Academic level – Undergrad 1-2
Type of paper – Case study
Topic Title – Challenges Faced by Progressives
Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, and Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat, both had the same domestic policy objectives in the first two decades of the 20th century.
The program was called Progressivism and the ultimate goal was to clear up corruption in all phases of the economy and the government and to give the working man a better chance to advance.
Their methods and motivations, however, were different.
Discuss the problems faced by the Progressives and the manner in which they attempted to rectify the problems.
Compare these two presidents as far as their accomplishments.
Throughout the 20th century, a significant force known as Progressivism emerged, spearheaded by influential figures like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, who represented the Republican and Democratic parties, respectively. Their roles in driving the Progressivism movement were pivotal, as they sought to combat corruption in the government and the economy while striving to enhance opportunities for the working class. Although they shared common objectives, these two presidents adopted distinct approaches and motivations. In the midst of a changing America, these visionary leaders embraced the ideals of Progressivism, embarking on a mission to guide the nation toward a brighter future. Along their journeys, they confronted challenges that molded their paths following their visions.
At the turn of the century, America grappled with corruption, economic disparities, and labor exploitation. These challenges catalyzed the Progressive movement, prompting it to initiate reforms. The Gilded Age left a legacy of monopolies, labor injustices, and the undue influence of money in politics, resulting in societal inequality and imbalance (Palmer, 2020). Progressives aimed to address these issues by reinstating principles like fairness, equality, and accountability in society and its governance. A notable strategy they employed involved muckrakers—journalists committed to exposing prevalent societal practices and inequalities. For instance, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” sheds light on the deplorable working conditions in the meatpacking industry. At the same time, Ida Tarbell’s investigative work unveiled the tactics of the oil tycoon Standard Oil (Shalin, 2022). These muckrakers significantly heightened awareness and garnered support for progressive reforms.
Theodore Roosevelt, a proponent of trust-busting, took on the Northern Securities Company in 1902 by utilizing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to dissolve their railroad monopoly. This landmark case marked a significant stride in enforcing trust laws and demonstrated the government’s commitment to dismantling monopolies and fostering fair competition. In 1906, Roosevelt enacted the Hepburn Act, which granted the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) the authority to regulate railroad rates. This legislation aimed to curb pricing practices, establish fair rates, and ensure equitable access to transportation services for small businesses and consumers.
Woodrow Wilson continued to advance Progressivism during his presidency. In 1914, he signed the Clayton Anti-Trust Act into law to strengthen regulations against anti-competitive practices. This act aimed to prohibit price discrimination and exclusive dealing, safeguarding consumers while promoting an environment of fair competition. To promote democracy and combat corruption, Progressives championed the adoption of initiative, referendum, and recall systems. The initiative allowed regular citizens to propose laws directly, bypassing the conventional legislative process. Referendums empowered voters to approve or reject proposed legislation, giving them a direct voice in governance (Palmer, 2020). The recall mechanism allowed elected officials to be removed from office before their term ended, ensuring accountability to the citizens.
When comparing the achievements of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson during their presidencies, one can observe their distinct approaches to achieving Progressive objectives. Roosevelt’s administration prioritized trust-busting and conservation, creating national parks, forests, and monuments to preserve natural resources. He also championed consumer protection through legislation like the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson focused on trade reforms, supporting the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 to stabilize the banking and monetary system (Shalin, 2022). His commitment to trade and consumer protection was evident in the Underwood Tariff Act, which aimed to assist consumers and small businesses by reducing tariffs and fostering competition. 1914, Wilson established the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to address business practices and protect consumers from advertising and fraud.
Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson profoundly shaped the Progressive movement in the 20th century. While sharing common policy goals, they employed distinctive strategies and approaches. Roosevelt’s emphasis on trust-busting, conservation, and consumer protection left an indelible mark on society. In contrast, Wilson’s focus on trade reforms and establishing the FTC contributed to the stability and safeguarding of consumer rights. Through their unwavering dedication to instigating change and addressing the pressing issues of their time, both Roosevelt and Wilson left enduring legacies that significantly influenced the course of American history.
Palmer, N. (2020). The historical presidency: “No man is big enough”: President Harding’s defense of the proto‐modern executive. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 51(1), 166–186. https://doi.org/10.1111/psq.12659
Shalin, D. N. (2022). Progressivism, old and new: The spiritual moorings of progressive reforms. Society, 59(6), 648–659. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12115-022-00706-y