Theodore Roosevelt’s Book “Who Is a Progressive?”


The Industrial era brought with it many scientific and technological advancements, but also an intensification of labor that permitted capitalists to profiteer off of the working class. Progressives, as supporters and advocates of social reform, endeavored for workers to achieve a level of economic autonomy and overcome the constraints placed on them by their harsh working hours and conditions. The speech Who is a progressive? given in April 1912 by Theodore Roosevelt, who would in August lead the progressive Bull Moose Party, outlines the main ideas of the movement from an insider’s perspective.

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Progressives and Anti-progressives

Before delving into the intents and purposes of the Progressive movement or its representative party, it is necessary to identify what makes a person progressive. Roosevelt’s speech appeals to American democratic sentiments, stating that he, his party, and progressives are advocates for “[securing] the real and not the nominal rule of the people,” characterizing progressives as believing in social equality (Teachingamericanhistory, 2018, para. 9).

Presenting examples of how this may be achieved through political reform, he thus identifies progressives as those willing to fight for the people, struggling for the advancement of social integrity (Teachingamericanhistory, 2018). Theodore Roosevelt is said to have successfully crafted “an image of himself as a champion of those oppressed by a system of unfettered capitalism,” and such identification makes the definition of a progressive apparent (Hull, 2018, p. 2).

Those politicians, who recognized the middle class as a growing, influential political actor and answered to its search of representatives with a point of identification not found in the Republic or Democratic parties, were progressives.

It is easy to conclude that anti-progressives were either people against social change or those unable to adapt to the new political climate. Anti-progressiveness, however, was a logical reaction to the social change that the cooperation of capitalist barons, laborers, and intellectuals attempted to bring about, characterized by Roosevelt as a conglomeration of unpassionate, unprincipled, and unsympathetic people (Durrenberger & Doukas, 2018; Teachingamericanhistory, 2018). Perceiving their political differences, it is no surprise that Roosevelt would attempt to present the opposite end of the spectrum as unfavorable and morally crass.

Progressive Goals and Achievements

Roosevelt’s speech attempts to outline not only the meaning but also the core goals of the progressive movement, thus appealing to the public’s logos to create an appropriate public support base. Direct election of senators, just court procedure, and people’s control of franchises he outlines as some of the steps that must be taken, which will allow uplifting the downtrodden working middle class (Teachingamericanhistory, 2018). Therefore, the just treatment of workers is presented as the result of including the appropriate populace in the political process.

As an example of successful social reform, some achievements of the progressive movement, if not its party, may be presented. The primary one would be the achieved straightforward process of the presidential election, followed by further reforms within the political organization of the US (Teachingamericanhistory, 2018). However, the topic of presidential appointment remains most acute for the duration of Roosevelt’s speech, which is explanatory as the date of 1912 is coincidental with the USA election year.

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The speech, made by Theodore Roosevelt, is an example of an attempt of involving the middle class in the political process, soliciting them to back that party, which would advocate their interests. Presenting progressives as people’s defenders, upholding the liberties on which America was founded, and identifying the people as the source of power within the US, allows attracting new, previously unaligned voters. However, as a reaction to the transgressions of industrialization, progressivism becomes an efficient path to influence the ordinary people, gaining strength through partially coinciding with the goals of political parties.


Durrenberger, P., & Doukas, D. (2018). Class in the USA. Dialectical Anthropology, 42(1), 1-13. Web.

Hull, K. (2018). Hero, champion of social justice, benign friend: Theodore Roosevelt in American memory. European Journal of American Studies, 13(2), 1-21. Web.

Teachingamericanhistory. (2018). Who is a progressive? Theodore Roosevelt, 1912. Web.

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