One of the principle aims of the Progressive Era was to check the advancing power of big business.  How successful were they in achieving their goal by 1915?



          SECTION 1 Every contract, combination in the form of trust or otherwise, or conspiracy, in restraint of trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, is declared to be illegal. Every person who shall make and contract or engage in any combination or conspiracy hereby declared to be illegal shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten million dollars if a corporation, or, if any other person, three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, or by imprisonment not exceeding three years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.

          SECTION 2 Every person who shall monopolize, or attempt to monopolize, or combine or conspire with any other person or persons, to monopolize any part of the trade or commerce among the several States, or with foreign nations, shall be deemed guilty of a felony, and, on conviction thereof, shall be punished by fine not exceeding ten million dollars if a corporation, or, if any other person, three hundred and fifty thousand dollars or by imprisonment not exceeding three years, or by both said punishments, in the discretion of the court.

SOURCE: Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.







          I should be untrue to myself, to my promises, and to the declarations of the party platform upon which I was elected to office, if I did not make the maintenance and enforcement of those reforms a most important feature of my administration. They were directed to the suppression of the lawlessness and abuses of power of the great combinations of capital invested in railroads and in industrial enterprises carrying on interstate commerce. The steps which my predecessor took and the legislation passed on his recommendation have accomplished much, have caused a general halt in the vicious policies which created popular alarm, and have brought about in the business affected a much higher regard for existing law.

          To render the reforms lasting, however, and to secure at the same time freedom from alarm on the part of those pursuing proper and progressive business methods, further legislative and executive action are needed. Relief of the railroads from certain restrictions of the antitrust law have been urged by my predecessor and will be urged by me. On the other hand, the administration is pledged to legislation looking to a proper federal supervision and restriction to prevent excessive issues of bonds and stock by companies owning and operating interstate commerce railroads.

SOURCE: William Howard Taft, Inaugural Address, Thursday, March 4, 1909.


Our duty is to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore, to correct the evil without impairing the good, to purify and humanize every process of our common life without weakening or sentimentalizing it. There has been something crude and heartless and unfeeling in our haste to succeed and be great. Our thought has been "Let every man look out for himself, let every generation look out for itself," while we reared giant machinery which made it impossible that any but those who stood at the levers of control should have a chance to look out for themselves. We had not forgotten our morals. We remembered well enough that we had set up a policy which was meant to serve the humblest as well as the most powerful, with an eye single to the standards of justice and fair play, and remembered it with pride. But we were very heedless and in a hurry to be great.

SOURCE: Woodrow Wilson's Inaugural Address, March 4, 1913.






SOURCE: The Verdict 22 May 1899 by C. Gordon Moffat



          We are in the presence of a new organization of society. Our life has broken away from the past. The life of America is not the life that it was twenty years ago; it is not the life that it was ten years ago. We have changed our economic conditions, absolutely, from top to bottom; and, with our economic society, the organization of our life....

          The truth is, we are all caught in a great economic system which is heartless. The modern corporation is not engaged in business as an individual. When we deal with it, we deal with an impersonal element...A modern corporation is a means of co-operation in the conduct of an enterprise which is so big that no one can conduct it, and which the resources of no one man are sufficient to finance....

          When we undertake the strategy which is going to be necessary to overcome and destroy this far-reaching system of monopoly, we are rescuing the business of this country, we are not injuring it; and when we separate the interests from each other and dismember these communities of connection, we have in mind a greater community of interest, a vaster community of interest, the community of interest that binds the virtues of all men together, that community of mankind which is broad and catholic enough to take under the sweep of its comprehension all sorts and conditions of men; that vision which sees that no society is renewed from the top but ... from the bottom. Limit opportunity, restrict the field of originative achievement, and you have cut out the heart and root of all prosperity.

Source: Woodrow Wilson, The New Freedom (1913).


           Combinations in industry are the result of an imperative economic law which cannot be repealed by political legislation.  The effort at prohibiting all combination has substantially failed.  The way out lies, not in attempting to prevent such combinations, but in completely controlling them in the interest of the public welfare...

The really big fortune, the swollen fortune, by the mere fact of its size acquires qualities which differentiate it in kind as well as degree from what is possessed by men of relatively small means. Therefore, I believe in a graduated income tax on big fortunes, and in another tax which is far more easily collected and far more effective-a graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safe-guarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.

SOURCE:  A New Nationalism by Theodore Roosevelt, 1910.



It is clear that trusts are contrary to public policy and hence in conflict with the common law. They are monopolies organized to destroy competition and restrain trade...

It is contended by those interested in trusts that they tend to cheapen production and diminish the price of the article to the consumer.... Trusts are speculative in their purpose and formed to make money. Once they secure control of a given line of business, they are masters of the situation and can dictate to the two great classes with which they deal-the producer of the raw material and they consumer of the finished product....

The main weapons of the trust are threats, intimidation, bribery, fraud, wreck, and pillage. Take one well-authenticated instance in the history of the Oat Meal Trust as an example. In 1887 this trust decided that part of their mills should stand idle. They were accordingly closed. This resulted in the discharge of a large number of laborers who had to suffer in consequence. The mills which continued in operation would produce seven million barrels of meal during the year. Shortly after shutting down, the trust advanced the price of meal one dollar per barrel, and the public was forced to stand the assessment. The mills were more profitable when idle than when in operation.

SOURCE:  A Call to Action, James B. Weaver, 1892.




A - Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890.
B - 
C -
D -
E -
F -
G -
Woodrow Wilson, New Freedom (Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1913).
H -
Theodore Roosevelt, "The New Nationalism," A Documentary History of the United States, Richard B. Heffner
      (Mentor Books, 1999) 271.
 I -
James B. Weaver, "A Call to Action", United States History, John Newman and John Schmalbach (Amsco, 1998),
     p. 355.


DBQ Question created by:
Ms. Julia Bernardini
Class of 2001 
Maria Regina H. S.
Hartsdale, NY
created in:  April, 2000