Theodore Roosevelt was known as the "Accidental President" because he took office when President William McKinley suddenly died in September 1901. At forty-two years old, he was at that time the youngest man to ever assume the presidency.
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 set out to extend this square deal further. One of his first targets was the powerful 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. The Hepburn Railroad Regulation Act of 1906 sought to restore some regulatory authority to the government by giving the ICC authority to inspect the books of railroad companies.
Roosevelt also pressured Congress to enact the Pure Food and Drug Act, which restricted the sale of dangerous or ineffective medicines.
When Upton Sinclair's powerful novel, entitled The Jungle, appeared in 1906, featuring appalling descriptions of conditions in the meatpacking industry, Roosevelt insisted on passage of the Meat Inspection Act, which ultimately helped eliminate many diseases once transmitted in impure meat.
Starting in 1907, he proposed even more stringent measures: an eight-hour day for workers, broader compensation for victims of industrial accidents, inheritance and income taxes, regulation of the stock market, and others. But conservative opposition blocked much of this agenda and was responsible for a widening gulf between the president and the conservative wing of his party.
Roosevelt's aggressive policies on behalf of conservation contributed to that gulf. Using executive powers, he restricted private development on millions of acres of undeveloped government land--most of it in the West--by adding them to the previously modest national...