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Theodore Roosevelt: Did He Follow New Trends or Stuck to the Traditional Ones

In the piece, Theodore Roosevelt:The Conservative as Progressive, Hofstadter portrays the complex man that is Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was always about social reform, as he wanted a slight government regulation of the American economy because he believed that some of the monopolies that had been established at this time were a hindrance to society, while also corrupt through trusts. Although outwardly he was aggressive and a firm enforcer of Progressivism through his established laws and acts, inwardly he was a Conservative, and really just wanted things to remain the same. Roosevelt was highly against organized power,Hofstadter asserts that through Roosevelt’s regulation of the American economy, his antipathy towards organized power and the wealthy, and his relationship between the wealthy and the working classes as an arbiter, Roosevelt believes in Conservatism, yet his many actions of Progressivism dictate otherwise.

Hofstadter in his article states that Theodore Roosevelt throughout his presidency and before was known to be a relatively aggressive person, as he always wanted to impose himself on others. This, Hofstadter relates largely to his approach on the regulation of the American economy. Theodore Roosevelt wanted there to be “some” government regulation of the American economy, but mostly for the reasons of weeding out the corruption in specific areas. As Hofstadter states,“Between 1904 and 1906 Bryan agitated for government ownership of railroads, and Roosevelt answered by supporting the Hepburn bill, which made possible the beginnings of railroad rate-control by the Interstate Commerce Commission” (289). Hofstadter shows how Roosevelt was against the mainly corrupt monopolistic companies with trusts, rather than the less corrupt companies with trusts. Roosevelt earned his nickname “trustbuster” through his acts and regulations of corrupt trusts in America, but Roosevelt also was not entirely against trusts, just the corruption within some. Hofstadter shows another large aspect of his regulation through Roosevelt’s subduing of Tammany Hall. “There he proved troublesome to the Platt machine; the bosses welcomed a chance to kick him upstairs, and a combination of friends and enemies gave him the vice-presidential place on the McKinley ticket in 1900” (279). As Roosevelt progressed through the ranks of politics on his way to his presidency, there was a period of time where he noticed the obvious corruption in the political machine known as Tammany Hall. Theodore Roosevelt became aware of the corrupt patronage and was able to suppress and control it, angering Platt and the other bosses. Using these prominent examples, Hofstadter is able to depict Roosevelt’s progressive style through his partial government regulation of the then corrupt American economy.

Although Theodore Roosevelt acted as a strong Progressive, his inward beliefs, occasionally expressed, were largely Conservative. Roosevelt according of Hofstadter was really a Conservative at heart, despite his Progressive attitude. Hofstadter shows this through Roosevelt’s fear of the power of organized people and the extremely wealthy. Roosevelt felt intimidated by the masses of laborers as they posed a threat to Roosevelt and the stability of America. As Hofstadter says, “Any sign of organized power among the people frightened him; and for many years he showed toward the labor movement an attitude as bitter as that expressed in John Hay’s anonymously published novel, The Breadwinners” (270). Roosevelt did express his hatred of organized power, as not only did it scare him, but he was also against the radicalism of the people that formed these mobs (that is until he runs for president again later), because it seeks to change/modify the standings of society, especially relating to his disdain for strikes.

As well as organized power, Hofstadter shows Roosevelt’s distaste and fear of the extremely wealthy, as their power in society threatened Roosevelt’s power as president and the influence they had on the American economy and society. Hofstadter shows Roosevelt’s distrust through his statement: “While bigness in business frightened the typical middle-class citizen for economic reasons, it frightened Roosevelt for political reasons. He was not a small entrepreneur, worrying about being squeezed out, nor an ordinary customer concerned about rising prices, but a big politician facing a strong rival in the business of achieving power”(291). Roosevelt disliked the exceptionally wealthy because their power, though different, clashed with each other in who would be the more powerful, and Roosevelt did not want these monopolistic giants to take control of America through material interest. This is why Roosevelt was all for “trust busting”. Roosevelt wanted to reduce the power of these monopolies, especially the corrupt ones, and his biggest example of that is his Northern Securities case. Hofstadter uses the Northern Securities case to exemplify Roosevelt’s distrust of monopolies, and through this case, Roosevelt and Bryan were able to reduce the power of the Northern Securities company through the Hepburn bill, taking out a major competitor for power in America. Roosevelt was able to not allow this massive company to change and monopolize America from the way Roosevelt was working on bettering. Hofstadter uses many examples in his article on Roosevelt to show how in many cases, he is in fact a Conservative, and that though a vast amount of his actions were Progressive, Roosevelt’s Conservative side shone through in multiple occasions.

Theodore Roosevelt in Hofstadter’s article is portrayed as a middleman, an “impartial arbiter” between the wealthy and the poor. Roosevelt had his likes and dislikes of both sides, so he was commonly trusted to settle disputes between capital and labor, as he had no bias on either side. As Hofstadter puts it, “Because he feared the great corporations as well as organized workers and farmers, Roosevelt came to think of himself as representing a golden mean”(285). Roosevelt knew he represented the middle opinion, as he disliked strikes and organized power, yet he also disliked the arrogance and obstinance of the wealthy owners of the companies, so his place in the matter of resolving a strike, was right in the middle. When it came to organized strikes, Roosevelt, as best as he could, avoided letting them get out of hand, and was quick to step in and offer compromises for both the capital and laborer sides. This is particularly true in the issue of the Anthracite Strike, in 1902. As Hofstadter explains, “His attitudes toward many public questions were actually identical with those of the shrewder capitalists. This was particularly true where labor was concerned, and it was illustrated by Roosevelt’s compromise of the formidable anthracite strike of 1902”(288). Hofstadter uses the Anthracite Strike as an example to show how Roosevelt acted as a true arbiter between both sides. Roosevelt’s Square Deal came as a result of the Anthracite Strike, and it enabled Roosevelt to become trusted and his actions understood as an arbiter. He wanted to protect both sides, rather than help one and not the other. His relationship with the wealthy was one of respect, but also fear, and his relationship with the laborers was fear (in groups) and an understanding of their position. This arbitration of issues was a great help to quench not only Conservative side of him in stemming large change, but also appealed to his thoughts of Progressivism, as it allowed him to make changes, not too big, that both capital and labor would agree to. Roosevelt enjoyed being a middleman, as it not only gave him the attention of many people, but it gave him the option to enforce his power as president. According to Hofstadter. “He stood above the contending classes, as an impartial arbiter devoted to the national good, and a custodian of the stern virtues without which the United States could not play its destined role of mastery in the world theatre”(285). Hofstadter helps prove that not only did Roosevelt enjoy the attention and being able to use his power, but that Roosevelt made compromises that could benefit everyone, it was for the “national good”. Theodore Roosevelt throughout his presidency was an arbiter to both sides of capital and labor, and helped to quell strikes and public revolts through his accepted compromises.

Hofstadter throughout his writing on Theodore Roosevelt, explains using many different examples of how Roosevelt acted as a Progressive, while also harboring Conservatism, and expressing it on occasion. He does this by showing Roosevelt’s arbitration of both capital and labor, his hatred of organized power and the exceptionally wealthy, and his approach using “some” government regulation on the American economy. Hofstadter expounds these reasons using specific examples like Roosevelt’s subduing of Tammany Hall, his arbitration of the Anthracite Strike, leading to the Square Deal and more. Although he was mainly viewed as a Progressive, Roosevelt strove to bring back the old heroic virtues that embedded itself in the old American society, long before materialistic values. As Roosevelt states in his New Nationalism Speech, “We can admire the heroic valor, the sincerity, the self-devotion shown alike by the men who wore the blue and the men who wore the gray; and our sadness that such men should have to fight one another is tempered by the glad knowledge that ever hereafter their descendants shall be fighting side by side, struggling in peace as well as in war for the uplift of their common country, all alike resolute to raise to the highest pitch of honor and usefulness the nation to which they all belong”(Roosevelt, New Nationalism Speech). Roosevelt wants for America to bring back these heroic, soldier esque values that used to be a part of the people of the United States. Roosevelt’s Conservative side was calling out to the people of the United States to forget the materialistic lifestyle, and live that of heroism, one of their elders.

Also as Roosevelt says in his article of “True Americanism”, in the Forum Magazine, “The third sense in which the word “Americanism” may be employed is with reference to the Americanizing of the newcomers to our shores. We must Americanize them in every way, in speech, in political ideas and principles, and in their way of looking at the relations between Church and State”(Theodore Roosevelt, True Americanism). Theodore Roosevelt wants the people of the United States to welcome immigrants and to “Americanize” them through teaching them the core and long standing beliefs of American culture. Roosevelt through Conservatism wants to use the structural beliefs of American culture from years past, before America became the “corrupt” place it had become. Through these two documents, and many more, Theodore Roosevelt thoroughly expresses his Conservative beliefs, and shows how he is just as much Conservative as he is Progressive.

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