President Franklin D. Roosevelt began his political career as assistant secretary of the Navy under Woodrow Wilson; backed Governor Wilson in the 1912 presidential nomination; and ran for vice president in 1920 on a program of support for Wilson’s League of Nations.1 Wilson and Roosevelt are both well known for their political agendas and achievements and both presidents took a strong stance on the function of the US in the world arena. Roosevelt used Wilson’s policies as a guidepost for his presidency, but did not strictly adhere to the Wilsonianism throughout his own tenure in the White House.
Roosevelt may have entered office as a Wilsonian Democrat, but he made clear during his campaign that he would not uphold the internationalists ideas of the Wilson administration. During Roosevelt’s campaign he told those gathered for his speech to the New York Grange “that while he had favored American entry into the League of Nations as it was envisaged in 1920, the League had changed, and he was opposed to entering it now;”2 and his managers “had been forced to pledge to William Randolph Hearst that in an FDR administration, there would be no international entanglements”3 to secure the 1932 presidential nomination. Once he entered office, one of Roosevelt’s first acts on the world stage was to “torpedo” the London Economic Conference4 by rejecting the agreement and opening denouncing the stabilization of currency. At the early juncture it seemed that Roosevelt was making a statement that he did was not interested in internationalism.
Roosevelt was influenced by Wilson, even if it is only to the point suggested by David Fromkin that Roosevelt felt “Wilsonianism was a catalog of disastrous errors to be avoided.”5 This is evident in his appointments and policies regarding the US entry into World War II (WWII). Roosevelt appointed Cordell Hull as secretary of state; appointed William Phillips as under secretary; and Edward M. House was his principal adviser on foreign affairs. All of the appointees had stood faithful to Wilson during his administration6, yet Roosevelt was reluctant to enter into the world politics as Wilson had envisioned. Take for example Secretary Hull pursuit for the negotiation of free trade agreements under Roosevelt, which on the surface would appear to be a Wilsonian policy. Wilson believed “free trade as a sort of common law right with which all mankind is endowed;”7 Hull, under Roosevelt’s administration, took an alternate view. Hull saw free trade more as “a privilege to be extended bilaterally (“this is only between you and me”) and on the basis of reciprocity (“I’ll do it for you only if you do it for me”).”8
As further evidence of Roosevelt’s isolationist tendencies, in a speech extolling Wilson before the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, Roosevelt declared that:
“The maintenance of constitutional government in other Nations is not a sacred obligation devolving upon the United States alone. The maintenance of...