John Milton Cooper’s The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (1983) examines the two highly divergent but equally important political personalities who helped shape modern American political thought. The book provides valuable insights into Roosevelt’s compulsion to enter the 1912 electoral race, thereby splitting the Republican vote and assuring Wilson’s victory. In the words of the author, “The most colorful politician since the Civil War squared off against the most articulate politician since the early days of the Republic.
” The major difference between the two men involved was basically one of personality, which was somewhat enough to make them intense rivals. Wilson, the Democratic candidate, won by a plurality and not by a majority of the electorate. William Howard Taft finished third behind Roosevelt. Debates during the campaign were deep and incisive. The challenge had been building up within a badly divided nation since Roosevelt had left the presidency in 1909.
Since leaving the presidency, Roosevelt had been able to hold together a tenuous Republican coalition of Old Guard Eastern conservatives and Midwestern and urban Progressives by shrewd political maneuvering and philosophical wavering between liberal and conservative policies. Taft was expected to continue Roosevelt’s progressive reforms. However, Taft, a conservative at heart, had no taste for political infighting and allowed the party to disintegrate into squabbling and disunity.
In 1910, the party was in a state of great disorder, and the Democrats had scored large gains in the elections that year. It was in this year that Wilson campaigned for and won his first political office, the governorship of New Jersey. As governor, he made basic reforms that transformed New Jersey’s government from a corrupt regime dominated by political bosses into the model of a reform state. By the next two years, the Republican schism had become irreparable.
When Roosevelt marched out of the Republican convention in Chicago on June 22, 1912, to form the new Progressive Party, the election of a Democrat to the presidency was virtually assured. Wilson became the first Democrat elected to the presidency since Grover Cleveland and the second since James Buchanan. The campaign broke the normal pattern of U. S. elections, in which issues were usually subordinate to personalities. At stake in 1912 were three competing philosophies: Wilson’s New Freedom, Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, and Taft’s conservative Republicanism.
Both Roosevelt and Wilson had started out conservatively and then had moved toward more radical social views; Roosevelt perhaps even more so than Wilson. They were also idealists, strongly believing in their own rectitude. Compared to Roosevelt, Wilson was more private and withdrawn and did not thrive in political give-and-take. In addition, he had few close friends and confidants and took little delight in chumminess. Wilson resented the rapid-fire questioning of press conferences; he neither liked nor trusted the press.
Also, he does not he seem to have possessed the indefatigable energy that characterized Roosevelt. As for Roosevelt, it is for neither ideas nor ideals that one continues to find him intriguing, so much as for the personality. The stands Roosevelt took on specific issues, such as trust-busting, international cooperation, conservation, expansionism, war, labor, home and the family, constitute parts of his pure energy. Roosevelt, “[b]y no means the most unequivocal Progressive of the Progressive Era, he was by all odds the most interesting among them.
That so remarkable and many-sided a human being was in direct contact with just about everything that was important in American public life during his adult years has kept his memory alive. ” It was in the 1912 presidential election when Wilson measured his differences from Roosevelt. He noted that Roosevelt appealed to the imagination of the voters, and that unlike the latter who was a real and vivid person, Wilson considered himself as having a vague and conjectural personality, more made up of academic prepossessions and opinions than of human traits and red corpuscles.
The 1912 election turned into a confrontation between two philosophies of Progressivism. Roosevelt’s New Nationalism asserted the necessity of a strong Hamiltonian federal government, the retention and regulation of large corporations, and a program of government-supported social welfare. Wilson answered with the New Freedom, which a prominent Massachusetts lawyer, Louis D. Brandeis, had helped to formulate. The New Freedom asserted a Jeffersonian localism, the breaking up of large corporations, and a return to the small entrepreneurial unit.
For the first time, the philosophical alternatives of a new industrial age were being debated in a political campaign. With the Republican vote split between Taft and Roosevelt, the Democratic challenger, was elected. Although Wilson received only 42% of the popular vote, he won an overwhelming victory in the electoral college. As a newcomer in politics, Wilson was not burdened by political debts such as Roosevelt’s obligations to Eastern Republican business interests, and he had a sympathetic Congress ready to cooperate in implementing the Progressive reform program.
Wilson strengthened the presidency even further than had Roosevelt. He became the leader of the people as well as the Congress, and he dominated the government in both his terms. He achieved landmark legislative reforms in his first term with vital tariff, banking, and antitrust measures. Later he adopted, in addition to his own ambitious program, almost all the proposals championed by Roosevelt in the great debate of 1912. When World War I engulfed the US, Wilson became the first of the powerful twentieth century war presidents.
The effects of the 1912 campaign and Wilson’s election to the presidency have dominated U. S. liberal politics to this day. The New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt owed many of its philosophical premises to Wilson’s progressivism and much of its implementation to Wilson’s expansion of executive power. In international affairs, the spirit of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, which promised a peace without victory, still well expresses one of the idealistic themes in U. S. foreign policy. Wilson is the best adversary Roosevelt ever had.
The former is cool to the latter’s hot. Toward his last years, Roosevelt’s hatred of Wilson may have been the obsession that kept him going. There was a touch of delusions of grandeur to some of Roosevelt’s later utterances. Cooper remarks of Roosevelt’s well-known comment about the approaching presidential race in 1916: “It would be a mistake to nominate me unless the country has in its mood something of the heroic—unless it feels not only devotion to ideals but the purpose measurably to realize those ideals in action.
” Underlying all his censure of Wilson’s actions in 1917–1918 was “that one question—who in America could provide properly heroic leadership at this world-shaking time in history—who but himself? The cause of his quarrel with Wilson was Roosevelt’s sublime egotism. ” Some of the review of Cooper’s The Warrior and the Priest center on the approach used by the author, the comparative biography, which “may be experiencing a modest revival among historians”. The comparative biography approach has many advantages.
First, many excellent biographies have already been written about each life of Roosevelt and Wilson, and this biographical approach provides a distinctive and instructive way in studying the lives of the two most important personalities in American history. Second, the comparative biography approach “may also partially resolve the dilemma of those historians who are obviously attracted to the art of biographical writing but who also want to paint a wider canvass than the relationship of a single individual to his times. ”
In a review by The New York Times, the differences and some interesting similarities between Roosevelt and Wilson are highlighted. One of the similarities is that both men were artists of power. Roosevelt and Wilson were themselves deeply aware of the power of the office. Roosevelt and Wilson should be linked to the three remarkable men – John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. They are a necessary reference point in any consideration of the learned presidents who introduced the high office to the twentieth century.
As close students of the American past they appreciated the promise inherent in the minds of Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, and they deplored the nineteenth-century developments by reason of which that promise went unfulfilled. They consciously proposed to continue to exercise the great powers of the office, while at the same time restoring it to the level of honor and respect that had obtained one hundred years before their time.
Their personal ambitions and sense of national purpose combined to return an intellectual dimension to a position that had become, at various times, a prize, a sectional pawn, a political football, and a martyr’s seat. It is also appropriate to stress that as the passive conception of the presidency common to the last century gave way to the dynamic executive leadership, the transition was shaped and directed by men of the mind, Roosevelt and Wilson in particular. The character of the office did not change simply because of necessity breeding opportunity.
Conditions at home and abroad will always have a part to play in momentous institutional changes, but these two chief executive, thoroughly schooled in the historical past and especially concerned with the uses of power, had carefully gauged the possibilities of the presidency as a place of national leadership. Furthermore, they deliberately brought the office through the first, critical stages of its new life. According to The New York Times review, Cooper is at his best when he analyzes Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s philosophies of leadership.
The review, however, showed the differences between the two presidents in terms of their approach to power. While Roosevelt capitalized on the primacy of emotion, Wilson favored the primacy of reason. The two men notably differed regarding their view of the society they were called on to lead and of the citizens of this society. These differences explain the differences in their policies. Roosevelt preached nationalism, whereas Wilson accommodated to particularistic interests, adopting a collegial style of leadership.
Overall, the review states that The Warrior and the Priest “displays the trained historical mind at close to its professional best”, and that Cooper’s “distinctions are sharp, his insights original, his judgments balanced and his narrative unfailingly graceful”. Roosevelt and Wilson are commonly considered to be the same, particularly in the domestic realm. One can argue that Wilson’s New Freedom was simply an extension of Roosevelt’s New Nationalism. However, the book espouses the differences by examining both important domestic debates and the politics of internationalism and war.
This is one of the strengths of The Warrior and the Priest, aside from the advantages of comparative biographical approach mentioned earlier in this paper. However, Cooper’s book suffers from major limitations. Although, in general, the comparative technique to telling the personal and political lives of Roosevelt and Wilson are useful, Cooper’s comparisons are way too ambitious. In this respect, the author somehow fails to give life to the subjects of the book.
While readers do get most of the factual basics, which are undoubtedly interesting, neither of Roosevelt and Wilson comes alive in the book. In other words, The Warrior and the Priest is highly recommended for the facts, but in terms of psychological depth and flavor, the book is lacking. Another criticism of Cooper’s book is that complex movements such as Progressivism are awkwardly personalized. Moreover, the author lacks critical view of his heroes, specifically their criticisms of each other, ignoring the worst aspects of Roosevelt and Wilson.
On Wilson and race, Cooper writes: “Wilson believed that blacks were not innately inferior to whites and would eventually, probably in two or three centuries, achieve a measure of economic and political, if not social, equality. ” Furthermore, ardent followers of Roosevelt’s foreign policy are not burdened by any mention in the book of atrocities in the American conquest of the Philippines. Also, the massacres in Haiti under Wilson’s presidency and the faked elections in Nicaragua are nowhere to be found in The Warrior and the Priest.
Be it the dark genocidal streams in Roosevelt’s racism or Wilson’s refusal to pardon Eugene Debs, the reactionary, conservative, or just plain rotten opinions (on immigration, anti-hyphenation, and unions) are either equivocated or ignored in Cooper’s account. When one looks at America’s size, economic wealth, and strong security, the country’s rise as a world superpower was predictable after 1865. As such, Cooper’s The Warrior and the Priest reveals very little.
Both Roosevelt and Wilson were skilled administrators; they were also accused of belittling liberal causes when they were not popular. Many critics also lament that, despite their shortcomings as American leaders, they are bestowed the glory and honor that only befit better and braver men. While one cannot doubt the important contributions of Roosevelt and Wilson to the growth of the American society, Cooper should have at least been more critical in his accounts. This way, The Warrior and the Priest could have offered its readers a balanced perspective on the lives of Roosevelt and Wilson.