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Chapter Twenty-Seven. Theodore Roosevelt's Contradictory Legacies: From Imperialist Nationalism to Advocacy of a Progressive Welfare State

Kathleen M. Dalton


Historians agree that Theodore Roosevelt stands out as an important figure in twentieth-century US history but there is no consensus on the reason he is a major figure. While some historians look at his foreign policy views and see him as the original architect of the American empire with its excessive global military and economic reach, others locate his importance in his progressive attempt to build a modern American welfare state. Debating whether he was a liberal or conservative no longer seems fruitful, yet it does still strike us as incongruous for a political figure to advocate, especially in his 1912 Bull Moose campaign, democratic reforms that would increase the economic security and bargaining power of average citizens at the same time he embraced imperialism conducted by undemocratic military rule. He called himself “a pretty good Imperialist,” yet he espoused advanced reform views that placed him closer in political philosophy to European social democrats and American gas and water socialists than either of the mainstream American political parties ( Morison, Blum, and Chandler 1951–1954 , Volume 7: 32). How can we explain this apparent contradiction in TR's politics? TR was unequivocally on the record as an avowed imperialist who welcomed territorial aggrandizement. He defended loudly America's role in the Spanish-American War and the suppression of Filipino independence. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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