CHAPTER XXI. POLITICS, 1908-1912
Coincidently with the partial disintegration of the conservative wing of the Republican party in Congress, there was passed a large volume of legislation of the type desired by the insurgents. The public land laws were improved; acts requiring the use of safety appliances on railroads were strengthened; a Bureau of Mines was established to study the welfare of the miners; a postal savings bank system was erected; and an Economy and Efficiency Commission appointed to examine the several administrative departments so as to discover wasteful methods of doing business. Of especial importance was the Mann-Elkins Act of June 18, 1910, which further extended the powers of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Experience had brought out serious defects in the rate-fixing procedure set up by the Hepburn Act. By that law, to be sure, a shipper could complain that the roads were charging him an unreasonable rate and the Commission might, in course of time, uphold him and order relief; but in the meantime the shipper, especially if he were a small one, might be crushed out of existence through the large rates, and the consuming public would have paid increased prices for commodities with no possibility of a remuneration to them, even if the Commission decided that the rates levied were unreasonably high. The Mann-Elkins law, therefore, provided that the Commission might suspend any proposed change in rates for a period not greater than ten months, and decide during that time whether it was reasonable and should go into effect or not. In this way the burden of proving the justice of a suggested change was placed upon the railroads.
An act of June 25, 1910, which was amended a year later, required the publication of the names of persons contributing to the federal campaign funds of the political parties, and the amounts contributed, as well as a detailed account of the expenditures of the committees and the purposes for which the expenses were incurred. President Taft also urged the passage of an income tax amendment to the federal Constitution and indicated that he was in favor of an amendment providing for the popular election of senators. Amendments for both these purposes passed Congress; but they were not ratified and put into effect until 1913.
In June, 1910, Roosevelt returned from Africa whither he had gone for a hunting trip, after the inauguration of President Taft. Both elements in the Republican party were anxious for his sympathy and support. Roosevelt himself seems to have desired to remain outside the arena, at least for a time, but for many reasons permanent separation from politics was impossible. He became a candidate for the position of temporary chairman of the New York Republican State Convention against Vice-President James S. Sherman. The contest in the convention brought out opposition to him on the part of the old-guard, and his triumph left that wing of the party dissatisfied and disunited. During the summer and autumn of 1910 he made extensive political tours. At Ossawatomie, Kansas, he developed the platform of the "New Nationalism," which included more thorough control of corporations, and progressive legislation in regard to income taxes, conservation, the laboring classes, primary elections at which the people could nominate candidates for office, and the recall of elective officials before the close of their terms. He urged such vigorous use of the powers of the federal government that there should be no "neutral ground" between state and nation, to serve as a refuge for law-breakers. Critics pointed out that these proposals had been urged by the insurgents and the followers of Bryan, and there could be no doubt where the sympathies of Roosevelt lay in the factional dispute within the Republican party.
While conditions within the organization were such as were indicated by the hostile criticism of the Payne-Aldrich act, by the Pinchot-Ballinger controversy, the overturn of Speaker Cannon and the disintegration of the Aldrich-Hale group, the congressional election of 1910 took place. Signs of impending change had already become evident. Insurgent Republicans were carrying the party primaries; and the Democrats, who were plainly confident, emphasized strongly the tariff act, Cannonism and the high cost of living as reasons for the removal of the Republicans. The result was a greater upheaval than even the Democrats had prophesied. In nine states the Republicans were ousted from legislatures that would elect United States senators; the new Senate would contain forty-one Democrats and fifty-one Republicans - too narrow a Republican majority in view of the strength of the insurgents. In the choice of members of the lower branch of Congress there was a still greater revolution; the new House would contain 228 Democrats, 161 Republicans and one Socialist, while Cannon would be retired from the speakership. In eastern as well as western states, Democratic governors were elected in surprising numbers. Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Ohio and Oregon were among them. Of particular importance, as later events showed, was the success in New Jersey of Woodrow Wilson, former president of Princeton University.