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A Biography of America

TR and Wilson

Professor Brinkley compares the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson -- the Warrior and the Minister -- in the first decades of the twentieth century. Professor Miller discusses American socialism, Eugene Debs, international communism, and the roots of the Cold War with Professor Brinkley.

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Program 18: TR and Wilson

Douglas Brinkley with Donald L. Miller


Narrator: America at the turn of the century. The beginning of its rise as a global power. The clash between capitalism and labor at home. The threat of communism abroad.

Miller: And along comes a guy like Roosevelt, you know, and I think he takes over the country at a time when a lot of people thought it was flying apart.

Brinkley: Well, or coming together. Roosevelt came in due to the assassination of McKinley.

Miller: Exactly.

Brinkley: The connection between Roosevelt and Wilson would be: how are we behaving in the world community? What are we up to? Are we imperialists?

Narrator: Or are we making the world safe for democracy? “Two Faces of Power” today on A Biography of America.

Two Faces of Power

Brinkley: Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the “Warrior” and the “Minister,” who served as the twenty-sixth and twenty-eighth presidents of the United States, were the most dynamic political leaders America had seen since the Civil War. Together, in fact, they personify the United States’ rise to power at the turn of the twentieth century.

Between the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the accession of Theodore Roosevelt, the White House was occupied by a series of mostly mediocre men — Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, Benjamin Harrison, Democrat Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley. Given their lack of distinction, it’s little wonder that from 1864 to 1900, Congress was the dominant branch of the U.S. government and the presidency diminished in importance.

All that changed on September 6, 1901, when President William McKinley was shot. He died 8 days later, leaving the United States leaderless for the twelve hours it took to locate Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, who was camping high in the Adirondacks.

He arrived in Buffalo after a wild all-night carriage ride to take the Oath of Office only a few feet from where McKinley lay dead. Roosevelt wrote to a friend that this was a dreadful way to become president, then added, “but it would be a worse thing to be morbid about it.”

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As president from 1901 to 1909, Teddy Roosevelt would be called many things, but morbid was not among them. In fact, “TR” may have been the least morbid of Chief Executives in American history: a “steam engine in trousers,” as one journalist put it, a “human Niagara Falls,” in the words of a friend. For Theodore Roosevelt was nothing if not kinetic, a force of nature, like a cyclone. When Mark Hanna, the Republican power broker, realized that the eccentric Roosevelt was now in power, he said, “Look now, that damned cowboy is president of the United States.”

Who was this man? Naturalist John Burroughs probably got it right when he called Theodore Roosevelt “a many-sided man, and every side . . . like an electric battery.” Benjamin Franklin had nothing on TR as a true Renaissance man. Roosevelt was a well-born, polo-playing Phi Beta Kappa Harvard graduate, a hardscrabble North Dakota rancher, a prolific author on diverse subjects, a hunter, a conservationist, a historian, a colonel in the storied Rough Riders, and won a Nobel Peace Prize to boot. If all this wasn’t enough, the teddy bear was named after him. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1881 at the age of 23, launching nearly four decades of leadership in American politics and government.

Roosevelt reached a pinnacle in 1901, when at the age of 42 he became, as he remains, the youngest president in U.S. history. He even dubbed our nation’s Executive Mansion the “White House” then made good on his promise to use it as a “bully pulpit.” He preached the strenuous life, the New Nationalism, the Square Deal and his philosophy of governance: “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

TR’s Domestic Policy

Less than a year after Roosevelt assumed the Presidency, his philosophy of governance met a critical test, one that threatened the welfare of the entire country. 50,000 anthracite coal miners enrolled in the United Mine Workers Union went on strike in the Pennsylvania coal fields. The conflict between miners and owners, indeed, the conflict between capital and labor in many industries, was one that Roosevelt inherited.

As in earlier strikes, miners in 1902 demanded an increase in wages, but also demanded the 8-hour day, and many other benefits. Mine owners and operators, not surprisingly, resisted. The strike dragged on for months, and the public mood became increasingly ugly. Winter was coming on, and people feared that coal bins would remain empty through the winter, their homes, schools and hospitals cold.

Roosevelt was determined to end the crisis. Americans were not going to freeze while he served as president. He brought together mine operators and the miners. At first the mine operators would not deal with the “outlaws,” as they called the miners. It was a tense and indecisive conference but gave Roosevelt the cues he needed to mediate the crisis. In a landmark decision made by a presidential commission, the United Mine Workers’ demands were met. Labor had a friend in Theodore Roosevelt.

Later, Roosevelt would say that this action gave both labor and capital a “square deal,” a phrase that became lodged in the American imagination. But perhaps most important, this dramatic intervention in the affairs of capital and labor would be one of TR’s first expressions of the “imperial presidency.”

TR’s Foreign Policy

That same brashness proved more problematic in foreign policy. With the possible exception of John Quincy Adams, Roosevelt brought the first truly internationalist mind to the White House. Unfortunately, his world view was far narrower than his global ambitions. He espoused many of the now-discredited, basically Eurocentric beliefs of his time: particularly Anglo-Saxon superiority. Thomas Jefferson’s egalitarianism was sadly lost on TR.

To Roosevelt, a great power had to flex its muscles to keep proving itself great enough to dismiss the rights and claims of lesser powers. In the Far East, for example, he looked to Japan to provide the principal bulwark against an increasingly contentious Russia, and thus leaned toward the eastern side in the Russo-Japanese War from 1904 to 1905. His mediation of that conflict won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. Yet at the Portsmouth, New Hampshire peace conference that earned him the medal, Roosevelt, in fact, had made the peace by sacrificing Korea to Japan. More concerned with the balance of global power than with the sovereignty of small nations, he approved a secret understanding with the Japanese, making Korea their protectorate in exchange for Japan’s recognition of U.S. hegemony over the Philippine Islands.

Roosevelt had a penchant for military pageantry. It manifested itself in his dispatch of the entire U.S. Navy contingent of sixteen battleships on a 46,000-mile voyage around the world, with port stops in Japan, China, and Australia, all to show off his “Great White Fleet.” And while this Great White Fleet inspired a wave of patriotic enthusiasm at home and at first also among the Japanese, who threw a three-day party for the U.S. Navy upon its arrival, complete with children signing “The Star Spangled Banner” in English, ultimately the show of bluster backfired. Troubled by America’s battleship boasting, Japan’s naval leaders soon met with their Russian counterparts to sign a secret treaty dividing northern China between their two nations. The rest, of course, is the darkest part of modern history. Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet, his symbol of America’s rise to global power, contributed to Tokyo’s build up of a massive armada that would attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and force the United States into the Second World War.

Many historians believe Theodore Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for imperialism created a number of later problems for the United States. The criticism isn’t quite fair. Given the tremendous changes wrenching America and the world during his presidency, in most cases TR was either reacting to or anticipating what he thought were the interests or desires of the American people. In some instances he actually slowed the pace of expansion. That said, Roosevelt never really made the case for a democracy to enrich itself by imperialistic means. But his global focus did prepare the country for the international dilemmas it would face after he left office in 1909.

Roosevelt could have run for a third term in 1908, but he insisted on keeping his word to the press that he wouldn’t. After four years of his hand-picked successor William Howard Taft’s presidency, however, TR found himself longing to return to the White House. In the election of 1912 he ran as a third-party candidate but in so doing fragmented the Republican Party and handed the victory to Woodrow Wilson.

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Wilson was only the second Democrat to move into the White Houses since the Civil War and the first to have been born in the South. His father was a Presbyterian minister, his mother the daughter of another. Every day of his youth, Woodrow Wilson heard God’s word as filtered through the strictly moralistic teachings of John Calvin, and he grew up to believe that he had a special obligation to serve both God and his fellow man. From Calvin, he learned the traits that would characterize him as president: scholarly detachment, orderly conduct, self-righteousness, and an intense personal discipline.

When he entered the White House, therefore, he came across as a complete novice, as a stern schoolmaster out to scold the nation. With his set jaw, humorless disposition, and twinkle-free gaze through a pince-nez, Wilson was the farthest thing from a populist politician America has ever produced.

But as with Roosevelt, when Wilson was president no one ever questioned who was in charge. And also like Roosevelt, in many ways Wilson carried the imperial presidency too far. He kept U.S. diplomacy largely to himself, thereby weakening the morale at the State Department and among its foreign service officers. Not that this should have come as a surprise: throughout his writings on government Wilson had expressed an exalted view of executive leadership, going so far as to remark that presidential authority in foreign affairs was “virtually the power to control them absolutely.”

As wildly different as they were in temperament, Roosevelt and Wilson shared the firm belief that democratic capitalism was the best form of government, bar none. To both men, capitalism represented nothing less than freedom and democracy through economics, a system that allowed all citizens — provided that they were male — rather than any single elite to determine a nation’s destiny. Both presidents honestly believed in the United States as a superior nation perfectly suited to lead the world. Unburdened with militarism, unentangled in Old World realpolitik, and uninterested, for the most part, in the ugly competition for colonies, America remained the “shining city on the hill” John Winthrop had prophesied.

But unlike the pragmatic, realistic Roosevelt, it was a missionary idealism that fired Woodrow Wilson, a bedrock certainty that it was America’s national duty to provide the world with strong moral leadership. While earlier presidents had attempted to broaden the scope of U.S. interests, none since the passing of the Revolutionary generation had done so in the name of spreading “the American way” to other nations. Presidents James K. Polk, Ulysses S. Grant, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt had pushed the U.S. agenda in the names of the Monroe Doctrine, Manifest Destiny, and what British poet Rudyard Kipling had dubbed the “white man’s burden,” but Wilson harbored an almost messianic belief in the spread of democracy. A belief that it could save the world from humanity’s worst instincts.

World War I

Wilson’s presidency must, of course, be assessed in the context of the First World War, which overwhelmed his attention for nearly his entire two terms. Throughout those war years, Wilson spent many sleepless nights pondering the gravest challenge to face any president since Abraham Lincoln. He seized his role as spokesman for the nation, and as its leader made all the major decisions himself. His influence, however, appeared less in the decision to enter the war than in the rationalization for the intervention: that this was a war that the United States now had no choice but to fight.

In 1914, when World War I began, America had little concern about how the conflict had started or how it might end. Some two and a half years later, however, the nation’s young men were trained into doughboys and sent to fight. Many, like millions of Europeans before them, died in the muddy trenches of France and Belgium. With Germany torpedoing American ships on the high sea, Wilson decided it was just impossible to stay neutral.

Formally abandoning neutrality on April 2, 1917, Wilson delivered a stunning 36-minute war message to Congress. In it he declared that America’s first objective would be to crush the German military command, but its long-range goal was to “end all wars” and make the world “safe for democracy.” In words worthy of Thomas Jefferson in their grace and power, Wilson proclaimed that it was America’s righteous mission to return to the Old World of Europe and bring it a democratic peace. Even Roosevelt, who was no admirer of Wilson, admitted that it was an inspiring bit of oratory. Congress quickly declared war against Germany.

Many Americans disagreed and argued for peace at all costs. Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin of Montana, the first woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, would vote against entering World War I, stating: “I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war.”

America’s leading industrialists felt the same way, if partly out of the belief that an overseas war would hurt business at home. Andrew Carnegie of U.S. Steel bankrolled several peace groups, while the bumptious Henry Ford, beloved for his affordable automobiles, went so far as to dispatch a “peace ship” to Europe in 1915.

The preacher-in-chief, however, proved to be an able commander-in-chief. But victory came at an enormous price. America’s participation in World War I lasted nineteen months and sent more than two million Americans overseas, 1.4 million of them to serve in France. More than 53,000 U.S. troops died in combat, while another 63,000 perished from disease and other causes. In addition to the incalculable human loss, in today’s dollars the financial cost of World War I to America amounted to some $32.7 billion.


But we did win, and after the war President Wilson was hailed as a hero nearly everywhere he went on his way to the Paris Peace Conference. Once there, his status as savior enabled him to win substantial concessions from the Allies, including self-determination for a dozen new countries from Austria to Yugoslavia and the formation of his beloved League of Nations, an international body the U.S. president had long dreamed of establishing.

In the end, Wilson got much of what he wanted in the Treaty of Versailles, although he did not manage to keep the Allies from imposing a harsh peace on Germany that permanently barred any rearmament and assessed reparations of $32 billion. A resigned Wilson, unsure if his leadership at Versailles had been successful, sighed to his wife, “Well, it is finished, and as no one is satisfied, it makes me hope we have made a just peace; but it is all in the lap of the gods.”

Unfortunately for Wilson, the gods had abandoned him. The Senate twice failed to ratify the treaty, and the United States never joined the League of Nations. On October 2, 1919, in the midst of his public campaign for the treaty, Wilson suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed him on one side and left him an invalid.

For the next seven months his wife, Edith Galt Wilson, isolated her ailing husband, and kept the public from learning that she was in effect carrying out the business of the presidency.

When told by his physician that the Senate had voted the treaty down, Wilson replied, “Doctor, the devil is a very busy man.” But Wilson’s peace efforts did not go unnoticed. In 1919 he joined Theodore Roosevelt as one of only two American presidents to win the Nobel Peace Prize.


Through the rest of the century, every succeeding Chief Executive would look to the Warrior and the Minister as models of ambitious leadership. In foreign affairs, Roosevelt became the embodiment of realpolitik; Wilson, the founder of the global human rights movement, his failed League of Nations — the precursor to today’s United Nations. On the domestic side, both men made it clear that the president, not the Congress, truly leads the nation.

These two presidents, equally learned in theory and accomplished in practice of democratic government, but from opposite sides of the fence, are credited with major ideological bents of 20thcentury Western politics. The “Warrior” and the “Minister” put the United States on the world map.

These two intellectuals, with such starkly different personalities, define the practice of 20th century democracy, its possibilities and its limitations, as surely as Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had for their day.

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A Conversation about Debs and Socialism

Miller: Doug, let’s talk about the origins of the Cold War during this period. Communism, Bolshevism, Socialism. Tell us a little bit about Debs, I mean the Socialist running for the presidency of the United States.

Brinkley: Debs is a very interesting character. And he’s born in 1855 in Terre Haute, Indiana and he, early on, signed up with the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen.

He was conservative in the 19th Century. Debs. He was against strikes. The great railway strikes of 1877, Debs was against them. The Pullman strike of 1894, he was saying, workers should take it easy a little bit.

Miller: Don’t get involved in this strike.

Brinkley: Don’t get very involved in this.

Miller: He thought it would ruin his union.

Brinkley: Exactly.

Miller: A newly formed railroad union.

Brinkley: Yeah, it would ruin the union. But the 1896 election had a profound impact on him. And he started questioning after that election, you know, how, can trade unions really do anything in a capitalist society? Doesn’t big business have all the advantages? From 1896, he became a socialist.

Miller: What was different from this Socialist Party from the later Communist Party?

Brinkley: Well, the American Socialist Party of Debs, first off, believed in Karl Marx. They believed in Das Kapital. They believed in The Communist Manifesto. By 1917, with the Russian Revolution, for example, and you have the advent of Lenin, they are talking there about a peasant revolution.

Miller: Right.

Brinkley: Empowering the poor. So it was never as much of a connection as some people would think between the American Socialist Party and what was going on in the Soviet Union.

Miller: So this is a home-grown American Socialist Party.

Brinkley: Home-grown, with middle-class values. And it was not in any way anti-American, per se. These were workers that had rights.

Miller: Debs constantly talked about Jefferson and living up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address.

Brinkley: That’s what they used. Debs would use our documents to say, “How can we do this?” And, you know, some people would say, well, the radical Debs, and the radical Socialists, holding strikes. And he would say we are not the ones perpetrating violence. The violence is on us. We’re getting kicked. We’re getting hit over the head with clubs. We’re getting beat up by the Pinkertons, by the local police, by these strike breakers that the corporations, whether it was in steel or coal fields.

Miller: Right.

Brinkley: That were doing this. We’re not violent.

[picture of Professor Miller]

Miller: My grandmother was a member of the Socialist Party. In the 1930s, she used to deliver Socialist newspapers door-to-door. And later on, when I learned about this, I’d shake my head. And she said, you know, we’ve had six or seven Socialist mayors in this town. They call it “gas and water socialism” because they’d take over the local gas company and the water company and nationalize it.

But then all of a sudden, Socialism and Communism seemed to get lumped together in the American mind and lumped together with Bolshevism and the Soviet Union. When does that start to happen?

Brinkley: Well, really in the 1920s or after World War I because you have the great Red Scare. There is this notion that there are anti-American radicals everywhere and we’ve got to ferret them out and get rid of them. And the Red Scare was a very brutal thing in 1919 and 1920.

Miller: Wasn’t Hoover involved in that? J. Edgar Hoover?

Brinkley: J. Edgar Hoover is a real Washingtonian. After he got out of law school, he went as his first job with the Justice Department in ferreting out radicals. This was a guy in his 20s whose job was to say, “You’re not American enough.” “You’re not American enough.” “This is a subversive.” And he began a career of that. And he worked his way through the Justice Department to becoming a head of the Bureau of Investigation which by the 1930s became the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI. So from the ’20s to 1972, J. Edgar Hoover oversaw the FBI but the whole Red Scare of the 1920s has a lot to do with the McCarthy period of the 1950s. And that both of them as trying to make people prove their Americanness. Let’s swear your loyalty to the flag.

Debs was really talking about real people and how we can make their lives better for them. And how we can get food on the table. How can we help and improve working peoples’ stature?

Miller: Whereas the Communist Party is dedicated to going underground and subverting the capitalist system. They’ve declared war on the system and aren’t going to work it through the political system anymore.

Brinkley: Well, remember in the Russian Revolution, the United States backed the white army versus the red army in Russia. I mean, we never liked the advent of what was happening there, of communism or Leninism, mustering there. We did not recognize the Soviet Union as it became called.

Miller: When did we first recognize it?

Brinkley: In 1933 Franklin Roosevelt came in and finally recognized it. That’s why Franklin Roosevelt is very admired in Russia today, during the Cold War, because he recognized the Soviet Union and, of course, we fought with Russia side by side to defeat Hitler in the Second World War. But, boy, it didn’t take long after Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the Cold War to ensue and that Iron Curtain to go down across Europe. And at that point, Russia became our pure enemy all the way up until the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Miller: And what they are now, we’re not quite sure.

Brinkley: It’s interesting. I mean, you look at Leninism and Communism and Socialism and Democracy and Totalitarianism and all these -isms in the century. We can look now after 100 years of those -isms and say that it was Democracy that won out. That it was the ideals of a Woodrow Wilson and a Theodore Roosevelt. And a Debs to a degree.

At the end of the century, Democracy is what most people are looking for in the world.

You Decide: Wilderness Preservation

You Decide: Should Roosevelt and Wilson have been more active in preserving wilderness from development?


Theodore Roosevelt was a lover of grand rugged places. He wrote that, “There are no words that can tell of the hidden spirit of the wilderness, that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.” Roosevelt was also among those Progressives who worried that the nation’s natural resources were being depleted and thought those resources ought to be managed efficiently to offer the greatest good to the greatest number of people. As President, he withdrew hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands from sale and promoted policies to manage forests, grazing land, and water. He called himself a conservationist.

But when a dam-building project, designed to provide water to the city of San Francisco, threatened to flood the spectacular Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite National Park, Roosevelt sided against wilderness advocates, such as Sierra Club founder John Muir, and with supporters of the dam. The controversy raged for six years. Finally, when Woodrow Wilson became President, he would sign the bill that authorized the Hetch Hetchy Dam.

Should Roosevelt and Wilson have been more active in preserving wilderness from development?

Yes: What if you knew that the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir would provide essential water for the city of San Francisco?

No: What if you knew that the Hetch Hetchy Valley was often referred to as “The Grand Canyon of the Yosemite”?

The Place of Cities

Roosevelt’s Chief Forester, Gifford Pinchot, was his closest ally in the conservation cause. Pinchot and a panel of expert water engineers told Roosevelt that the Hetch Hetchy Dam was the only practical solution to San Francisco’s chronic water shortage.

“I fully sympathize with the desire of . . .Mr. Muir to protect the Yosemite National Park, but I believe that the highest possible use which could be made of it would be to supply pure water to a great center of population.”

— Gifford Pinchot to Theodore Roosevelt, 1907.

John Muir argued that there must be alternatives to the Hetch Hetchy site and insisted that the wilderness was necessary for spiritual and aesthetic reasons.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in where Nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul alike.”

— John Muir in Outlook, 1907.

Should Roosevelt and Wilson have been more active in preserving wilderness from development?

Yes: What if you knew that some powerful members of Congress were dead set against even the moderate conservation policies Roosevelt advocated?

No: What if you knew that there was a growing grassroots movement to preserve wild places?


Congressman Martin Dies of Texas put the matter bluntly when the House of Representatives debated the Hetch Hetchy dam question. “I want them to open the reservations in this country,” said Dies. “I am not for reservations and parks.”

Thousands of letters protesting the Hetch Hetchy dam poured into Congressional offices from women’s groups, outing and sportsmen’s clubs, scientific societies, and college faculties. “The bill was opposed by so many public-spirited men. . . that I have naturally sought to scrutinize it very closely,” wrote Woodrow Wilson in 1913.’

Should Roosevelt and Wilson have been more active in preserving wilderness from development?

Yes: What if you knew that Indians who lived in Yosemite National Park were forcibly removed?

No: What if you knew that dams have flooded landscapes many Americans consider sacred?


Whose Wilderness?

In order to create the appearance of nature as it was in its authentic state, without humans, the U.S. government had to move Indian inhabitants out of National Parks including Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier.

“The removal of Indians to create an ‘uninhabited wilderness’ — uninhabited as never before in the human history of the place — reminds us just how invented, just how constructed, the American wilderness really is. . . .There is nothing natural about the concept of wilderness. It is entirely a creation of the culture that holds it dear, a product of the very history it seeks to deny.”

— William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness”


John Muir saw the Hetch Hetchy fight as a crusade:

“These temple destroyers, devotees of ravaging commercialism, seem to have a perfect contempt for Nature, and instead of lifting their eyes to the God of the mountains, lift them to the Almighty Dollar. Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.”

Should Roosevelt and Wilson have been more active in preserving wilderness from development?

Yes: What if you knew that today, national parks are threatened by the pressures of too many tourists seeking to commune with nature?

No: What if you knew that today, millions of Americans consider themselves “environmentalists” who support the protection of wild places?


Contemporary Ironies

Efforts to preserve the scenic wonders of the country’s national parks have had to cope with the increasing pressures not only of economic development, but of tourism.

“Where once a few adventurous people came on weekends to camp for a night or two and enjoy a taste of the primitive and remote, you will now find serpentine streams of baroque automobiles pouring in and out, all through the spring and summer, in numbers that would have seemed fantastic.”

— Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire.


Environmentalism has become the secular religion of millions of Americans.

“In the United States, this movement is advancing — slowly and sporadically — on a broad front. Its ranks are open enough to include radical Earth First! tree huggers and patrician big-game hunters, militant community activists and cool intellectuals cloistered in think tanks, hard-nosed lobbyists and dreamy bird-watchers.”

— Philip Shabecoff, A Fierce Green Fire

Should Roosevelt and Wilson have been more active in preserving wilderness from development?

You voted YES, Roosevelt and Wilson should have been more active in preserving wilderness from development.

Of the 1576 visitors who have voted since September 9, 2010, 32% believed that Roosevelt and Wilson acted properly while 68%felt that they should have been more protective towards the nation’s undeveloped land.

You voted NO, Roosevelt and Wilson should not have been more active in preserving wilderness from development.

Of the 1577 visitors who have voted since September 9, 2010,v 32% believed that Roosevelt and Wilson acted properly while 68%felt that they should have been more protective towards the nation’s undeveloped land.



The Hetch Hetchy controversy was the single most famous incident in the history of American environmental politics, galvanizing a wilderness protection movement that inspires public passions to this very day.

By the end of the twentieth century, environmentalists were proposing that dams had become so ecologically destructive that the only solution was to tear them down, an idea that found support even among some powerful government officials.

Questions to Ponder

How do you feel about wilderness? Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had to examine their beliefs, and then act upon them in ways that would forever change the shape of the American landscape.

1. What is the purpose of wilderness?

2. How did the Hetch Hetchy controversy set the agenda for the environmental movement?

3. What are the costs of economic development?

4. What are the costs of environmental protection?


Cronon, William, ed. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996.

Hays, Samuel P. Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890-1920. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1959.

Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967.


Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
A Biography and a portrait of Theodore Roosevelt.

Theodore Roosevelt Association on TR, President and more.
Provides links to a Roosevelt biography with related links, a timeline of his life, information on the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, etc.

The American Experience – Theodore Roosevelt
Provides links to different aspects of Roosevelt’s life and legacy, a Roosevelt timeline, etc.

The American Experience – Presidents – Featured Presidents
Provides links to the different stages of Theodore Roosevelt’s career.

Theodore Roosevelt
An illustrated biography of Theodore Roosevelt with related links. Provides a link to a chronology of his life.

Theodore Roosevelt Papers at the Library of Congress
The text of a collection of Theodore Roosevelt papers at the Library of Congress.

Today in History: February 3
Biographical information on Theodore Roosevelt with many related links and illustrations.

Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century
An illustrated biography of Roosevelt. Provides links to the different time periods of his life.

Biography of Theodore Roosevelt
A biography of Roosevelt with related links and a photo.



Roosevelt Inaugural

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural – National Historic Site
An account of McKinley’s assassination and Roosevelt’s inauguration.



Mark Hanna on Theodore Roosevelt

President McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition of 1901
A summary of the Pan-Am Exposition and McKinley’s assassination. Includes the Mark Hanna quote, “that damned cowboy is President”



Roosevelt and coal strikes

USA: Theodore Roosevelt’s Broad Powers
An account of Roosevelt’s presidency with related links.



Roosevelt and Federal Wildlife Refuge

Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909)
A biography of Roosevelt with links to key events and photos.

Theodore Roosevelt Centennial Web Site
An account of Theodore Roosevelt as a naturalist and a conservationist. Includes related links and images.



Roosevelt and the Great White Fleet

The Great White Fleet
A history of the Great White Fleet sent by Roosevelt.

Great White Fleet and Theodore Roosevelt
An illustrated history of the Great White Fleet.



John Burroughs on Theodore Roosevelt

John Burroughs
Provides links to information on John Burroughs. Includes a page about his friendship with Roosevelt and Burroughs’ own writings.

American Experience – The Presidents – Theodore Roosevelt
A program transcript on Theodore Roosevelt that includes a reference to the John Burroughs’s quote, “he was a many-sided man and every side was like an electric battery.”



Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson
A portrait and a biography of Woodrow Wilson.

Wilson, Woodrow
A biography of Wilson focusing on his tenure as president of Princeton University (1902-1910)

The Avalon Project : President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points
The text of President Wilson’s Fourteen Points.

Today in History: December 28
An illustrated biography of Wilson with related links.

Wilson’s Declaration of War

Woodrow Wilson’s War Message
Wilson’s address to Congress.

President Woodrow Wilson’s War Message
Wilson’s address to Congress, April 2, 1917.


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