The Cubans had been in a state of rebellion since the s, and American newspapers, particularly New York City papers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer , printed sensationalized " Yellow Journalism " stories about Spanish atrocities in Cuba. However, these lurid stories reached only a small fraction of voters; most read sober accounts of Spanish atrocities, and they called for intervention. Although it was unclear precisely what caused the blast, many Americans believed it to be the work of a Spanish mine, an attitude encouraged by the yellow journalism of Hearst and Pulitzer.
The military was rapidly mobilized as the U. It was made clear that no attempt at annexation of Cuba would be made and that the island's independence would be guaranteed.
Spain considered this a wanton intervention in its internal affairs and severed diplomatic relations. War was declared on April Spain capitulated, ending the three-month-long war and recognizing Cuba's independence. Although U. That never happened and after American attention turned to the Panama Canal as the key to opening new trade routes. The Spanish—American War thus began the active, globally oriented American foreign policy that continues to the present day.
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However, Philippine revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo declared independence and in began fighting the U. The Philippine—American War ended in after Aguinaldo was captured and swore allegiance to the U. Likewise the other insurgents accepted American rule and peace prevailed, except in some remote islands under Muslim control. Roosevelt continued the McKinley policies of removing the Catholic friars with compensation to the Pope , upgrading the infrastructure, introducing public health programs, and launching a program of economic and social modernization. The enthusiasm shown in —99 for colonies cooled off, and Roosevelt saw the islands as "our heel of Achilles.
Attention increasingly focused on the Caribbean as the rapid growth of the Pacific states, especially California, revealed the need for a canal across to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Plans for one in Nicaragua fell through but under Roosevelt's leadership the U.
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The Panama Canal opened in In , Roosevelt announced his " Corollary " to the Monroe Doctrine , stating that the United States would intervene in cases where Latin American governments prove incapable or unstable in the interest of bringing democracy and financial stability to them.
The intervention policy ended in the s and was replaced by the Good Neighbor policy. This was followed up by the — U. The conquest resulted in a year-long United States occupation of Haiti. Limited American intervention occurred in Mexico as that country fell into a long period of anarchy and civil war starting in In April , U. Cavalry detachment, seized horses and mules, burned the town, and killed 17 of its residents. President Woodrow Wilson responded by sending 12, troops, under Gen.
John J. Pershing , into Mexico to pursue Villa. The Pancho Villa Expedition to capture Villa failed in its objectives and was withdrawn in January A new spirit of the times, known as "Progressivism", arose in the s and into the s although some historians date the ending with World War I. The presidential election of gave the U. Meeting at Philadelphia , the Republicans expressed jubilation over the successful outcome of the war with Spain, the restoration of prosperity, and the effort to obtain new markets through the Open Door Policy. The election was mostly a repeat of except for imperialism being added as a new issue Hawaii had been annexed in William Jennings Bryan added anti-imperialism to his tired-out free silver rhetoric, but he was defeated in the face of peace, prosperity and national optimism.
President McKinley was enjoying great popularity as he began his second term,  but it would be cut short. He was the third President to be assassinated, all since the Civil War. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency. Political corruption was a central issue, which reformers hoped to solve through civil service reforms at the national, state, and local level, replacing political hacks with professional technocrats. The Civil Service Reform Act or Pendleton Act , which placed most federal employees on the merit system and marked the end of the so-called " spoils system ", permitted the professionalization and rationalization of the federal administration.
However, local and municipal government remained in the hands of often-corrupt politicians, political machines , and their local " bosses ". Henceforth, the spoils system survived much longer in many states, counties, and municipalities, such as the Tammany Hall ring, which survived well into the s when New York City reformed its own civil service. Illinois modernized its bureaucracy in under Frank Lowden , but Chicago held out against civil service reform until the s. Many self-styled progressives saw their work as a crusade against urban political bosses and corrupt "robber barons".
There were increased demands for effective regulation of business, a revived commitment to public service, and an expansion of the scope of government to ensure the welfare and interests of the country as the groups pressing these demands saw fit. Almost all the notable figures of the period, whether in politics, philosophy, scholarship, or literature, were connected at least in part with the reform movement.
Trenchant articles dealing with trusts, high finance, impure foods, and abusive railroad practices began to appear in the daily newspapers and in such popular magazines as McClure's and Collier's. Their authors, such as the journalist Ida M. Tarbell , who crusaded against the Standard Oil Trust , became known as " Muckrakers ".
In his novel, The Jungle , Upton Sinclair exposed unsanitary conditions in the Chicago meat packing houses and the grip of the beef trust on the nation's meat supply. The hammering impact of Progressive Era writers bolstered aims of certain sectors of the population, especially a middle class caught between political machines and big corporations, to take political action.
Many states enacted laws to improve the conditions under which people lived and worked. At the urging of such prominent social critics as Jane Addams , child labor laws were strengthened and new ones adopted, raising age limits, shortening work hours, restricting night work, and requiring school attendance.
By the early 20th century, most of the larger cities and more than half the states had established an eight-hour day on public works. Equally important were the Workers' Compensation Laws, which made employers legally responsible for injuries sustained by employees at work. New revenue laws were also enacted, which, by taxing inheritances , laid the groundwork for the contemporary Federal income tax. Roosevelt, a progressive Republican, called for a " Square Deal ", and initiated a policy of increased Federal supervision in the enforcement of antitrust laws.
Later, extension of government supervision over the railroads prompted the passage of major regulatory bills. One of the bills made published rates the lawful standard, and shippers equally liable with railroads for rebates. Following Roosevelt's landslide victory in the election he called for still more drastic railroad regulation, and in June , Congress passed the Hepburn Act. This gave the Interstate Commerce Commission real authority in regulating rates, extended the jurisdiction of the commission, and forced the railroads to surrender their interlocking interests in steamship lines and coal companies.
Roosevelt held many meetings, and opened public hearings, in a successful effort to find a compromise for the Coal Strike of , which threatened the fuel supplies of urban America. Conservation of the nation's natural resources and beautiful places was a very high priority for Roosevelt, and he raised the national visibility of the issue. His appointment of his friend Gifford Pinchot as chief forester resulted in vigorous new scientific management of public lands. TR added 50 wildlife refuges, 5 new national parks, and initiated the system of designating national monuments , such as the Devils Tower National Monument.
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Roosevelt's popularity was at its peak as the campaign of neared, but he was unwilling to break the tradition by which no President had held office for more than two terms. Instead, he supported William Howard Taft. On the Democratic side, William Jennings Bryan ran for a third time, but managed to carry only the South. Taft, a former judge, first colonial governor of the U.
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Taft 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, and sponsored the enactment of two amendments to the United States Constitution. The 16th Amendment authorized a federal income tax, while the 17th Amendment , ratified in , mandated the direct election of U. Senators by the people, replacing the prior system established in the original Constitution, in which they were selected by state legislatures.
Yet balanced against these achievements were: Taft's acceptance of a tariff with protective schedules that outraged progressive opinion; his opposition to the entry of the state of Arizona into the Union because of its progressive constitution; and his growing reliance on the conservative wing of his party. By , the Republican Party was divided, and an overwhelming vote swept the Democrats back into control of Congress. Two years later, Woodrow Wilson , the Democratic, progressive governor of the state of New Jersey , campaigned against Taft, the Republican candidate, and against Roosevelt who was appalled by his successor's policies and thus broke his earlier pledge to not run for a third term.
As the Republicans would not nominate him, he ran as a third-party Progressive candidate, but the ticket became widely known as the Bull Moose Party. The election was mainly a contest between Roosevelt and Wilson, Taft receiving little attention and carrying just eight electoral votes. Wilson, in a spirited campaign, defeated both rivals. Under his leadership, the new Congress enacted one of the most notable legislative programs in American history. Its first task was tariff revision. Although the act retained many protective features, it was a genuine attempt to lower the cost of living for American workers.
The second item on the Democratic program was a reorganization of the banking and currency system. Passage of the Federal Reserve Act of was one of Wilson's most enduring legislative accomplishments, for he successfully negotiated a compromise between Wall Street and the agrarians. The plan built on ideas developed by Senator Nelson Aldrich , who discovered the European nations had more efficient central banks that helped their internal business and international trade. The new organization divided the country into 12 districts, with a Federal Reserve Bank in each, all supervised by a Federal Reserve Board.
These banks were owned by local banks and served as depositories for the cash reserves of member banks. Until the Federal Reserve Act, the U. While the official medium of exchange was gold coins, most loans and payments were carried out with bank notes, backed by the promise of redemption in gold.
The trouble with this system was that the banks were tempted to reach beyond their cash reserves, prompting periodic panics during which fearful depositors raced to turn their bank paper into coin. With the passage of the act, greater flexibility in the money supply was assured, and provision was made for issuing federal reserve notes—paper dollars—to meet business demands. The Fed opened in and played a central role in funding the World War.