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The Role of Roosevelt’s Speech and Ideas


It is hard to disagree that the history of the world and every country is created by people, and some of them are remembered for centuries for their significant deeds, passionate speeches, sense of justice, and readiness to improve the lives of others. One of such persons is Theodore Roosevelt, who was the twenty-sixth president of the United States from 1901 to 1909 (Beland et al., 2014). Among his positive actions and ideas, he is also remembered for his speech that was given in 1912 and dedicated to progressivism. William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt were the opponents during the presidential elections of 1912 (“Presidential election of 1912: A resource guide,” 2018). As he was either trying to take care of the Americans or indulging his vanity, Roosevelt became the prominent Republican candidate.

Interestingly, his famous speech, “Who is a Progressive?”, was held because of the situation with William Howard Taft – he called himself a progressive, and Roosevelt became rather angry and frustrated. Then, on April 3, 1912, he gave his speech in Louisville, Kentucky, and explained the characteristics of a progressive, their goals, and areas of society (Beland et al., 2014). The purpose of this paper is to discuss this speech and its main points.

Characteristics of a Progressive

As mentioned above, the purpose of Roosevelt’s speech “Who is a Progressive?” was to highlight the key characteristics of such persons. First of all, Roosevelt states that “every man who fights fearlessly and effectively against special privilege in any form is to that extent a progressive” (Roosevelt, 1912, para. 13). This person aims to be fair, independent, and honest with other people. Income, age, gender, and other characteristics should fade into the background, and above all, there should be security, rights, and freedom. According to the politician, “every man is to that extent a Progressive if he stands for any form of social justice” (Roosevelt, 1912, para. 14). That is the crucial point – a person has to protect children, women, minority groups, workers, and the disabled. Progressives want to change the world around them for the better by using governmental authority and offering voluntary services (Milkis, 2009). These people are quite passionate about positive transformations and do their best to prevent corporations from exploiting the environment and people.

Characteristics of “Anti-Progressives”

People who do not correspond with the characteristics described above may be considered “anti-progressives.” Such persons are reactionaries – they are against progressives and either sabotage or never support their positive actions. Therefore, “every man who, directly or indirectly, upholds privilege and favors the special interests, whether he acts from evil motives or … simply lacks interest in the subject, is a reactionary” (Roosevelt, 1912, para. 13). For example, if someone does not take care about injustice, or supports dividing people into poor and rich, or is a leader and does not try to fight discrimination is “anti-progressives.” A president who supports those courts that declare that ordinary people have no power to do social justice is a reactionary. In this world, a person can be either for progressivism by standing for equality or against it by voting for the privilege.

Types of Activities “Anti-Progressives” are Engaged in

From the characteristics described above, it is possible to suggest that there are certain activities that “anti-progressives” are engaged in. For example, they take part in actions that disregard human dignity and the environment and let them accumulate as much wealth as possible (Roosevelt, 1912). Everything they do is aimed either at making their own lives better or at contributing to discrimination. Their purpose is to undermine the activities of progressiveness, such as the control of corporations in the industrial world, the protection of consumers, and environmental conservation. Moreover, reactionaries participate in activities that contribute to unbridled capitalism, wealth disparity, and the exploitation of workers. If to analyze these actions, it is possible to suggest that they can never solve the most serious problem of this world – separation, and division of people.

Goals of Progressivism

Progressivism is aimed at making the lives of all people much better, without any exceptions. First, according to Roosevelt, the goal of progressives is “to secure the real and not the nominal rule of the people” (Roosevelt, 1912, para. 9). This may be achieved by reaching small steps: eliminating social and industrial injustices that are subjected to people by the government, protecting people’s social welfare, creating economic reform, making working hours and conditions comfortable, and prohibiting child labor. Moreover, proposing a government pension for retirees, and a minimum wage are the actions of a president who is a progressive. Such a person knows that in unity, there is strength and tries to reach the goal of getting people together and eliminating any borders and discriminations.

Areas of Society that Progressives Addressed

It is quite evident that progressives address the areas of society that are more vulnerable to discrimination and injustice and need instant improvements. Therefore, social minorities, women, children, workers, as well as the elderly and disabled people primarily receive help from progressives (Roosevelt, 1912). They also addressed the working area by making the leaders of various organizations think about their employees’ comfort more than increasing profit.

Progressive Achievements that Roosevelt Highlights in His Speech

In his speech, Roosevelt acknowledges and highlights his predecessors’ and associates’ efforts and progressive achievements in fighting against conservatism. One of the mentioned achievements was the transformation of the Rate Bill. First, “it was a thoroughly mischievous measure” that threatened to destroy everything accomplished during the last twenty years in the major railways controlling (Roosevelt, 1912, para. 18). However, progressives managed to amend the bill, and it was a small victory, even though they made a mistake while changing the bill. Roosevelt also highlights people’s initiative of enhancing change in society and standing for the interests of ordinary persons. Another accomplishment he is proud of is the Illinois Factory Act of 1893, which limited women’s working hours and prohibited child labor. The fact that he acknowledges these achievements gives people hope for the best and demonstrates progressives’ both mistakes and successes.


To conclude, one may say that Roosevelt’s speech and ideas are quite impressive and inspiring. It is hard to disagree that taking care of people who are discriminated against and making their lives better is the critical step to achieving peace in the whole world. Moreover, it may also be the secret of reaching one’s happiness – if a person helps other people, he or she gets positive energy. Probably the world and society need more progressives who can make the environment better and healthier.


Beland, D., Howard, C., & Morgan, K. J. (2014). Oxford handbook of U.S. social policy. Oxford University Press.

Presidential election of 1912: A resource guide. (2018). The Library of Congress. Web.

Milkis, S. M. (2009). Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive party, and the transformation of American democracy. University Press of Kansas.

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

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