‘Bull Moose Party’. Roosevelt used this as a vehicle to run for presidency against William Howard Taft, although he was defeated, the Progressive Party continued to exist as a separate force until 1916.
On the one hand Theodore Roosevelt was the most important factor in the development of progressivism as he was much more proactive than his predecessors with his progressive beliefs. With the Republican Party originally siding with big businesses, Roosevelt was considered a controversial president, instead choosing to impose anti-trust measures to protect smaller businesses instead and because of his attacks on corruption. He was dedicated to environmental issues, being the first president to realise that natural sources were not infinite and in his years of office, protected almost 280 million acres. Roosevelt’s anti-trust measures used the Sherman Act to try and control the trusts, e.g. by preventing Northern Securities from controlling too many railroads. He then embarked on 44 anti-trust prosecutions, including American Tobacco and Standard Oil. Roosevelt then became more successful in 1902 when he forced arbitration in the anthracite coal strike. Roosevelt summoned both the locked out miners who went on strike for better wages and the employers to Washington where he told the employers to agree to arbitration otherwise he would send in troops to work the mines. As a result of this, Roosevelt then raised wages and offered a nine-hour working day for the miners. Due to these actions and his anti-trust measures, Roosevelt became very popular with the working classes and he was seen to expand the role of government to obtain justice and fair play, which was what progressivism was stood for.
On the other hand, Roosevelt was not the most important factor in the development of progressivism with other factors such as Woodrow Wilson’s democratic successes and William Howard Taft’s legislations. Taft carried on Republican domination over the Democrats for four more years and continued Roosevelt’s anti-trust policies, introducing an 8-hour day for government employees and mine safety legislation. He also supported the elimination of child labour, signing the Department of Labour into law. However Woodrow Wilson was seen as much more progressive than Taft as Wilson was an organised and skilful politician who argued for a stronger central government and adopted many progressive ideas in his policies, such as fighting for anti-trust legislation and labour rights. Wilson’s foreign policy emphasised the need for a peaceful and ethical approach to foreign affairs and he instituted the Federal Reserve System to reform the national economy.
In conclusion, many factors were important in the development of progressivism, such as William Howard Taft’s elimination of child labour and his continuation of Roosevelt’s anti-trust policies, and Woodrow Wilson’s Federal Reserve System and developed anti-trust legislations. However, Theodore Roosevelt can be argued to be the most important factor in the development of Progressivism as he revolted against his own party’s policies instead choosing to favour workers by introducing anti-trust measures to protect smaller businesses and being the first president to focus on conservation and natural sources.
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