Roosevelt’s Progressivism in the United States

On April 31, 1912, Theodore Roosevelt delivered a detailed speech, Who is a Progressive?, to clarify the myths surrounding this subject for a long. Some people, such as President Taft, had claimed that they were progressives, yet their actions did not reflect their words, which prompted Roosevelt to deliver this appealing speech laying bare the fundamentals of progressivism. This paper highlights the characteristics of both progressives and anti-progressives together with stating the goals of progressivism and its achievements as highlighted in the speech.

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According to Roosevelt, progressives have the vision and intensity of conviction to agitate for the forward movement of humanity in any form. Such individuals have the necessary imagination, fervor, and broad sympathy to stand for the progress of humankind. Faith is also an important characteristic among progressives. Roosevelt insists that this kind of faith is not belief in dogmas, but belief in righteousness, justice, and goodness.

Progressives are also selfless, and thus they are not contended with searching for what is useful to themselves. On the contrary, they look for what is honorable, good, and just for humanity. Additionally, such people are honest, brave, generous, and unselfish. As such, the quest for social justice takes center stage in whatever progressives do.

The characteristics of those who are anti-progressive are opposite of those of their progressive counterparts, as discussed above. According to Roosevelt, such individuals are of small sympathy and narrow vision. Consequently, they do not care about or are not moved by the wrongs of others. Anti-progressives distrust people, and they pray for the masses to remain helpless and subjugated.

By quoting the great English writer, Mr. J.A. Froude, Roosevelt notes that such people lack confidence in others and they have no passionate convictions (Roosevelt, 1912). Therefore, anti-progressives engage in activities such as exploiting the masses for their own benefit. They initiate reforms based on popular intelligence and conscience. They favor special interests and uphold privilege by acting from evil motives. Additionally, they oppose any movement seeking to advance human and social interests, such as good working conditions, better remunerations, and inequality.

The goals of progressivism are clear and holistic as they seek to propel humanity forward. The first objective is to secure the real rule of people. This goal seeks to give people real control of leadership and governance. As such, people can vote for their presidents, senators, and all other leaders in positions of power. Another goal is to eliminate privilege, sinister, and special interests by striving for social and industrial justice.

Achieving equality and equity is another goal of progressivism, as highlighted by Roosevelt. Consequently, areas of society that should be addressed include governance, civic duty, the right to vote, the rule of law, the justice system, and working conditions.

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Some of the progressive achievements that Roosevelt highlights in his speech include justice and the election of senators in the United States. According to Roosevelt, people should be allowed to nominate or elect, through direct primaries, office holders from the president to the lowest position (Ernst, 2017). This aspect prevents delegates to the conventions from being influenced through money and patronage to misrepresent the popular will of the people. On justice, Roosevelt notes that, through progressivism, people can achieve social and industrial justice without the interference of the court systems. In conclusion, progressivism is an important concept that is needed for any society to realize real change and forward movement of humanity in different aspects of life.


Ernst, J. (2017). The legacy of Theodore Roosevelt’s approach to governmental powers. North Dakota Law Review, 92, 309-363.

Roosevelt, T. (1912). Who is a progressive? Teaching American History. Web.

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"Roosevelt’s Progressivism in the United States." StudyCorgi, 1 June 2021,

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StudyCorgi. (2021) 'Roosevelt’s Progressivism in the United States'. 1 June.

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