The name Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt conjures up many images: from hunter to teddy bear, from trust-buster to champion of capitalism, from Republican president to Bull Moose challenger. T.R. remains controversial, contradictory, and above all, larger than life. In this issue, leading scholars of Roosevelt and of the Progressive Era in which he made his mark offer us new insights into the man, his philosophy, and his political achievements.
Professor Kirsten Swinth begins this exploration with The Square Deal: Theodore Roosevelt and the Themes of Progressive Reform, an overview of progressivism, focusing on the historical context for the rise of this diffuse and complex movement. She shows us that the reformers came to the movement from a variety of backgrounds and pursued different causes from corrupt government to overly powerful corporations. Yet, if the issues these reformers took up were often different, their goal was the same: finding solutions for many of the social problems caused by industrialization and urbanization. These women and men shared certain assumptions, including the belief that science and technical expertise were critical tools in solving the problems of modernity. They also shared certain ‘blind spots,’ as demonstrated by their failure to address racial injustices. In “The Politics of the Future are Social Politics”: Progressivism in International Perspective, Professor Thomas Bender broadens our perspective, reminding us that the crises of industrialization and urbanization Americans faced in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were also global in their impact. Reformers in England, France, Italy, Latin America, and Japan wrestled with the same problems and, together, these men and women shaped a movement they called “social liberalism.” Teddy Roosevelt was part of the international reform discussion that centered on effective ways to ameliorate the injustices caused by modern industrial production, new ways to relate to the natural environment, and the creation of a state or government powerful enough to regulate private industry. The problems were the same; the solutions, however, were different for each nation had its own unique political circumstances, traditions, and domestic policy histories. Together, the Swinth and Bender essays effectively evoke the historical context for the life of Teddy Roosevelt. Professor Kathleen Dalton brings the focus to Roosevelt himself in her essay, Theodore Roosevelt: The Making of a Progressive Reformer. Dalton reminds us that Roosevelt’s personality, controversial and fascinating as it remains, should not overshadow the factors that lifted him into power or the issues to which he applied his talents. Finally, Professor Patricia O’Toole gives us an insightful look at Roosevelt’s third party bid for the White House in her essay The Spectacles of 1912. Her narrative reminds us of the impact of third parties on American politics and their importance in mobilizing new forces and pressing for the adoption of new ideas in national politics.
This issue’s lesson plans suggest the rich possibilities for exploring the man and the era in the classroom, from studying the history of the teddy bear to examining the role of charismatic men and women in shaping our past. The interactive feature brings us back to the personal story of Theodore Roosevelt and his family through photographs of “Theodore Roosevelt at Home.” And, as always, Mary-Jo Kline provides you with a host of additional sources to use in creating your own lessons.
I feel certain that, when you have read this issue of History Now, you will say, in true Teddy Roosevelt fashion, “bully.”
Editor, History Now
Carol Berkin is Presidential Professor of History at Baruch College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of several books including Jonathan Sewall: Odyssey of an American Conservative, First Generations: Women in Colonial America, A Brilliant Solution: Inventing the American Constitution, and Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence