OTD: Teddy Roosevelt and the Coal Miners

Was Teddy Roosevelt right or wrong?

On this day, October 13, 1902, Teddy Roosevelt, Coal Miners, and the Constitution.

In 1902, America was running on coal. But on May 12, coal workers went on strike, calling for better working conditions. They labored sixteen-hour days, exposing themselves to life-threatening dangers for low wages, having received no raises in twenty years. Ten-year-old boys were working these mines! The strike dragged on as management and labor couldn’t agree.

George F Bayer, President of Philadelphia Coal and Mining Co, said,

“Coal Mining is a business. Not a religious, sentimental, or academic proposition. The rights and interests of the laboring man will be protected and cared for–not by the labor agitators, but by the Christian men to whom God in His infinite wisdom has given the control of the property interests of the country.”

Summer turned into fall with winter fast approaching – no agreement. Without coal, many Americans would freeze.

President Teddy Roosevelt, seeing the danger, personally intervened. TR didn’t believe that a few businessmen should have the power to cripple the nation. So on this day, October 13, 1902, President Teddy Roosevelt threatens to nationalize the coal mines. This threat brought both sides to the table to work out an agreement. The nation was relieved.

The move was controversial. Some claimed TR was violating private property rights and the Constitution. When confronted about the constitutionality of his actions, Roosevelt responded by saying the Constitution was made for the people and not the people for the Constitution. TR believed it was in the nation’s best interest, and therefore he had a moral obligation to act.

TR’s young cousin Franklin, the future President, in a letter to momma said this about TR’s intervention:

“October 26, 1902. Dearest mama, it has been very chilly here for the past week, and the Harvard buildings have been cold through lack of fuel, but now that the strike is settled, the coal has begun to come in small quantities. In spite of the President’s success in settling the trouble, I think that he makes a serious mistake in interfering politically, at least. His tendency to make the executive power stronger than the houses of Congress is bound to be a bad thing, especially when a man of weaker personality succeeds him in office. Ever with love, F.D.R.”

FDR was somewhat critical of his cousin’s actions here. But FDR himself, thirty years later, would also use the power of the Presidency in the same manner.

The agreement favored labor. The miners got a ten-percent pay raise, had their workday reduced to nine hours, and the American people stayed warm that winter.

These policies of Teddy Roosevelt curbing the power of the industrialists in favor of the workers and their working conditions were principles of his “Square Deal.”

What do you think? Was TR right or wrong in his actions?