Most Republicans viewed their election victory in 1900 as an endorsement of the partyu0092s policies toward business. Theodore Roosevelt, who became president in September 1901, did not fully share that view. Rather than simply maintain the status quo, Roosevelt sought a mid-course between Republican laissez faire policies and the socialism advocated by some reform elements.
The president found an ally in an increasingly concerned public that had been wary of big government solutions in the past, but was now more receptive. The trusts' continuing growth in numbers and power convinced many that action was needed.
Roosevelt took the following steps during his first administration to u0093keep orderu0094 in the American economy:
Trust-busting was not a term the president favored. He believed the offending corporations needed to be regulated, not destroyed. Many of his big business critics, however, failed to note the difference.
Department of Commerce and Labor. In 1903, Roosevelt persuaded Congress to establish a new cabinet-level department to increase the federal governmentu0092s purview over the interstate commerce actions of business and to monitor labor relations. Big business interests lobbied heavily to halt this innovation u0097 the first new executive department since the Civil War u0097 but failed. (Commerce and Labor would be separated into independent department in 1913.)
Bureau of Corporations. As an arm of the newly created department, a Bureau of Corporations was established to find violations under the existing antitrust legislation. The Bureau began investigations into the activities of the meatpacking, oil, steel and tobacco industries, among others.
Antitrust Law Suits. Roosevelt instructed his attorney general, Philander C. Knox, to launch a series of lawsuits against what were deemed offensive business combinations. Such giants as J.P. Morganu0092s Northern Securities Company, John D. Rockefelleru0092s Standard Oil Trust and James B. Dukeu0092s tobacco trust were targets of the governmentu0092s attorneys. In all, forty-four suits were brought during Rooseveltu0092s administration.
See other Theodore Roosevelt domestic activity.