How did Woodrow Wilson's foreign policy differ from Theodore Roosevelt's?

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Answered by: Elena, An Expert in the Important Figures in History Category
Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, two presidents who served during the period of the early 20th century known as the progressive era, both had the responsibility of managing the United States' interested in foreign affairs Roosevelt served during a period of expansion and imperialism, and the hallmarks of his foreign policy were the Roosevelt Corollary and "big stick" diplomacy. Wilson served during World War I, and he introduced the League of Nations. Both presidents were interested in keeping the U.S. a world power, but Roosevelt was more willing to get involved in the affairs of other nations. In contrast, Wilson preferred to avoid foreign conflict whenever possible.

After William McKinley's assassination, former New York governor Theodore Roosevelt left the office of Vice President and took over as President. Roosevelt entered office at a time when the US’s boundaries were expanding, and imperialist sentiments were high among world powers. Like many other leaders of his time, Roosevelt supported imperialism. To fellow government officials, he recommended the imperialist poem “The White Man's Burden” by Rudyard Kipling. This poem was intended to encourage the United States to “civilize” the inhabitants of the Philippines, which Spain had recently ceded to the Unites States. Roosevelt's foreign policy also included the Roosevelt Corollary, which gave the United States more encouragement to meddle in Latin American conflicts. The Corollary was meant to be an addition to the Monroe Doctrine, an attempt to keep European powers out of the Western Hemisphere. The Roosevelt Corollary eventually lead to the construction of the Panama Canal. This policy showed Roosevelt’s determination to make the United States a more assertive, powerful nation. His resolve to demonstrate the U.S.’s power was also evinced by his commitment to what he called “big stick” diplomacy. This phrase came from the African proverb “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” meaning that one should not try to be confrontational, but should have power to back oneself up in case of danger. Roosevelt demonstrated his adherence to the idea of a "big stick" by focusing on military improvements that would be able to back up the United States in foreign wars.

Woodrow Wilson took over the presidential office after a split in the Republican Party caused votes to be divided between the Bull Moose and traditional Republican parties. Wilson, a Democrat, and the first southern president since the Civil War, did not share Roosevelt’s focus on imperialism. In a stark departure from Roosevelt’s willingness to meddle in overseas conflict, Wilson hesitated to join the chaotic struggle going on in Europe. He believed that entering World War I would merely create trouble for the nation. After his first term ended, Wilson showed his pride in non-interventionism with the reelection slogan “He kept us out of war.” Following the shock of the Lusitania’s sinking and the Zimmerman Telegram, however, Wilson decided that the United States had no choice but to enter the war. While his reluctance to join in at first shows a contrast to Roosevelt, his eventual entry shows that, like Roosevelt, he felt that the United States had to use force one its interests were threatened. The peace negotiations following the war marked another landmark in Wilson's foreign policy: the League of Nations. The League’s goal was to maintain peace, and foster diplomatic relations worldwide. Some in the United States, however, believed that this would threaten the U.S.’s autonomy in foreign affairs. The League was to make decisions as a whole, instead of letting each country decide for itself. This showed an even more radical departure from policies like the Roosevelt Corollary, which were meant to negate foreign interference. While the League of Nations would eventually be established, congressional opposition would preclude the U.S.’s membership, and Wilson would never get to join the group that he had worked to establish.

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