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Progressivism: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs

Progressivism, according to Walter Nugent (2010), “was a many-sided reform movement that emerged in the final years of the nineteenth century, flourished from about 1900 to 1920, and faded away by the early 1920s. ” During the period, several reforms were put forward by different areas in the society. Such concerns stemmed from the discontented public regarding the imbalance on the American society. Monopolies destroyed healthy competition, producing conflicts between the employees and the employers. The gap between the rich few and the middle class majority widen.

Migrants from Europe and Asia flooded especially the cities. Labor became cheaper while prices of commodities increase. To resolve these problems, different strands of progressives gave their suggestions. In general, progressivism tried to address the problem involving the “control of big business, the amelioration of poverty, and the purification of politics to embrace the transformation of gender relations, the regeneration of the home, the disciplining of leisure and pleasure, and the establishment of segregation” (McGerr, 2005).

The different strands of progressivism were promoted by the four candidates for presidency in 1912. Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs, all claimed that they were progressives. However, each candidate has a different platform from the others. The only common ground among the four was their persistence that the capitalist economy must be regulated to promote the interest of the middle class. The Progressive movement favors government intervention in the society and the protection of the rights of workers, consumers, and the minority. Theodore Roosevelt founded the Progressive Party that aimed to promote “New Nationalism”.

In his speech, Roosevelt (1910) stated that “every man holds his property subject t the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it”. It denotes that Roosevelt wants economic regulation of big businesses and the promotion of public welfare. Roosevelt further highlighted that he “stand for the square deal… not merely that I stand for fair play under the present rules of the game, but that I stand for having those rules changed so as to work for a more substantial equality of opportunity and of reward for equally good service”.

He also argued that the government “must be freed from the sinister influence or control of special interest”. In addition, Roosevelt argued that the “natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few”. Moreover, Roosevelt believes that there is a “right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor” because it promotes the common good. Roosevelt ran for presidency in 1912 to challenge his former friend, William Howard Taft and promote his progressive policies.

Taft ran for his second term in 1912. He was known to expand the anti-trust suits, conservation programs, and regulation of economy that was initiated by Roosevelt. Nonetheless, he failed to make the public realize his progressive accomplishments. Instead, he was publicly known for failing to lower the tariff and being manipulated by the Conservatives. His speech, “On Popular Unrest” did not increase his popularity because he sounded pessimistic about the possibility of change.

He stated that “We are living in an age in which by exaggeration of the defects of our present condition… holding up to the feverish imagination of the less fortunate and the discontented”. He further argued that his administration had taken “real steps” to “remedy injustice and to aid the weak”. Since the people were already dismayed by his failure to lower the tariff, his Progressive campaign called for less intervention from the Administration. The third contender and the eventual winner in the 1912 election was Woodrow Wilson.

He was a Progressive Democrat whose platform aligned side-by-side with Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. Nonetheless, the difference lies on the “naturalness of bigness” (Wunder, 2009). Wilson argued that big businesses are unnatural, thus the government should regulate the economy instead of expanding the power of the Federal government as Roosevelt suggest. Wilson claimed “the new party legalizes monopolies and, of necessity, subordinates working men to them and to the plans made by the government, both with regard to employment, and with regard to wages”.

Wilson proposed the regulation of minimum wage and a tougher campaign against monopolies. The last candidate was Eugen Debb, the representative of the Socialist Party. He argued that “The working class will never be emancipated by the grace of the capitalist class, but only by overthrowing that class. ” This is the most radical progressive platform among the four. He further reiterates that “The Socialist party’s mission is not only to destroy capitalist despotism but to establish industrial and social democracy. ”

Among the four candidates, Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt represented the ideals of progressivism. However, Roosevelt tried to expand the power of the government to control businesses. In this regard, Wilson could be right in anticipating a government-monopoly. Thus, between the two, Wilson’s programs is closer to the tenets of progressivism that tries to end monopolies and promote the interest of the middle class. Works Cited: Debb, E. and Michigan State University Voice Library. Hear Debs Attacks “the Monstrous System” of Capitalism.

Retrieved on July 21, 2010, from http://historymatters. gmu. edu/d/5725. McGerr, M. (2005). A fierce discontent: the rise and fall of the Progressive movement in America, 1870-1920. Oxford University Press US. Nugent, W. (2010). Progressivism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press US. Roosevelt, T. and Michigan State University Voice Library. Hear TR’s Speech “The Liberty of the People”.

Retrieved on July 21, 2010, from http://historymatters. gmu. edu/d/5722. Roosevelt, T. (1910). New Nationalism Speech. Retrieved on July 21, 2010 from http://teachingamericanhistory. org/library/index. asp? document=501. Taft, H. and Michigan State University Voice Library. Hear Taft’s Speech “On Popular Unrest”. Retrieved on July 21, 2010, from http://historymatters. gmu. edu/d/5724/. Wilson, W. and Michigan State University Voice Library. Hear Wilson’s Speech “On Labor”. Retrieved on July 21, 2010, from http://historymatters. gmu. edu/d/5723. Wunder, W. L. (2009). The New Freedom: The Progressive Program of President Woodrow Wilson. Retrieved on July 21, 2010 from http://modern-us-history. suite101. com/article. cfm/the_new_freedom#ixzz3XASXJzye

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