On this day in history, President Theodore Roosevelt delivered his first State of the Union address. He spoke in depth about “how to deal with the great industrial combinations,” calling for government supervision and national regulation over all corporations engaging in interstate commerce.
He also encouraged the creation of a new cabinet officer, to be known as Secretary of Commerce, to coordinate control of commerce by the national government. He justified his suggestions in this way:
The course proposed is one phase of what should be a comprehensive and far-reaching scheme of constructive statesmanship for the purpose of broadening our markets, securing our business interests on a safe basis, and making firm our new position in the international industrial world; while scrupulously safeguarding the rights of wage-worker and capitalist, of investor and private citizen, so as to secure equity as between man and man in this Republic.”
You can read TR’s speech in its entirety here.
Roosevelt directed his attorney general to begin filing suits against the largest monopolies. In 1902 the first trust giant to fall victim to Roosevelt’s assault was the most powerful industrialist in the country — J. Pierpont Morgan, who, along with railroad moguls James J. Hill and E. H. Harriman controlled the bulk of railroad shipping across the northern United States. The company was sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. Eventually, Roosevelt’s administration dissolved 44 trusts, earning TR the sobriquet “Trust Buster.”