Roosevelt also persuaded Congress to pass the Elkins Act in 1903, to punish railroad companies that issued uncompetitive rebates and the merchants who accepted them. To further the reform cause, in 1906, Congress passed the Hepburn Act to strengthen the Interstate Commerce Commission and give it more power to control the railroads.

Labor Protection

Roosevelt also earned the reputation of a friend to organized labor when he supported striking Pennsylvania coal miners in the 1902Anthracite Strike. Fearing a coal shortage in the industrial eastern United States, the president offered to help mine owners and workers negotiate a settlement involving wages and work hours. When mine owners refused to negotiate, however, Roosevelt threatened to seize the mines and place them under the control of federal troops—the first time a U.S. president had ever sided with strikers against industrialists and forced them to compromise. The Supreme Court likewise sided with labor interests in its 1908Muller v. Oregon ruling, which awarded some federal protection for female workers in factories.


During this era of reform, Roosevelt also pushed for environmental conservation. Fearing that Americans were on track to use up the country’s natural resources, he set aside several hundred million acres of forest reserves and ore-rich land. He also convinced Congress to fund the construction of several dozen dams in the West and to pass the 1902Newlands Act, which sold federal lands in the West to fund irrigation projects.

The Election of 1908

Despite a brief financial panic in 1907, Roosevelt remained just as popular at the end of his second term as he was at the beginning of his first. However, after winning reelection in 1904, he had promised not to run again. Instead, he decided to endorse his vice president and close friend, William Howard Taft, a 350-pound giant of a man who Roosevelt believed would continue fighting for progressivism and the Square Deal. Meanwhile, Democrats nominated William Jennings Bryan yet again on an anti-imperialist, progressive platform. Eugene V. Debs also entered the race on the Socialist Party ticket. In the end, Taft easily defeated Bryan by more than a million popular votes and 150 electoral votes.

Popular pages: The Gilded Age & the Progressive Era (1877–1917)