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Essay: Roosevelt vs. Wilson: A Discussion on Policies

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  • Published: 10 January 2019*
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American Presidents Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson faced many challenges in their terms. At the turn of the 20th century, America was on the brink of war, faced many business reforms on the home-front as the country became more industrialized, and were falling behind in the global race for power. As we review A People and a Nation, Volume II: Since 1865, we’ll see each president’s individual challenges, policies, and personalities. We’ll also compare and contrast the ways they dealt with world events and overcame (or fell victim to) the challenges brought before their administrations.

Roosevelt vs. Wilson: A Discussion on Policies

President Roosevelt and President Wilson were two of America’s great presidents. They both had strong views and beliefs on how the nation should continue to grow and evolve. They had differing views on war and what America’s role should be on the global stage and they had different views on how the country should expand, but they were both progressive and shared aspirations of being great leaders in America’s imperialistic change. A review of each of their foreign and domestic policies as well as the challenges each of their administrations faced show their similarities and differences and how each influenced change in our country.

Theodore Roosevelt was leading our nation at the beginning of an expansion into a greater global power. In the early 1900’s, America had secured land in the Pacific and had eyes on Latin soil. According to Norton, Roosevelt “had a fascination with power and its uses.” (p. 580). In the time leading up to his presidency, he played a key role in projecting U.S. policy abroad and believed that the U.S. would have to ally with other nations if America was ever to become a viable world power. He had a strong interest in Latin America and his Roosevelt Corollary pronounced that Latin America (Venezuela in particular) needed to square up its debts with Europe or the United States would have to mediate the matter and become “an international police power” (Norton, 2015). Roosevelt was a strong proponent of the “Open Door” and built a “Great White Navy” that projected America’s prestige abroad. His presence wasn’t only required on the foreign stage though. At the turn of the century, America was facing a lot of domestic change.

On the home-front, Roosevelt was faced with immigration reform, growing industrialization, and big businesses that were dominating the workforce with little to no governance. Roosevelt appeared to have mixed views when it came to race. He believed that African-Americans were an inferior race, but he invited Booker T. Washington to dine with him. He expressed the same racial views against Asian-Americans as most Anglo-Americans of his time, but he forced the San Francisco school board to rescind a segregation order imposed on Chinese, Korean, and Japanese students. In the business world, Roosevelt believed that big corporations should not go ungoverned and that it was the responsibility of the government to protect the workforce. As a result of his passion for the people, the Hepburn Act was passed which brought stricter regulations on the railroads. President Roosevelt’s successes both foreign and domestic laid a political foundation for Woodrow Wilson to continue the imperialistic march.

Woodrow Wilson may have failed at getting America a place in the League of Nations, but he succeeded in the creation of it. Wilson was more a fan of negotiation than war and his Fourteen Point Plan embodied his views on peace, diplomacy, and disarmament and the prevention of future wars. The aim of Wilson’s points was to “reaffirm America’s commitment to an international system governed by laws and to renounce territorial gains as a legitimate war aim.” (Norton, 2015). Wilson did his best to keep America neutral during the outbreak of the First World War. He believed our neutrality was essential in maintaining a world view of America as a civilized nation. The principles of “Wilsonianism” proclaimed that America was a “beacon of freedom to the world”. (Norton, 2015) Between British naval policy and German aggression in unrestricted submarine warfare, Wilson fought to the very end to keep America out of the war. When Germany wouldn’t heed threats to sever diplomatic relations, sent the Zimmerman telegram, and sank the Lusitania, Wilson’s hands were pretty much tied. He brought America into the war slowly. First, he severed ties with Germany, then he asked Congress for “armed neutrality” by way of arming merchant vessels. When U.S. ships continued to be destroyed at the hands of German U-boats, he called for Congress to declare America an “Associated” power in the war. Eventually this apprehension gave way to full American participation. With all the foreign turmoil, there were several domestic issues requiring President Wilson’s attention.

With America’s full participation in the war, new work opportunities were being created, and women weren’t excluded from this new era. The Wilson administration played the chords of patriotism and encouraged women to seek out jobs in factories. According to Norton, women made up nearly a quarter of the workers in the electrical, airplane, and food industries. White women moved to war-supporting industries, leaving vacancies in domestic services such as textile factories and cafeterias. Ultimately, the patriotism of the women supporting the First World War led to the granting of women suffrage.

President Wilson fought to empower American citizens from the lowest class and up. He sought out to fight monopolies, reform banking systems, and establish a Federal reserve. His administration established the Department of Labor and while he wasn’t fighting for racial equality (other than to benefit his own campaign), he issued proclamations to put an end to the militia and mob violence against African-Americans and to end lynching. President Wilson also saw to the establishment of the American Legion and the Espionage and Sedition Acts. The American Legion gave veterans a platform to lobby for benefits and the Espionage and Sedition Acts gave the government some power to crack down on anti-war Progressives.

These two presidents had some very obvious differences. Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy could be easily illustrated by his beliefs in American neutrality and in his ideas of governing based on morals. In contrast, Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy could be characterized by his motto of “speak softly and carry a big stick”. As Norton describes him, Roosevelt “looked on war as adventure” and “relished hunting and killing”. (Norton, 2015). While Wilson did bring America into the First World War, he did it reluctantly and even proclaimed that we were fighting in the war for “moral reasons”. While they varied tremendously in personality and some political views, they shared many similarities.

Both Roosevelt and Wilson were imperialists and believed in progressivism. The wanted to make America a relevant world power. They both believed that big business should be regulated, and that society should be more empowered, only differing in what extreme this regulation of business should stretch. Roosevelt and Wilson were both advocates of preserving worldwide stability and order and both believed that America should lead this charge. Roosevelt believed in spreading democracy through more militaristic endeavors while Wilson believed it to be a moral duty. That being said, they both ultimately sought the establishment of worldwide diplomacy and the preservation and projection of the American ideals of freedom.

Two very different men and two very different presidents, with differing political views and similar imperialistic desires. American entered the 20th century in
a bad place from a business p
erspective but had great potential to become a world power. Roosevelt and Wilson both paved the trail for American diplomacy and transformed governance of industry. America left the First World War with a gross number of casualties and a large number of the population feeling contrite, America was left in a good position as one of the leading world powers.


Norton, M. B. (2015). A People and a Nation, Volume II: Since 1865, 10th Edition. [Chegg].

Retrieved from https://ereader.chegg.com/#/books/9781285974682/.

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