The Square Deal

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The Square Deal was President Theodore Roosevelt's domestic program formed upon three basic ideas: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection.[1] Thus, it aimed at helping middle class citizens and involved attacking plutocracy and bad trusts while at the same time protecting business from the most extreme demands of organized labor. In contrast to his predecessor William McKinley, Roosevelt was a Republican who believed in government action to mitigate social evils, and as president denounced “the representatives of predatory wealth” as guilty of “all forms of iniquity from the oppression of wage workers to defrauding the public.”[2]

In his second term, he tried to extend his square deal further. Roosevelt pushed for the courts, which had been guided by a clearly delineated standard up to that point, to yield to the wishes of the executive branch on all subsequent anti-trust suits.

In 1903, with Roosevelt's support, Congress passed the Elkins Act. This stated that railroads were not allowed to give rebates to favored companies any longer. These rebates had treated small Midwestern farmers unfairly by not allowing them equal access to the services of the railroad. The Interstate Commerce Commission controlled the prices that railroads could charge, which had the long-term negative effect of weakening the railroads, as they faced new competition from trucks and buses.

Legislation was passed which specified that meat had to be processed safely with proper sanitation, giving the advantage to large packing houses and undercutting small local operations. Foodstuffs and drugs could no longer be mislabeled, nor could consumers be deliberately misled. Roosevelt also fought strongly for land conservation, and safeguarded millions of hectares of wilderness from commercial exploitation.[3]
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