The Bully Pulpit (2013) follows three intricately linked strands of American history: the life of president Theodore Roosevelt, the emergence of a class of progressive investigative journalists, and the life of William Howard Taft and his complicated relationship with Roosevelt.
In 1901, an anarchist assassinated William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States. He was succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt, who, at the age of 42, was the country’s youngest president to date.
When Roosevelt took office, the country wasn’t faced with war, a revolution or an economic crisis; however, he was still confronted with a serious challenge: poorly regulated corporations had begun expanding rapidly after the Industrial Revolution, at the expense of the people.
Entire industries, such as the meat industry, were now controlled by large trusts, which could set unreasonable prices and unfair trade conditions. The six largest beef packers, which included Armour & Co. and Swift & Co., were secretly rigging the prices of meat. Costs rose so precipitately that poor families could barely afford it.
Furthermore, these companies weren’t bound by regulations on safety or payment. Workers suffered in dangerous conditions, for long hours and little pay. Even food and drugs were unregulated. Expanding industries plundered natural resources, destroying forests and contaminating water reserves.
By setting up an ethical framework for the American economy, Roosevelt sought to change all this. He wanted to set fair conditions to regulate the relationships between consumers, workers and businesses.
So Roosevelt began fighting corruption by intervening when trusts threatened to control industries. In 1905, for example, he had his attorney general file a suit that broke the beef trust apart.
Roosevelt also strengthened labor rights, imposed limits on the length of the workday, preserved vast forests and began regulating the food and drug industry. In 1906, Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, both of which aimed to protect consumers from spoiled or dangerous goods.