The figure usually considered most representative of the Progressive Era is Woodrow Wilson. His is considered the great watershed presidency which entrenched Leftism, Statism, and elitism in the federal government. While there is some truth to this, most people are unaware that Wilson did not originate this alone. He was actually first influenced into progressive ideology by Theodore Roosevelt. TR was Progressivism before it was cool, and he was so when Wilson was originally a “Cleveland Democrat”—a proponent of limited government.
[DEAL: For more on American Fascism, including the warmongering and racist elements, purchase American Fascist: The Real Theodore Roosevelt for only $5 until June 7.]
It is men like Wilson and later FDR who are generally blamed for distorting the Constitution—making it a wax nose, interpreting it however they wish to bring about their desired ends. What is less commonly known is that TR held this view explicitly before the Left. As author Jim Powell relates, TR made his view very clear in his autobiography:
[TR] “declined to adopt the view that what was imperatively necessary for the Nation could not be done by the President unless he could find some specific authorization to do it.” Reflecting on the U.S. president’s power, he wrote that “it was not only his right but his duty to do anything that the needs of the Nation demanded unless such action was forbidden by the Constitution or by the laws.”
And by “forbidden,” men of TR’s constitutional view really mean “expressly forbidden in such a way that even a progressive Court would strike it down.” The result was a drastic increase in the power of the presidential office. TR would, in fact, boast of it: “I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.” Powell gives some perspective: all presidents from Lincoln to TR’s predecessor McKinley issued a total of 158 executive orders. Teddy alone issued 1,007.
In issuing such decrees, Teddy was acting like a king rather than an American president. Long before Obama, TR perfected the end-run around Congress. He ruled alone, refusing even to take counsel for even the most crucial decisions—ignoring and bypassing Congress. “The biggest matters,” he pontificated, “I managed without consultation with anyone; for when a matter is of capital importance, it is well to have it handled by one man only.” That’s called monarchy. This is not a president, but more like one biographer once titled it, Theodore Rex.
And these were no isolated comments unprepared or off-the-cuff. TR at various times in his presidency repeats the sentiment: “I think [the presidency] should be a very powerful office, and I think the President should be a very strong man who uses without hesitation every power the position yields.” Elsewhere he demanded “far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country.” Again he stated bluntly, “I believe in a strong executive. I believe in power.” Elsewhere, he described himself as “Hamiltonian in my governmental views,” which meant he believed in the need for “the exercise of broad powers by the National Government.”
It was during TR’s presidency, or by his direct influence, that many behemoth federal regulatory agencies came into begin. These include the FDA, the FBI, the FTC, the U.S. Forestry Service, and a Secretary of Commerce which later became the Department of Labor.
Before The Jungle
Great shifts in social policy are often laid at the feet of leftist progressives when in actuality they were TR’s baby. The creation of the FDA, for example, is often credited largely to the influence of the socialist Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle. Published February 26, 1906, the novel portrayed Chicago meat packing plants in horrible light, exposing startling health and labor conditions.
Yet TR had advocated regulation of these things even before Sinclair’s book was published. As early as 1902, TR was advocating the regulation of the Salmon fishing industry in Alaska: “Laws should be enacted to protect the Alaskan salmon fisheries against the greed which would destroy them. They should be preserved as a permanent industry and food supply. Their management and control should be turned over to the Commission of Fish and Fisheries.”
In his 1904 State of the Union address, he assured his hearers of the efficacy of the Department of Agriculture, which “by careful inspection of meats, guards the health of our people and gives clean bills of health to deserving exports.” He apparently already viewed the meat industry as at least partially nationalized, and called for an “annual census of the live stock of the Nation.”
Spurred by the career activism of USDA “Chief Chemist” Harvey Wiley, TR announced in the 1905 State of the Union address that he would “recommend that a law be enacted to regulate inter-State commerce in misbranded and adulterated foods, drinks, and drugs.” He commissioned his bureaucrats to conduct an executive exposé of the meatpacking industry, and used its “hideous” details to strong-arm Congress into passing the 1906 Food and Drug Act, the parent of the modern FDA.
People like Sinclair were not the impetus for these reforms, but merely the unwitting tools of statists who needed the propaganda to sway the larger public. Thus, the media-driven hysteria worked hand-in-hand with the elitist class of know-it-all bureaucrats and politicians. Economists Coppin and High explain:
A striking fact about the Pure Food and Drugs Act of 1906, a fact with which every interpretation must come to terms, is that urban workers and families did not agitate for its passage or enforcement. No general outbreak of disease or death from food in the cities was recorded. No epidemic of malnutrition swept through the urban populace. No public outcry over food was ever heard from the working classes. The movement for a national food law came from food commissioners, agricultural chemists, manufacturers of expensive foods, representatives from rural agricultural states, and a small number of middle-class women. The rhetoric of regulation was ‘pure food for the mass consumer,’ but its impetus came from the professional classes.
The regulations to be put in place, however, did little but help solidify the hold which large companies had on the industry: “The large packers may actually have welcomed more effective inspection as a curb upon their smaller competitors.”
This was quite literally true. Powell explains,
In congressional testimony that followed the investigation, packinghouse executive Thomas E. Wilson made clear that the big Chicago packers wanted federal regulation to handicap their smaller competitors that could not afford to invest in more modern and sanitary facilities. Federal inspection, as noted, was intended to reassure foreign buyers about the quality of American meat. The big Chicago packers, however, objected to paying the cost of federal inspection. They wanted taxpayers to pick up the $3 million tab.
Again, Kolko exposes the scheme:
Historians have always suggested that Sinclair brought the packers to their knees . . . or that The Greatest Trust in the World collapsed before the publication of the Neill-Reynolds report. Given the near unanimity with which the measure passed Congress, and the common agreement on basic principles shared by all at the time, there is an inconsistency in the writing of historians on this problem. If the packers were really all-powerful, or actually opposed the bill, it is difficult to explain the magnitude of the vote for it. The reality of the matter, of course, is that the big packers were warm friends of regulation, especially when it primarily affected their innumerable small competitors.
An “Absolute Need for Nationalism”
TR would apply his regulatory ambition to all areas of life, especially money and business. In a speech at York, Pennsylvania, he claimed to discover an “inherent power” not enumerated in the Constitution for “a constantly increasing supervision over and control of the great fortunes used in business.” So much for opposition to socialism. He was so bent on a policy of regulation and wealth redistribution that he propagandized the issue just like the Left. His rhetoric borrowed directly from the agitators of class warfare, calling the wealthy “malefactors” in society.
And again, the top-down agenda was working contrary to reality. As author Jim Powell notes, however, the actual economic facts contradict the political claims. The free market was already taking care of the so-called “monopoly” or “trust” problem, and prices that were said to need regulation were already falling naturally. Neither great problem demanded government intervention, which would, in fact, make it worse. Powell’s comments are worth citing at length:
[F]or more than two decades before Roosevelt became president, output had been expanding and prices had been falling—the opposite of what one would expect if there were a lot of monopolies. Despite Roosevelt’s allegations about railroad monopolies, in the previous half century railroad mileage in the United States had increased more than 250-fold, and railroad rates were falling. Cheaper railroad rates undermined local monopolies by giving people the choice of buying economically priced goods from far away. Supporters of antitrust laws pointed to the “great merger wave” of the late 1890s as evidence of monopolization, but in fact, the total the number of commercial and industrial firms in the United States increased from 1.11 million in 1890 to 1.17 million in 1900 and 1.51 million in 1910, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census. The business failure rate among commercial and industrial firms, and the average liability per failure, actually declined between 1890 and 1910.
Contrary to Roosevelt’s claims, mounting evidence shows that monopolies are rare in free markets, as changing consumer tastes, changing business conditions, new technologies, and new competitors both foreign and domestic relentlessly challenge established companies. John D. Rockefeller earned his fortune refining kerosene from western Pennsylvania, but rivals discovered oil fields in Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and California as well as overseas. Among the new rivals who emerged before Roosevelt’s antitrust laws went into effect were Burmah Oil (1886), Union Oil (1890), Pure Oil (1895), Associated Oil & Gas (1901), Gulf (1901), Texaco (1902), and Royal Dutch Shell (1903). Rockefeller’s Standard Oil thrived because it was a low-cost competitor, investing in cost-cutting technology.
Just as it was with the meat packers, other big businesses actually valued government regulation because it would drive out the smaller competitors. Teddy was not busting monopolies so much as helping them. Historian Gabriel Kolko explains:
Competition was unacceptable to many key business and financial interests . . . and the merger movement was to a large extent a reflection of voluntary, unsuccessful business efforts to bring irresistible competitive trends under control.… As new competition sprang up, and as economic power was diffused throughout an expanding nation, it became apparent to many important businessmen that only the national government could rationalize the economy.… Contrary to the consensus of historians, it was not the existence of monopoly that caused the federal government to intervene in the economy, but the lack of it.
Nevertheless, as TR’s regulatory empire grew, so did his vision for even greater power. In the later years of his presidency he announced his “Square Deal” which sought to impose numerous regulations on business. But he did not stop there. His later writings reveal even more ambitious views as he criticized the Wilson administration for lacking power and vigor.
In 1915, TR was the guest of honor in the home of Elbert H. Gray, a Morgan-interest lawyer and officer entrenched in Carnegie’s U.S. Steel industry. It is estimated there was a representative figure of twelve billion dollars—an astronomical figure for the time—in attendance at Grays’s Fifth-Avenue home. The intent appeared to include an exploratory for the attempt to run TR for president yet again in 1916. Concurrent with such a goal, TR began taking calculated swipes at the Wilson administration in newspapers that very month and afterward. Attempting to condemn Wilson as weak, inactive, and unprepared, TR proposed further nationalization: “There is absolute need of a larger nationalism.”
Like German Militarism
That sentiment, published in a pro-German propaganda tabloid, even drew praise from the editor: “For once Theodore Roosevelt and The Fatherland are in agreement. We meet on the common ground of national preparedness. Mr. Roosevelt agrees with our contention the German ‘militarism’ is not such a terrible thing after all.” And why not? “We find him strenuously indorsing the military and industrial systems of Germany and pointing to them as shining examples for the United States.”
The “larger nationalism” TR desired was nothing short of what later would be called fascism: national controls of industry to serve and implement national policy. TR was an open fan of “national corporations.” He wished for any company engaged in interstate commerce to be a corporation charted directly by Congress, and thus controlled directly by national policy. This is a strong step toward the economic policies of Mussolini’s Italian fascism and the National Socialism of later Adolf Hitler.
At the same time TR called for compulsory and universal military conscription, stripping the right to vote from anyone not trained to fight, and the integration of military and industry within this national corporate structure.
Such universal conscription was desirable in peacetime not only for military preparedness but for the vital development of the “soul and spirit” of the nation: “such service and training would help us toward national solidarity and cohesion.” In other words, compulsory military service would train the populace to walk in lock-step with its government, and to submit indefinitely to orders from above. It would make the centralization of national life much easier.
Again, it is usually Wilson who gets blamed for such a shift in national character due to the so-called Wilson “War State.” The massive centralization and nationalized mobilization during WWI is ssaid to have set the precedents by which the ambitious Left did so much damage afterward. Yet we see here that it was the consistent agenda of TR long before WWI, and it was TR’s plan either to urge Wilson in that direction or to see him defeated politically.
Towards these ends, TR repeated the sentiments in a Metropolitan article just a few months later. In retrospect, the breadth of the nationalizing platform is chilling:
National preparedness either for peace or war can be achieved only on the basis of unity and through the instrumentality of an efficient national governmental system. All the forces that make for industrial or military preparedness must be under the regulation of a single power, and that power the national government. One sovereignty must control.
Again, Germany was his example to follow in these regards:
Germany has been far in advance of us in securing industrial assurance, old-age pensions and homes, a reasonably fair division of profits between employer and employed, and the like. She has also been far in advance of us in the way she has both controlled and encouraged industry. Above all, she has been far in advance of us in securing national cohesion, in requiring both from the great employer and from the man who toils with his hands the fullest and most complete loyalty to the nation.
In a full book of the same title as that March article, Fear God and Take Your Own Part, TR made clear that his appeals to Germany were not limited to her efficiency and methods. To his calls for centralized national corporatism, and universal military conscription and characterization of national life, he added a blunt racial-nationalistic element to his views:
These professional German-Americans and Pro-Germans are Anti-American to the core. They play the part of traitors, pure and simple. Once it was true that this country could not endure half free and half slave. Today it is true that it can not endure half American and half foreign. The hyphen is incompatible with patriotism.
It was no slip. According to a compilation made by pro-Roosevelt writers Drinker and Mowbray, TR reiterated the statement elsewhere directly appealing to Lincoln, and comparing hyphenated-Americans to national adulterers:
The man who loves other nations as much as he does his own country stands on a par with a man who loves other women as much as he does his own wife. Once it was true, as Lincoln said, that this country could not endure half free and half slave. Today it is true that it could not endure half American and half foreign.
Not Progressivism, Fascism
It is this type of expression which rounds out TR’s political philosophy as not just mere progressivism, but bordering on fascism. In addition to a system of strong centralization, national corporatism, integration of industry and military, and tight regulation of economic sectors, fascism adds an extra element of intense racial-nationalism. Such an element is obvious here, and will be more so when we address racism more directly later.
Teddy wanted to instill nationalistic pride in everything he did, including the aesthetics of American symbols. He hired a prestigious architectural firm to renovate the White House to his taste, and a famous sculptor to redesign American coinage. No detail was too small for government regulation. He directed the government printer to employ over three hundred “American” changes to the spellings of English words. Most were not followed.
Various other anecdotes could be added to illustrate the limitless quest for and use of executive power by this American fascist. We conclude this section with just as few:
Executive Teddy could wield a hand just as rash as it was harsh. When an army investigator failed to convict three companies of black soldiers implicated in a shooting, TR stepped in and discharged the whole lot, including six Medal of Honor winners, “without honor” and “forever barred from re-enlistment.”
TR’s administration anticipated modern bank bailouts as well. When a copper bubble popped and threatened the Knickerbocker Trust Company, his Treasury Secretary quickly deposited $25 million ($600 million today) in government funds in New York banks, lest “the whole credit structure topple.” Some threats never change.
And it was all done with almost unlimited hubris. In the primary battle for the election of 1912, Roosevelt wanted a big-government, big-bank elitist like himself. Conservative elements in the party were leaning strongly in the other direction. TR wanted Elihu Root, a Dick Cheney-like figure connected to every form of big money in the world, and attorney for Andrew Carnegie and Skull and Bones member W. C. Whitney. The always self-referencing TR complained of fellow party members who preferred the more conservative Charles Evans Hughes, saying they wanted a President more like the small-government, veto-champion Grover Cleveland “instead of a president like me.”
DEAL: For more on American Fascism, including the warmongering and racist elements, purchase American Fascist: The Real Theodore Roosevelt for only $5 until June 7.
 Powell, Kindle Location 93.
 Powell, Kindle Location 100.
 Powell, Kindle Location 103.
 Powell, Kindle Location 145.
 Quoted in Powell, Kindle Location, 375–382, 409.
 G. Wallace Chessman, Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of Power (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1969), 137.
 Cited in Powell, Kindle Location 318–324.
 Chessman, 138.
 Powell, Kindle Location 2963.
 Quoted in Powell, Kindle Location 2967.
 Chessman, 142.
 Powell, Kindle Location 174.
 Powell, Kindle Location 178–186.
 Quoted in Powell, Kindle Location 195–200. Kolko’s work, The Triumph of Conservatism, is a must-read for anyone interested in the economic history of the era.
 Frederick E. Drinker and Jay Henry Mowbray, Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Work (Philadelphia: National Publishing Company, 1919), 432.
 Theodore Roosevelt, “Germany, the Teacher of the World,” The Fatherland, December 15, 1915, 331.
 The Fatherland, December 15, 1915, 331.
 Roosevelt, “Germany, the Teacher of the World,” 331.
 Theodore Roosevelt, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part,” Metropolitan, 43 (March 1916), 11–12, 70—72; http://www.fofweb.com/History/MainPrintPage.asp?iPin=E14382&DataType=AmericanHistory&WinType=Free (accessed May 13, 2014).
 Theodore Roosevelt, Fear God and Take Your Own Part (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1916), 19.
 Quoted Drinker and Mowbray, Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Work, 433.
 Chessman, 144–145.
 Quoted in Chessman, 145.
 Chessman, 149.
 Quoted in Chessman, 159.