The Republican Party/Chapter XIV

CHAPTER XIV

“BIG BUSINESS”

As the nation grows, business grows. A hundred years ago the supplanting of cottage workshops with large manufactories revolutionized the industrial world. In our own day a similar revolution has been wrought in the mercantile world by the replacing of a multitude of small individual establishments with a few very large ones, and the replacing of shops devoted to a single class or a few classes of goods with vast emporiums dealing in all classes. Similar combinations have been made in manufacturing enterprises and in public utilities. During the Civil War a dozen or a score of separate telegraph systems, each confined to a constricted region, were merged into a single system covering the whole country. Likewise a number of independent railroads have now and then been united into a single system or a continuous trunk line.

In such combinations there is obviously great advantage, or at least the “promise and potency” of great advantage to all concerned. There is also, however, the possibility of abuse and therefore of evil, and this possibility was more than once realized. Great business combinations, or trusts as they came to be called, unjustly and unwisely used their power to prevent competition and to compel retail establishments to purchase supplies from them alone. About 1890 such practices became so marked and so offensive as to cause a widespread demand for their abatement and prevention. The result was the enactment in that year by the Republican Congress and President of the so-called Sherman Anti-Trust act forbidding the making of contracts in restraint of trade or commerce.

This beneficent act was at first held, notably by a Supreme Court decision in 1895, not to apply to manufacturing concerns but only to interstate commerce, and its utility was not as great as had been anticipated. But during the administration of President Roosevelt, in 1902, an attempt was made to have the act more liberally construed, so as to apply its prohibition to the “holding company” principle. The government selected as the object of its attack the Northern Securities Company, a trust incorporated in New Jersey for the purpose of purchasing and holding the stocks of two competing railroad systems in the northwest, the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific. It would not have been permissible for one of these roads to purchase and control the other, so it was sought to reach the same end by having a third corporation purchase them both. The government prosecuted the case with much vigor and won a sweejing victory which not only nullified the Northern Securities Company but also established a precedent for numerous other like applications of the law.

The question of the governmental control of trusts and regulation of “big business” became a prominent issue in the Presidential campaign of 1904. The Democratic platform attempted to convict the Republican party of complicity with trusts and monopolies, and demanded that laws be made and enforced to prevent such combinations of capital from interfering with freedom of trade. The Republican platform, however, was able to point to the fact that a Republican government had enacted an effective law for that very purpose, that the Democratic administration had failed to enforce it efficiently and that the Republican administration had secured its very effective application. The Republican convention nominated for President Theodore Roosevelt, who was then serving out the unfinished term of President McKinley, and for Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana. The Democrats nominated Alton B. Parker of New York and Henry G. Davis of West Virginia for President and Vice-President, respectively. Tickets were placed in the field also by the People's or Populist party, the Prohibitionists, the Socialists and the Socialist-Labor party. The campaign resulted in an overwhelming Republican victory, the party getting 336 electoral and 7,620,337 popular votes; the Democrats 140 electoral and 5,079,041 popular votes; and the Socialists 402,159, the Prohibitionists 258,550, the Populists 113,259 and the Socialist Labor party 33,622 popular votes.

With this unmistakable vote of confidence from the nation, the Republican administration, backed by strong majorities in both Houses of Congress, proceeded with the prosecution of various large corporations which were charged with violation of the Sherman act. Among these were the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey, the Dupont de Nemours Powder Company of New Jersey, the American Sugar Refining Company of New Jersey and the American Tobacco Company of New Jersey. The purpose was of course not to destroy those corporations nor to deprive the business of the nation of the advantages which manifestly might be realized from the conduct of affairs upon so extensive a scale, but to curb and check the abuses to which they were subject and to demonstrate the amenability of the largest and richest corporation to the law equally with the humblest and poorest individual. It was an application of the original principles of the Republican party, the equality of rights and equality of responsibilities before the law. It served notice that just as the slave-holding oligarchy of the South was not permitted to dominate the country, so no oligarchy of capital would be permitted to exercise undue influence to control the government or to defy the law.

The principles successfully pursued during this administration thus comprised the “square deal” of equal industrial opportunities for all law-abiding men and corporations, and equal punishment for all violations of law; such governmental supervision and regulation of railroads and other public service corporations as would assure their impartial and efficient service to all; development of the internal waterways of the country to supplement the service of the railroads; promotion of agriculture by facilitating and encouraging the acquisition of homesteads; conservation of the forests and other natural resources; conservation and utilization of water power for industrial purposes, under governmental authority and control; and the building of a navy adequate to the defence of our coasts, an undertaking much facilitated by the connecting of the Atlantic and Pacific coasts by means of the Panama Canal. These were the things for which the Republican party stood during the Roosevelt administration and these were the things which it achieved so far as it was possible to be done.

With this record, the party was well warranted in declaring in its platform in 1908 that the Roosevelt administration was an epoch in history. “In no other period since national sovereignty was won under Washington, or preserved under Lincoln,” it continued, “has there been such mighty progress in those ideals of government which make for justice, equality and fair dealing among men. The highest aspirations of the American people have found a voice.” In addition to the achievements of the administration, it was possible to point to an impressive array of beneficent Republican legislation by Congress, including an emergency currency bill, provision for' a national monetary commission, employers' and government liability laws, measures for the greater efficiency of the army and navy, a widows' pension law, an anti-child labor law, and laws for the greater safety of railroad engineers and firemen. It promised revision of the tariff to suit altered conditions and a general continuance of the enlightened and progressive policies of the Roosevelt administration. Upon this platform the party nominated William H. Taft of Ohio for President and James S. Sherman of New York for Vice-President.

The Democratic platform carped and railed against the Republican party, but in nearly all of its constructive planks was compelled substantially to imitate and adopt the policies which the Republican administration was engaged in pursuing and which the Republican Congress had enacted or was pledged to enact. The party nominated William J. Bryan of Nebraska for President and John W. Kern of Indiana for Vice-President. There were nominations also by the Populist, Prohibition, Socialist, Socialist-Labor and Independence parties. The Republicans won the election with 321 electoral and 7,677,544 popular votes. The Democrats had 162 electoral and 6,405,707 popular votes, the Socialists 420,464, the Prohibitionists 251,660, the Independence party 83,628, the Populists 29,108 and the Social Labor party 14,021 popular votes.