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PROGRESSIVISM UNDER WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT

Many historians regard Taft as the real trustbuster. More antitrust lawsuits went to court when he was president than during the Roosevelt presidency, although some of them had begun during the Roosevelt administration. In the 1908 presidential election, William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt’s hand-picked successor, defeated three-time candidate William Jennings Bryan. In the campaign, Bryan continually came across as supporting more progressive measures than Taft did, Taft did promise to follow Roosevelt’s progressive legacy, and to some degree, he followed through on this; during his presidency the Sherman Antitrust Act was used against another 95 corporations.

However, Taft never had the personal magnetism that Roosevelt possessed, and totally unlike Roosevelt, he deferred on important issues to the Congress. Taft was influenced by the conservative wing of the Republican party, which opposed additional progressive reforms. His support of the Payne-Adrich Tariff Act of 1909 further angered progressives, who usually viewed tariffs as hurting the lower classes (since to pay for them the prices of goods were usually higher).

Progressives in the Republican party finally took action against Taft after the Ballinger-Pinchot Affair. Richard A. Ballinger was Secretary of the Interior under Taft and allowed private business interests to gain access to several million acres of land in Alaska. A close friend of Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot, headed the Forest Service. When Pinchot protested against Ballinger’s actions in front of a congressional committee, Taft proceeded to fire him. Progressives now labeled Taft as being anti-environment.

Progressive Republicans began to campaign against Taft and the “old guard” of pro-business Republicans. In the 1910 congressional primaries, Taft campaigned against several of these progressives. Theodore Roosevelt, just back from an extended trip to Africa, campaigned for a number of these Republican progressives. His speeches called for more progressive reforms, especially in the workplace, Roosevelt called his program for reform the New Nationalism. Roosevelt called again and again for a greatly expanded role of the federal government. As a result of the 1920 congressional elections, progressives dominated the United States Senate.

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