Woodrow Wilson's Presidency

Start Free Trial

Compare the presidencies of Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The presidencies and lives of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson shared both similarities and differences. Together, they helped shape the presidency of the modern era.

Roosevelt, who served from 1901 to 1909, was the first 'modern' president. Wilson, who occupied the White House from 1913 to 1921, was also a...

This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

'modern' president. Modern presidents believe in a muscular domestic and foreign policy. They use the central government to solve problems in an active way. This trend continues in modern-day America.

Roosevelt and Wilson were both intellectuals. Roosevelt was the author of many books. Wilson was an educator who taught at universities and became president of Princeton.

Both men were also reformers. The Gilded Age of the late-nineteenth century was a period of rapid change for America. The railroads spanned the continent and vast new industries flourished. But many Americans were left out, and the country faced serious problems such as urban overcrowding and farmers' debts. Roosevelt cracked down on monopolies and sought to protect the rights of the "little man" in America. Wilson's New Freedom policies were also reformist. He sought to help farmers and he ensured an eight-hour day for railroad employees. Wilson continued the policy of limiting corporate power and curbing monopolies.

One important way the men differed was in their attitudes toward American participation in World War I. Roosevelt favored intervention and even wanted to command a combat force after American entry. Roosevelt wanted to stay out of the war, and he managed to accomplish this for nearly three years.

Their personalities also differed. Roosevelt was a practical man of action. He was also popular and colorful. Wilson was an idealist, and he was less popular.

And finally, historians rate both men as among the most important presidents in American history.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

On a personal level, the men were quite different. Roosevelt was more outgoing and adventurous, while Wilson came across as scholarly and aloof. The two presidents shared some common traits. Both men were published authors before becoming president. Both presidents were also widowers who remarried.

Domestically, both presidents were progressives. During the Wilson administration, the United States instituted the direct election of senators and the income tax. Wilson also tried to do away with child labor, but this was branded unconstitutional. Roosevelt encouraged a lot of progressive policy including the Food and Drug Act and the destruction of several trusts which threatened free enterprise and competition in American business.

Diplomatically, the two presidents were quite different. During his administration, Roosevelt instituted the Roosevelt Corollary, which announced American intentions to intervene in Latin America. Roosevelt also sent the Great White Fleet around the world to demonstrate the strength of the United States. Wilson, on the other hand, was more of an idealist. He intervened in the Mexican Revolution in 1916 and 1917. Wilson also tried to stay neutral during the early days of WWI by offering to be an arbiter and by writing threatening letters to the German leadership after the sinking of American vessels. Wilson used war as a last resort. Even after the conflict, Wilson created the League of Nations, which ultimately the United States did not join due to Wilson's inability to get along with Congress.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are many points of comparison between these two presidents.  Perhaps the one that offers the clearest contrast between the two is the area of foreign policy.

In foreign policy, Roosevelt was avowedly looking out for the interests of the United States.  He was not trying to be idealistic or spread democracy or anything like that.  He practiced his "big stick" diplomacy, throwing the US's weight and power around to get things that he felt would help the US (like the Panama Canal Zone).

By contrast, Wilson tended to try to be idealistic.  For example, he took actions in Mexico that (you can argue) were against US interests.  He chose what he saw as a democratically elected leader over one who would be more friendly to the US.  When WWI came around, he tried to broker a peace based on ideals rather than on power.  In these ways, he was clearly trying to be idealistic.

Approved by eNotes Editorial