New Nationalism vs. New Freedom

The New Nationalism

Roosevelt returned to the United States in the summer of 1910 and began a speechmaking tour across the nation.  He touted a new wide-ranging program of progressive reform called The New Nationalism.  This broad plan called for reform in every area of American life, with the notable exception of race relations.  The ideas behind The New Nationalism required involvement by the national government in many areas of American life.  This was a total rejection of laissez-faire government.  Roosevelt argued that the nation needed change and that it was going to take the federal government to get it done.

The Progressive Party

As Roosevelt gave speeches around the country, Taft naturally felt attacked and threatened.  He suspected Roosevelt would try to take over again, which was true.  In early 1912, Roosevelt announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination.  In doing so, he reneged on a 1908 promise not to run again.  President Taft controlled much of the party machinery and won the nomination under questionable circumstances.  Saying he was robbed of the nomination, Roosevelt and his supporters walked out of the convention, forming the Progressive Party. 

Child laborers in a West Virginia coalmine

Child laborers in a West Virginia coalmine

The Progressive Party held a nominating convention in Chicago in August.  The party nominee Theodore Roosevelt declared that he felt “as strong as a bull moose,” lending the group nickname “the Bull Moose Party.”  The party platform molded the ideas of New Nationalism into a tangible set of goals, including:

  • Federal regulation of all interstate business
  • Laws ending child labor
  • Minimum wages for women
  • A nationwide primary system for choosing presidential candidates
  • A national system of old-age pensions
  • Woman’s suffrage (this represented the first time a major party had advocated nationwide woman’s suffrage)

Did you know?

In 1912, while running as the Progressive Party candidate for President, Theodore Roosevelt was the victim of an assassination attempt.  At a campaign stop in Wisconsin, a gunman shot Roosevelt once with a revolver.  His speech papers, folded in his breast pocket, slowed the bullet.  Roosevelt insisted on giving his speech anyway, declaring “it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

New Freedom

Happily taking advantage of the split within the Republican Party, the Democrats found a new leader to nominate for.  Woodrow Wilson was a southerner who had served as president of Princeton University.  He had earned an impressive record as a progressive leader in his two years as governor of New Jersey.  Wilson ran on a platform he called the New Freedom, which was strongly influenced by lawyer (and future Supreme Court Justice) Louis D. Brandeis.  This plan advocated three reforms:

  • Lowering the protective tariff
  • Creating a better banking system
  • Strengthening antitrust laws
Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson

Wilson contended that if these three reforms passed, control by monopolies would end and freedom would be restored.  The New Freedom plan offered no provisions for social justice reforms.  Wilson asserted that people did not want the government to take care of them; they simply wanted competition restored so the free enterprise system could work and citizens thrive. Compare Roosevelt’s New Nationalism and Wilson’s New Freedom in the following drag-and-drop.