Theodore Roosevelt's Presidency

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Differences and comparisons of the foreign policies of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson

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Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy, known as "Big Stick" diplomacy, emphasized military strength and active intervention. William Howard Taft preferred "Dollar Diplomacy," focusing on economic influence and investment to achieve American goals. Woodrow Wilson's approach, termed "Moral Diplomacy," aimed to spread democracy and moral principles, often avoiding military intervention unless necessary to support democratic governments.

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What are the differences in foreign policies of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson?

Roosevelt was an interventionist who used the military to demonstrate American might abroad. He sent the Great White Fleet around the world to signify that the American Navy was a powerful force and to intimidate Japan in case that nation had any designs on the United States's Pacific holdings. Roosevelt sent troops into Central America and the Caribbean, as did Taft and Wilson, in order to ensure that the governments there were pro-American. One of the strongest interventions of the Roosevelt era was his intervention in Panama during its war for independence from Colombia. Roosevelt stationed a warship off the coast of Panama as a deterrent to Colombian forces. After Panama gained its independence, Roosevelt authorized the digging of the Panama Canal and negotiated a treaty that stated the United States had a right to the Canal Zone.

Taft was known for using business interests and bank loans to assert American independence in Central America and the Caribbean. One of Taft's key interventions was to unite bankers to lend aid in the form of loans and grants to banks in Honduras.

Out of the three presidents, Wilson is best known for his foreign policy. Wilson intervened during Mexico's revolutions during his term, even sending in a column of troops under the leadership of Jack Pershing to track down the bandit leader Pancho Villa. Wilson was president when World War I began and was criticized for not joining the war on the side of the Entente by former President Roosevelt. Wilson's response to the sinking of the Lusitania at the cost of 128 American lives was to write an angrily worded letter to the German consul, who quickly convinced the Kaiser to back off submarine warfare. Wilson's solution to bringing the Central Powers and Entente to the negotiating table in early 1917 was to attempt to cut off loans to the belligerents, a move that caused an economic panic in France and Britain. It was only the resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare, combined with the Zimmerman note, that pushed Wilson in favor of going to war as an associated power with the Allies. Wilson issued his Fourteen Points, a road-map to a postwar peace, in early 1919. Wilson wanted to create a League of Nations; while this did come to pass, it was ultimately powerless, as the Republican-led Congress disliked Wilson personally and his desire to make the United States an internationalist power with responsibilities to the world. The League would fail, but it would set the precedent for creating the United Nations in 1945.

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What are the differences in foreign policies of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson?

Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson had quite different approaches to foreign policy, partly reflective of the differing challenges each faced.

Roosevelt came to office in an era where the United States was expanding into an imperial power. He supported this and had an aggressive foreign policy, described by some as "big stick diplomacy" (from a line he coined about how the US must "walk softly but carry a big stick"). Roosevelt continued with the principles of the Monroe Doctrine, and his foreign policy was focused on South America. In the wake of the Spanish-American War, he expanded the navy and started building the Panama Canal. In essence, he oversaw America's development into a true imperial power.

Taft was more conservative in his foreign policy, although he was also focused on Central and South America as important areas. Less inclined to use military force, his foreign policy was characterized as "dollar diplomacy," and he did much to encourage US businesses to invest in the Americas. Taft's conservatism in foreign policy and beyond actually drew Roosevelt out of retirement and encouraged him to run for office in 1912, where he eventually developed a "third-party" platform, the progressive and reform-oriented "Bull-Moose" party.

Wilson's foreign policy was most deeply influenced by his intellectual background (he was president of Princeton University before becoming US president) and principled ideals. He initially remained neutral in the outbreak of World War I, but when the US was drawn into the conflict, he thereafter used it as an opportunity to imprint his idealism, becoming one of the chief architects of the League of Nations. This organization was rooted in Wilson's "Fourteen Points" speech, which expressed democratic ideals of openness and free trade that became hallmarks of American foreign policy moving forward.

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What are the differences in foreign policies of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson?

Although I would argue that the differences between these three presidents are exaggerated, historians generally say that each had a distinctive foreign policy.  Theodore Roosevelt is associated with “big stick diplomacy,” William Taft is said to have practiced “dollar diplomacy,” and Woodrow Wilson’s diplomacy is characterized as “moral” or “idealistic.”

Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy stance is usually called “big stick diplomacy.”  This comes from a supposed African saying that he liked to quote: “walk softly but carry a big stick.”  Roosevelt’s “big stick” was the US military.  He believed that it was appropriate to use military power to impose America’s will around the world.  He was most able to do this in Latin America.  In contrast to Roosevelt, Taft is said to have used American economic might, more than its military power, to get other countries to do what the US wanted.  He wanted American companies to invest in foreign countries so the US could use its economic importance in those countries to push them to do what the US wanted.  For example, if an American fruit company would run large banana plantations in a Latin American country, it would be so important to that country’s economy that the US would be able to have a great deal of influence on the country.

In contrast to both of these presidents, President Wilson is said to have engaged in moral or idealistic foreign policy.  In other words, he is supposed to have tried to do what was right, rather than trying to use American power to push other countries around.  For example, he did not try to stop the Mexican Revolution in which a Mexican dictator was overthrown and a democratic government was elected.  The democratic government was less friendly to the US than the dictator, but Wilson did not step in.  This is seen as an example of his more idealistic approach to foreign policy.

In these ways, historians have tended to say that these three presidents had different foreign policies.

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Identify the foreign policies of Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson.

Theodore Roosevelt, William Taft, and Woodrow Wilson had their own views on foreign policy. Roosevelt’s foreign policy can be summarized by the phrase, “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Roosevelt believed the United States should let its actions speak for themselves. The United States told European countries that the United States would intervene in Latin America if the Europeans had issues with these countries. The United States intervened in the Dominican Republic in 1905 to help Europe collects its debts from this country. The United States wanted to build a canal somewhere in Central America. The United States intervened in Columbia, helping Panama become independent, when Columbia refused to sign an agreement that would allow the United States to build a canal through Columbia.

William Taft believed in "dollar diplomacy." He believed the United States should invest in other countries to gain influence there. When investments were threatened, the United States would intervene to protect those investments. This happened in Nicaragua in 1911.

Woodrow Wilson believed in expanding democracy. The involvement of the United States in World War I on the side of the Allies is an example of this. Wilson also believed in investing in other countries, but he was against the policy of dollar diplomacy.

These ideas can be seen in modern American foreign policy. The United States has intervened to promote democratic governments. The current involvement of the United States in South Korea, against the threat of North Korea, is an example. The United States also currently invests in other countries. The United States is a major player on the world stage, and the United States has not been afraid to flex their muscles when needed. The fight against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is an example of this. The United States also has supported Israel in the Middle East when Israel has faced threats from other countries or groups of people.

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Compare the foreign policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

President Theodore Roosevelt had an active foreign policy. President Roosevelt wanted to expand American influence and make the United States a world power. He also wanted to spread American ideals and ways of living around the world. The phrase “speak softly and carry a big stick” summarizes President Roosevelt’s foreign policy very well.

The United States wanted to build a canal in Central America to shorten the distance of shipping products between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. The United States wanted to build this canal through Colombia, but Colombia refused our offer. President Roosevelt then supported a revolution in Panama, which declared its independence from Colombia. The American navy blocked Colombia from ending the revolution, and the United States quickly recognized Panama as an independent country. The United States quickly signed a deal with Panama to build the canal, and the Panama Canal was eventually built.

The United States did not want European countries to interfere in the affairs of countries in the Americas. As a result, he issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. This policy told European countries that the United States would handle any issues that they had with countries in Central America or South America. For example, the United States intervened in the Dominican Republic to help collect taxes so the Dominican Republic could pay its debts to Europe.

President Roosevelt wanted to show the world how powerful the United States was. He sent the American navy, called the Great White Fleet, around the world to showcase America’s power.

President Roosevelt also helped bring an end to a war between Japan and Russia. He helped negotiate an end to this conflict. For his efforts, he received the Nobel Peace Prize.

President Wilson believed in a more idealistic foreign policy based on moral principles. President Wilson hoped to develop friendly relations with the countries of Latin America. He also wanted these countries to have democratic governments. Sometimes his actions did not reflect his beliefs; he sent American troops into Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Even with American troops in these countries, democratic governments were not established there.

When World War I began, the United States remained neutral. President Wilson hoped the country could stay out of the war, but our extensive trade with the countries involved in World War I made this difficult. When the United States eventually joined World War I on the side of the Allies, Wilson stated that this war would be a "war to end all wars" and that the American involvement would make the world safe for democratic governments. Neither of these principles proved to be true after the war ended.

When the peace treaty was being negotiated, President Wilson voiced his opposition. President Wilson wanted an easier treaty on the defeated Central Powers. His counterparts in the other Allied countries did not agree with this approach. Wilson did get the creation of the League of Nations as a result of the peace treaty. This organization was designed to prevent future conflicts. However, the United States never joined the League of Nations, and the League of Nations ultimately failed in its goal of keeping world peace. Overall, the peace treaty was a harsh one on the defeated Central Powers.

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Compare the foreign policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

Theodore Roosevelt's foreign policy was commonly known as "Big Stick Diplomacy," based on his favorite expression to "speak softly and carry a big stick." While his actions in Colombia were somewhat questionable, he did promote U.S. foreign interests in other ways, including sending the U.S. Navy on a tour around the world, the so called "Great White Fleet." His foreign policy was in keeping with his personality, as he was fond of a good scrap from time to time. As Under-Secretary of the Navy under President McKinley, he had ordered Admiral Perry to steam to Manila Harbor after his boss left for work, hoping to engage Spain there. He was always disappointed when war was avoided, even attempting to volunteer to fight in World War I. He was turned down because of his age.

Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy was often denominated "Missionary Diplomacy," as he tended to pursue matters more from a matter of principle than policy. He was idealistic, but at the same time could be stubborn. He sent Gen. John Pershing to Mexico in a failed attempt to capture Pancho Villa; he also interfered in a coup taking place in Mexico. At one point he sent American troops to Verz Cruz, Mexico, making the remark that:

I suppose there is nothing for it but to go down there and take the bull by the horns.

Wilson was somewhat idealistic at the Versailles Peace Conference, but again could be stubborn. He had a young Ho Chi Minh thrown out of the conference when the latter asked for self determination of the people of Indochina. He was not so forceful about the entire Fourteen Points as he was about the League of Nations. When Congress proposed changes to the League covenant, Wilson steadfastly refused to consider them. In the end, the Treaty was not ratified because Wilson would not budge.

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Compare the foreign policies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

The major difference between these two presidents' foreign policies is that President Wilson tried more to be idealistic while President Roosevelt was known for being much more interested in advancing the interests of the United States, regardless of what was "right".  For example, Roosevelt was willing to infringe on Colombian sovereignty and to engage in fairly shady dealings to obtain the right to build the Panama Canal.  By contrast, Wilson tried to pursue a much more idealistic approach.  This is seen most clearly in his attempt to push the Fourteen Points at the peace conference that followed WWI.  

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