Thinking Aloud: Theodore Roosevelt 100 Years Ago

Sept. 14, 2012 by Darius

Today is the 100thanniversary of a speech Theodore Roosevelt gave when running for President as a third-party candidate in 1912. 

You can see why people say that history repeats itself.  Substitute “Romney” for “Wilson,” and we’re waging this whole debate over again, 100 years later.

I’ve excerpted parts of TR’s speech below.  You can download the full speech here:  http://www.theodore-roosevelt.com/trspeechescomplete.html  (scroll down to the speech from September 14, 1912, given in San Francisco).

“The key to Mr. Wilson’s position is found in the statement I have just quoted, when he says that “The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.”  This is a bit of outworn academic doctrine which was kept in the schoolroom and the professorial study for a generation after it had been abandoned by all who had experience of actual life.  It is simply the laissez-faire doctrine of the English political economists three-quarters of a century ago.  It can be applied with profit, if anywhere at all, only in a primitive community under primitive conditions….

“Moreover, Mr. Wilson is absolutely in error in his statement, from the historical standpoint.

“So long as governmental power existed exclusively for the king and not at all for the people, then the history of liberty was a history of the limitation of governmental power.  But now the governmental power rests in the people, and the kings who enjoy privilege are the kings of the financial and industrial world; and what they clamor for is the limitation of governmental power, and what the people sorely need is the extension of governmental power.” …

“The only way in which our people can increase their power over the big corporation that does wrong, the only way in which they can protect the working man in his conditions of work and life, the only way in which the people can prevent children working in industry or secure women an eight-hour day in industry, or secure compensation for men killed or crippled in industry, is by extending, instead of limiting, the powers of government.” …

“The people of the United States have but one instrument which they can efficiently use against the colossal combinations of business – and that instrument is the government of the United States….  Mr. Wilson’s proposal is that the people of the United States shall throw away this, the one great weapon they have with which to secure themselves against wrong.  He proposes to limit the governmental action of the people and therefore to leave unlimited and unchecked the action of the great corporations whose enormous power constitutes so serious a problem in modern industrial life.  Remember that it is absolutely impossible to limit the power of these great corporations whose enormous power constitutes so serious a problem in modern industrial life except by extending the power of the government.  All that these great corporations ask is that the power of the government shall be limited.  No wonder they are supporting Mr. Wilson, for he is advocating for them what they hardly dare venture to advocate for themselves.  These great corporations rarely want anything from the government except to be let alone and to be permitted to work their will unchecked by government.  All that they really want is that governmental action shall be limited.  In every great corporation suit the corporation lawyer will be found protesting against extension of governmental power.  … 

“There once was a time in history when the limitation of governmental power meant increasing liberty for the people.  In the present day the limitation of governmental power, of governmental action, means the enslavement of the people by the great corporations who can only be held in check through the extension of governmental power.” …

“He [Wilson] is against using the power of the government to help the people to whom the government belongs.  We take flat issue with him.  We propose to use the government as the most efficient instrument for the uplift of our people as a whole; we propose to give a fair chance to workers and strengthen their rights.  We propose to use the whole power of the government to protect all those who, under Mr. Wilson’s laissez-faire system, are trodden down in the ferocious, scrambling rush of an unregulated and purely individualistic industrialism.”

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4 Responses to Thinking Aloud: Theodore Roosevelt 100 Years Ago

  1. And then in 1980 the Reagan Revolution fooled the people again. Where were Teddys words when we needed them.

  2. rijkswaanvijand says:

    Cut up and spun into useable rhetorics no doubt.

    • Reader of Facts says:

      I know this comment is several years old and you probably don’t care at this point, if you ever would to begin with, but as near as I can tell this article only cuts out the bits that were specifically addressed at Wilson and the policies of the time because they’re not incredibly salient in the present day. The full speech is easily found through a quick google search if anyone is interested.

  3. Pingback: Liberty against Kings | ***Dave Does the Blog

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