The Bully Pulpit | Doris Kearns Goodwin

Summary of: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism
By: Doris Kearns Goodwin


Dive into the captivating world of power, friendship, and journalism during the early 20th century as we explore the historical account of the alliance between two US Presidents – Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft – and the influential journalists of the progressive era. ‘The Bully Pulpit’ by Doris Kearns Goodwin details the lives and political careers of Roosevelt and Taft while shedding light on the vital role journalists played in shaping public opinion and policy. This riveting summary offers an insightful glimpse into Roosevelt’s battle against corruption, his collaboration with the press, and the unseen complexities of his fraught relationship with Taft.

Roosevelt’s Ethical Framework

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, faced the challenge of poorly regulated corporations that were exploiting people after the Industrial Revolution. Roosevelt fought against corruption and proposed an ethical framework for the American economy. He broke trusts apart and regulated food and drugs, labor rights, and preserved natural resources. Congress passed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act to protect consumers from contaminated products. Roosevelt sought to regulate relationships between consumers, workers, and businesses, setting fair conditions. His initiatives aimed to make American industries ethical and protect the people’s interests.

The Early Life of Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt, a man who did not go from rags to riches, was born into a well-connected family. His father, a wealthy glass merchant, ensured his children had the best education and opportunities, including lessons with a professional taxidermist to nurture Roosevelt’s love of natural history. However, he was a sickly child who suffered from severe attacks of asthma and was frequently confined to bed. His father advised him to begin body training, and Roosevelt worked hard to build his strength. As a young adult, Roosevelt faced many challenges, including the deaths of his father, wife, and mother. Despite all these obstacles, Roosevelt persevered and went on to become a respected politician and leader.

The Rise of a Fighter Against Corruption

After dropping out of law school, a young Roosevelt entered state politics where he quickly gained respect by exposing corruption between railroad tycoon Jay Gould and a New York Supreme Court Justice. He was reelected and appointed to prestigious posts where he continued to fight corruption, including the spoils system. Roosevelt was elected president of the board of the New York City Police Commission in 1895, where he relentlessly exposed corrupt officers and their transgressions.

Roosevelt’s Political Journey

As Governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt battled against corruption and enacted laws to support workers and preserve the environment. However, he faced opposition from the Republican Party when he sought to tax highly lucrative franchises granted to corporations. Nominated as Vice President in 1900 as an attempt to control him, Roosevelt eventually became the 26th President of the United States after President McKinley’s assassination. He would later win the next election by the largest majority in the country’s history.

Empathy and Human Evolution

Empathy played a vital role in human evolution by developing as a means of caring for kin and promoting reciprocal and altruistic relationships. Empathy can be extended beyond familial boundaries by recognizing similarities and learning about others’ perspectives. However, it can also lead to unfairness.

Empathy is the first better angel of our nature that decreases our tendency towards violence. But why did we evolve into empathic beings? Initially, empathy developed to encourage people to care for their kin, especially their children. Moreover, empathy helps us to develop reciprocal and altruistic relationships with non-relatives, allowing us to engage in mutually beneficial favors, such as trading resources.

Studies show that empathy can be extended beyond familial boundaries as well. Cultivating empathy is possible by drawing attention to the similarities between different groups of people and learning more about others. Apart from this, it has been found that humans tend to act empathically towards people with whom we have things in common.

While empathy has many positive effects, it also has a darker side. Empathy can lead to unfairness, as exemplified in a study where subjects were willing to let a fatally ill child skip the line ahead of people in greater need of medical treatment.

In conclusion, empathy played a vital role in our evolution by promoting reciprocity and care for kin. While it can be extended beyond familial boundaries, empathy can also be a double-edged sword, leading to unfair results when compassion overrides reason.

Roosevelt’s Fight Against Trusts

At the turn of the century, trusts dominated major industries, controlling prices and trading conditions. Roosevelt and his progressive peers were determined to challenge this power. Despite opposition from fellow Republicans, Roosevelt was able to reduce the power of the trusts. He emerged victorious in his court case against Northern Securities, earning the nickname “trust-buster.” Though conservative judges often dismissed trust cases, Roosevelt pursued legislative change. Public outrage over Standard Oil’s unfair practices gave Roosevelt momentum to pass antitrust legislation such as a bill that elevated antitrust cases on court dockets for early resolution. He also established the Bureau of Corporations to investigate corporate practices and maneuvered the opposition to pass its legislation. During his presidency, Roosevelt filed suits against 44 trusts.

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