The Progressive era was an important time in American history because it was the period in which Americans had to look at the issues that arose from the rapidly changing industrial and political environment. The time of the Progressives occurred because Americans were facing a whole new set of problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration. During this period there was rampant poverty in the urban areas, low wages and poor working conditions for immigrants and all other low income peoples.
The industrial revolution had created a whirlwind of financial and material resources in the United States that were largely unrestricted by the government. The country, its technology and society had grown at a faster pace than the government itself could keep up with. During this time, many politicians faced the challenge of leading the country into the new century, and while other presidents like Theodore Roosevelt were more well-known and respected for their work during the Progressive period, William Howard Taft had a presidency shaped by the progressive ideals (Modern America).
While the Progressive Era was a time when people began to take notice of the poor amongst themselves, it was also a period referred to as the Gilded Age because of the extreme wealth that was found amongst very few families in the United States. This was the age of the Rockefeller’s, of railroad tycoons and businessmen made rich by industrialization, such as tobacco and oil. During this period big businesses had monopolies on the market and political leaders had to deal with how to break up the business monopolies and trusts in a country largely run by the wealthy amongst them.
William Howard Taft would come onto the scene during a time when this was particularly important and this would help to shape his political career while in office. Also during this period were the beginnings of a great many important movements in Modern America, from the women’s rights movement to the fight against unfair labor practices. A great deal of African-Americans were leaving the south and migrating northward, creating a racially explosive atmosphere in areas where there had been none.
All in all, Taft would come into office at a time when the United States was facing a great many changes (Modern America). To understand the man and his presidency, Taft’s beginnings must be recognized. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio on September 15, 1857, Taft was the son of a successful politician who served under President Ulysses S. Grant. He graduated from Yale University in 1878 and went on to law school, was admitted to the bar and held public office.
By 1887 Taft realized his dream of being a judge and sat on the Ohio state supreme court. In 1890 Taft went to Washington D. C. at the request of the then president, Benjamin Harrison, to hold a position of solicitor general. More posts from the presidency came and, at the insistence of his wife Helen Herron Taft, he left his bench to hold multiple positions, including that of the first civil governor of the Philippines (Pringle). Thus, his political career had begun.
The Progressive era was underway in 1901 when President McKinley was assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt took over the presidency. For Taft this would prove to be an important event as Roosevelt and he were good friends and during Roosevelt’s term, Taft was his political ally. (Pringle). No president had represented the ideals of the Progressive era as much as Roosevelt, who embraced them: however, Roosevelt did not run for a third term and instead insisted that his friend, William Howard Taft, seek the Republican nomination instead.
Taft was named as the Republican candidate in 1908, and because he campaigned as a supporter of his predecessor’s Progressive reforms he easily beat the democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan (U. S. History). William Howard Taft was known as a friendly and good-natured man who had a jovial appearance about him (Modern America). He was a large man, over 300 pounds for his entire adult life, and had a love for the judicial system and a dream of being a judge for most of his life. As President he was unhappy and did not have the political savvy to be successful.