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History of the Republican Party


The bull moose

Assuming the presidency when McKinley was assassinated in 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt busied himself with what he considered to be the most pressing issue, ensuring the Republican principle of competition in a free market. To do so, Roosevelt used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, passed in 1890 under Republican President Benjamin Harrison, to successfully prosecute and break up several large business monopolies.

In 1903, Roosevelt became involved with foreign policy, supporting revolutionaries who then formed the Republic of Panama. His actions in Panama resulted in the treaty that permitted construction of the Panama Canal. In 1905, Roosevelt--who popularized the West African phrase "Speak softly and carry a big stick" to explain his view on foreign policy--successfully negotiated the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the conflict between Russia and Japan. Roosevelt's accomplishments as a peacemaker earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the distinction of being the first American to receive this award.

Roosevelt easily won a second term and proceeded to continue to stand by his principles. Roosevelt, who was constantly bucking public prejudice, appointed the Cabinet's first Jewish member, Oscar Strauss. Then, in 1906, after reading Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Roosevelt instructed Congress to pass laws concerning meat inspection and pure food and drug legislation. Two years later he placed 150 million acres of forest land into federal reserves and organized a National Conservation Conference. Believing in the importance of work, Roosevelt was also responsible for creating the Department of Labor.

Although his immense popularity almost guaranteed that he could be elected to a third term, following precedent, Roosevelt retired, allowing William Taft to become the next Republican to hold the presidential office.

Discord struck the Republican Party in the 1912 election as Teddy Roosevelt, dissatisfied with President Taft, led his supporters on the "Bull Moose" ticket against the president. Playing to the advantage of a split Republican vote, as they would again 80 years later, the Democrats won the election with Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson ran for re-election in 1916, he promised to keep the United States out of World War I. Yet shortly after his re-election, the United States stepped onto the European battleground and entered the war. By mid-1918 the Republican Party won control of Congress as Wilson's popularity began to wane because World War I dragged on.