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"Full dinner pail" lantern from William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt's 1900 campaign

One of the major reasons for calling delegates to Philadelphia in 1787 was to resolve economic problems arising from the Articles of Confederation. We expect our presidents to maintain prosperity, resolve disruptive strikes, keep employment full and the various markets healthy.

Even though his power to control the economy is actually quite limited, woe to the chief executive who governs during an economic downturn and is perceived as ineffectual or indifferent. The politician in each president knows what it takes to remain popular. In the words of political consultant James Carville, "It's the economy, stupid."

 Button from William J. Clinton's 1992 campaign
Candidates run on the promise of creating sustained economic prosperity, and the public expects them to deliver. One of the ongoing debates in American history has been the degree to which the government should protect local industries versus encourage free trade. At times this hotly contested issue has dominated presidential elections.
 Truckers' protest poster
The increasing influence of the federal government over the economy has led many Americans to expect the president to maintain the nation's financial health. This includes restraining the price of oil, controlling inflation, and providing a reasonable minimum-wage standard.
 Pullman strike photograph
In the name of national security or preserving the general welfare, presidents have used their office to settle labor disputes or affect business practices. Both unions and companies have suffered the consequences of presidential wrath.

In 1894 President Grover Cleveland ordered federal troops in Chicago to break a strike against the Pullman Palace Car Company that was threatening to disrupt the nationwide rail system.

Courtesy of Library of Congress

 Trustbusting cartoon

President Theodore Roosevelt led a campaign against the abuses of large monopolies and called for several corporations, including Standard Oil, to be broken up. This cartoon from the November 4, 1906, St. Louis Post-Dispatch shows Roosevelt aiming a cannon at the oil trust.

Courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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