What Was The Square Deal?

President Roosevelt was a driving force of the Progressive Era.
President Roosevelt was a driving force of the Progressive Era.

During his first term in office, President Theodore Roosevelt began championing for a collection of policies which he thought would correct the wrongs that had been created by industrialization and also improve the quality of life of his people. These policies were collectively referred to as Square Deal. The domestic programs were mainly focused on controlling corporations, consumer welfare, and nature conservation. The phrase “Square Deal” was not created by President Roosevelt as it was already familiar in the 19th century. However, it was linked to him after the 1902 coal strike which he mediated. In mediating the dispute, he treated both the workers and their bosses equally. He started using the phrase more frequently in 1903.

Origin and Early Usage of the Term

The phrase “Square Deal” was used in use in the 1870s by the press, particularly the New York Times. In 1888, one of the letters to the editor was signed off with the phrase “Square Deal.” However, the term started appearing in headlines in 1890. President Roosevelt first used the phrase in the press in 1899, when he was quoted by the New York Times saying “I gave each man a square deal on his own account.” In 1901, he was again quoted saying “a square deal for every man…” His first public use of the phrase may have been in 1903 in a speech he gave in Springfield, Illinois. As the president used the term more frequently, it became associated with him. Consequently, historians and writers have applied the phrase to mean the legislation and policies connected with the presidency of Roosevelt.

Components of Square Deal

President Roosevelt was the driving force of the Progressive Era and his push more domestic policies won him a landslide victory. Although the Square Deal covered many areas of Roosevelt's policy programs, a large part addressed the oppressive labor conditions and the many corporations that were unregulated in the United States at the time. These were being brought to light by muckrakers. The program mainly aimed at regulating manufacturing and trade and ensuring that controls and oversights to fairness and equity in businesses. Businesses were also to be protected against unreasonable unions. The three main demands are popularly known as “the 3C’s of Roosevelt’s Square Deal.” Another major influence of the Square Deal programs was the protection of children and women in the workplace, leading to the Chartering of the National Child Labor Committee in 1907. As a result, child labor was restricted and new safety regulations at the workplace also imposed. The Elkin Act of 1903 restricted railroad from giving rebates to favored companies.


Square Deal was one of the most successful policy programs that had been initiated by the government. It was popular among both the liberals and conservatives alike. As a result, several acts were passed including the Sherman Antitrust Act which stopped firms that were bad monopolies and encouraged the good ones. The Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 ensured that meat was processed and packaged with proper sanitation. Food products also had to be properly labeled. Other Acts included the Hepburn Act and the Newlands Act. Labor unions were also recognized and their bosses required to improve working conditions.


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