New Nationalism: Definition & Speech

Instructor: David White
Through this lesson, you will learn about Theodore Roosevelt's platform of New Nationalism, and gain an understanding of how his progressive politics continues to influence American life in the present day.

What is New Nationalism?

In the present day, there is an important debate going on in the United States about income inequality and the wage gap between the rich and poor. An issue in this debate is the fact that many very wealthy people continue to get increases in pay, while many working-class or poor Americans have seen no increase. While few people seem to dispute these facts, there are differing perspectives on what effect this disparity has on the nation. Although this is important in modern American culture, it is a conversation that the country has had before just over a century ago.

Following his nomination as one of the Republican Party's candidates for the 1912 presidential campaign, Theodore Roosevelt accepted the nomination and declared his candidacy in January of that year. Roosevelt had concluded his second term as President in 1909, but when given the nomination, he vowed to run again with the intention of steering the GOP towards a modern, more progressive future. Although his political position had been well established through two terms as president (1901-1909), Roosevelt's 1912 campaign adopted a new humanitarian agenda, known as New Nationalism.

Theodore Roosevelt, date unknown

Roosevelt's platform of New Nationalism emerged two years prior to his presidential campaign, in a speech given at the dedication of the John Brown Memorial Park in Osawatomie, KS, in August of 1910. Through his two terms as president, Theodore Roosevelt had established himself as a staunch supporter of capitalism in the development of the American Empire, and so his adoption of New Nationalism came as a surprise to some.

Roosevelt's New Nationalism

Roosevelt's 1910 speech in Osawatomie begins with an assessment of the second half of the 19th century. As a well-known patriot, Roosevelt felt as though the events of the previous fifty years had not lived up to the nation's promises. While he clearly stated his respect for the men in both the Union and Confederate armies, he believed that the events of the mid-to-late 19th century had disenfranchised many Americans and resulted in a large section of the population harboring bitterness over their losses. Most importantly, though, Roosevelt believed that the federal government's focus on property and economics over the last several decades had been done at the expense of the people's welfare.

The central theme of Roosevelt's speech was the matter of income inequality between the rich and the poor. From his perspective, the fact that a few men had amassed considerable wealth, while so many others had continued to struggle was one of the biggest threats to American unity and prosperity. This is the main point of his speech, which he sums up as: 'the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.'

Roosevelt's speech is long and contains many different points about the economic and social welfare of the United States. What was most important to him; however, was the need for reform in how businesses and corporations operated in the nation. Though he did not oppose wealth and fortune being acquired fairly, Roosevelt believed that labor and business should always contribute to the overall well-being of the citizens, rather than the wealth of a small number of men. To that end, Roosevelt suggested that the federal government be given 'the right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor, which is the chief element of wealth, directly in the interest of the common good.'

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