Was Theodore Roosevelt A Progressive?

By the late 19th century, the United States was in turmoil. Government was corrupt, poverty was rampant, and hundreds of thousands of citizens were suffering. For Theodore Roosevelt, Progressive Era policies were the desperately needed solution to cure the country’s spreading problem. During the Progressive Era (from the 1890s to 1920s) a large group of activists joined to reform and transform American government and society, as a whole.

To those in sync with his passion for progressive transformation, Theodore Roosevelt Progressive reforms were the welcome change they had sought for many years. With a primary goal of ‘purification of government’, Progressives had a hard job ahead, requiring the elimination of corrupt individuals and ‘political machines’. Many used prohibition to assist them in achieving this goal, which would dissolve the money-power base of many bosses: saloons. They also promoted women’s suffrage to bring a new point of view into a jaded system. Finally, the Efficiency movement helped them find ways to modernize all sectors of society, allowing for the modernization of scientific, engineering, and medical solutions.

Teddy Roosevelt, Progressive Party leader and proponent, led the fight against corruption and social inequality. He and his bipartisan activists – which included Herbert Hoover, Woodrow Wilson, and William Jennings Bryan – reformed, transformed, and professionalized numerous areas. The areas affected by their tireless efforts were industry, churches, medicine, education, insurance, social sciences, economics, history, and political science, among others. Non-political supporters came from all walks of middle class life: ministers, teachers, business people, lawyers, and doctors. Their consolidated efforts also led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System in 1913, bringing desperately-needed reform in the banking system. With their fresh perspective, undying optimism, and dedication to change, Teddy Roosevelt and his fellow Progressives revolutionized American society.

Although the exact end of the Progressive Era is disputed among historians and academics alike, many labeled it as a ‘prelude’ to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’. This connection is somewhat ironic, as FDR was not only Teddy’s fifth cousin, but after his marriage to the older man’s niece, FDR also became his nephew-in-law. For those who count the beginning of the era from the year Teddy assumed presidential power (1901), they can agree that the era came to its close at the start of WWI. While some see ‘The Great War’ as a logical conclusion to the Progressives’ agenda, others see it as a time of social and civil suppression. Many historians argue that Progressives’ refusal to just surrender to the turmoil of the 1920s (including prohibition, intolerance, and the rise of the KKK) is a cogent argument for the continuation of the era past WWI. They also point out that progressivism was more of a ‘spirit’ or ‘enthusiasm’ as opposed to a specific political party with goals, meaning it might have actually surpassed all estimates of time into the 21st century.

Regardless of the length of the era, or agreement about its far-reaching effects, one thing is for certain: Theodore Roosevelt and Progressivism will forever be united in American history.


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