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

In his 1912 captivating speech, Theodore Roosevelt discusses the meaning of progressivism coupled with highlighting the essential characteristics that progressives should embody. This speech was given at a time when the United States was undergoing significant socio-political changes that needed progressive minds to ensure social justice and equality together with allowing people to exercise their civic duty of electing their leaders through voting. Roosevelt (1912) notes, “A well-meaning man may vaguely think of himself as a Progressive without having even the faintest conception of what a Progressive is” (para. 1). This paper discusses Roosevelt’s idea of progressivism – its meaning, characteristics, and involved activities.

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Characteristics of a Progressive

The first characteristic of progressives is faith, and Roosevelt insists that this virtue is not related to having beliefs in dogmas. On the contrary, it means having confidence in goodness, belief in justice, in righteousness…” (Roosevelt, 1912, para. 6). In addition, progressives are selfless as they strive to achieve good for all people. They have both vision and intensity of conviction, which are requisite requirements for the forward movement of humanity. Additionally, progressives stand for the betterment of humankind by standing for what is just and true. Therefore, they have the necessary broad sympathy and imagination for the achievement of these goals. They also trust other people on top of being brave, generous, and unselfish.

Characteristics of Anti-progressives

According to Roosevelt (1912), anti-progressives have a narrow vision and little sympathy, and thus they are not stirred by the wrongs and ills committed against other human beings. Their selfishness prevents them from trusting other people. Similarly, they lack confidence in people, have no passionate convictions, and appeal to popular conscience. Consequently, based on their character, anti-progressives engage in activities that seek to promote the oppression of the masses for the benefit of a few individuals. They seek what is suitable for themselves by resisting reforms that could be used to encourage the inclusive forward movement of humanity.

Goals of Progressivism

The main goal of progressivism is to “secure the real and not the nominal rule of the people” (Roosevelt, 1912, para. 9). Consequently, this ideology seeks to remove anything from the government that seeks to secure privilege. Ultimately, people should be in a position to vote for all their leaders. Additionally, progressivism aims to deliver justice for all by ensuring that the courts are impartial to promote social and industrial justice. Therefore, the areas of society that should be addressed, according to Roosevelt (1912), are the justice system and the way power is acquired.

Analysis of Progressive Achievements

Roosevelt highlights two main progressive achievements – justice for all and the ability to elect leaders through direct voting. These achievements are essential for any functional society. When people are allowed to choose their leaders, they are represented in policy and lawmaking, and thus their voices are heard (Hovenkamp, 2017). The success or failure of any society depends on the policies and laws that guide different aspects of life.

Therefore, through progressivism, the right leaders would make the best decisions based on the common good of all. Similarly, the justice system should ensure the implementation and compliance with the set laws and policies for the realization of the anticipated results. Consequently, allowing people to vote for their leaders and providing an impartial justice system are crucial elements in a progressive society.


Roosevelt delivered a riveting speech about the meaning of progressivism because this ideology had been hitherto misunderstood. He noted that progressives have faith, vision, and the needed sympathy to facilitate the forward movement of humanity. They are honest, selfless, and generous. However, those opposed to this ideology are self-seeking and narrow-minded. The goal of progressivism is to give people absolute control of how they are governed.

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Hovenkamp, H. (2017). Appraising the progressive state. Iowa Law Review, 102(3), 1063-1112.

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

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StudyCorgi. "Theodore Roosevelt's "Who Is a Progressive?" Speech." June 3, 2021.


StudyCorgi. 2021. "Theodore Roosevelt's "Who Is a Progressive?" Speech." June 3, 2021.


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