Chapter 22 The Battle for National Reform chapter summary

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The Battle for National Reform


Few American presidents have left the stamp of their personality so deeply on the executive office as Theodore Roosevelt. An “accidental” president as the result of the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt entered the White House in 1901 and, in short order, established himself as the nation’s preeminent progressive. Roosevelt’s dynamic energy and flair and his self-proclaimed desire to give all Americans a “square deal” endeared him to a generation of reformers. Like the progressive movement at large, Roosevelt was the embodiment of many contradictions. As Roosevelt aggressively expanded the regulatory authority of the federal government, he was also no trustbusting radical, accepting many of the conventional practices of business. This same duality of beliefs was again evident in Roosevelt’s foreign policy. The man who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for helping to end war between Russia and Japan also encouraged and aided a revolt in Colombia so he could build a canal in Panama.

In 1908 Roosevelt turned the presidency over to his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft. But Taft soon alienated his predecessor and other progressive Republicans by his action (or inaction) on the tariff, the trusts, and the environment. In 1912 Roosevelt decided to challenge Taft for the Republican nomination and reclaim progressivism for the Party. When he failed to secure the nomination, Roosevelt organized a third political party. With the Republican vote split, Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson won the presidency in 1912 under the banner of his New Freedom slogan. Although Wilson, like Roosevelt, believed in an activist national government, Wilson initially wanted to destroy the trusts and restore small-scale capitalism— once and, he hoped, for all. He too would wax and wane in his reform enthusiasm. Whatever their approaches, both Wilson and Roosevelt continued to expand the significance of the White House at home and the United States overseas. In foreign affairs, which were to dominate Wilson’s second term, he continued the pattern of military intervention coupled with an assertion of moral authority that Roosevelt had established.


A thorough study of Chapter 22 should enable the student to understand:

1. The nature and extent of Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalist progressivism

2. The similarities and differences between the domestic progressivism of Theodore Roosevelt and that of William Howard Taft

3. The conservation issue, and why it triggered a split between Taft and Roosevelt

4. The consequences of the Taft–Roosevelt split for the Republicans in 1912

5. The conceptual differences and practices between Roosevelt’s New Nationalism and Wilson’s New Freedom

6. The differences between Wilson’s New Freedom and the measures actually implemented during his first term in the White House

7. Roosevelt’s foreign policy in Asia and the Caribbean, and the similarities and differences between the Roosevelt and Taft approaches to foreign policy

8. The reasons for the continuation of American interventionism in Latin America under President Wilson


1. How Theodore Roosevelt’s leadership helped fashion a new and expanded role for the national government

2 How the administration of William Howard Taft continued—and departed from— Roosevelt’s progressivism

3. How the administration of Woodrow Wilson embodied both conservative and progressive features

4. That American foreign policy became much more interventionist, especially in the Caribbean
1. In what ways did Theodore Roosevelt transform the role of the presidency and the national government? What was his public image, and how did it affect his policies?

2. In what way was Roosevelt a progressive? How was he a conservative? Was he more one or the other?

3. Compare and contrast the personalities, politics, philosophies, and programs of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. How did these factors affect their leadership styles and accomplishments in domestic affairs? Should all three be regarded as progressive presidents? Why or why not?

4. Why did the apparently unified Republican Party of 1908 break into two hostile camps by 1912? Was Roosevelt justified in challenging Taft in 1912? What were the consequences of that break?

5. Analyze the election of 1912 in terms of candidates, platforms, campaigns, and results.

6. What was the “money monopoly,” and what were the criticisms of it? How was the Federal Reserve system designed to combat it?

7. Discuss the major domestic accomplishments as well as shortcomings of progressivism between 1901 and 1917. What is its lasting significance in American history?

8. What objectives guided American foreign policy in Asia during the progressive era? Trace the development of American–Japanese relations during the progressive era.

9. Was American foreign policy in Latin America during the progressive era effective? Explain. Why was it so often interventionist? Was this a continuation or a break in American foreign policy?

10. What do you think would have happened to domestic reform and in foreign relations if Roosevelt had been elected president in 1912?

11. Why did big-government progressivism at home require big-government progressivism abroad?

1. Identify the main areas of national forests.

2. Note the states carried by Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson in 1912.

3. Identify Cuba, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, and Colombia. Note the countries in which the United States intervened militarily.

4. Locate the Panama Canal.

1. How did Theodore Roosevelt manage to expand the national forest system despite a hostile Congress?

2. What were the two factions of the conservation movement? Explain Roosevelt’s position, telling how it fit in with his political and personal background and with general progressive ideals.

3. What area of the country is it safe to assume that Woodrow Wilson probably would have carried even if the Republicans had not been split? What area is it safe to assume that Woodrow Wilson probably would have lost had it not been for the Republican split?

4. What area of the country was typically characterized by fairly close elections between Republicans and Democrats regardless of a party split?

5. Why did Roosevelt do better than Taft in the election of 1912?

6. Explain the motivation for Theodore Roosevelt’s special concern with the Caribbean region. What policy did he formulate in response to his concern?

7. Where were the two possible routes for a Central American canal? What were the advantages and disadvantages of each? Why did the United States settle on Panama?

8. Why was Colombia upset by American canal policy?

9. What events inspired American intervention in Nicaragua? Why was the country perceived to be important to American interests?

10. What caused the border strife between the United States and Mexico? What was the result?

These questions are based on the preceding map exercises. They are designed to test students’ knowledge of the geography of the area discussed in this chapter and of its historical development. Careful reading of the text will help students answer these questions.

1. Why was progressivism accepted differently in different regions of the nation? What might explain why Wisconsin became a model for the movement?

2. What long-term impact on national political tendencies grew from the progressive era?

3. Consider America’s rise to world power (Chapter 20) along with the increasingly activist foreign policy of the first fifteen years of the twentieth century. What forces accounted for this activism? Why was it most evident in the Caribbean region?

John Morton Blum, The Republican Roosevelt (1954)

_____, Woodrow Wilson and the Politics of Morality (1956)

H. W. Brands, TR (1997)

John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (1983)

Stephen R. Fox, The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and His Legacy (1981)

Lewis L. Gould, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (1991)

P. Edward Haley, Revolution and Intervention: The Diplomacy of Taft and Wilson with Mexico, 1910-1917 (1975)

Akira Iriye, Pacific Estrangement: Japanese and American Expansion, 1897-1911 (1972)

Walter LaFeber, The Panama Canal (1978)

Arthur S. Link, Woodrow Wilson, 5 vols., (1947-1965)

Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (2002)

John Opie, Nature’s Nation: An Environmental History of the United States (1998)

Julius W. Pratt, Challenge and Rejection: The United States and World Leadership, 1900-1921 (1967)

David Sarasohn, The Party of Reform: The Democrats in the Progressive Era (1989)

David Steigerwald, Wilsonian Idealism in America (1994)

Craig West, Banking Reform and the Federal Reserve, 1863-1923 (1977)
For Internet resources, practice questions, references to additional books and films, and more, see this book’s Online Learning Center at

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