Square Deal

Square Deal

The Square Deal was President Theodore Roosevelt's domestic program primarily aimed at helping middle class citizens. The policies of the Square Deal involved attacking the plutocracy and trusts while at the same time protecting business from the extreme demands of unorganized labor.

President Theodore Roosevelt desired to treat both sides fairly in any dispute. In the coal miner's strike of 1902 he treated the United Mine Workers representatives and company bosses as equals; this approach continued during his efforts to regulate the railroads and other businesses during his second term.

The Square Deal was the term used by Roosevelt and his associates for the policies of his Administration, particularly with regard to economic policies with which he was associated, such as antitrust enforcement. As such, it seems to have been a precursor to the New Deal of his distant cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt thirty years later.

During the 1904 campaign, Roosevelt boasted that he had worked in the anthracite coal strike to provide everyone with a "square deal." In his second term, he tried to extend his square deal further. One of his first targets was the railroad industry. The Interstate Commerce Act of 1887, establishing the Interstate commerce Commission (ICC) had been an early effort to regulate the industry; but over the years, the courts had sharply limited its influence.

One of the major elements of Roosevelt's Square Deal was the promotion of antitrust suits. During his administration, the federal government initiated actions against 44 major corporations. He argued that some "bad" trusts had to be curbed, and "good" ones encouraged and that executive agencies ought to have discretion in picking out which were "good" and which were "bad." As such, Roosevelt pushed for the courts, which had been guided by a clearly delineated standard up to that point, to yield to the wishes of the executive branch on all subsequent anti-trust suits.

Railroads were not allowed to give rebates to favored companies any longer. The government controlled the prices railroads could charge, which had the long-term negative effect of weakening the railroads, as they faced new competition from trucks and buses.

Meat had to be processed safely with proper sanitation, giving the advantage to large packing houses and undercutting small local operations. Foodstuffs and drugs could no longer be mislabeled, nor could consumers be deliberately misled.

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