The Square Deal was Theodore Roosevelt's domestic program, which reflected his three major goals: conservation of natural resources, corporate law, and consumer protection.[1]

These three demands are often referred to as the "three C's" of Roosevelt's Square Deal. 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. He explained in 1901–1909:

When I say that I am for the square deal, I mean not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service.[2]

A progressive Republican, Roosevelt believed in government action to mitigate social evils, and as president he in 1908 denounced "the representatives of predatory wealth" as guilty of "all forms of iniquity from the oppression of wage workers to unfair and unwholesome methods of crushing competition, and to defrauding the public by stock-jobbing and the manipulation of securities."[3]

During his second term, Roosevelt tried to extend his Square Deal further, but was blocked by conservative Republicans in Congress.


Coining of the term

Address to the Boys Progressive League "A square deal for every man and every woman in the United States. . .") by former President Theodore Roosevelt, New York City, recorded March 4, 1913 (according to Allen Koenigsberg's latest research).

The press was using the term "Square Deal" as early as 1871 in a New York Times local news article that reads "Many of the inscriptions on the front of trucks, drays, and other vehicles are quite amusing. On one there is a picture of a hand containing four aces, and over it is inscribed square deal."[4] In 1888, in "letters from the people" (letters to the editor), one writer signed off as "Square Deal".[5] In 1890, the phrase started to appear in headlines, e.g., "Give China a Square Deal"[6] and "Not a Square Deal".[7]

An early usage of "square deal" by Theodore Roosevelt in the press occurred in 1899, when The New York Times quoted his saying, "I did not appoint a man because he came from Dr. Wall's or any other church; I gave each man a square deal on his own account. That is what I mean by Americanism."[8]

In 1901, he declared "a square deal for every man, big or small, rich or poor" during a speech in Lynn, Massachusetts, recorded by stereograph (photo) image.[9][10]

In a 1903 speech in Springfield, Illinois, he stated, "It seems to me eminently fitting that the guard around the tomb of Lincoln should be composed of colored soldiers. It was my own good fortune at Santiago to serve beside colored troops. A man who is good enough to shed his blood for his country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards."[11]

In October 1904, while Roosevelt was readying publication of his book A Square Deal for Every Man[12] (Chicago, R. J. Thompson, 1905), The New York Times reported:

No sooner have the Democrats concluded their task of going through the President's many books with a fine-tooth comb to ferret out campaign material, than Republicans come forth with a pamphlet of about the same size, and prepared on a somewhat similar plan, making conspicuous Mr. Roosevelt's sentiments on numerous civic and governmental questions. It Is entitled "A Square Deal for Every Man" and the paragraphs printed, which are more numerous than those in "Roosevelt, Historian", are culled, to some extent, from the same volumes. Republicans are now considering the purchase of over a million of those booklets. Chairman Cortelyou has discussed has matter, and negotiations on the subject were continued yesterday at the White House.

— [13]

The 94-page pamphlet's 75 topics include: America, A Good American, Alaska, Anarchy, Army and Navy, Capital, Character, Charity, Citizenship, Farmer, Peace, Publicity, Trusts, Weaklings, and World Power. Some imitate the form of proverbs.[13] During 1905, Roosevelt capitalized on his slogan in the newspapers, who added "square deal" to headlines:

The press praised Roosevelt's Square Deal:

His explanation of that is entirely plain and understandable. It contemplates no injury to any interest, but an opportunity for all on absolutely equal terms. That is a principle the justice of which is universally recognized, and which ought to be more generally acknowledged in this country than in any other.

— [19]

The press also criticized him for it:

In his insistence upon "a square deal for all," President Roosevelt uses a phrase which is as catchy and as impracticable as either of those "glittering generalities" or the Declaration of Independence that have been shining and ringing all over the civilized world for a hundred and twenty-nine years and bid fair to serve for centuries to come as a potent inspiration in every struggle against tyranny and oppression, every movement toward greater liberty.

— [19]

Other politicians tried to capitalize on the phrase, too, e.g., U.S. Representative Henry Sherman Boutell of Illinois.[21]

Initial legislation

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.

Legislation was passed which specified that meat had to be processed safely with proper sanitation. Foodstuffs and drugs could no longer be mislabeled, nor could consumers be deliberately misled.

Roosevelt gave high priority to environmental conservation, and safeguarded millions of acres of wilderness from commercial exploitation.[22] Roosevelt's conservation efforts were driven by practicality as well as by a love for nature. Influenced by early wise-use advocates like Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt believed that nature existed to benefit humanity. In a conserved wilderness, water could be taken to irrigate farmland, sport could be had, and timber could be harvested.[23]

Acting on these beliefs, Roosevelt set up the federal Reclamation Service in 1902. The agency, through the use of dams and irrigation, created arable land in areas that had been too dry to farm, and the Reclamation Service eventually brought millions of acres of farmland into service. During Roosevelt's time in office, 24 reclamation projects were set up, and 150 national forests were created.[24]

Second term

Roosevelt, moving to the left of his Republican Party base, called for a series of reforms that were mostly not passed.[25] He sought a national incorporation law. All corporations had state charters, which varied greatly state by state. He called for a federal income tax, but the Supreme Court had ruled in 1895 that any income tax would require a constitutional amendment. Roosevelt sought an inheritance tax so the great family fortunes could not be inherited without the tax for generations.

In the area of labor legislation, Roosevelt called for limits on the use of court injunctions against labor unions during strikes. Injunctions were a powerful weapon that mostly helped business. He wanted an employee liability law for industrial injuries, pre-empting state laws. He called for an eight-hour law for federal employees. In other areas he also sought a postal savings system to provide competition to local banks, and, finally, campaign finance reform.

He secured passage of the Hepburn Act in 1906, which increased the regulating power of the Interstate Commerce Commission. Eventually, many of the proposals he championed were enacted under Democrats Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When Roosevelt ran for president on an independent Progressive Party ticket in 1912, in addition to these policies he proposed stringent new controls on the court system, especially state courts, to make them more democratic. His court policies in particular caused his anointed successor, William Howard Taft, to lead a counter-crusade which defeated Roosevelt in the Republican presidential primaries in 1912.[26]



Labor unions in the age of Samuel Gompers were generally on the Democratic side, but Roosevelt felt that favorable policies toward them would gain votes or at least neutralize their opposition.[27] He had opposed unions in 1896, when they supported William Jennings Bryan, then came to appreciate their value after 1900. He played a central role in negotiating a compromise to end the Coal strike of 1902, which was threatening the nation's energy supply.[28] He decided they also needed a square deal, and a stronger voice and collective bargaining with corporations.[29][30]

Health and welfare


Public projects



Rural areas

Business regulation

See also


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  5. ^ Deal, Square (11 August 1888). "Square Deal's Plaint". The Washington Post. p. 7.
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Further reading