The presidential election of 1900 gave the American people a chance to pass judgment on the Republican administration of President McKin- ley, especially its foreign policy . Meeting at Philadelphia, the Repub- licans expressed jubilation over the successful outcome of the war with Spain, the restoration of prosperity, and the effort to obtain new mar- kets through the Open Door policy . McKinley easily defeated his oppo- nent, once again William Jennings Bryan . But the president did not live to enjoy his victory . In Septem- ber 1901, while attending an expo- sition in Buffalo, New York, he was shot down by an assassin, the third president to be assassinated since the Civil War .

Theodore Roosevelt, McKinley’s vice president, assumed the presi- dency . Roosevelt’s accession coin- cided with a new epoch in American political life and international rela- tions . The continent was peopled; the frontier was disappearing . A small, formerly struggling repub- lic had become a world power . The

country’s political foundations had endured the vicissitudes of foreign and civil war, the tides of prosper- ity and depression . Immense strides had been made in agriculture and industry . Free public education had been largely realized and a free press maintained . The ideal of religious freedom had been sustained . The influence of big business was now more firmly entrenched than ever, however, and local and municipal government often was in the hands of corrupt politicians .

In response to the excesses of 19th-century capitalism and politi- cal corruption, a reform movement called “progressivism” arose, which gave American politics and thought its special character from approxi- mately 1890 until the American en- try into World War I in 1917 . The Progressives had diverse objec- tives . In general, however, they saw themselves as engaged in a demo- cratic crusade against the abuses of urban political bosses and the cor- rupt “robber barons” of big business . Their goals were greater democracy and social justice, honest govern- ment, more effective regulation of business, and a revived commitment to public service . They believed that expanding the scope of government would ensure the progress of U .S . so- ciety and the welfare of its citizens .

The years 1902 to 1908 marked the era of greatest reform activity, as writers and journalists strongly protested practices and principles inherited from the 18th-century rural republic that were proving


inadequate for a 20th-century ur- ban state . Years before, in 1873, the celebrated author Mark Twain had exposed American society to criti- cal scrutiny in The Gilded Age . Now, trenchant articles dealing with trusts, high finance, impure foods, and abusive railroad practices be- gan to appear in the daily newspa- pers and in such popular magazines as McClure’s and Collier’s . Their au- thors, such as the journalist Ida M . Tarbell, who crusaded against the Standard Oil Trust, became known as “muckrakers .”

In his sensational novel, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair exposed un- sanitary conditions in the great Chicago meat-packing houses and condemned the grip of the beef trust on the nation’s meat supply . Theodore Dreiser, in his novels The Financier and The Titan, made it easy for laymen to understand the machinations of big business . Frank Norris’s The Octopus assailed amor- al railroad management; his The Pit depicted secret manipulations on the Chicago grain market . Lincoln Steffens’s The Shame of the Cities bared local political corruption . This “literature of exposure” roused people to action .

The hammering impact of un- compromising writers and an in- creasingly aroused public spurred political leaders to take practical measures . Many states enacted laws to improve the conditions under which people lived and worked . At the urging of such prominent so- cial critics as Jane Addams, child

labor laws were strengthened and new ones adopted, raising age limits, shortening work hours, re- stricting night work, and requiring school attendance .

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