Chapter III
Calamity: The Progressive Era (1906-1914)

As the public demand grew for action against corporate abuses, the Roosevelt Administration increasingly responded to the voice of reform. By 1907 the President was committed to the aspirations of the progressive movement, and business conservatives were sharply aware that the national government was no longer a reliable friend, but had become a potential enemy.

An ideological retreat to limited government and constitutional restraints began, in which James M. Beck fought a skillful rearguard action. After the panic of 1907, he labeled President Roosevelt a threat to American institutions. Active government, initiating a growing number of antitrust suits, he now considered to be a dangerous, revolutionary force in the society. His hopes rose with the election of William Howard Taft in 1908, but the new Administration did not lift the legal siege of the trusts. The election of 1912, in which both Woodrow Wilson and Roosevelt polled Presidential votes higher than Taft's total, emphasized the weakness of the corporate defense. Two years of energetic and popular Democratic rule followed, to deepen the conservative sense of defeat, and James M. Beck's interest in politics waned. By the eve of the First World War, American business leaders had lost much of their early- century confidence and stood badly in need of new issues with which to blunt the force of triumphant reform.

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