National Reform  (Progressive Era part II)


                 W.E.B. DuBois             Theodore Roosevelt           Eugene V. Debs

C20 Study Guide

Theodore Roosevelt became president as a consequence of the assassination of William McKinley, but he quickly moved to make the office his own. In many ways, Roosevelt was the preeminent progressive, yet it sometimes seemed that for him reform was more a style than a dogma. Although Roosevelt clearly envisioned a more activist national government, the shifts and contradictions embodied in his policies toward trusts, labor, and conservation reflected the complexity and diversity of progressivism. Despite being Roosevelt's hand-picked successor, President William Howard Taft managed to alienate Roosevelt and other progressive Republicans by his actions regarding tariffs, conservation, foreign policy, trusts, and other matters. In 1912, Roosevelt decided to challenge Taft for the presidency. When he failed to secure the Republican nomination, Roosevelt formed his own Progressive party. With the Republicans divided, Woodrow Wilson won the presidency. In actuality, Wilson's domestic program turned out to be much like the one Roosevelt had advocated. In the Caribbean, Wilson continued the pattern of intervention that Roosevelt and Taft had established.


Reform: Although progressive reformers experienced some successes on the state and local levels, many of their efforts foundered in the face of the size and scope of industrial combinations. Turning their efforts to the national level, it soon became clear that only a strong presidency could exercise the power necessary to create meaningful reforms. Progressives looked to the presidency to find ways to curb the power of big business, protect consumers, safeguard the natural environment, and promote an agenda of social justice.

Politics and Citizenship:
National politics during the first two decades of the twentieth century witnessed a fundamental debate over the proper role of the federal government in an industrial republic. The central question was how the government could best use its power to protect the general welfare. Some argued that the government should seek to break up large business and other combinations to restore competition and allow individuals greater scope for their activity, while others argued that the federal government should act as a mediator between big business and other groups, helping to elevate them to a level that could counterbalance the power of industry. By the end of the period, it was increasingly clear that large-scale consolidation was to become a permanent feature of American life and that the United States was becoming increasingly dominated by large interest groups.

For the first time during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, the federal government began to address the impact of industrial growth on the natural environment. The period witnessed the emergence of a debate between those who sought to preserve the natural environment for aesthetic reasons and those who sought to promote the rational development of the wiIderness under the supervision of government experts. Federal actions during this period would have a deep influence on the nation's environmental policies throughout the twentieth century and beyond.

Following upon the expansionism of the 1890s, American foreign policy during the Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson administrations continued the trend of growing United States involvement abroad, particularly in the western hemisphere. While the three presidents differed in the goals and emphases, each sought to increase American power and influence in world affairs. Each believed in the superiority of American institutions and sought to extend the benefits of democracy to other parts of the world. In addition, foreign policy provided a realm in which executive power could be used more freely than in domestic affairs, allowing all three presidents to exercise their growing power.

Biography of America

TR and Wilson (series 18)
Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley. 

A Vital Progressivism

Professor Martin offers a fresh perspective on Progressivism, arguing that its spirit can be best seen in the daily struggles of ordinary people. In a discussion with Professors Scharff and Miller, the struggles of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and African Americans are placed in the context of the traditional white Progressive movement.  

Lecture Outlines

Progressive Era 1901-1919