Theodore Roosevelt describes what it means to be a progressive in a speech that he gave in Louisville, Kentucky, on April 3, 1912. This speech was given months before the creation of the Progressive Party, at a time when TR was still hoping to receive the Republican nomination. He was frustrated with President Taft for recently declaring that Taft himself was a progressive, and decided that a definition of progressivism was in order.
What A Progressive Is. April 3, 1912. MS Am 1454.50 (160). Houghton Library, Harvard University.
In this speech TR declares,“[W]e of today who stand for the progressive movement here in the United States are not wedded to any particular kinds of machinery, save solely as means to the end desired. Our goal is to secure the real and not nominal rule of the people.” He goes on to clarify his vision of progressives, detailing the differences between them and politicians like President Taft.
While many of the sentiments in this speech reflect the time period in which TR lived, there are clear parallels to issues still under debate today. For instance, his discussion of the needs of big business as compared to the needs of the people remains relevant in our time.
The digital library holds a copy of TR’s manuscript of this speech, which includes his handwritten edits. A transcript of the speech as it was given in Louisville is available here. The text was also printed in the April 13, 1912 edition of The Outlook.