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Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson: The Professor and The Warrior

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Through World War I, United States rapidly gained global power and diplomatic superiority over other countries in the world. Taking a part of WWI, United States shifted its foreign policy, the Monroe Doctrine, and it changed a long lasted paradigm, the centralized power in Europe over thousand years. United States showed that it’s not only economically but also militarily compelling. The upheaval of United States in international politics baffled the world after WWI and also greatly influenced WWII, which put United States on top of the world. In other words, the current prominent power of United States started to rise with WWI. However, the great triumph of modern United States couldn’t be achieved without a colossal change in United States’ politics in pre-WWI. Through great reforms in foreign policy, economical system, and individual rights, the Professor and the Warrior, two progressive presidents, who served two presidential terms in two different parties, laid the cornerstone of the modern United States government in early 1900s.

United States swiftly underwent social and political metamorphosis during Theodore Roosevelt’s, the 26th United States President, and Woodrow Wilson’s, the 28th United States President, terms. If anyone sees photos or portraits of these two intriguing reformers, he or she may easily assume that they have totally opposite characters and that assumption is correct. As a formal war hero, Theodore Roosevelt had a bellicose character compared to Woodrow Wilson, a formal president of Princeton University, with a meek personality. Woodrow Wilson even said, “I do not. He is a real, vivid person, whom they have seen and shouted themselves hoarse over and voted for, millions strong. I am a vague, conjectural personality, more made up of opinions and academic prepossessions than of human traits and red corpuscles.” Despite their totally opposite characters, they had many things in common at the same time. Unfortunately, both presidents lost their first wife in early marriage. Roosevelt lost his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, by Bright’s diseases, a Kidney ailment in 1884. On that day, Roosevelt crossed out with big ‘x’ on his diary page and said, ‘The light has gone out of my life.’

However, interestingly, he never wrote anything about his wife (not even second wife) on any of his biography or publicly talked about the incident. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson also lost his first wife, Ellen Axson Wilson, in 1914 by Bright’s diseases, but he seemed more emotional and sentimental. Wilson said, ‘Oh my God, what am I to do’ when he first heard about her death and Wilson also wrote later about his mournful and depressing emotion, ‘My dear … grows weaker and weaker, with a pathetic patience and sweetness.’ And also wrote, “God has stricken me almost beyond what I can bear.’ Through mournful incidents in their life, people can see the different characters of those two presidents. Additionally, both presidents also had a disease in their childhood. Theodore Roosevelt had an asthma (which considered as a serious diseases at that time) and also was a near-sighted. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson had dyslexia, a learning disability. (NYT) Nonetheless, both of them overcame diseases through supports from their father. Roosevelt’s father said, “Theodore you have the mind but you have not the body, and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. I am giving you the tools, but it is up to you to make your body.” His guidance made Roosevelt to train himself throughout his childhood and made him become ardent and defiant person. (Brett) Woodrow Wilson’s father never gave up teaching his son several subjects: British literature, religion, philosophy, and debate at home although Wilson couldn’t even read clearly until the age of ten. Ironically, a physically sick child, Theodore Roosevelt, became a war hero and the Cowboy of Dakota later and an illiterate child, Woodrow Wilson, became a president of Princeton University. These different childhood educations of their fathers made them to have different characters that also influenced the main policy during their presidency.

In late 1800s, United States was suffering from rapid industrialization, flood of immigration, and urbanization. The commercializing of an incandescent light bulb made people to work not only in the morning but also after the sun goes down, the mechanization in production made industries to produce more products for cheaper price, and the great development in transportation made merchants to trade more quickly and efficiently. However, as the shadow follows the body, there were several major problems behind the glory. Despite the fact that only 5 percent of American population lived in urban area in 1790, the number increased to 35 percent by 1890. Additionally, approximately 3.5 million immigrants from various countries from Europe, including Italy, Austria, and Russia, flowed into United States in 1890s. However, since the United States in 1800s was just following the classic economic idea, laissez-faire, relying on the “invisible hands” theory by Adam Smith, there were no specified laws that could protect immigrants, ethnic minorities, nature, health conditions, labors, or regulating the business. As a result, with the negligence of government, America’s life expectancy greatly decreased from 45 to below 40 between 1870 and 1880 and the polarization of wealth in top ten percent of the population dramatically increased from 60% to 80% by 1910. These problems from laissez-faire economy resulted in 1893 Depression, which was caused by big businesses’ imprudent investments in railroads and indiscreet lending of banks.

Theodore Roosevelt started to regulate big businesses yet he favored big businesses. On December 3rd, 1901, the youngest president, who became the president because of the assassination of former president, McKinley, gave the first annual speech to public. He said, “Nothing can take the place of this individual capacity; but wise legislation and honest and intelligent administration can give it the fullest scope, the largest opportunity to work to good effect.” This was an indirect warning to big business and Congress to be prepared for his Square Deal. Roosevelt started with regulating railroads, which was monopolized by J.P. Morgan (owned over 85 percent share of entire railroads in United States). Although there was already an Antitrust Act, the Sherman Act, to regulate big business, it was never actually applied to the railroad monopolist. However, in 1903, Roosevelt established the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) through amending the Interstate Commerce Act and the Elkins Act. Roosevelt ordered ICC to investigate on railroads and started to levy taxes and fines on railroads. Furthermore, he also started to regulate insurance companies and daily necessities industries like foods’ and drugs’ industries through Hepburn Act and Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906. He also greatly improved the labor condition through enforcing minimum wage, banning child labor, and limiting maximum hours. Of course, Republican Congress didn’t agree on his Progressive ideas that they considered as democratic, but, through enforcing it with using about 145 executive orders per year, Roosevelt immensely improved the condition of labors through regulating big business and started to increase life expectancy of individuals again.

Woodrow Wilson accomplished redistribution of wealth through regulating big businesses even farther. Like Theodore Roosevelt, Wilson also indirectly declared his future policy on his first inaugural speech in March, 1913. He said, “Our duty is to cleanse, to reconsider, to restore, to correct the evil without impairing the good . . . Who dares fail to try? I summon all honest men, all patriotic, all forward-looking men, to my side. God helping me, I will not fail them, if they will but counsel and sustain me!”(US embassy) His enthusiastic speech shows that he believes in populism and also condemns the big business as the “evil” that hurts individual men. As he said on the speech, in first six months of his presidency, he rapidly amends several laws to regulate big businesses while protecting small businesses. In June 23rd, he challenges Congress about the private bank system. He said, “The control of the system of banking … not private, must be vested in the Government itself, so that the banks may be the instruments, not the masters, of business and of individual enterprise and initiative.” Of course, Congress didn’t agree on his bank reform at the first time, but, through using even more executive orders than any other presidents before, he finally got an approval from the Congress. For his New Freedom policy, which was progressive yet totally opposed to the Square Deal of Theodore Roosevelt, he began with amending Underwood Tariff, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission. Underwood Tariff started to levy an income tax, which varied on the amount of income that people annually make, on rich people. Additionally, he completely changed the private bank system through establishing the Federal Reserve, which was the public bank that regulates the flow of the money and private banks. This allowed for government to control the money in the economy and also prevent from indiscreet loans of banks for big businesses. At the same time, he also strengthened regulations on Big Businesses through the Federal Trade Commission, which can legally investigate and enforce Trust Acts on businesses. His efforts to reducing the power of big businesses in the economy caused the skyrocketing polarization of wealth for top 10% population to decrease for the first time since the beginning of industrialization in 1800.

Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson paved the way to the greatest power in the world for the later generation. One thing that people learned from the history is that people care less about human rights movements or diplomatic issues than about economic problems. As Maslow, the American Psychologist, claimed through his hierarchy of needs, to accomplish self-actualization or higher moral standards, people need to satisfy basic needs, such as personal safety and physiological needs, including foods, houses, and clothes. For example, at the beginning, Abraham Lincoln believed in the American Colonization and deportation of blacks to Africa instead of giving them popular sovereignty, because he had to resolve more important issue, tension that was caused by economical issue between the South and the North. For more recent example, former president, Obama, didn’t mention any gay rights movement, USA Freedom Acts, or Health Care Act until he recovered economy from 2008 Subprime mortgage crisis. In other words, early 1900s United States wasn’t ready to change human rights since American people desperately needed economical and financial help from the government. As their nicknames, the Professor and the Warrior, Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt smoothly and actively transformed United States, which was deteriorating because of old political ideology in late 1800s, into the wealthiest country in the world and also prepared it for further human rights movements in mid 1900s.

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