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Theodore Roosevelt and Progressivism

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Theodore Roosevelt and Progressivism


Despite the criticism of their reform efforts, Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson's commitment to and success in achieving national reform made them successful progressive presidents. There hasn't yet been a presidency that didn't receive criticism, with or without justification. Roosevelt in particular, received a lot of praise and criticism for his successes and failures. Overall, however, both Roosevelt and Wilson acknowledged and were committed to bringing about changes during their presidencies. They were both good presidents for the Progressive Era.

President Roosevelt was deeply criticized during his presidency. Robert La Follette, the Republican leader of Progressivism before Roosevelt, was one of Roosevelt's biggest critics. In his Autobiography: A personal narrative of political experiences, he talks about Roosevelt's reform policies, particularly his position on the Anti-Trust Law and his trust strategy in general, and how he didn't solve the problems, but only increased the growth of monopolies and the power of business (Doc E). There were also many political cartoons published which criticized Roosevelt's policies. One in particular pictures Roosevelt singing loudly his Progressive fallacies, with La Follette sulking in the background (Doc G). There was justification to criticize Roosevelt. Although he was infamous for his "square deal," taking on trusts, he busted only about half as many trusts in twice as much time as President Taft later did. The cases he did take on were high profile, and he was noisy about them. Also, he may have only fought trusts because he thought it would be riskier to ignore them.

Woodrow Wilson also had policies that were controversial, and the extent of his progressivism can be questioned. Wilson's progressive attitude didn't extent to many areas. For example, he didn't reform the way government corruption occurred. He would even encourage this by giving his friends rewards and punishing his enemies. He operated on a minimal spoils system. He was also quite racist. His reform policies didn't extend to African-Americans. He appointed many Southern racists to his cabinet and was strongly opposed to black suffrage. He considered enfranchisement an evil. Wilson also didn't want to reform social injustices. Offering no support for the ratification a suffrage movement, Wilson preferred state action for women's suffrage. Child labor was another issue he considered a state matter. Reform was something Wilson only considered on certain issues.

Despite questions of motive and success, Roosevelt can be considered a successful progressive president and reformer. In his first inaugural address, he addressed the problems that needed reforming and that he was aware of the issues and prepared to fight them (Doc B). In "High Regard for Theodore Roosevelt by Afro-Americans," from the Cleveland Journal in 1903, it's discussed that African Americans' favored Roosevelt's policies. The article also quotes Roosevelt telling the country that he won't be a corrupt president, offering favors and handing out special privileges (Doc C). His "square deal" sought to create a moral approach to many social problems. In his speech, "The New Nationalism," he distinguished between what he considered good and bad trusts and he would not respect labor organizations simply because they represented workers, but based on merits (Doc H). He tried to enforce existing anti-trust laws rather than creating new ones. The square deal called for tighter control of big business, particularly less power for the railroads. In Roosevelt's Annual Message to Congress in 1908, he discussed the corruption in business and how he will reform corporations and reduce their power (Doc F). Roosevelt had many successful endeavors as president.
Woodrow Wilson was also a successful progressive president. In his first inaugural address, he discussed all the reforms he planned to overtake. Among these were reforming tariffs, reorganize banking, and more (Doc A). His second inaugural address looked back on his first four years and discussed their success (Doc D). There were many successes to discuss. Wilson took great initiative to reduce tariffs. To discuss the issue, he called Congress into session, something a president hadn't done since John Adams. He proposed a bill to reduce tariffs, which passed through the House immediately. The Senate also passed what would later become the Underwood-Simmons Tariff, after Wilson made a public statement appealing to the Senate regarding the passage of the bill. Wilson also created the Federal Trade Commission, which regulated big business, and still operates successfully to this day. These programs were important victories for the Progressive Era.

President Roosevelt and President Wilson were both important progressive presidents. Many of the changes they brought about still affect our society today. Despite criticism, they did good things with their presidencies. Each had a different approach to progressivism, but that's what progressivism was. Progressivism was change and reform. Both presidents were successful in bringing this about, and both presidents impacted society for the better.

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