As one of the presidents during the Progressive Era, Theodore Roosevelt led the United States of America through a series of dramatic changes that interrupted the lives and ideologies that Americans during the time were more than familiarized with. Industrialization, women’s suffrage, the sexual revolution, imperialism, and “muckraking” journalism were just a few of the controversial, yet significant characteristics of this era. However, perhaps one of the largest and most vital influences during this time period came from the outside. Immigration was an issue that Roosevelt himself addressed rather perceptibly in his paper entitled “True Americanism,” which first appeared in a magazine called The Forum in April, 1894. However, it is not the idea of immigration that vexed Roosevelt; rather it was his concern and fear of the possibility that the increase in immigration of foreign people and cultures would culminate the concept of American patriotism, or “Americanism” as a whole. This paper will analyze the different elements of Roosevelt’s “True Americanism” by exploring the historical context of the document, highlighting Americanism as Roosevelt explicates it, observing the rhetoric used throughout the document, and discerning Roosevelt’s intended audience.
During the last 10-15 years of the Progressive Era, more than 15 million immigrants arrived in the United States— a number equal to the total number of immigrants that arrived in the previous 40 years. In 1910, three-fourths of New York City's population was made up of either immigrants or first generation Americans. Unlike earlier immigrants, the majority of the newcomers during this time came from non-English speaking European countries. Immigrants mostly traveled in from southern and eastern European countries, including Poland, Italy and Russia. Due to the difference in both language and culture, these immigrants had great difficulty adjusting to the American lifestyle. The immigrants were not the only ones undergoing difficulty, however. The United States also experienced difficulty taking in the immigrants. Since almost all immigrants were in dire need of jobs, they tended to settle in urban areas where jobs could be easily located. Often times, immigrants would settle in areas dominated by other immigrants who speak the same language or were from the same country. Consequently, the cities became more congested than ever, and city services were not always successful in keeping up with the surge of newcomers. Although most immigrants were able to find and pursue jobs, many of them were jobs that native-born Americans refused to practice. Regardless of their jobs, living conditions, and/or nationalities, immigrants grew to play a huge part in many areas of American society. According to Roosevelt, Americanism is a characteristic of those Americans who perform their allotted tasks by facing them steadily and bravely, seeing but not fearing the dangers (6). It is a sense of brotherhood. As Roosevelt states in his paper: “Above all, we must stand shoulder to shoulder, not asking as to the ancestry or creed of our comrades [immigrants], but only demanding that they be in very truth Americans, and that we all work together, heart, hand, and head, for the honor and the greatness of our common country (6).”
Roosevelt categorizes Americanism into three levels, types, or categories. The first type of Americanism, as Roosevelt explains, is customizing government plans and methods to fit the United States’ unique needs rather than imitating those of other countries (1). “It is merely folly blindly to copy their examples without reference to our own totally different conditions. We shall never achieve true greatness, nor reach the lofty ideal which the founders and preservers of our mighty Federal Republic have set before us, unless we are Americans in heart and soul, in spirit and purpose, keenly alive to the responsibility implied in the very name of American, and...
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