Theodore Roosevelt – “Trustbuster” Helped Break Up Standard Oil Monopoly – 1911 AD

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“Theodore Roosevelt acquired the nickname “Trustbuster” after his Justice Department began stringent application of the Sherman Antitrust Act, filing some forty actions against companies. One of the most famous, the Northern Securities Co. vs. the United States, involved a number of railroads that had formed a combination, triggering a government claim that Northern Securities was “in restraint of trade.” The Court ruled in favor of the government, even though Northern Securities had not actually been proven to have caused any damage to customers. (President McKinley had refused to bring a case.) The Court found that even the chance that Northern Securities might be in restraint of trade in the future was sufficient to find it guilty of violating antitrust legislation. Railroad tycoon James J. Hill had to dissolve the holding company. An even larger antitrust case brought by the Roosevelt administration, the Standard Oil breakup, was not adjudicated until 1911, after Roosevelt had left office, but again the Supreme Court ruled for the government and against business.

These cases, and his dealings with various industry officials, showed Roosevelt’s blind spot: having never run a business (his cattle ranches were hardly under his operational hand), TR never understood the difficulties of making a profit. It was a serious weakness that exacerbated his Progressive tendencies.

Roosevelt was a contradiction in terms. A self-made man, he nevertheless threw the power of government onto the side of the employee in labor struggles. Roosevelt convinced the parties to end the Coal Strike of 1902, for example, through a commission citing a “square deal for every man.” But the mine owners agreed to settle only after the president had called them “wooden-headed,” accused them of “arrogant stupidity,” and threatened to send in ten thousand troops to operate the mines. When told it would be unconstitutional to do so, he said, “To Hell with the Constitution when the people want coal.” He managed to get away with assaults on business by balancing his rhetoric with attacks on labor radicalism. TR invoked the Sherman Act some twenty-five times during his administration and created a new cabinet-level department, Commerce and Labor, whose main job was to investigate any violations of the laws regulating interstate commerce. “We do not wish to destroy corporations,” he reassured business leaders, but “we do wish to make them subserve the public good” — as defined by TR. Even more disconcerting was that Roosevelt’s comment suggested that businesses did not serve the public good by paying taxes, furnishing jobs, and making products everyone needed. He lambasted the “tyranny of mere wealth,” but, in 1904, when he needed Republican Party support in his reelection campaign, he hastily repaired relationships with financier J. P. Morgan and other business leaders.”

“In 1904, facing two opponents — Democrat Alton B. Parker and the socialist Eugene V. Debs — Roosevelt won fifty-six percent of the vote and a commanding 336–140 Electoral College victory. It was another chapter in the continued Republican dominance of the White House. Even before he was inaugurated, Roosevelt announced that he would not seek another term, in keeping with Washington’s two-term precedent (even though TR hadn’t served a full first term).”

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