Roosevelt acts to save resources

Unquestionably, one of the most important achievements of the Roosevelt administrations was in the conservation of natural resources of the nation. Exploitation and waste of raw materials had to be stopped, and wide stretches of land regarded as worthless needed only proper attention to become fit for use. In 1901, in his first message to Congress, Roosevelt called the forest and water problems "perhaps the most vital internal problems of the United States." He called for a far-reaching and integrated program of conservation, reclamation, and irrigation. Where his predecessors had set aside 47,000,000 acres of timberland, Roosevelt increased the area by 148,000,000 acres and began systematic efforts to prevent forest fires and to retimber denuded tracts. In 1907, he appointed am Inland Waterways Commission to canvass the whole question of the relation of rivers and soil and forest, of water-power development, and of water transportation. Out of the recommendations of this Commission grew the plan for a national conservation conference and, in the same year, Roosevelt invited all state governors, cabinet members, and notables from the fields of politics, science, and education to such a conference. This conference focused the attention of the nation upon the problem of conservation. It issued a declaration of principles stressing not only the conservation of forests, but of water and minerals and the problems of soil erosion and irrigation as well. Its recommendations included the regulation of timber-cutting on private lands, the improvement of navigable streams, and the conservation of watersheds. As a result, many states established conservation commissions, and in 1909 a National Conservation Association was formed to engage in wide public education on the subject. In 1902, the Reclamation Act was passed authorizing large dams and reservoirs. Soon great arid tracts were rendered green and arable.

As the campaign of 1908 neared, Roosevelt was at the peak of his popularity. He hesitated, however, to challenge the tradition by which no President had ever held office for more than two terms. Instead, he supported William Howard Taft, who became the next President. Anxious to continue the Rooseveltian program, Taft made some forward steps. He continued the prosecution of trusts, further strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission, established a postal-savings bank and a parcel-post system, expanded the civil service, arid sponsored the enactment of two amendments to the Federal Constitution. The Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, replaced the constitutional requirement for election of Senators by state legislatures by providing for their direct election by the people; the Sixteenth Amendment authorized a federal income tax. Yet balancing the scales against these achievements was his acceptance of a tariff with protective schedules which outraged liberal opinion, his opposition to the entry of the state of Arizona into the Union because of her liberal Constitution, and his growing reliance on the ultra-conservative wing of his party.

By 1910, Taft's party was divided and an overwhelming vote swept the Democrats back into control of Congress. Two years later, in the presidential election, Woodrow Wilson, governor of New Jersey, campaigned against Taft, the Republican candidate. Roosevelt, who was rejected for the candidacy by the Republican convention, organized a third party, the Progressives, and ran for the presidency on their ticket. Wilson defeated both his rivals in a spirited campaign. His election was a victory for liberalism, for he felt a solemn mission to commit the Democrats unalterably to reform. Under his leadership, the new Congress proceeded to carry through a legislative program which, in scope and importance, was one of the most notable in American history. Its first task was tariff revision. "The tariff duties must be altered," Wilson said. "We must abolish everything that bears even the semblance of privilege." The Underwood tariff, signed on October 3, 1913, provided substantial reductions in the rates on important raw materials and foodstuffs, cotton and woolen goods, iron and steel, and other commodities, and removed the duties from more than a hundred other items. Although the act retained many protective features, it was a real attempt to lower the cost of living.