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Progressive Era Politics Terms

Conservationism, Conservationists, Conservationist

Refers to the philosophy of the Conservation Movement, which began around 1850 in America and picked up steam during the Progressive Era, particularly with the support of President Theodore Roosevelt. Naturalists like Henry David Thoreau (in the mid-nineteenth century) and John Muir (in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries) praised the beauty and majesty of America's diverse landscapes, and sought to protect these areas from the encroachment of the rapidly expanding factories and concrete jungles of the city. Debates soon emerged among conservationists, as one group sought to keep certain areas completely out of developers' reach, while another thought that these areas could be developed within certain established limits. The debate continues today, but Roosevelt nonetheless managed to set an important government precedent for safeguarding areas deemed national treasures as well as the animals inhabiting those regions. Under the Roosevelt administration, the government designated key regions as National Parks, National Forests, National Game Preserves, and Federal Bird Reservations.

Federal Reserve System, Federal Reserve, The Fed

Popularly referred to as "the Fed." The Federal Reserve Act created this system, and it consists of twelve regional banks that issue currency. Supervising the regional banks are the seven members of the Board of Governors, who are each appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to serve fourteen-year terms of office. The President designates, and the Senate confirms, two members of the Board to be Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Fed's Board of Governors, for four-year terms. The Chairman of the Fed has come to be known as one of the nation's most important and powerful positions. That's because the Fed carries the tremendous responsibility of setting the interest rate at which its regional banks issue loans to private banks. This interest rate is sort of a barometer for the economy (or a tool with which to keep it in relative balance), and when things are going badly, the Fed often lowers the interest rate to try to increase spending and get things going again. (Note: there has been and continues to be a very passionate debate among economists about the virtues and/or pitfalls of raising and/or lowering the interest rate, but we won't delve into that here.) Hundreds of millions of dollars (and then some) are wagered each day on the stock market, and many investors place expensive bets on whether the Fed is going to increase or decrease the federal interest rate at any given time. With the creation of this system, Fed currency (Federal Reserve notes) became the country's government-backed medium of trade. The United States was still on the gold standard when the Fed was created, but during the Great Depression in 1933, the federal government stopped backing up U.S. currency with gold. Since then, the Federal Reserve has become a mechanism for regulating the money supply, in the absence of a gold standard. President Woodrow Wilson held Congress in session throughout the summer of 1913 to pass this legislation, and it was an important priority since his recent election platform promised major reforms of the banking system. Rather than aggressively trust-busting, Wilson advocated banking reforms that marked an increased government role in supervising the economy. With this new system in place, Progressives hoped to prevent future crises like the one that had occurred in 1907, when multiple financial institutions failed and threatened to undermine the entire banking system. Clearly, given the key example of the Great Depression, this did not succeed; nonetheless, the Fed remains a key institution in the American economy and has since been reformed in a number of ways.

Horizontal Expansion

The process by which a company—usually a monopoly, or a burgeoning monopoly—eliminates its competitors who manufacture the same product and acquires control over the means of production and distribution.

Tariff, Tariffs, Customs Duty

Usually a tax on imported goods (sometimes on exported goods as well), also known as a customs duty. Progressives called for drastic reductions in tariff duties, in keeping with a free-market economic philosophy—but not a completely laissez faire policy, as the Progressives did not want to abolish tariffs and other economic regulations altogether. A lower tariff promised more competitive prices for consumers, more international trade, and possibly more efficient manufactures. The Underwood Simmons Tariff of 1913 accomplished this Progressive goal, but it did not last long because World War I erupted in Europe the following year, thereby paralyzing foreign manufactures. Its long-term effect, however, was to introduce the graduated income tax as a means of making up for lost government revenues.

Vertical Integration, Vertical Expansion

The process by which a company—usually a monopoly, or a burgeoning monopoly—dominates almost every stage of production and distribution in its particular field. For the famous Standard Oil monopoly, this included the elimination of all competitors from the drilling to the refining stage to the storage of the product (oil), and the delivery.

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