Saturday, July 4, 2015

Political Reform II

Rural America attempted to better the lot of the farmer through such organizations as the Grange and a series of farm alliances. Farm concerns took on a clearly political cast in the rise of Populism. Conditions for all elements of society worsened during the Panic of 1893.

The silver question dominated economic discussions and led to the rise of William Jennings Bryan, a frequent presidential contender. However, the Election of 1896 was a conservative victory, bringing William McKinley to power. His first term was dominated by the war with Spain and the second was cut short by assassination.

A national reform movement known as Progressivism emerged and included advocates of women’s suffrage, municipal reform, state reform, temperance, immigration reform and a host of social reforms. The need for these changes was often expressed in terms of the “Social Gospel” or in the vivid prose of the muckrakers.

McKinley’s assassination in 1901 brought the American hero, Theodore Roosevelt, to the presidency. Breaking with his party, TR pursued a startling array of domestic reform legislation. The Election of 1908 brought in a more conservative leader, William Howard Taft. His domestic policy featured succcessful trust busting, but Taft broke with his predecessor over conservation issues. This split led to the emergence of the Bull Moose Party in the Election of 1912.

Woodrow Wilson benefited from the split between Roosevelt and Taft and continued with Progressive legislation: Federal Reserve Act (1913), Clayton Antitrust Act (1914) and Federal Trade Commission Act (1914).

The Supreme Court acted to counter the Progressives' liberalism in such decisions asPlessy v. Ferguson (1896) and Lochner v. New York (1905). However, Muller v. Oregon (1908) revealed a Court more willing to challenge its laissez faire past.

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