Although Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were both progressives, there was a difference in their political visions. Wilson was much less interested in government intervention in the economy than Roosevelt was.
Roosevelt ran in 1912 on the platform of “New Nationalism.” He wanted to created strong regulatory agencies that would oversee business. He wanted things like a minimum wage that would use government power to help the people. By contrast, Wilson favored a “New Freedom” in which the government would lay a foundation for competition between small businessmen. Wilson wanted to break up the trusts but then get government out of the way so that fair competition could occur, leading to better outcomes without government intervention.
Both Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt were Progressive presidents. However, there were some differences in their approach to their Progressive actions.
Theodore Roosevelt believed while he was President that business and the government could co-exist. President Roosevelt believed that as long as businesses acted in the best interests of everybody, they would be able to carry out their actions. When businesses acted only in their self-interest, then he believed the government must act. Thus, when the coal strike of 1902 dragged on threatening the people’s ability to get coal for the upcoming winter to heat their homes, President Roosevelt threatened to have the government run the mines when the coal owners refused to go to arbitration to settle the strike. President Roosevelt believed in the Square Deal, which said everybody should be treated fairly. As part of his policy of the regulation of businesses, the Bureau of Corporations was established to monitor business activity. When Roosevelt ran for the presidency in the 1912 presidential election as the Progressive Party candidate, he ran on a concept known as the New Nationalism. This idea meant that businesses and the government could get along with some government regulation of businesses.
Woodrow Wilson had a less trusting view of businesses. He believed businesses needed to be closely regulated, and monopolies had to be eliminated. He wanted to lower tariffs because he felt they protected big businesses. The Clayton Antitrust Act was designed to restrict the actions of big businesses. They were not allowed to charge different prices to different customers. The Federal Trade Commission was established to stop unfair business practices. The Federal Reserve Act was passed to help create banking policy.
Both of these presidents were progressive presidents. However, they had different views of how government should operate as part of the Progressive Movement.
Despite their similar progressivism backgrounds, Wilson Woodrow and Theodore Roosevelt differed considerably in the means they thought the progressivism agenda would be achieved. Roosevelt, through his New Nationalism plan, advocated for greater involvement by the federal government in all matters social and economic. As such, he proposed reforms geared towards greater social justice such as women suffrage. In terms of big business, New Nationalism proposed government regulation in order to protect the general public from any adverse impacts that could arise from monopolistic establishments.
On the other hand, Wilson opposed the idea of social welfare as proposed by Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. In his plan, the New Freedom, Wilson supported free enterprise characterized by competition as this would enable citizens to thrive economically. Instead of government regulation, he proposed the use of antitrust policy to control unfair business practices. The New Freedom plan was therefore free of social justice reforms and alternatively focused on tariff reform, business reform and banking reform.