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Compare and Contrast Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson

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Between Theodore Roosevelt’s Square Deal and Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom domestic programs, Roosevelt contained more regions of reform than Wilson. Roosevelt was also more progressive than Wilson. They both contributed significantly to a period of national reform that made the government in Washington a bigger center of power. The United States neared the end of the nineteenth century as a fundamentally altered nation from the beginning of the Civil War. Progressivism began as a series of local movements and included many different efforts to improve the work of society. The main theme of the Progressive Era was reform, so the era has been defined as a reform movement.

During the 1904 campaign, Roosevelt bragged he had worked in the anthracite coal strike to provide everybody with a “square deal”. Roosevelt’s first goal after winning the election was the powerful railroad industry. On page 505 it declares that The Hepburn Railroad Regulation Act of 1906 was seeking to bring back some regulatory power to the government by giving the Interstate Commerce Commission power to oversee railroad rates. Roosevelt put pressure on Congress to enact the Pure Food and Drug Act, which limited the sale of dangerous or ineffective medicines. The Jungle, a book published by Upton Sinclair in 1906, included horrific descriptions of conditions in the meatpacking industry. Roosevelt pushed for passaging of the Meat Inspection Act, which helped stop many illnesses once transmitted in impure meat. Roosevelt was the first president to actively take part in the new and struggling American conservation movement. In 1902, the president supported the National Reclamation Act, which used funds raised by the sale of public lands in the West for the construction of dams, reservoirs, and canals, projects that would “reclaim” arid lands for cultivation and later supply the cheat electric power. Roosevelt shared the concerns of the naturalists who pledged to protect the natural beauty of the land and the health of its wildlife from human intrusion. Since economic consolidation is meant to continue to be a permanent feature of American society, a strong, modernized government should take a more active role in regulating and planning economic life. One of those who came to support this position was Theodore Roosevelt. On page 503 in The Unfinished Nation, Theodore Roosevelt once said, “We should enter upon a course of supervision, control, and regulation of those great corporations.” Roosevelt became the most powerful symbol of the reform impulse at the national level.

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The 1912 presidential contest was not just between conservatives and reformers. It was also one of two brands of progressivism. On the forty-six ballot, Woodrow Wilson, the governor of New Jersey and the one and only progressive candidate in the race, began as the party’s nominee. Wilson introduced a progressive program called The New Freedom in 1912. Roosevelt’s New Nationalism encouraged economic concentration and government regulation and control. Wilson appeared to side with those who believed that bigness was both unfair and inefficient, and the proper response to monopoly was not to regulate but destroy it. On page 511 in the Unfinished Nation, it says that the 1912 presidential campaign was an anti-climax. Taft resigned to defeat and barely campaigned. Roosevelt campaigned energetically. In November, Taft split the Republican vote, while Wilson held on to most Democrats and won. He had received only forty-two percent of the popular vote, compared with twenty-seven percent for Roosevelt. In legislative matters, Wilson expertly united a coalition that would support his goals. Wilson’s first victory as president was fulfilling an old Democrat goal of lowering the protective tariff. The Underwood-Simmons Tariff offered cuts large enough, to introduce real competition into American markets and help break the power of trust. To make up for the loss of revenue under the new tariff, Congress ratified a graduated income tax, which the recently adopted sixteenth amendment to the constitution now allowed. By the fall of 1914, Wilson thought the New Freedom Program was completed and that agitation for reform would now subside. When congressional progressives failed to enlist his support for new reform legislation, Wilson dismissed their proposals as unconstitutional or unnecessary.

Although the Progressive era was a reform movement, it was in this period that race relations were at their lowest possible, this was the Jim Crow era. In the post-Civil War era, the South embarked upon a refurbished effort to separate the races in all public places and facilities. This segregation was achieved through state laws, local ordinances, and local practices and customs, and had the United States supreme court sanction. Within this system, however, African Americans carve out a much larger sphere of social and cultural activity than they had ever established under slavery. In its ruling in the Plessy v Ferguson (1896) case, the Supreme Court ruled that separate housing for the races was legal if they were equal. The legal principle that followed was “separate but equal” in public accommodations, which was still in place until the Civil Rights era. Hostility also marked this era against African Americans in the South.

The extraordinary prosperity of the 1920s influenced much of what enthusiastic generations liked to call the “New Era.” In the following years after World War I, America constructed a lively and extensive national culture. Politics have been reorganized around the needs of a booming, dependent industrial economy, undermining many of the previous generation’s reform crusades but also creating new institutions to help foster economic growth and stability. Though the prosperity of the 1920s spread more broadly than at any time in the nation’s industrial history, more than half of the population did not achieve any real growth benefits. The unassuming conservative presidents of the era suggested a time of stability, but few eras in modern American history have seen so much political and cultural conflict.

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