The time period, from 1898 – 1920, sees the United States become more involved around the world as industrialization spurred the need for more resources and markets. It was widely believed that the U.S. needed to gain access to world markets and expand their navy in order to compete in the global economy. The first part of this time period saw the U.S. go to war with Spain over their control of Cuba. The result of the war was Cuban independence and the acquisition by the U.S. of the last Spanish colonial possessions in Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines.
The later part of this time period ended with the world engulfed in its first world war fueled by nationalism, imperialism, military arms race, and entangling alliances. While the U.S. tried to steer clear of involvement, the nation was forced to enter in the later years of the war.
At home, Roosevelt expanded the federal government’s power of eminent domain. He signed laws establishing five national parks. Explaining his fight for a “square deal” for Americans, he used authority under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to take on consolidated companies that took away consumers’ choices. He worked to protect companies from extreme demands from labor unions. He urged federal lawmakers to enact legislation protecting workers, including child labor laws and a bill providing workmen’s compensation for all federal employees. He proposed laws regulating the nation’s food supply. In response, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, paving the way for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Roosevelt became famous for using the “bully pulpit” to advance his ideas.
Roosevelt had his critics. While the Founders believed that powers not granted to the federal government were forbidden, Roosevelt claimed that powers not forbidden were granted. Many charged that the many regulatory agencies he proposed threatened liberty. President William Howard Taft, who succeeded Theodore Roosevelt as President in 1908, said that Roosevelt’s view of “ascribing an undefined … power to the President” was “an unsafe doctrine” that could do “injustice to private right.” Some later historians have called Roosevelt an activist president, because of the way his actions increased the power of the federal government over states and individuals’ lives.
A number of Progressive reforms took place during his administration, in the form of legislation and amendments to the Constitution. The Sixteenth Amendment was ratified a month before he took office; President Wilson gained Congress’s approval for a graduated federal income tax. The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Amendments followed. Congress heeded Wilson’s call to amend the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Finally, Wilson lent his support to women’s suffrage, and in 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified.
Though he initially attempted to keep the United States out of World War I, he asked Congress to declare war on Germany in 1917. He acted as Commander in Chief of the military and two years later negotiated the Treaty of Versailles, which included his plan for the League of Nations. The Senate did not approve the treaty, however, so the League of Nations began without the United States as a member. President Wilson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1920.
Documents/Supreme Court Cases
A unanimous Supreme Court upheld Schenck’s conviction. In one of the most memorable Supreme Court opinions in history, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote for the Court: “We admit that in many places and in ordinary times the defendants in saying all that was said in the circular would have been within their constitutional rights. But the character of every act depends upon the circumstances in which it is done. The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. … The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” Thus, the Court ruled that speech can be limited in wartime.
The so-called “clear and present danger rule” first enunciated by Justice Holmes in Schenck quickly became the test by which a majority of the Supreme Court judged freedom of speech cases for many years to come.