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The Square Deal: Social Reform to Avoid Disaster

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Essay title: The Square Deal: Social Reform to Avoid Disaster

The Square Deal: Social Reform to Avoid Disaster

Sean Doyel

Political Science 210

Professor Ware

May 5, 2005

America at the turn of the century was a very different place than it is today. The industrial revolution had set into motion a series of events that empowered and enriched some and nearly enslaved others. Theodore Roosevelt's "Square Deal" was a necessary response to growing social unrest. A severely unequal distribution of wealth along with poor living and working conditions were leading workers and capitalists to increasingly extreme means. By enacting a large body of legislation intended to set right the wrongs in society and using whatever force necessary, Roosevelt avoided what could have been a popular revolution of the working class.

The purpose of this essay is to develop a better understanding of Roosevelt's "Square Deal". An examination of historical events will provide a clear picture of the outlook in America during the time of Roosevelt's presidency that led to the necessity of the legislation and presidential actions that characterized Progressive Party politics. Roosevelt's response was nothing short of precisely what was necessary to remedy the social unrest that was overtaking the working people of America.

As is the case with any major public policy, the "Square Deal" had its roots in beliefs set forth in the United States Constitution and the basic tenets of Democracy. Without support, large scale changes to the system go down in history as simply another idealistic effort. Roosevelt believed in his ideas and had a way of pushing policies through that resulted in sweeping changes that avoided catastrophe. Every conscious of the possibility of revolution, Roosevelt sought to avoid it by any means necessary.

Beginning in the 1800's, the face of America was changing. As the Industrial Revolution took a firm hold here and around the world, the everyday life of common Americans was affected in almost unimaginable ways. Between 1885 and 1945, a sweeping change was taking place throughout the world. Large scale mechanization as well as new modern modes of transportation and communication changed the way people looked at the world (Rowland, 1997, p. 14). As thousands of new jobs were created, a large scale urban migration began. People were leaving the farms in large numbers and moving to cities to work in factories. In the United States, the steel, oil, and railroad industries and the jobs they created were the driving forces behind people leaving the farms (Wattenberg, 1998, p. 32). Though these industries were feeding unprecedented economic growth, only the privileged were seeing the benefit. Common people were living and working in abhorrent conditions and discontent began almost immediately. Overcrowding and political corruption were also serious issues.

The press was all too quick to point out social problems and served to bring many issues into public consciousness. Known as "muckrackers", journalists like Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair pointed out dirty politics, unsanitary handling of food food, and dangerous working conditions. Political cartoons, too, were immensely popular and often satirized common social problems.

"By 1900, the transformation of the American economy from agricultural to industrial was in full swing, as the nation of farmers and artisans was giving way tot hat of factory workers and manufacturing giants" (Wattenberg, 1998, p. 32). Coinciding with this transformation, an atmosphere conducive to entrepreneurship allowed single families to dominate individual industries, giving rise to the so-called "trusts". As icons in American business, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and Cornelius Vanderbilt were perceived as the enemy of the working class. Bertrand Russell, a well known British philosopher said in a interview with Life Magazine, "God made the world in 4004 BC, but it was reorganized by James H. Hill, J. Pierpont Morgan and John D. Rockefeller" (Wattenberg, 1998, p. 32).

Laissez Faire economics, held by the government and those in power as the only way for a capitalistic society to operate, contributed to the development of huge inequalities in the distribution of wealth. Literally "let go and let pass", laissez fair theory is defined as the theory that the state should not intervene in economic affairs (Laissez Faire). Lack of business regulation by the government led to undesirable and unethical business practices that were obvious to working people.

If the picture painted is a bleak one, it is meant to be. This is the America which

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