• Changes in Government

    Most of the Founding Fathers believed in a government that gave states and communities the power to make decisions on local issues. They worried that a powerful Federal government had the potential to become corrupt. The Constitution was written with the goal of limiting Federal power and protecting individual liberty.

    During the early 20th century, though, many people were unhappy with conditions in the country. They believed it was time for government officials to make laws that would protect average citizens.

    Changes in Government

    Fun Facts

    • Samuel Jones was elected as mayor of Toledo, Ohio in 1897. Before he was elected, private companies had control of the city’s utilities, including the electricity, water lines, telephones, and trolley cars. These private companies could charge whatever they wished and didn’t always provide good service. Samuel Jones brought the city utilities under government control. He put limits on how much they could charge for their services. He took his role as mayor seriously and wanted to improve the city. He believed in the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
    • Wisconsin governor, Robert M. La Follette, introduced the system of primary elections. Previously, political parties chose the candidates that would run for office. The primary elections allowed the people to choose the candidates.
    • During this time, reformers pushed for secret ballots. Before this, each political party had a different colored ballot and the votes were publicly dropped in a large box. Anyone watching would know how someone had voted. The new ballots were all the same color and people voted in private.
    • Communities began hiring professional city managers to take care of city business and handle certain problems. Communities also began to create commissions or task forces to make decisions.
    • President Theodore Roosevelt made sweeping changes while he was in office. He demanded that Congress create standards and laws for the quality of meat, food, and medicine. He broke up trusts that allowed a few wealthy companies to unfairly force out other businesses. Roosevelt loved the natural world and set up National Parks, setting aside 150 million acres of forest.


    1. Corrupt: dishonest, lacking integrity
    2. Ballot: a card used by voters to record their choice of leader
    3. Trust: a few companies that band together to force others out of business

    Questions and Answers

    Question: Were all the social reforms good ideas?

    Answer: Many social reforms were necessary to ensure people’s safety and well-being. One of the challenges with government, though, is that it’s hard to predict all the consequences of new laws. For example, President Wilson, who followed President Roosevelt, passed a law that made it easier for farmers to get loans. This program was designed to help farmers, but many farmers were soon deeply in debt and couldn’t pay their loans. Banks took back their farms.

    Learn More

    Visit Scholastic to learn about child labor laws.


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