The Progressive Presidents

A Comparison

Theodore Roosevelt

He was born in New York City in 1858. He lived with a wealthy family. In 1884 his first wife Alice Lee Roosevelt and his mother died on the same day. On a visit to London he married Edith Carow in December 1886. During the Spanish American War Roosevelt was lieutenant colonel of the Rough Rider Regiment, which he led on a charge at the battle of San Juan.
Theodore Roosevelt - Mini Biography

Leadership

As President, Roosevelt held the ideal that the Government should be the great arbiter of the conflicting economic forces in the Nation, especially between capital and labor, guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favors to none. He took the view that the President as a "steward of the people" should take whatever action necessary for the public good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution."

Organization

Aware of the strategic need for a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific, Roosevelt ensured the construction of the Panama Canal. His corollary to the Monroe Doctrine prevented the establishment of foreign bases in the Caribbean and arrogated the sole right of intervention in Latin America to the United States. Some of Theodore Roosevelt's most effective achievements were in conservation. He added enormously to the national forests in the West, reserved lands for public use, and fostered great irrigation projects.

Professionalism

"No man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in every way." Roosevelt emerged spectacularly as a "trust buster" by forcing the dissolution of a great railroad combination in the Northwest. Other antitrust suits under the Sherman Act followed.He crusaded endlessly on matters big and small, exciting audiences with his high-pitched voice, jutting jaw, and pounding fist. "The life of strenuous endeavor" was a must for those around him, as he romped with his five younger children and led ambassadors on hikes through Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.

Contributions

He won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War, reached a Gentleman's Agreement on immigration with Japan, and sent the Great White Fleet on a goodwill tour of the world. Leaving the Presidency in 1909, Roosevelt went on an African safari, then jumped back into politics. In 1912 he ran for President on a Progressive ticket. To reporters he once remarked that he felt as fit as a bull moose, the name of his new party.

William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft was born on September 15, 1857, in Cincinnati, Ohio. His father was Alphonso Taft. The younger Taft attended Yale University before studying law at the University of Cincinnati. In 1886, Taft married Helen “Nettie” Herron, and the couple would have three children.

Leadership

Progressives were pleased with Taft's election. "Roosevelt has cut enough hay," they said; "Taft is the man to put it into the barn." Conservatives were delighted to be rid of Roosevelt--the "mad messiah."

Organization

In 1909, Taft’s convention of a special session of Congress to debate tariff reform legislation spurred the Republican protectionist majority to action and led to passage of the Payne-Aldrich Act, which did little to lower tariffs. Though he was initially active in “trust-busting,” initiating some 80 antitrust suits against large industrial combinations.

Professionalism

Though he disliked campaigning, Taft agreed to mount a presidential run in 1908 at the urging of his wife. Taft disliked the campaign--"one of the most uncomfortable four months of my life." But he pledged his loyalty to the Roosevelt program.

Contribution

Taft improved the organization and efficiency of the nation’s highest court and helped secure passage of the Judge’s Act of 1925, which gave the court greater discretion in choosing its cases. He wrote some 250 decisions.

Woodrow Wilson

Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born on December 28, 1856, in Staunton, Virginia. His father, Joseph Ruggles Wilson was a Presbyterian minister, and his mother, Janet Woodrow Wilson, was a minister’s daughter. Wilson graduated from Princeton University in 1879 and went on to attend law school at the University of Virginia. In 1885, Wilson married Ellen Axson, The couple had three daughters before Ellen died of kidney disease in 1914, The following year, Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt.

Leadership

He developed a program of progressive reform and asserted international leadership in building a new world order. In 1917 he proclaimed American entrance into World War I a crusade to make the world "safe for democracy."

Organization

He was nominated for President at the 1912 Democratic Convention and campaigned on a program called the New Freedom, which stressed individualism and states' rights. The first was a lower tariff, the Underwood Act; attached to the measure was a graduated Federal income tax. The passage of the Federal Reserve Act provided the Nation with the more elastic money supply. In 1914 antitrust legislation established a Federal Trade Commission to prohibit unfair business practices.

Professionalism

But after the election Wilson concluded that America could not remain neutral in the World War. On April 2,1917, he asked Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.

Contribution

Wilson went before Congress in January 1918, to enunciate American war aims--the Fourteen Points, the last of which would establish "A general association of nations...affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike."