DBQ: Regulation of the Economy
Should the federal government have broad power over the economy and people’s lives?
During the Progressive Era, Presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson called for the federal government to take on a greater role in regulating the economy. But not all Americans approved of the expansion of federal power.
Use your knowledge of the Progressive Era and Documents A, B, C, and D to answer questions 1 through 4.
“This country belongs to the people who inhabit it. Its resources, its businesses, its institutions, and its laws should be utilized, maintained, or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest. It is time to set the public welfare in the first place. . . .
We demand . . . that those who profit by control of business affairs shall justify that profit and that control by sharing with the public the fruits thereof. We therefore demand a strong national regulation of interstate corporations. . . .
We pledge our party to establish a Department of Labor, with a seat in the Cabinet, and with wide jurisdiction over matters affecting the conditions of labor and living.”
—Progressive “Bull Moose” Party Platform, 1912
“What effect is what you may do here going to have upon the future welfare, productiveness, and value of the greatest single industrial interest of the country?. . . . Gentlemen, you may pass an act that will so compromise the value of the property and the prosperity of the communities of this country that it will bring widespread disaster. . . .
What I say, gentlemen, is that is a very, very serious moment when an Anglo-Saxon government undertakes the charge of the people’s money and says how much they shall earn by the exercise of their constitutional rights of liberty and property. And it should be recognized that possibly we are at the parting of the ways, and that if this be done it will go on until those constitutional guarantees have but little value, and the only profession worth exercising in the country will be that of holding office in some administrative board.”
—David Wilcox, President of Delaware and Hudson Railroad,
testimony to Congress, 1905
“We have studied, as perhaps no other nation has, the most effective means of production, but we have not studied cost or economy as we should either as organizers of industry, as statesmen, or as individuals. Nor have we studied and perfected the means by which government may be put to the service of humanity, in safeguarding the health of the nation, the health of its men and its women and its children, as well as their rights in the struggle for existence. . . .
The first duty of law is to keep sound the society it serves. Sanitary laws, pure-food laws, and laws determining conditions of labor which individuals are powerless to determine for themselves are intimate parts of the very business of justice and legal efficiency.”
—Woodrow Wilson, First Inaugural Address, 1913
1. Which of the documents above most closely reflects a belief in laissez-faire economics?
2. Why does the Progressive Party platform favor the creation of a federal Department of Labor?
3. Based on Document B, how did the Federal Reserve Act increase the role of the federal government?
4. Writing Task Do you agree that the federal government should have broad power over the economy and people’s lives? Use your knowledge of the Progressive Era and specific evidence from the primary sources above to support your opinion.