Progressive Era: Roosevelt vs. Wilson

          The beginning of the 20th century defined a new role for the presidency of the United States.  Moving away from their conservative “pro-business” beliefs, US leaders sounded the alarm for assisting the needy, protecting workers, conserving our natural resources beautification cities, regulation of business.  The progressive era saw some of the most forefront presidents, namely Roosevelt and Wilson.  While Wilson addressed international issues, Roosevelt took progressivism to new heights on the home front.

          While Woodrow Wilson played an important part in international affairs, he did so only because it was the will of business.  Wilson practiced “dollar diplomacy” with foreign nations favoring business interest.  In Latin American countries, such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, he instigated pro-US business leaders in place of anti-US leaders.  On the other hand, Roosevelt had his fair share of international clashes.  Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine dictated the position of the US interference in Latin American Countries.  Roosevelt also sent marines to quash the Boxer rebellion in China.  One of Woodrow Wilson’s dreams was the League of Nations [Doc E], which was designed to prevent further outbreak of war, but resulted in failure with lack of US membership.  While active in world events, Wilson lacked the magnitude of influence on the national level.

          Roosevelt concentrated more on his homeland, especially the wildlife. Theodore, the outdoorsman, created many state parks and wildlife reserves to protect these wonders of nature from being consumed by the corporate machine [Doc A].  Roosevelt appointed Gifford Pinchot to head the U.S. Forest Service.  He also encouraged expansion with the Newlands Act to utilize natural resources equally.  The Newlands Act made settling in the West easier.  His love for nature fueled the Conversation Movement and Sierra Club headed by John Muir. 

Wilson enacted the Federal Reserve Act, which created the Fed.  He taxed income to provide funds for aid programs such as the Federal Warehouse Act and the Federal High Way Act [Doc D].  He also reduced tariffs against business interest to help farmers with the Underwood-Simmons Tariff.

The League of Nations was Wilson’s greatest progressive idea, organized very similar to today’s United Nations.  The League of nations would have initiated armament reductions similar to present efforts, consisted of a representative from all concerned nations, and negotiated disputes between nations in a non-violent, diplomatic fashion [Document G].  Unfortunately, Wilson was unable to persuade the Congress to ratify the Versailles Treaty.  Without ratification, the United States could not join the League of Nations, stripping the organization of most of its potential power.  Although Wilson was highly progressive in thought, he failed to convert this thought into action.

Roosevelt wanted business to provide a “square deal” to the American people [Doc B].  To ensure fair competition Roosevelt, the “trustbuster”, brought down the Standard Oil and American Tobacco monopolies [Doc F].  The Hepburn and Elkins Acts regulated the railroads under Roosevelt’s administration.  Wilson also saw the need for federal regulation of big business with the Federal Trade Commission Act [Doc C].  However, while Wilson just wanted to regulation to stop illegal activities with the Clayton Anti-trust Act, Roosevelt actively went after unfair business practices.

While each a victor in his own field, one president exceeded the other in national achievements. Roosevelt looked more toward, while Wilson away from the nation.  Roosevelt contributed greatly to the Conservation Movement and started business regulation with trust busting.  Even though Wilson contributed to international policy making, he did so due to business interest, not progressive reform.

Documents Used in Writing the
Progressive Era: Roosevelt vs. Wilson


Doc. [A]


“To waste, to destroy, out natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will results in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed”


-          Roosevelt’s message to Congress [December 3, 1907]


Doc. [B]


“…We demand that big business give the people a square deal; in return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business honestly to do right he shall himself be given a square deal.”


-          Theodore Roosevelt


Doc. [C]


“The citizens of the United States must effectively control the mighty commercial forces which they have themselves called into being.”


-          Wilson’s 1913 Inaugural Address


Doc. [D]


Article XVI to the Constitution of the United States of America (1913)

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on income, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.


Doc. [E]

Selections from the Articles of the League of Nations




The Assembly shall consist of Representatives of the Members of the League. The Assembly shall meet at stated intervals and from time to time as occasion may require at the Seat of the League or at such other place as may be decided upon. The Assembly may deal at its meetings with any matter within the sphere of action of the League or affecting the peace of the world. At meetings of the Assembly each Member of the League shall have one vote, and may not have more than three Representatives.




The Members of the League recognize that the maintenance of peace requires the reduction of national armaments to the lowest point consistent with national safety and the enforcement by common action of international obligations. The Council, taking account of the geographical situation and circumstances of each State, shall formulate plans for such reduction for the consideration and action of the several Governments. Such plans shall be subject to reconsideration and revision at least every ten years. After these plans shall have been adopted by the several Governments, the limits of armaments therein fixed shall not be exceeded without the concurrence of the Council. The Members of the League agree that the manufacture by private enterprise of munitions and implements of war is open to grave objections. The Council shall advise how the evil effects attendant upon such manufacture can be prevented, due regard being had to the necessities of those Members of the League which are not able to manufacture the munitions and implements of war necessary for their safety. The Members of the League undertake to interchange full and frank information as to the scale of their armaments, their military, naval, and air programmes and the condition of such of their industries as are adaptable to war-like purposes.




Any war or threat of war, whether immediately affecting any of the Members of the League or not, is hereby declared a matter of concern to the whole League, and the League shall take any action that may be deemed wise and effectual to safeguard the peace of nations. In case any such emergency should arise the Secretary General shall on the request of any Member of the League forthwith summon a meeting of the Council. It is also declared to be the friendly right of each Member of the League to bring to the attention of the Assembly or of the Council any circumstance whatever affecting international relations which threatens to disturb international peace or the good understanding between nations upon which peace depends.


Doc. [F]

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