A comparison and contrast of the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt.
President Woodrow Wilson largely continued President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy of aggressive nationalism, but preferred a more diplomatic approach, both at home and abroad. Their attitudes and actions mirrored their characters; Roosevelt was “open, aggressive, and high-spirited” (Divine, 665), while Wilson was more reserved in nature.
After losing the Republican primary to Taft in 1912, Roosevelt became the nominee for the Progressive party. Wilson was the Democrat’s nominee. Their campaigns touted New Nationalism (Roosevelt) versus New Freedom (Wilson), but both campaigns had some common messages. Both candidates were concerned with righting the wrongs of corruption, and the role of increased governmental controls and regulations over business. “But Roosevelt welcomed federal power, national planning, and business growth” (Divine, 675).
Both President Roosevelt and President Wilson achieved much while in office. Roosevelt was a strong proponent of the nation’s natural resources, and protected and preserved the natural habitat by establishing national parks and forests. He also worked to control trusts, in order to protect workers, consumers, small businesses, and the economy. The Pure Food and Drug Act was ratified during his administration. The Wilson Administration was responsible for lowering tariffs, reforming the banking system, measures that made it legal for workers to strike, and the Clayton Antitrust Act.
Latin American relations continued to be dominated by the United States, as Wilson continued the Roosevelt Corollary of the Monroe Doctrine. On the other hand, Wilson was not pleased with how Roosevelt had handled the Panama Canal, and tried to pay Colombia and offer an apology (Divine, 692). Relationships with other nations also were influenced by the administrations. Roosevelt, knowing it would be in the best interest of the United States, mediated a peace agreement between Japan and Russia. He also sent a fleet of naval ships on a display tour, in an attempt to intimidate Japan under a peaceful pretense. The idealistic Wilson hated war, and “believed in a principled, ethical world in which militarism, colonialism, and war were brought under control” (Divine 694). He did, however, use military tactics in dealing with Mexico when the Mexican government was overthrown. Wilson also “blocked Russian participation in the peace conference that ended” (Divine, 708) World War I.
A key difference between the two presidents was how they viewed the involvement of the United States in the war in Europe. Former President Roosevelt, still active in politics, pushed for early involvement, while Wilson went to great lengths to avoid it. Wilson was re-elected in part on the slogan “He kept us out of war” (Divine, 699). Wilson reluctantly prepared for imminent involvement in the war, and in 1917 asked Congress for a declaration of war. Like Roosevelt, Wilson knew the importance of using the media to sway public opinion. He formed the Committee on Public Information, the Espionage Act, the Sedition Act, and the postal service to control what information was given to the public, and prosecute defectors.
Even as the United States’ involvement in the war mounted, Wilson still touted peace, and developed his Fourteen Points. Wilson may have been more successful in his attempts at diplomacy during World War I if he had control of Congress. In fact, Roosevelt’s continued influence over Congress, along with the Congressional Republicans’ agenda, prohibited Wilson’s signing of the Treaty of Versailles. While Roosevelt’s involvement in politics continued after his administration, Wilson quietly left politics after his presidency and died soon thereafter.
Divine, Robert A., Breen, T.H., Frederickson, George M., Williams, R. Hal, Gross, Ariela J., & Brands, H.W. America: Past & Present. Vol. 2. 8th ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2007.