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Charles Ramsdell Lingley

Powerful as economic forces were from 1865 to 1890, they did not alone determine the direction of American progress during those years.

Seldom, in times of peace, is the personality of a single individual so important as that of Theodore Roosevelt during the early years of the twentieth century. At the time of his accession to the presidency, he lacked a month of being forty-three years old, but the range of his experience in politics had been far beyond his age. In his early twenties, soon after leaving Harvard, he had entered the Assembly of the state of New York.

Out of the economic and political circumstances which have just been described, there were emerging between 1865 and 1875 a wide variety of national problems. Such questions were those concerning the proper relation between the government and the railroads and industrial enterprises; the welfare of the agricultural and wage-earning classes; the assimilation of the hordes of immigrants; the conservation of the resources of the nation in lumber, minerals and oil; the tariff, the financial obligations of the government, the reform of the civil service, and a host of lesser matters.

By 1908, the year of the presidential election, an influential portion of the Republican members of Congress, particularly in the Senate, were bitterly opposed to President Roosevelt. His attitude on the trusts and the railroads was offensive to many, and on several occasions he had gained the upper hand over Congress by means which were coming to be known as "big-stick" methods. The so-called "constructive recess" of 1903 was an example.

The conditions which confronted President Hayes when the final decision of the Electoral Commission placed him in the executive chair did not make it probable that he could carry out a program of positive achievement. The withdrawal of troops from the South had been almost completed, but the process of reconstruction had been so dominated by suspicion, ignorance and vindictiveness that sectional hostility was still acute.

During the four decades between the opening of the Civil War and the close of the nineteenth century, the United States became in many respects an economic unit. The passage of the Interstate Commerce Act in 1887, for instance, was an early recognition of the fact that the transportation problem of the nation transcended state bounds; the Sherman Anti-trust law of 1890 arose from the realization that commercial and industrial unity were rapidly coming to pass; the American Federation of Labor brought workmen from all states and many trades into a single organization.

The Hayes administration was scarcely half over when the politicians began to look forward to the election of 1880. At the outset of his term, Hayes had advocated a single term for the executive and there was no widespread movement among the politicians to influence him to change his attitude. His enemies, indeed, had already turned to General Grant. There had been a third-term boom for the General during his second administration and he had indicated that he was not formidably opposed to further continuance in office.

At the close of the war with Spain it was commonly remarked that the United States had become a world power; books and periodicals written on the history of the period were based upon the assumption that America had swung out into the current of international affairs and that the traditional isolation of this country had become a thing of the past. Time must be appealed to, however, for answers to fundamental questions concerning the character of this change.

The election of 1880 was memorable only for the type of politics with which that contest was so inextricably involved. The party leaders were second-rate men; the platforms, except for that of the Greenback party, were as lacking in definiteness as the most timid office-seeker could desire; in brief, it was a cross-section of American professional politics at its worst. The election of 1884 was a distinct, although not a complete contrast. It was not a campaign of platforms, but like the election of 1824 it was a battle of men.

A definite account of the eventful years following 1913 can be written only after time has allayed partisanship; after long study of the social, economic and political history has separated the essential from the trivial; after papers that are now locked in private files have been opened to students; and after the passage of years has given that perspective which alone can measure the wisdom or the folly of a policy. It will be little less difficult to make a just appraisal of the chief American participants in those years, and particularly of President Woodrow Wilson.

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