Richard M. Abrams
THE administration of Theodore Roosevelt was in some respects the first modern presidency. It is with Roosevelt that the most distinctive twentieth-century characteristics of the executive office emerged as more or less permanent traits. Roosevelt put the presidency and the federal government at the center of peacetime political action. He made the White House a national focus for the social mood and did much to set the moral tone of his times. He exploited the president's powers as commander in chief to initiate a forceful, independent foreign policy, deploying military forces abroad without direct (or any) consultation with Congress. And he extended presidential initiatives in policymaking to the domestic scene on an unprecedented scale, putting forward reform proposals for congressional action and using executive orders to promote major innovative programs.
Not all the traits that Roosevelt brought to the White House were admirable. There was sometimes as much truculence as confidence, as much belligerence as goodwill, and as much bravado as good sense. He set some dubious precedents in his bullying of small nations and in his sometimes casual regard for constitutional and international law. He did much to prod Americans to take up their responsibilities as a powerful nation to use their power for good internationally, even though it must be said that his own conception of "good" could not always meet a test for universal approval. He was, in short, not the perfect model for the ideal Philosopher King. But his contributions to good government certainly outweighed his shortcomings.
That Roosevelt went a long way toward persuading the nation of the legitimacy of federal responsibility for regulating business activities and husbanding the country's natural resources, unquestionably counts among his greatest contributions. By 1900, the corporate consolidation of the nation's business had greatly impaired the effectiveness of the market to allocate economic opportunities, advantages, and rewards equitably. Meanwhile, the predominantly interstate and global character of economic activity had rendered state governments constitutionally and administratively incapable of overseeing the nation's industrial and financial affairs so as to redress market imbalances. Nor had the states proved capable of controlling private exploitation of the public's mineral, timber, water, soil, scenic, and recreational resources, much of which by 1900 were beginning their way toward extinction. A longtime governmental vacuum awaited federal attention, which, given the parochial roots of congressional power, only the president could provide. The rise of "The Regulatory State" that gained much of its legitimacy during Roosevelt's presidency was as much an essential part of the modern political economy as was the emergence of the corporate form of business organization and the multinational business firm. Although in the final quarter of the century that began with the Age of Theodore Roosevelt a variety of economic interests came to use "deregulation" as an effective political slogan, in fact none of even those same interests truly envisioned a major withdrawal by the federal government of its regulatory role. Most of what went on in the politics of the 1880s and 1890s aimed chiefly at rearranging the structure of competitive costs and advantages that different business and other interests had constructed in previous decades. No one understood the vital importance of the modern regulatory state better than Theodore Roosevelt, and through all the political smoke of the 1890s it remained clear that his perceptions continued to serve modern government.
Meanwhile, the competition for empire among the leading industrial and military powers of Europe and Asia challenged the rationale of America's traditional isolationism and forced heavy responsibilities on the country's commander in chief. These developments greatly magnified the importance of the presidency and inevitably drew the attention of the press beyond state and local events to national politics. Later in the century, as film, radio, and television became public media instruments, the presence of the chief executive and his family would become more potent and more influential. But Theodore Roosevelt achieved such stature in advance of the new technology. It may be that Americans generally get the president who most closely mirrors their mood, but it is at least arguable that presidents shape the nation's mood, its manners, its tastes, and its morals somewhat more than they have been shaped by them. This seems especially true of Theodore Roosevelt.
The Man and His Times
Roosevelt's personality and political philosophy fitted the imperatives far more than they did the fashions of the times, so that the degree to which his behavior in the White House both hastened and shaped the dramatic growth of presidential power over the next seventy-five years must be seriously considered. Temperamentally, Roosevelt craved attention. It was said of him in jest that when he went to the theater, he envied the star; when he witnessed a wedding, he wished to be the bride; and when he attended a funeral, he resented the corpse. Once in the White House, especially in view of the changed national and international circumstances, he could not fail to focus national attention on the presidency.
Roosevelt believed in a strong "National Government" (his preferred term of reference to the federal administration), and he believed in the forceful use of presidential power. In this, he ran against the strong "Jeffersonian" current in nineteenth-century American politics, which treated power with suspicion, federal power with especial distrust, and presidential power as a threat to democratic impulses, which, it was long assumed, resided chiefly in the states and the legislatures. But Roosevelt moved strongly within other nineteenth-century currents that put power in a different perspective. The late Victorian era was, after all, the age of Darwinism, which featured an aggressive confidence in the triumph of the fit. Fit for the nineteenth-century American meant both physical and moral superiority, and moral superiority justified—indeed, mandated—vigorous uses of power. It was a major part of the very meaning of manliness, an idea of exceptional importance to contemporary males and to Roosevelt in particular.
Very much in the fashion of his times, Roosevelt viewed the world in terms of struggle between good and evil, between the righteous and the unjust, between civilization and barbarism. For the righteous to shrink from power would be to yield the arena to the unworthy. "I believe in a strong executive; I believe in power," he wrote during his last year in office to the British historian George Otto Trevelyan (and obviously for the historical record). "I greatly enjoy the exercise of power," he added. "While President, I have been President, emphatically; I have used every ounce of power there was in the office," he told Trevelyan. "I do not believe that any President has ever had as thoroughly good a time as I have had, or has ever enjoyed himself as much."
Roosevelt wrote these words by way of explaining why he had declined to run for another term in office. It was not, he made plain, that he felt burdened or disenchanted. It was rather that his view of the presidency required that there be a specific limit on how long any individual should serve. As president, he sought to use power up to, and beyond, the limits that ordinary law and a cautious interpretation of the Constitution set. He owed, he said, his primary obligation to the nation's welfare. That was true of officers in other branches of government, but no other agency of government could act with the efficiency and dispatch that the executive office could; neither did they have so much responsibility. When emergencies arose or unique opportunities beckoned, the president should follow the "higher law" of duty if the secondary law of men or states interfered. It did not trouble him that a president might sometimes play the autocrat—all the best presidents had occasionally done so. It was only important that the people know that after four years they would have the opportunity to dismiss an incumbent and that after eight years they would be assured a new president.
There was both arrogance and innocence in this, traits that, as in so many things, made T. R., as he was called, an archetype of his generation. Only someone so sure as he was of his hold on truth and of his faithful dedication to the nation's interests could be so casual in his regard for law and so certain of his calling to carry out a stewardship of the nation. That was the arrogance in the matter. The innocence consisted in the prevailing contemporary view that the difference between truth and error was plain for all godly and right-thinking persons to see, that virtue was a simple matter, and that honesty of purpose and heart was enough to rectify evil and to serve The Good Society. There was innocence, too, in the belief that no autocrat in the White House within four or eight years could do any permanent or substantial damage to the principles and practices of a free, orderly society ostensibly governed by the rule of law. The sufficiency of democratic, electoral institutions was taken for granted. This was, after all, a generation as yet untouched by the example of what modern technology combined with a populist absolutism could do in the service of the totalitarian state, a concept as yet unborn. It was, as even some contemporaries called it, an "age of confidence," when faith often served as truth, or was mistaken for it, and when values remained as yet unattenuated by pluralistic doubt.
An unquestioning ignorance left Americans at the turn of the century free to assume with certitude the superiority of the "Caucasian race," and, among that race, of Christians; among Christians, of Western civilization; and within that civilization, of the Protestant Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon "races." It was a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant God that a majority of Americans acknowledged presiding over the universe in the year T. R. entered the White House. Such conceit—or so we would call it today—permitted those with power to assume that laws were to be applied rigidly for the vicious but could be stretched for the virtuous by the stewards of civic order. It permitted one set of principles to guide policy toward large and powerful nations and another toward smaller or underdeveloped countries; one set for whites, another for nonwhites; one set for the wellborn and well-off, and another for the less well endowed. Such parochial assumptions were in no way novel. They were rather characteristic of the village loyalty and outlook, the clannishness of ethnic and class groupings that has dominated most of human history.
Neither was it a matter of class outlook in Western culture. If Roosevelt could write of his conviction "that English rule in India and Egypt like the rule of the French in Algiers or of Russia in Turkestan means a great advance for humanity," he was only affirming what Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also had once contended. But whereas Marx and Engels saw European imperialism as serving benevolent historical forces "through the vilest of motives," Roosevelt affected a posture of benign obligation; and whereas Marx and Engels saw Western bourgeois domination as a necessary uplifting stage preceding the ultimate uplift of working-class revolution, Roosevelt committed his life's work to preventing just that eventuality. For Roosevelt, the nation-state was the finest product of social evolution, replacing the tribe and the clan; and it was to the nation that he insisted all class, ethnic, religious, economic, and provincial interests yield their loyalty.
By so insisting, Roosevelt raised a challenge to the prevailing ethos of the times. The country's rapid industrialization since mid-century had sud. denly enriched thousands of Americans who had come from modest and, in some cases, lower-class families. In fact, the wealth of the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Hills, and Harrimans substantially dwarfed the family fortunes enjoyed by the country's older, self-conscious "aristocracy," such patrician families as the Adamses, Schuylers, Peabodys, and Roosevelts. And along with the wealth went power. Theodore Roosevelt grew up in a family and in a social set whose political influence had been displaced by the new men of great wealth, men who were guided by a business, rather than a social, ethic and who lacked a family tradition of public service, a sense of noblesse oblige. These men had "made it" through the squalor of industrial conflict to take command of the levers of government and manipulate them in the hard-bitten style of their own experiences. Above all, these men increasingly exemplified the country's new standard of success, a standard built on the workaday values of industry and finance. The old patrician classes of the country could not compete with the men of new wealth on their own terms. By emphasizing nationalism, patriotism, and the virtues of manly and even martial strenuosity, Roosevelt put forward an alternative standard of success.
The Young T. R.
It had been one of Roosevelt's early accomplishments that he had successfully challenged his social set's condescending aloofness by entering the festering New York political scene, against all counsel, without losing his standing in society. "I intended," he said, "to be one of the governing class"; and if the men who then dominated that class were indeed too vulgar and rough for him, then "I supposed I would have to quit, but I certainly would not quit until I had made the effort and found out whether I really was too weak to hold my own in the rough and tumble." Of course, Roosevelt held his own. But more than that, he helped make politics an attractive career once more for well-educated, talented men and women of goodwill. He, as much as anyone in the country, was responsible for making reform respectable, removing from it the stigmas of radicalism on the one hand and of effeteness on the other. He rehabilitated the idea of the patrician in politics.
It is easy—perhaps too easy—to link Theodore Roosevelt's political philosophy and his behavior in the White House to his childhood and his upbringing. There is a strong consistency in his attitude toward duty, character, and power that runs the extent of the sixty-one years he lived. He was born in Manhattan on 27 October 1858, the second child and the older of two sons in a family of four children. His southern-born mother, Martha Bulloch, could well have been a model for the stereotype of the ineffectual Victorian female. His father, Theodore, Sr., appeared (at least in his older son's revering eyes) a paragon of civic and family virtue, a tall, strong, athletically built man of stern moral commitments, active in philanthropy and on the periphery of politics. His devoted son bore the burden of physical frailty and illness, a burden made doubly heavy by the inevitable comparisons he made to his father. Small-boned, soprano-voiced, nearsighted to the point of virtual blindness in one eye, and severely asthmatic, he wrote later as well as in his childhood diaries of the anguish he felt over his infirmities and of how he had had to depend on his younger brother, Elliott, to help deal with youthful belligerencies. Thoughts on strength and power must have been constant companions for him. In his book The Strenuous Life (1901), he would remark, "One prime reason for abhorring cowards is because every good boy should have it in him to thrash the objectionable boy as the need arises." As president in 1906, he wrote, "The chance for the settlement of disputes peacefully . . . depends mainly upon the possession by the nations that mean to do right of sufficient armed strength to make their purpose effective."
When T. R. was about twelve, his father urged him to work on developing his physical strength. The boy put aside his nature books for the regimen of weights, chinning bar, horseback riding, boxing, wrestling, and hunting. It seems to have worked. Although his eyesight would continue to deteriorate, Roosevelt conquered his asthma and built a muscular body capable of the strenuosity he craved, perhaps as proof of his worthiness to be his father's son. ("O, Father, Father how bitterly I miss you, mourn you and long for you!" he wrote when he was nineteen, weeks after his father's death. "I realize more and more every day," he added six months later, "that I am as much inferior to Father morally and mentally as physically.") That was in 1877. Within the next quarter of a century, the energy he poured into sport, scholarship, politics, and actual physical combat must have left him with at least some measure of vindication.
By the time he became president, Roosevelt had in fact accomplishments enough to make him something of a national legend, a career and exploits that might have rivaled any small boy's grandest daydreams. He had engaged in the "rough and tumble" of city and state politics. He had bought a ranch in the untamed Dakota Territory, ridden with cowpunchers, led a posse to capture three armed thieves, and come out the victor in a brief brawl with a (rather drunk) tough in a tavern. Farther west, he had hunted grizzlies and cougars in the Rockies and matched shooting skills with a group of "wild Indians." In that same period, he had written eight or nine books, including two serviceable biographies (Thomas Hart Benton, 1887, and Gouverneur Morris, 1888), a major four-volume history of the West (The Winning of the West, 1889–1896), and The Naval War of 1812 (1882), which for a time served as a textbook on the subject at Annapolis. He had served on the United States Civil Service Commission (1889–1895) under two presidents, on the New York City Board of Police Commissioners (1894–1896), and as assistant secretary of the navy (1897–1898). On the two commissions, he had managed to attract national attention because of his bold battles for nonpartisan administration of the law (while keeping his fences carefully mended within his party). In the third position, he had found himself in control of the United States Navy on 25 February 1898, ten days after the destruction of the battleship Maine in Cuba (Secretary of the Navy John D. Long had taken the day off), and had used that control with a characteristic disregard for lawful authority when the latter stood in the way of the national interest, as he viewed it. Acting with the brashness of a boy suddenly aware of power and heedless of instructions to the contrary, he ordered Commodore George Dewey's Pacific fleet to Hong Kong to prepare (although the country was still at peace) for combat with the Spanish fleet in the Philippines, thereby setting the stage for the Battle of Manila Bay and American annexation of the large Asian archipelago.
With the declaration of war soon after, Roosevelt resigned his office, helped organize a voluntary cavalry unit made up of a few hundred Dakota and other cowboys, a good number of Ivy League football players, a few New York City policemen, and fifteen or so American Indians. Promptly dubbed "The Rough Riders" by the overexcited press, First Regiment of U.S. Volunteer Cavalry with Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt as battle commander saw brutal action in the hills overlooking Santiago, Cuba. In taking its assigned target, the regiment suffered extraordinary losses, possibly owing to brief training and its commander's brash amateur leadership; but by some miracle Roosevelt survived, returned quickly to New York in time for the political season, and was elected governor of the country's most populous state that same November, in no small measure on the strength of his wartime notoriety. Two years later, his nomination for the vice presidency was arranged by New York Republicans who had wearied of T. R.'s tempestuous independence and wished him up and away. Then, in September 1901, at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, Leon Czolgosz' gun, hidden in his bandaged fist as he approached President McKinley to shake hands, put the Rough Rider in the White House.
In the White House
Although Roosevelt became president in a freakish way and was moreover, at not quite forty-three, the youngest man ever to hold the office, few United States presidents entered the White House who were as well qualified. John Quincy Adams had been at least as well read and had spent more time abroad in diplomatic activities before he, like his father, became president. But Roosevelt's numerous publications showed him to be a man of respectable scholarly accomplishments (his The Winning of the West was reviewed seriously in the American Historical Review by Frederick Jackson Turner in 1896) and a serious thinker about major contemporary issues, notably military strategy. His western exploits and his brief military career had given experience that Adams conspicuously lacked, to Adams' great disadvantage in his rivalry with Andrew Jackson. And Roosevelt had also traveled abroad frequently, both as a child and as an adult. He moved easily among the genteel and governing classes of England and Germany, and established there lifelong friendships sustained by a massive correspondence. When in 1886 he married Edith Carow, his second wife (his first, Alice Lee, had died in childbirth in 1884), it was in London, and Britain's future ambassador to the United States, Cecil Spring Rice ("Springy," to Roosevelt), served as his best man.
As John Morton Blum has astutely observed, Theodore Roosevelt spoke and wrote expansively on order, duty, justice, and power—but rarely on happiness, the word that stands at the center of liberal thought. Except for his commitment to a parliamentary and electoral politics, Roosevelt in fact showed few liberal characteristics. He spoke righteously for freedom but placed individual liberty in the context of a greater obligation to the nation. He acknowledged that most individuals probably preferred business as usual, to be left to cultivate their own gardens and to pursue modest livelihoods and comforts, but he viewed such an outlook with scorn. He found peace good but grandeur better. He vigorously defended the rights and privileges of private property, but he would have them subordinated to political priorities. Business competition in an unmanaged, open market, then the centerpiece of the liberal economic order, he regarded with skepticism, as wasteful, disorderly, and given to irrational outcomes. The rule of law, equally central to the legitimacy of power in a liberal state, Roosevelt regarded as an ideal that should be applied to customary matters and ordinary people; but power, he believed, was a better, more reliable guarantor of justice, progress, excellence, order, and nobility. Roosevelt as president strove to build an American national state that could serve as the focus of an orderly justice, but in that cause he himself evaded constitutional and legal constraints that were designed to guarantee orderly government.
In such characteristics lay the greatness, but also the danger, of Theodore Roosevelt. Greatness often requires a reaching beyond conventional limits, a recognition of the possibilities and opportunities that beckon beyond the horizons of ordinary law and custom. The America that Roosevelt contemplated at the turn of the century was about to enter seriously upon international happenings. The nation's business, its size, its expansive history and spirit had thrust it abroad. Yet Americans typically remained ignorant of the implications of such developments, innocent of the country's military and economic vulnerabilities. When, without consulting Congress, Roosevelt "took Panama," sent the fleet around the world, and signed secret agreements with Japan, he filled a void not merely in the constitutional distribution of powers but in the vision of contemporary Americans and their mostly provincial political leaders.
Similarly, the revolution in industrial production, organization, and marketing since 1875 had swiftly made archaic a constitutional and legal system that continued to treat private economic power as if it were still exercised mostly by small proprietary farmers and businessmen who serviced local or state communities. The sudden rise to dominance of a few very large interstate corporations was rapidly turning the open price and market system into a managed continental economy that rewarded the big and the powerful to the gross disadvantage of the masses of smaller business people of the country. Meanwhile, unrestrained private exploitation of natural resources threatened to squander the means whereby future generations might enjoy the same opportunities as did contemporaries. Roosevelt saw both danger and injustice in what was happening and also that the courts and Congress appeared incapable of taking notice. When the president bypassed Congress, expanding the use of executive orders to put some public lands beyond the reach of private exploitation, and when he fought to establish independent administrative agencies in the executive branch to supplement the courts' supervision of private economic behavior, he took the first small steps toward bringing the problems invoked by industrialization within the purview of a national policy. In all these things, in both domestic and foreign policies, Theodore Roosevelt showed remarkable vision, while he also set some precedents for the abuses of power by twentieth-century American presidents.
His private reaction to McKinley's death reveals the raw side of the man. While McKinley lay dying, Roosevelt wrote to his friend Henry Cabot Lodge:
We should war with relentless efficiency not only against anarchists, but against all active and passive sympathizers with anarchists. Moreover, every scoundrel . . . who for whatever purposes appeals to evil human passion, has made himself accessory before the fact to every crime of this nature, and every soft fool who extends a maudlin sympathy to criminals has done likewise.. . . Tolstoy and the feeble apostles of Tolstoy . . . who unite in petitions for the pardon of anarchists, have a heavy share in the burden of responsibility for crimes of this kind.
The "war" Roosevelt proposed here he meant in a moral sense; he never urged legislation that would in fact bring "soft fools" within the law's definition of an "accessory." But he did sign the Immigration Act of 1903, which permitted the deportation of "alien anarchists" and banned "anarchists" from entering the country or seeking citizenship. For the first time since the long-repudiated Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the United States applied a political test for immigration and citizenship. Most insidious, the act left it to local officials to define what kind of activities or speech made one an anarchist.
Roosevelt was not responsible for the act. A great surge of excess and violence followed in the wake of McKinley's assassination, which fed longstanding fires of antiradicalism and nativism. But the new president did and said nothing to deter the nativists' assaults upon civil liberties or to quell the lynch-law "justice" to which they gave expression. Although Roosevelt usually preferred a more orderly and legal form of justice, his own instincts sometimes drifted in other directions, as his behavior in the Brownsville incident suggests. In November 1906, Roosevelt summarily issued dishonorable discharges to more than 160 black soldiers because it had been alleged that members of their battalions rioted in the town of Brownsville, Texas, in August. In the melee, a bartender was killed and a policeman was wounded. No individual was ever indicted; no trial was ever held. But the punishment the president inflicted on the men was severe. Many of the men were close to retirement but were deprived of all benefits because of the dishonorable discharge. Several held the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award. After a congressional outcry against the president's challenge to the Anglo-American legal principles that an individual is innocent until proved guilty and that individual guilt cannot be inferred from membership in a group, Roosevelt compounded his offense, denying that Congress had any right to interfere. In a much publicized speech, he boasted, "The only reason I didn't have them hung was because I could not find out which ones . . . did the shooting." As William Harbaugh points out, it is unlikely that racial bias entered significantly into Roosevelt's action in the case; there is no evidence that he would have treated white troops any differently. That may say something for Roosevelt's racial views but not much for his regard for law.
In office, Roosevelt rarely vented such impulses to impolitic righteousness. As Blum has remarked:
In order to win office and to make government function, he taught himself to restrain any politically dangerous impulse, to study complex matters of policy before dealing with them, and to balance his objectives against the likelihood of achieving them—an exercise he often obscured by clothing the art of the possible in the rhetoric of the imperative.
Bringing Industrialism Under Control
As in other matters, in his plan to place American industry under national supervision, Roosevelt proceeded cautiously. He well knew that government intervention in the private sector had profound roots in the American tradition and equally profound justification. But the tumultuous politics of the late nineteenth century had aroused a great fear of "mobocracy." The Greenback, Granger, and Populist movements, with their demands that government redress a dangerous imbalance of power between "the trusts" and "the people," had evoked a fierce counterattack not only against the particular regulatory and public-ownership measures proposed by the rural "radicals" but against the legitimacy of government intervention in the economy as a general principle. For decades, court and legislative actions had promoted and protected the growing industrial and transportation companies against foreign competition and against civil and criminal claims pursued by small business, farm, and labor interests. They had done so in the name of the public's interest in rapid industrial growth. But when, especially after 1875, shifting political majorities in several states led to legislation designed to mitigate some of the more conspicuous costs of industrialization, the groups that had grown powerful in the sunlight of government favor now cried foul. The ferocity of the counterattack had the effect of defining the terms of the contemporary debate—that is, of confining the debate to whether the federal government should do anything about restraining the private uses of economic power or even about ascertaining the measure to which the private uses of power had come to confound a consensus on the national interest.
In his first message to Congress, Roosevelt gently suggested that the corporations were, after all, creatures of the state and could therefore be made to serve a public purpose. In his second address, in December 1902, Roosevelt spoke more strongly: "This country cannot afford to sit supine on the plea that under our peculiar system of government we are helpless in the presence of the new conditions. The power of Congress to regulate interstate commerce is an absolute and unqualified grant, and without limitations other than those prescribed by the Constitution." There was, however, a major controversy over how one defined the legal reach of the phrase "interstate commerce" and over just what limitations the Constitution did place on government action. In 1895, for example, the Supreme Court had ruled that a sugar-processing corporation that controlled more than 80 percent of the processed sugar in the country, that purchased all its raw materials from outside the state in which it did its processing, and that sold its finished product across state and international boundaries was nevertheless primarily engaged in manufacturing within the confines of a state and was therefore beyond Congress' reach under the commerce clause. In the face of such obtuseness, a conventional, strictly legal approach to policymaking could only be pathetic.
In fact, on the eve of the twentieth century, the judiciary dominated American policymaking on economic matters. This is not altogether surprising. The American nation rested on no consistent theory of the state. The main features of the Constitution had been shaped to minimize the state, to restrain and deter the exercise of power, essentially to prevent the state from acting arbitrarily or, for that matter, decisively. Through most of the nineteenth century, the state played a small and diminishing role in determining how individuals related to one another and to their society. That was given over largely to private bargaining, with the courts developing, through case law, elaborate doctrines on contracts, liability, trespass, and property. The general antistatist political environment in America meanwhile tended to neutralize both the legislative and executive branches in fixing social and economic priorities as the basis for resolving day-to-day conflicts of interest and ambition. It was the courts, responding to the multitude of mundane claims of right and privilege, that structured the law that gave definition to the "liberty" to which the nation avowed commitment. That is, the doctrines that the courts shaped defined what kinds of social and economic actions enjoyed freedom from sanctions, what kinds ran greater risks, what kinds of access to and use of property were protected against public, community, or second-party claims, and what terms of contracts the state would be prepared to enforce.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, after a quarter century of industrialization and corporate growth had impaired the marketplace and had turned the struggles for advantage among a multitude of small economic strivers into a massive conflict of groups and classes, the many legislatures of the country moved to intervene. Americans continued to favor economic growth, but the costs borne by traditional business and agriculture, and by insurgent nonbusiness interests as well, gave rise to a sometimes violent politics of protest. The violence reflected a widespread loss of faith in the market's capacity for fairly and impersonally allocating the resources and rewards that the society had to offer. The intervention took many forms and included the creation of state railroad and public-utility regulatory commissions. The commissions were intermediary government agencies, part administrative and part legislative, designed to replace the flawed marketplace with a mechanism characterized by science and technical expertise. They were designed to become the new impersonal and just allocators of advantages. To these agencies, the state legislatures—and Congress, in creating the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) in 1887—delegated considerable discretionary power, in effect creating an alternative to the courts for a flexible, law-adjusting response to day-to-day conflicts in the economic order.
Unhappily, to this alternative the courts reacted as to a challenge. Employing a novel interpretation of the due process clause of the Constitution, contriving an exquisitely narrow construction of the commerce clause, and inventing innovative uses of equity proceedings, state and federal judges—and, most important, those on the United States Supreme Court—repeatedly overrode the declared intentions of the legislative branches of American government in antitrust matters, labor relations, employment policies, and the regulation of selected practices of private industry. The number of cases was not large, but the deterrent effect of judicial vetoes had long-lasting and far-reaching impact.
It was these circumstances that Roosevelt confronted when he took office. In addition to the courts, he faced a congressional coalition of Republicans who represented (sometimes rather directly) the new corporate consolidations of economic power that Roosevelt sought to control together with southern Democrats, whose political instincts rebelled fiercely against any enlargement of federal power. So the president moved cautiously. Although more impatient reformers came to doubt Roosevelt's earnestness, although many likened his vigor to that of a rocking chair ("all motion and no progress"), and others charged him outright with "selling out to the interests," the conservatives were so deeply entrenched that one might be as readily impressed by Roosevelt's achievements as by how little was achieved.
Cooking Up the Square Deal
Roosevelt's primary task was to gain popular support for federal restraint of private power and, in this sense, to establish the legitimacy of federal power. The president's huge talent for publicity served him especially well in this. He chose his issues, and his enemies, carefully. The American business community was far from unified in its view of the tide of giant corporate mergers it had been witnessing since 1897. For many conservatives, the private enterprise system itself seemed at stake. When, in 1901, J. P. Morgan concluded the reorganization of the steel industry by buying out Carnegie and consolidating several other major steel producers into the new billion-dollar United States Steel Corporation, even the staunchly conservative Boston Herald was moved to remark, "If a limited financial group shall come to represent the capitalistic end of industry, the perils of socialism, even if brought about by some rude, because forcible, taking of the instruments of industry, may be looked upon by even intelligent people as possibly the lesser of two evils." In 1902, Morgan, J. J. Hill, and some other titans of finance and the railroad industry followed up the awesome steel consolidation by forming the Northern Securities Company, a merger of the Northern Pacific, the Great Northern, and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroads. Roosevelt seized the opportunity, instructing his attorney general to prosecute the company for violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
The issue and the timing were perfect. The country was newly sensitized to the trusts issue, and not even a pettifogging judiciary could deny that the railroad industry quintessentially concerned interstate commerce. By a 5-4 vote in 1904, the United States Supreme Court did indeed uphold the government's prosecution. (The minority held out on the issue of whether the merger amounted to an illegal restraint of trade.) From this and from the president's attacks on Standard Oil and the "meat trust," long-standing industrial pariahs, T. R. earned his reputation as a trustbuster. Roosevelt himself viewed the Northern Securities prosecution as the most important achievement of his first administration. But this was not because he generally opposed the business consolidations of the day. It was rather because the president of the United States had successfully called down several of the country's leading business tycoons—an achievement no president in several generations could boast of.
Roosevelt argued during his 1904 presidential campaign that the Northern Securities case was "one of the great achievements of my administration," because "through it we emphasized . . . that the most powerful men in the country were held to accountability before the law." It was a popularly held view. "If Roosevelt had never done anything else," the publisher Joseph Pulitzer wrote to his editor Frank Cobb (a steady Roosevelt critic), "and if he had committed a hundred times more mistakes . . . he would be entitled to the greatest credit for the greatest service to the nation" for his prosecution of the Northern Securities Company. In his autobiography, Roosevelt told the story of how the great J. P. Morgan had come to him after news of the suit broke and in avuncular fashion suggested that the whole scandal could have been avoided if the president's man (the attorney general) had met with Morgan's man to arrange matters. It had become habit for the country's business elite to view the federal government as merely a rival power, even as a lesser power that should consult with its betters before acting. T. R. implied that he had put Morgan in his proper place.
Roosevelt's presidency did much to restore public confidence in the government's ability to hold "the most powerful men in the country" accountable to the law, but there was still the question of what the law should be—or, perhaps more to the point, who should determine what the law should be. In this, Roosevelt was far more accommodating to the men of new corporate power than the bravado about his encounter with Morgan might suggest. In the first place, Roosevelt believed in free-market competition little more than did Morgan and his financier friends. The president acted against Northern Securities less from his concern about monopoly than from his concern about how the public might react to uncontrolled corporate arrogance. He frequently chided conservative critics that revolutionary upheaval was as likely to be inspired from "an attitude of arrogance on the part of the owners of property and of unwillingness to recognize their duty to the public" as by socialist or anarchist revolutionaries. It was more the manner than the substance of the Northern Securities merger that goaded him. Roosevelt himself had small regard for the successful antitrust suits of the McKinley administration, which aimed to break up major railroad traffic associations for fixing rates and routing among the members. "It is difficult to see," he told Congress, quoting the ICC on the subject, "how our interstate railways could be operated . . . without concerted action of the kind afforded through these associations." In his second administration, Roosevelt would urge Congress to amend the Sherman Act to permit cartel-like agreements within the railroad industry.
In 1903 public unhappiness with corporate arrogance permitted the president to push through Congress, against bitter conservative hostility, legislation establishing the Department of Commerce and Labor and, within it, the Bureau of Corporations. The bureau was authorized to investigate and publicize suspect corporate activities. Roosevelt acted from premises about the public's right to know and about the government's need to know in order to hold private economic power accountable. The emphasis on publicity proceeded also from a faith that a common sense of decency would force corporations to be good—not only to be honest but to avoid unscrupulous, even though strictly legal, practices. In other words, in large measure the policy arose from a conviction, not seriously tested by anyone at the time, that the country understood a common definition of such a concept as decency. In practice, of course, men like Roosevelt tended to assume the universality of their own definition.
In any case, Roosevelt had no intention of waging open warfare on big business. In the first place, the big corporations played too important a role in his vision of America's place in international rivalry. Small businesses could scarcely compete successfully for international resources and markets with the European cartels and Japanese zaibatsu. But more than that, Roosevelt did not view government and business as adversaries. In the spirit of the "New Nationalism," which he would develop more explicitly in his campaign to recapture the presidency in 1912, Roosevelt pictured the government as a coordinating agency for harmonizing the nation's varied interests and as a referee for interpreting and declaring the rules of the game. In keeping with this view, Roosevelt was prepared to assure corporations of immunity from antitrust prosecutions if he or the appropriate government agencies could be satisfied that their activities were honestly conceived and would benefit the community. When he was not so convinced, he proceeded, with his usual flare for the dramatic, to "bust the trusts," as when he attacked Standard Oil, the tobacco trust, the meat trust (with antitrust suits and with the Meat Inspection Act of 1906), and the Northern Securities Company.
But through the bureau, the president did enter into a series of gentlemen's agreements with Morgan interests. Companies such as United States Steel and International Harvester (organized in 1903) agreed to open records to the bureau's investigators, on the condition—which Roosevelt accepted—that the president would use such information only as backgrounding for his recommendations of policy to Congress and that nothing would be made public except with the consent of the corporations themselves. To make these arrangements, Roosevelt permitted Commerce and Justice department officials to confer with representatives of Morgan interests such as George W. Perkins, E. H. Gary, and Henry Clay Frick. The meetings gave the Morgan men a chance to debate the legality of their actions and to avoid prosecution by agreeing to correct any "technical" violations of the law in cases where they could not persuade the government otherwise. In spite of Roosevelt's autobiographical boasting, then, Morgan's men were meeting with the president's men to arrange matters.
In 1907, Morgan's men would meet with the president himself to arrange a steel merger that virtually handed the United States Steel Corporation nearly complete domination of the industry. The bankers' panic that year occasioned the conference. Among the feared casualties of the panic was the Trust Company of America (TCA), a major New York City financial institution whose collapse might have deepened the crisis. As it happened, the principal owners of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company (TCIC) owed the TCA a lot of money. Morgan men Frick and Gary went to the president with a proposition. If they could be assured that there would be no antitrust prosecutions, the Morgan people would buy out the TCIC, thereby allowing its owners to pay off their debt to the TCA and keep the TCA solvent. Roosevelt may or may not have known the degree to which United States Steel's acquisition of the TCIC's steel plants, as well as its resources of coal and iron in Alabama, would substantially reduce competition in the industry. But he did see the virtue of averting a prolonged economic collapse (especially since the financial community was already whining loudly about how the crisis was all the fault of Roosevelt's "radical" attacks on the trusts). Roosevelt gave the green light to the merger. Whether he did so by explicitly approving Morgan's proposal or merely by leaving the matter as a tacit understanding, Roosevelt vigorously defended his role in the merger when he testified about it in 1911—after the Taft administration sued United States Steel for violation of the antitrust laws.
Roosevelt did not have to be apologetic about the steel merger, because he had not concealed his skepticism about the antitrust laws. Addressing Congress in 1907, he argued that the Sherman Act "should be . . . so amended as to forbid only the kind of combination which does harm to the general public." How should it be determined what kinds do harm? "Reasonable agreements between, or combinations of, corporations should be permitted provided they are submitted to and approved by some appropriate Government body." Instead of corporations testing legal limits in the courts by acting and then awaiting retaliatory action from the government or by private litigants, the new order would require the large interstate corporations to consult first with federal agencies established to pass on the acceptability of proposed moves. In the United States Steel case, Morgan had consulted with the president.
More than most of his contemporaries, Roosevelt understood that the corporation revolution had erased the main features of the rationale underlying the American liberal credo on the private uses of property for profit. A big, publicly financed corporation was not a private enterprise; it did not endow an individual entrepreneur with the qualities of independence and self-reliance on which the democratic polity counted; its size negated the competitive rivalry on which the democratic polity and the market economy depended to sharpen efficiency and to prevent arbitrary uses of power; its bureaucratic structure even denied the protection against a permanent preemption of power that mere human mortality afforded in an economy of individual proprietary enterprise. Finally, its managers were employees no less than were factory and mine operatives; the modern business corporation had indeed transformed Americans from a nation of self-employed enterprisers into a nation of hired hands.
Roosevelt's program called for establishment of a number of regulatory agencies modeled after, but with powers that considerably exceeded, those of the ICC and the Bureau of Corporations. His aim, as he later explained, was "to help legitimate business" by making the big corporations answerable to government regulation "as an incident to thoroughly and completely safeguarding the interests of the people as a whole." Roosevelt held such views from the start of his first administration, but it was not until his second that he could feel free to express them publicly. Meanwhile, with the ample rope that they had appropriated, America's corporate leaders prepared to hang themselves and open the way for increased federal intervention.
Their egregious effort to crush the anthracite coal miners in 1902 was a case in point. This was not merely a fight between miners and some coal operators. Seventy percent of the anthracite mines in the country were owned by six railroad companies—which themselves were controlled by financial interests associated with, or directed by, the houses of Morgan, Rockefeller, and closely associated financiers. Moreover, anthracite was the fuel on which millions of voters depended for heat in winter. McKinley's political mentor, Mark Hanna, had averted a strike in 1900 by quietly warning the corporations that an anthracite shortage and high prices in the fall might give Willam Jennings Bryan the edge to defeat McKinley. But in 1902, the companies were ready for a strike, at least in part to crush the United Mine Workers (UMW).
Wages were not the chief issue. Corporate spokesmen refused to countenance the legitimation of collective bargaining, even though collective capital had characterized the industry for decades. Although the public in 1902 cannot be said to have accepted collective bargaining in any substantial sense, neither was it as yet willing to accept fully the legitimacy of corporate collectivism, especially when it controlled one of the necessities of life. When the strike erupted, the national press generally supported the miners. In May, the Springfield Republican expressed an increasingly widespread sentiment: "It would be difficult to conceive of a monopoly more perfectly established or operated than this monopoly which holds complete possession of a great store of nature most necessary to the life of the day. There is but one way to deal with [it] . . . public control or ownership." George F. Baer, president of the Reading Railroad and spokesman for the mine. owners, gave point to their arrogance by declaring, in a private letter that was revealed to the press, that God had given the care of the country to the propertied people to protect against labor agitators and their like.
President Roosevelt meanwhile squirmed frantically. On the one hand, he yearned for the power to take control of the industry in the public interest. The mineowners, he wrote to Murray Crane, conservative governor of Massachusetts, "were backed by a great number of businessmen whose views were limited by the narrow business horizon, and who knew nothing either of the great principles of government or of the feelings of the great mass of our people." The "gross blindness" of the corporations, he complained to a Morgan partner, was "putting a heavy burden on us who stand against socialism; against anarchic disorder." To Lodge, he fretted, "That it would be a good thing to have national control, or at least supervision, over these big coal corporations, I am sure; but that would simply have to come as an incident of the general movement to exercise control of such corporations." Understanding that nothing of the sort would come from Senator Nelson Aldrich's and Speaker Joe Cannon's Congress for some time, perhaps generations, Roosevelt shied from even a verbal intervention. Conservatives such as Hanna and Crane took the lead, the latter even urging the president to meet jointly with the operators and the miners. The two party leaders, like Roosevelt, feared what a coal famine might do to Republican prospects that November.
With such encouragement, Roosevelt did force a joint conference. But it failed. For ten hours on 3 October, the president absorbed a barrage of vituperation from the mineowners, led by Baer. John Mitchell, president of the UMW, denied that recognition of the union was an issue in the strike, probably sensing that this was not a matter on which he could expect the public's or the president's support. The operators responded by showing (in Roosevelt's words) "extraordinary stupidity and bad temper," berating Mitchell and accusing the president of encouraging anarchy by suggesting that union leaders should have standing in a dispute between workers and their employers. They would not, they said, "deal with a set of outlaws."
As winter and the congressional elections approached, Roosevelt, enjoying public support, finally decided to act. Characteristically, he planned to act dramatically and not necessarily within the bounds of his acknowledged constitutional power. He would seize the coal mines. "The position of the operators," he later wrote to Crane, "that the public had no rights in the case, was not tenable for a moment." (Actually, Roosevelt himself had earlier accepted his attorney general's advice that the president did not properly have "any concern with the affair" and could not intervene.) Rumors were flying that trade unions across the country were considering joining the miners in a sympathy strike; that, Roosevelt told Crane, would mean "a crisis only less serious than the civil war." Roosevelt then explained to his conservative New England adviser the obligation he felt to the higher imperatives of government, which moved him beyond the apparent limits of the letter of the law:
I did not intend to sit supinely when such a state of things was impending.. . . I had to take charge of the matter, as President, on behalf of the Federal Government.. . . I knew that this action would form an evil precedent, and that it was one which I should take most reluctantly, but . . . it would have been imperative to act, precedent or no precedent—and I was in readiness.
Actually, a sudden stirring among "the most powerful men in the country" headed off the crisis. Roosevelt may have been bluffing; we cannot know. But he was too much of a puzzle for his conservative and well-connected advisers to want to test him. Elihu Root, Roosevelt's secretary of war, went to Morgan "as a private citizen," found him irritated with the way Baer and his crew had "botched things," and got him to twist some arms to force the operators to accept arbitration. A coal commission was agreed upon, but not before the operators won on their refusal to accept a labor man on the board. Later, citing the operators' petty obstructionism, Roosevelt chortled in derision that he overcame their objections to a labor man by filling the position designated for a "sociologist" on the commission with the individual whom the UMW had nominated. But the joke was on Roosevelt: the companies won in their insistence that unions per se had no legitimate place in employer-employee negotiations.
The anthracite coal strike is worth detailing because it illustrates several important points about Roosevelt as president. First, T. R. was most comfortable with crisis management, partly (it is at least reasonable to surmise) because crisis laid a gloss on his affinity for direct action beyond the fine points of legal limitation. He was, moreover, not averse to some hyperbole in depicting the troubles (although one must never underestimate the fear of revolution generated among the comfortable classes by contemporary agitation). At the same time, Roosevelt did not accept the view of labor and capital as adversaries. Although he tended to favor collective bargaining, he envisioned unionism as a way of institutionalizing the wage-earner interest vis-à-vis that of the corporate employers, between which interests the government could mediate on a basis of a public interest that was defined by the president and transcended the particular interests of the unions and the corporations. Finally, although Roosevelt did indeed possess a long-term vision of reform, he was above all a practical party man. He rarely challenged the commitments of the party leaders on fundamentals, and consequently much of what he accomplished had more symbolic than substantive value and did more to accommodate prevailing threats to the social order than it did to challenge that order itself.
The symbolism, of course, was not unimportant. Every change in the symbols by which we live fore-shadows substantive change. Roosevelt's mediating role in the anthracite strike altered no symbols for employer-employee relations, but there was symbolic force in the federal government intervening in industrial strife without special regard for the longstanding conventions of employer prerogatives. To paraphrase George E. Mowry, American business valued few things more highly than the right to keep its records in secrecy and the right to deal with employees without interference from government. Before the end of his first administration, Roosevelt had challenged both those assumed rights.
The Ripening of the Square Deal
Roosevelt's election to the presidency in his own right in 1904 freed him from many of the inhibitions he felt during his first administration. His popularity was so apparent that the Democrats had trouble finding a candidate to oppose him. Willam Jennings Bryan, the eloquent progressive who had lost twice to McKinley, had no appetite for a third try, this time against a Republican with strong progressive credentials of his own; he threw his support to the then-radical publisher, William Randolph Hearst, but the party was not prepared to accept the father of yellow journalism as its leader. The Democrats nominated instead a virtually unknown party loyalist, Judge Alton B. Parker of the New York State Supreme Court, who promptly alienated the mass of Bryan Democrats on the night of his nomination with a call for affirmation of the gold standard. Against such political clumsiness, T. R. faced no trouble. Nevertheless, unpersuaded of his own already preponderant strength, Roosevelt risked compromising his progressive standing by making quiet overtures to conservative party, corporate, and financial leaders. The corporate community, antireform though it was, knew more surely than did Roosevelt that Parker was a loser; it put on a happy face, contributed handsomely to T. R.'s campaign when asked, and left Parker to a quiet campaign on his own back porch. On 8 November 1904, Roosevelt swept the country with 336 electoral votes to Parker's 140, and 7.6 million popular votes to Parker's 5.1 million, the most lopsided popular margin of victory since national records had been kept. Roosevelt said he was delightfully "stunned" by the victory.
The year 1906 would be a landmark for progressive legislation, with the passage of the Meat Inspection, Pure Food and Drug, and Hepburn Railroad acts. These measures underlined the federal government's permanent entry as a regulator of the economic life of the nation. Each vested in a federal agency the power to investigate and to fix some of the conditions under which goods could be transported and sold across state lines. In the case of the Hepburn Act, Roosevelt won for the ICC limited rate-making powers, a form of price control that was unprecedented for the federal government.
The measures moved the American polity significantly toward the modern regulatory state, but it is important to understand that all three had powerful support from business groups. Many meat-packers resented the bad name the industry had earned at home and abroad because of the shipment of tainted meats by unscrupulous or simply negligent packaging companies. Similarly, adulteration and misrepresentation of packaged foods and pharmaceuticals hurt more scrupulous businesses, especially those trying to crack foreign markets. Finally, the seemingly arbitrary rate-making practices of the railroad industry had aroused the ire of shippers as well as farmers across the country. Aside from those particular businesses that feared immediate damage to their profits, opposition came from those who worried about where the move to increased federal power might someday lead and from others who saw a threat to orderly government in the arming of administrative agencies with broad discretionary powers of investigation and enforcement. Against these latter arguments, Roosevelt established the point that effective and therefore more orderly government depended precisely on the "continuous disinterested administration" of independent regulatory commissions.
The most enduring triumph of Roosevelt's administration lay in his program for the regulation of the country's natural resources. At the time he became president, private interests were in the process of laying waste to the country's remaining riches, as they had already done to the timber, soil, and water resources of the older settled regions of the continent. During the McKinley administration, millions of acres of public lands had been allowed to slip into the control of private interests without provision for government supervision or restraints on destructive use. Mineral rights had been sold off at prices far below market value. Virtually nothing had been done to safeguard recreational sites or to require replenishment of renewable resources. The movement for conservation (not yet dubbed with that name) had so far been confined to a number of engineers, agronomists, scientists, and public servants—an educated elite that foresaw clearly the ultimate exhaustion of vital assets on which the country had long counted for its economic growth. By winning Roosevelt as an ally, as they did even before he entered the White House, they gained a leader with an incomparable talent for combining the scientific imperatives of modern resource management with an appeal to the moral imperatives of a democratic civilization. It was the latter, of course, that would turn an elite interest into a broad popular cause.
The main lines of Theodore Roosevelt's conservation program were developed by Gifford Pinchot and Frederick H. Newell, easterners with a mission to prevent the continued destruction that uncontrolled private "development" had inflicted on the eastern third of the country, in concert with westerners of similar concerns such as George H. Maxwell of California and Congressman Francis Newlands of Nevada. They called for multiple-purpose projects for development of water and land resources; public-land leasing contracts that required controlled grazing of grasslands and selective cutting and replanting of timber; a land-use fee system that could make public management self-supporting; and the preservation of scenic lands for recreation and the protection of wildlife.
Legislation achieved some of the movement's objectives, but the core of the program depended on the president's use of executive orders and other administrative prerogatives. The Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 designated revenues from public-land sales to the construction of irrigation projects for the conversion into arable land of the vast arid regions of the American West. During Roosevelt's administration alone, more than thirty such projects, including the Roosevelt Dam in Arizona, were begun. The Newlands Act has been responsible for subsidizing the creation and maintenance of some of the country's most valuable agricultural land today. It is a worthy monument to the Roosevelt administration, although it is flawed by eighty-five years of uncontrolled violations of the act's provision that purported to limit reclaimed and irrigated land to 640 acres per owner.
Congressional legislation in 1905 also set up the Forest Service with broad powers to manage the country's forest reserves, including the water resources within them, and the power to make arrests for violations of its regulations. Roosevelt named Pinchot chief forester, and Pinchot promptly launched a veritable revolution. He used his authority to withdraw from use thousands of acres of land, not only in order to prevent unruly exploitation of timber stands but to keep the fast-growing electric utility companies from preempting valuable waterpower sites before an orderly program could be established.
In the conservation struggle, Roosevelt and his allies made much use of moral rhetoric, frequently appealing to Americans' antimonopoly sentiments and turning the cause into one of "the interests" versus "the people." There is little doubt that the national conservation program disrupted established lines of power between the special interests and state legislative and congressional blocs. Moreover, the entire constellation of issues that was embodied in the conservation movement clashed directly with principles of the business ethic: here was an area where, more clearly than in most, private profit appeared to contradict the social ethic, the public's long-term interest in protection of the national endowment. Yet it is inaccurate to treat the issue in "monopoly" and "antitrust" terms. Roosevelt himself came to acknowledge that he could count more often on the big corporations than he could on smaller and upwardly scrambling business groups for support of his regional programs. The most intractable problem lay in overcoming the parochial interests of state politicians and the shortsighted interests of local businessmen on the make. The big interstate corporations had long-term stakes in efficient resource management almost as much as the general public did. They could be more easily (though not very easily) converted to multiple-purpose uses of forest and water resources than could smaller, single-purpose business firms. And some of them would even enjoy some market advantages in the withdrawal of lands from the entry of potential competitors.
Roosevelt always played the political game with skill. Antimonopoly rhetoric evoked the clearest public response, so he used it. On the other hand, he knew that the more powerful potential antagonist was a public that might come to view conservation as a threat to its ambitions for economic development. Consider his support for San Francisco's plan to flood the Hetch Hetchy Valley, a natural wonder often compared to the Yosemite Valley, for a reservoir to serve the city's growing water needs. He wrote to the outraged naturalist John Muir:
I will do everything in my power to protect not only the Yosemite, which we have already protected, but other similar great natural beauties of this country; but you must remember that it is put of the question permanently to protect them unless we have a certain degree of friendliness toward them on the part of the people of the State . . . and if they are used so as to interfere with the permanent material development of the State . . . the result will be bad.
Roosevelt asked Muir not to put him "in the disagreeable position of seeming to interfere with the development of the State for the sake of keeping a valley . . . under national control."
Stretching Presidential Power
Immediately on his election in 1904, Roosevelt committed what most of his advisers and later historians considered his greatest political blunder: he announced then that he would not under any circumstances be a candidate for reelection to a third term in 1908. Certainly the move made him something of a lame duck at the outset of his only full administration. Yet, instead of limiting him, it is possible that lame-duck status served Roosevelt's purposes well. He may have felt in fact that it freed him morally to move to the far side of constitutional law whenever his view of the national interest required it. That, at least, would be consistent with the man's unwillingness to be controlled by anything less than his own moral commitment to serving the public interest as steward of the nation.
Temporal checks on power are not, of course, the equivalent of faithfully regarded constitutional checks. A lot of damage can be done in only a short time by government administrators—regulatory commissioners as well as presidents—when they exercise
power that is restrained by their own sense of justice alone. Blum has written, "It did not require eight years or even four for a president to lead the nation beyond the edge of war, or to employ his 'bully pulpit' to lie to the people, or to employ his authority to subvert the rights of individuals." Roosevelt in fact did none of these things, Blum notes, but he wonders if Roosevelt would have been so restrained if he had confronted global war and massive economic collapse, as some future presidents had to.
On the other hand, although Roosevelt was quite capable of magnifying a sense of crisis as occasion demanded, his presidency did not in fact confront great national or international troubles that might have tested his restraint. More than that, sensitivity to the abuse of presidential power stems from many decades of strong presidential leadership that by the 1970s eventuated in what came to be called—aptly enough—the Imperial Presidency. Theodore Roosevelt's generation faced the opposite problem—decades of weak leadership in which images of governmental usurpation were served up regularly by special interests trying to preserve their immunity from public control and accountability. Moreover, not even the severest critics of modern government (the lunatic fringe aside) would be comfortable now with the relatively small power that resided in the presidency even at the conclusion of T. R.'s reign. As Richard E. Neustadt noted in his landmark book Presidential Power, "A striking feature of our recent past has been the transformation into routine practice of the actions we once treated as exceptional.. . . The exceptional behavior of our earlier 'strong' Presidents has now been set by statute as a regular requirement." That Roosevelt acted to the degree that he did in advance of such statutory requirements says more for his intelligence than for his recklessness.
In the area of foreign policy, however, there is room for serious questioning. To cite Blum once more, Roosevelt's "belief in power and his corollary impatience with any higher law presumed that governors . . . possessed astonishing wisdom, virtue and self-control. As much as anything he did, his direction of foreign policy made that presumption dubious."
The key to Roosevelt's foreign policy lay in his division of the world into "civilized" and "barbarous" countries. "Peace cannot be had," he insisted, "until the civilized nations have expanded in some shape over the barbarous nations." Among the civilized nations, his diplomacy sought a balance of power. For the barbarian countries, he was ready to acknowledge an assignment of stewardships among the civilized nations. Russia belonged in Turkestan, Britain in India and Egypt, France in Algiers, and so on.
That there were racial implications in his portrait of global statuses cannot be denied, but that they were "racist" in the modern sense cannot be sustained. Roosevelt's estimate of nations and peoples was, as with so many things, conditioned by considerations of power. When Roosevelt expressed condescension or scorn for nonwhite peoples, his attitude originated in the evident weaknesses of the nations where they predominated; he reacted to the weakness, not to the race. Moreover, he never appears to have begrudged respect to individuals whose personal traits diverged from the stereotypes attributed to the ethnic or racial groups with which they were identified. "I suppose we have all outgrown the belief that language and race have anything to do with one another." The same thing is true, he suggested, regarding character. "A good man is a good man and a bad man a bad man wherever they are found."
His view of the Japanese should make this clear. Japans' economic and military power won from Roosevelt ungrudging respect for the Japanese people. "I am not much affected by the statement that the Japanese are of an utterly different race from ourselves," he wrote to a British friend during the Russo-Japanese War. To the Japanese, in fact, Roosevelt assigned responsibility for civilizing and policing East Asia, or at least that part which "surrounds the Yellow Sea, just as the United States has a paramount interest in what surrounds the Caribbean." He wrote to his German friend Speck von Sternberg in 1900, "I should like to see Japan have Korea. She will be a check upon Russia, and she deserves it for what she has done." In 1904 he let it be known to both the British and the Germans that Japan ought to have Korea, as well as a role in bringing China "forward along the road which Japan trod" toward membership among the great civilized powers.
With Japan's victory over Russia in 1905, Roosevelt moved quickly to reestablish a balance of power in the Far East. Partly for his role in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire, peace conference that concluded the war, Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. But Roosevelt never courted "the odium of being a professional peacemaker." He was concerned rather with assuring that Japan's new ascendancy would not go unchecked. To this end, and without consulting Congress or informing the American people, Roosevelt informally committed the United States to the Anglo-Japanese alliance and recognized Japan's hegemony in Korea and its "paramount interest" in Manchuria, in exchange for a Japanese pledge to honor United States sovereignty in the Philippines. It was not until 1925, as the result of historian Tyler Dennett's research, that the American people first learned of the "Taft-Katsura Agreement" and Roosevelt's secret arrangements.
Roosevelt was aware that the agreement provided for the direct violation of a multipower treaty guaranteeing Korea's independence. When the Germans invaded Belgium in 1914 in defiance of similar international guarantees of that country's neutrality, Roosevelt's public indignation was challenged on the grounds of his earlier acquiescence (indeed, collaboration) in Korea's violation. Roosevelt was infuriated by the analogy. "Any obligation by outside powers," he protested, "is of course dependent upon the power concerned itself standing for its own rights.. . . If it shows itself impotent . . . it is of course impossible to expect other powers to aid it." He wrote on another occasion:
To be sure by treaty it was solemnly covenanted that Korea should remain independent. But . . . the treaty rested on the false assumption that Korea could govern herself well.. . . Japan could not afford to see Korea in the hands of a great foreign power.. . . Therefore, when Japan thought the right time had come, it calmly tore up the treaty and took Korea.
It was, he said, a procedure "like that done under similar circumstances by the chief colonial administrators of the United States, England, France, and Germany." With such chilling candor about tearing up "solemnly covenanted" treaties, Roosevelt made clear his view that power established its own legitimacy and that those without power need expect no law to be honored in their favor.
Roosevelt's policies in the Caribbean of course fitted that view perfectly. The establishment of a protectorate in Cuba, the "taking of Panama," and the declaration of what came to be called the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine all were founded on the assumption that "great powers" have the moral right to "spank" small countries (as Roosevelt put it) whose squabbling or inadequacies imperiled the security or merely the tranquillity of their more civilized neighbors.
The Cuban case in some respects impels a musing that "considering the opportunities" one must wonder at the restraint. The United States had gone to war with Spain in 1898 at least partly to pacify the troubled nearby island of Cuba. To underline its "missionary" objectives, it had declared in advance its commitment to Cuba's independence. Yet independence scarcely would guarantee no further disorders, nor would it prevent other powers from exploiting new disorders to replace Spain on the island. In belated recognition that the whole enterprise lacked logic if the United States simply withdrew without some way of exercising control over what happened to Cuba, the Roosevelt administration drafted, and the Senate ratified, a treaty that recognized Cuba's independence but that included a proviso. Called the Platt Amendment, it forbade Cuba from making any treaties or financial commitments with foreign governments that might compromise its independence, permitted United States oversight of Cuban finances, and authorized the United States to quell any internal disorders that might make Cuba prey to foreign intervention.
Although the reasoning by which Roosevelt justified Japan's annexation of Korea could have been applied to Cuba (to be sure, the United States faced no power so close as Russia was to Japan), the United States minimized its involvement with the Cubans. Cuba did become a protectorate whose internal disorders provoked one three-year military presence beginning in 1906 and several other actions in succeeding decades. But Roosevelt's preferred method of stabilizing the island was to improve its economy. To this end, he persuaded Congress, over ferocious opposition from domestic sugar growers and Republican protectionist ideologues, to give Cuban sugar, the island's biggest economic asset, preferred import status into the United States market.
The Panama episode had its immediate cause, as is legend, in the ocean-to-ocean dash of the USS Oregon around Cape Horn in 1898 to join the U.S. squadron off Cuba before the Spanish-American War ended. The epic argued the necessity for a canal across the Central American isthmus. (Californians and other westerners had also clamored for a canal to reduce their dependence on the monopoly power of transcontinental railroad companies.) Original plans for such a canal through Nicaragua blew up with the eruption of a volcano near the proposed site. There remained an abandoned project through Panama begun by a French company that still held a valid charter. Panama at the time was an unruly province of Colombia that had virtually defied governing for eighty years. The trouble lay, as Walter LaFeber writes, in "the type of person the Isthmus attracted—the rootless, lawless transient who obeyed no authority . . . 'a community [according to one contemporary observer] of gamblers, jockeys, boxers, and cockfighters.' " During the course of the nineteenth century, Colombia had to cope with more than fifty insurgencies aimed at secession. At least four times, Colombia called on the United States, with which it had arranged treaty obligations in 1846, to assist in repressing rebellions.
The only asset of the province was that it lay in the way of seagoing traffic between the east and west coasts of North and South America. For this, as the Americans contemplated a canal, Colombia prepared to exact its price. Colombia initiated the negotiations in 1900. In January 1903, Roosevelt offered Colombia $10 million plus $250,000 per year for a ninety-nine-year lease on a six-mile-wide canal zone. In addition, $40 million was approved by Congress to pay off the Panama Canal Company (PCC), which held the rights to the route. The Hay-Herran treaty embodying the terms was ratified by the United States Senate, but in August the Colombian Senate unanimously turned it down. They wanted more money, including (they later specified) $15 million of the $40 million earmarked for the PCC. Roosevelt exploded, using a variety of tame expletives to describe the Colombian legislators—"inefficient bandits," "a corrupt pithecoid community," "homicidal corruptionists," and so on.
What lay at the heart of Roosevelt's exasperation was the conflict between a political ethic and a social ethic to which he was equally and profoundly committed. The social ethic dictated that reward should go to work and ingenuity. It was the work and ingenuity of others needing to cross the isthmus that gave value to the Colombian property and, indeed, provided livelihoods for the "community of gamblers, jockeys, boxers, and cockfighters" that prevailed there. On the other hand, the political ethic that informed Roosevelt's leadership dictated a strong regard for property rights and national sovereignty. A more conservative nationalist would have yielded the point to Colombia on the principle of sovereign prerogatives. But Roosevelt could not leave it at that. Progress in civilization demanded that legal "technicalities" give way to the more fundamental moral imperatives—at least when the former were unsupported by adequate power.
Meanwhile, suggestions flew from within and without the administration that perhaps the United States ought to encourage, rather than to help Colombia repress, the next Panama rebellion. But as late as October 1903, Roosevelt wrote privately that though he would delight in Panamanian independence, "I cast aside the proposition made at this time to foment the secession of Panama. Whatever other governments do, the United States cannot go into securing [the canal] by such underhand means." He preferred the more direct approach: he drafted a message for Congress asking authority to seize the isthmus. The draft was never completed. Taking the many cues that had been given, the Panamanians revolted. Without Congress' authority, and in spite of United States treaty obligations to Colombia, the president then dispatched the USS Nashville with covert instructions to block Colombian military efforts to suppress the new insurgency. With success of the rebellion assured, Roosevelt then negotiated the terms of United States recognition of Panamanian independence, not with any bona fide representative of the Panamanian government but with Philippe Bunau-Varilla, a French operator who was acting both as political broker and agent for PCC investors. Presented with a fait accompli, the Panamanians accepted the treaty in anguish, having yielded more of their sovereignty and territory than had been included in the pact offered Colombia.
For public purposes, and in deference to the prevailing political ethic, Roosevelt loudly denied any United States complicity in the rebellion. Privately he wrote, "The United States is certainly justified in morals, and therefore . . . in law . . . in interfering summarily in Panama and saying that the canal is to be built and that they [the Colombians] must not stop it." But his attorney general, Philander Knox, is supposed to have said to him, "Oh, Mr. President, do not let so great an achievement suffer from any taint of legality!" Years later, in his autobiography, Roosevelt boasted, "I took the Isthmus, started the canal and then left Congress not to debate the canal, but to debate me."
Having acquired the canal in order to alleviate one kind of strategic problem, Roosevelt acquired for his country new strategic burdens. Outposts beyond the continental borders require protection. Insofar as the canal would become a vital part of the American strategic periphery, the possibility of encroachment in the area by any of the world's powers had to be viewed with concern. The most likely threat came from European powers moving in on Caribbean countries that got into financial trouble with their European creditors. Shortly before becoming president, Roosevelt had written to his German friend Sternberg, "If any South American State misbehaves towards any European country, let the European country spank it." As president in 1904, when the Dominican Republic failed to make its debt payment because of local disorders and several European countries prepared to dispatch warships, Roosevelt stayed cool. "If I possibly can, I want to do nothing," he wrote. But then an international court of arbitration adjudicating the claims of European creditors against Venezuela ruled disproportionate awards to those bondholders whose government (Germany) had sent warships to bombard the Venezuelan coast. Roosevelt finally understood that unless the United States stepped in the Caribbean would teem with European navies. "We must ourselves undertake . . . [to see to it that] a just obligation shall be paid," he told Congress. It was, he pointed out, ultimately a matter of national security. In 1907, when disorders again threatened payments on the Dominican Republic's foreign debts, Roosevelt, acting on his authority as commander in chief, took over the Santo Domingo customhouse. And so the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine became the foundation for repeated United States intervention in the governing of countries in, or bordering on, the Caribbean. It remains in place today.
The T. R. Administration in Retrospect
As his presidency neared its end, Roosevelt seemed to grow proudest of the things he had done to make the United States into a major military power. In a letter dated 28 December 1908 to a journalist acquaintance who was planning an article on his administration, T. R. cited first of all his "doubling" of the size of the navy. Possibly that was because at that moment, the Great White Fleet was on its trip around the world advertising America's big stick while signaling (with the white paint and the exposure of the American coasts) the country's pacific intentions. Roosevelt also stressed his actions in the coal strike; his steps "toward exercising proper national supervision and control over the great corporations"; his massive increase in the country's forest reserves; the Reclamation Act, which he believed was matched only by the Homestead Act of 1862 in the development of America's farm economy; and "the great movement for the conservation of our national resources." But second on his list was the Panama Canal, about which he wrote: "I do not think any feat of quite such far-reaching importance has been to the credit of our country in recent years, and this I can say absolutely was my own work, and could not have been accomplished save by me or by some man of my temperament." To this he added his pride in the reorganization of the War Department, in the inauguration of regular army and navy maneuvers, and the military interventions in Cuba and the Dominican Republic, which he believed would leave both countries with better prospects for "a stable and orderly independence" than they had ever enjoyed before. He noted furthermore how many of these deeds were "done by me without the assistance of Congress."
Next to such accomplishments, the outgoing president added without elaboration: "I think the peace of Portsmouth was a substantial achievement. You probably know the part we played in the Algeciras conference." In fact, for his efforts in settling the Russo-Japanese War and in calming the tensions between Germany and France over influence in Morocco, Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. So it is curious that he used such tame words to note them in a long letter otherwise uncharacterized by modesty. He had no reason to be modest about either the prize or about his triumphs at Portsmouth and Algeciras; they represented Roosevelt at his best as an international leader. Although Roosevelt turned easily to military measures when he treated with small countries, he was the model diplomatist when he negotiated with sizable powers. The prize testified to that. Yet it was clearly strength rather than finesse of which he was most proud, a fact that remains among his most dubious legacies.
When Roosevelt stepped down in 1909, he had set well in motion a powerful current that propelled the American state into the mainstream of its modern responsibilities. His successors, most notably Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, moved even more substantially toward committing the federal government to restoring the congruity of the American business system to the country's chief priorities, to protecting the nation from the less constructive effects of the industrial and corporative transformation of the economy, and to bringing the country's resources to bear on international problems. Roosevelt himself would contribute further to the current over the remaining ten years of his life, but as a goad and gadfly rather than as a direct force.
At fifty, he was still a young man when he retired from the presidency. In that respect alone it was probably inevitable that he would return to presidential politics. His 1904 vow not to seek reelection in 1908 did not mean he would never seek the presidency again. After a brief interlude in 1909 and 1910 hunting in Africa and hobnobbing with Europe's aristocracy, T. R. returned to the United States amid reform Republicans' growing disenchantment with William Howard Taft, Roosevelt's chosen successor in the White House. Among other things, Taft's dismissal of Gifford Pinchot from the Forest Service rankled particularly because it suggested the undoing of Roosevelt's much cherished conservation program. When Taft chose in the fall of 1911 to prosecute the United States Steel Corporation for antitrust violations in its 1907 merger with the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company, Roosevelt took the move as a personal affront because of his own role in that affair. That winter T. R. threw his own hat in the ring against Taft for the 1912 Republican presidential nomination.
Taft defeated Roosevelt for the nomination, and T. R. bolted from the Grand Old Party to run for president as the standard-bearer of the newly organized Progressive party. Woodrow Wilson was elected with only 42 percent of the popular vote over both Roosevelt and Taft. It is worth noting that it was in the 1912 election campaign that T. R. gave full expression to the "New Nationalism," a view of government that he had sought unsuccessfully during his presidency to make Republican party policy. It was a program that called upon Americans to put the national interest above their own special competitive interests; to accept government supervision of business, of labor relations, and of resource use and allocation; to take up responsibility for aiding the poor, the disabled, and the aged with federal unemployment, welfare, and retirement insurance plans; to accept both consolidation of economic power and government regulation of such power; and to make cooperation and control rather than competition and cupidity the new model for an American commonwealth.
Roosevelt's New Nationalist campaign forced Wilson to counter with his own version of an industrial policy. Wilson called it the "New Freedom." It contrasted with Roosevelt's proposals in some significant matters, but the two programs held in common a firm commitment to a strong central government prepared to intervene in the nation's business economy whenever compelling reasons of state—including a considered judgment about intolerable levels of human suffering—might require. Except for the regressive Republican interlude in the 1920s, it would become the established political posture of both major parties for almost seventy years.
On the other hand, by leading progressive Republicans out of the Republican party, Roosevelt in effect conceded the party to the reactionaries, who in a single generation turned the GOP into the minority party it basically remained for more than half a century. Meanwhile, Roosevelt quickly abandoned the Progressive party after the 1912 campaign, leaving it to dissolve without a leader or a cause before even the next election came around. It was not a noble performance. Nor did the years after 1912 add stature to Theodore Roosevelt as a citizen or statesman.
In office and campaigning for office, T. R. usually tempered his moral enthusiasm with a strong sense of realism and responsibility. Out of office, and especially on foreign policy matters, Roosevelt often gave in to his less generous impulses. The Great War, as contemporaries referred to it, would bring out the worst in Roosevelt. Long committed to at least an informal Anglo-American alliance, the expresident railed intemperately in public and in private for an early United States intervention on Britain's side against Germany. He denounced President Wilson and others who strained to keep the country neutral as mollycoddles, cowards, hybrid Americans, and even traitors. When the United States did enter the war in 1917, he led the cry for punishment of all dissenters whether they were pacifists who opposed the war on religious or ethical principles or were critics of the government's particular domestic and foreign policies. As always, suggestions about constitutionally protected individual rights won no favor from Roosevelt. In a war, he believed, loyalty to the nation, right or wrong, must be prompt, vigorous, unquestioning, and complete.
That the Woodrow Wilson administration often enough acted on those principles during the 1917–1920 period was in no small measure because of the pressure for a draconian repression that men like Roosevelt persistently demanded. The blows suffered by civil liberties during that period in fact shattered for years the confidence that progressive reformers had once placed in a strong central government. Roosevelt's final years did much to undo what he had achieved for reform as president.
That Theodore Roosevelt is counted among the great heroes of the progressive democratic tradition, alongside Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, must be counted an oddity of historical circumstance. In essence, he was profoundly conservative, especially in his exaltation of martial values; in his emphasis on duty; in his simplistic view of patriotism; in his absolutistic understanding of morality, justice, and right; in his candid assertion of the moral superiority of the "right people" (defined by their effective organization and uses of power); in his easy distinction between the righteous and the malevolent, the civilized and the savage. But he happened upon the presidency just as the nation confronted seriously for the first time the emergence of a national, interstate corporate power that transformed traditional modes of business enterprise, threatened the integrity of democratic processes, and tampered with the mechanisms for free-market allocation of economic resources, rewards, and opportunities. As champion of a federal government strong enough and willful enough to restrain the men of new corporate power, Roosevelt became a democratic hero. His foreign policy, equally vigorous, bold, and prescient, continues to draw more mixed reviews.
The indispensable printed source is Elting E. Morison, John Morton Blum, and Alfred D. Chandler, Jr., eds., The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, 8 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1951–1954); volumes 2, 4, 6, and 8 also contain perceptive essays by the editors. Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., Selections from the Correspondence of Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge, 1884–1918, 2 vols. (New York, 1925), is far more limited and purposefully edited, but useful nevertheless. John M. Blum, The Republican Roosevelt (Cambridge, Mass., 1954; 2d ed., 1977), is a masterful analysis of Roosevelt the man and the president. Blum's chapter on Roosevelt in his The Progressive Presidents: Roosevelt, Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson (New York, 1980), fine-tunes the portrait. Morton Keller, ed., Theodore Roosevelt: A Profile (New York, 1967), contains sharply focused excerpts from a variety of books on Roosevelt himself and on the Progressive era.
The best single biography remains William H. Harbaugh, Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt (New York, 1961; rev. ed., 1975). But Lewis L. Gould, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (Lawrence, Kans., 1991), provides more concentrated attention on the presidency than Harbaugh and more detail than the present article. For an account of the young T. R. see David McCullough, Mornings on Horseback (New York, 1981). All Roosevelt's biographers continue to be indebted to the keen insights and comprehensive research in Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (Baltimore, 1956), for an understanding of T. R.'s foreign policy. Richard H. Collin, Theodore Roosevelt's Caribbean: The Panama Canal, the Monroe Doctrine, and the Latin American Context (Baton Rouge, La., 1990), brings that part of the Roosevelt story in touch with more recent revisionist historiography. An important account of Roosevelt appears in John Milton Cooper, Jr., The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (Cambridge, Mass., 1983), an excellent exercise in comparative biography. David H. Burton, The Learned Presidency: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson (Rutherford, N.J., 1988), treats the extraordinary succession of learned, even scholarly, presidents in that extraordinary era at the turn of the century when the well-earned credentials of intelligence were still important political assets.
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., The Imperial Presidency (Boston, 1973); George E. Reedy, The Twilight of the Presidency (New York, 1970); and Richard E. Neustadt's pioneering study Presidential Power, 2 vols. (Durham, N.C., 1976), deal with Roosevelt only in passing but will help put his presidency in historical perspective, as will James David Barber, The Presidential Character (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1972), which offers a theoretical framework for "predicting performance in the White House." George E. Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt, 1900–1912 (New York, 1958), remains one of the best accounts of T. R.'s administration within the context of the Progressive era.
Richard M. Abrams, The Burdens of Progress: 1900–1929 (Glenview, Ill., 1978), provides a broader cultural and political context for understanding Roosevelt's personality and leadership. Robert H. Wiebe, "The House of Morgan and the Executive, 1905–1913," in American Historical Review 65 (1959), from which a part of the account of Roosevelt's consultations with Morgan was taken, should be supplemented by Wiebe, Businessmen and Reform: A Study of the Progressive Movement (Cambridge, Mass., 1962), while there is no better account of the conservation movement than Samuel P. Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency: The Progressive Conservation Movement, 1890–1920 (Cambridge, Mass., 1959). Among the more recent works, Paul R. Cutright, Theodore Roosevelt: The Making of a Conservationist (Urbana, Ill., 1985), adds personal detail to the story that Hays treats with a broader brush.
Recent works include Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex (New York, 2001), the second of a trilogy profiling the life of the president; this volume focuses on the presidency. The first volume of his early life is The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York, 1979). See also Louis Auchincloss, Theodore Roosevelt (New York, 2001), H. W. Brands, T.R.: The Last Romantic (New York, 1997), and Nathan Miller, Theodore Roosevelt: A Life (1994).
BORN: October 27, 1858 • New York, New York
DIED: January 6, 1919 • Oyster Bay, New York
U.S. president; conservationist
Theodore Roosevelt came into his American presidency as the result of a tragedy. He endeared himself to Americans with his love of controversy and enthusiasm for life. Roosevelt was a man with a firm commitment to his beliefs. He believed he knew what was best for everyone else and made no secret of his opinions. The era's most popular president, historians generally rank him as one of the most effective presidents in American history.
"A vote is like a rifle: Its usefulness depends upon the character of the user."
Theodore Roosevelt, also known as Teddy, was born on October 27, 1858, into a wealthy family in New York City. The second of four children, Roosevelt belonged to the seventh generation of his family to be born in Manhattan. His father, also named Theodore, was a successful glassware merchant. Roosevelt's mother Martha came from a traditional Southern plantation (a large farm, usually with a focus on growing one particular crop). The Roosevelts adored their son, who suffered from a serious case of asthma throughout his childhood. Underweight and of poor eyesight, Roosevelt was determined from an early age to overcome his poor health. He lifted weights, exercised, and took boxing lessons. By early adulthood, his asthma symptoms had largely disappeared. He would spend the rest of his life an enthusiastic outdoorsman.
As much as he enjoyed physical activity, Roosevelt was also an avid reader and writer. An eager learner, Roosevelt excelled in his college studies at Harvard University. After college, he married nineteen-year old Alice Hathaway Lee, a friend of his roommate, on his twenty-second birthday in 1880. Roosevelt's happiness with his beloved wife did not last long. She died at home of Bright's disease (a kidney disorder) in 1884, days after giving birth to their only child, Alice Lee. To add to his grief, Roosevelt's mother died that same day—in the same house—of typhoid fever (an infectious bacterial disease).
Heartbroken, Roosevelt left his infant daughter behind to be cared for by relatives. He headed west for two years of cattle ranching and a stint as a frontier sheriff. For young Alice, this separation from her father would be the first of many. She grew up with very little interaction with, and guidance from, her father, and as a young woman was known for her willful, unconventional (not in keeping with society's norms and expectations) behavior. According to the Web site American President, Roosevelt once told a friend, "I can be president of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both."
Roosevelt's stay in the West left him with a renewed sense of energy and enthusiasm. He returned to New York and ran unsuccessfully for mayor of the city. At that point, he also wrote three books on his experiences in the Wild West. The books were full of descriptive characters and adventure. Roosevelt's writing had an easy style that many American readers came to enjoy.
Roosevelt was elected to the state assembly in 1881. In 1886, he married longtime-friend Edith Kermit Carow. Together with young Alice, the couple moved into a house Roosevelt had built for his first wife in Oyster Bay, New York. The house was called Sagamore Hill. By 1897, four boys and another girl would round out the Roosevelt family.
In 1888, Roosevelt campaigned for the Republican presidential nominee, Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901; served 1889–93; see entry). Harrison was victorious, and after he took office in 1889, he appointed Roosevelt to the U.S. Civil Service Commission. He would keep the position until 1895, when he accepted a job as the president of the New York City Police Board. During his tenure with the Civil Service and his two years on the Police Board, Roosevelt proved himself a rarity in the world of Gilded Age politics. (The Gilded Age was the period in history following the Civil War and Reconstruction [roughly the final twenty-three years of the nineteenth century], characterized by a ruthless pursuit of profit, an exterior of showiness and grandeur, and immeasurable political corruption.) He was honest, unwilling to ignore the law in order to give powerful positions to wealthy businessmen and politicians who asked for favors. He cleaned up the city's police force by getting rid of corrupt officers and officials.
In 1897, fellow Republican and president William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901; see entry) made Roosevelt the assistant secretary of the U.S. Navy.
The Spanish-American War
Spanish rule in Cuba was based on repression (the act of dominating and controlling people with force), and the Cubans revolted in 1895. Spain's response was to round up three hundred thousand Cubans and put them in camps where they could not help the rebels. Spain's behavior angered many Americans, who believed Cuba should be independent of Spain's rule.
Throughout 1897, McKinley tried to convince Spain to give Cuba its independence. In November of that year, Spain gave Cuba limited independence and closed the camps. (Limited independence meant that regarding political matters within Cuba, it could govern itself; international matters would still be governed by Spain.) The peace was short lived, when in January 1898, pro-Spanish demonstrators rioted on the streets of Havana, Cuba. McKinley sent the U.S. battleship Maine to the Havana harbor to protect American citizens who had arrived to help Cuba, as well as to let Spain know that America still valued its relationship with Cuba.
Spanish minister to the United States Enrique Dupuy de Lôme (1851–1904) wrote a private letter to a friend back in Spain that was intercepted by the Cubans. The Cubans, in turn, leaked the letter to the U.S. media. The letter described McKinley as weak and indicated that the Spanish were not negotiating in good faith with the United States. Published in the New York Journal, the letter infuriated Americans, who saw it as an attack on the honor of both their president and their nation.
The situation worsened when the Maine exploded and sank on February 15, 1898. The explosion killed 266 crew members. A Navy investigation concluded that the explosion had been caused by an outside source, presumably a Spanish mine. (More recent scholarship has speculated, however, that the explosion more likely occurred because of internal problems with the ship itself.) McKinley did not want to go to war, but he saw no alternative at this point. He ordered U.S. ships to block Cuba's ports; America and its president wanted an end to the Cuban crisis. On April 23, 1898, Spain declared war on the United States. Two days later, America declared war on Spain. The war lasted just over three months. Fewer than four hundred American soldiers died in battle; many more died from disease.
Rough Riders to the rescue
When the Spanish-American War broke out in Cuba, thirty-nine-year-old Roosevelt served as commander of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, a unit better known as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt had left his job with the Navy to join the cavalry, which included more than twelve hundred men of all backgrounds from New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and other western states.
Roosevelt and Colonel Leonard Wood (1860–1927) trained their volunteers so well that the unit was allowed to engage in battle, even though volunteer units were generally not allowed to see action. They formed in Texas and shipped out to Cuba on June 14, 1898. Although they were called Rough Riders, they fought mainly on foot because there was no room for their horses on the ship to Cuba.
The Rough Riders landed in Cuba on June 22 and saw their first battle two days later. Their next assignment was to join trained military forces in the attack on the Spanish city of Santiago on July 1. Roosevelt's unit, along with regular regiments and the Buffalo Soldiers (African American infantrymen), captured Kettle Hill and moved on to San Juan Heights. With the Buffalo Soldiers reaching the crest of the hill first, the Rough Riders joined in the battle, and the hill was captured. Santiago surrendered soon after, and the war was over in just three months. According to historian Virgil Harrington Jones, no American unit in the Spanish-American War suffered as many deaths as the Rough Riders, which lost 37 percent of its men before leaving Cuba.
The hero returns
Roosevelt returned to New York a war hero and used his popularity and status to get elected as his state's governor in November 1898. He immediately set to work reforming the corrupt political system. In 1900, the Republicans chose Roosevelt as the running mate for President McKinley, who was seeking his second term. (McKinley's first-term vice president, Garret A. Hobart [1844–1899], had died in November 1899.) As a campaigner, Roosevelt covered more than 21,000 miles (33,789 kilometers), and made hundreds of speeches in 567 cities and 24 states. McKinley, in contrast, gave speeches from the front porch of his home in Canton, Ohio. Many historians believe Roosevelt's popularity helped McKinley win the election. When McKinley died from an assassin's bullet on September 14, 1901, the forty-two-year-old Roosevelt became the youngest president of the United States.
A president for the people
Never before had America seen a family in the White House (the name Roosevelt gave the Executive Mansion) quite like the Roosevelt clan. Alice quickly became known as "Princess Alice" and "The Other Washington Monument," because she was so outspoken and wild. The younger children were free to roam through the White House, and Roosevelt allowed the press and media to write about his family. In doing so, he increased his popularity by letting the American public see that his values—as a family man—were no different from their own. Roosevelt's favorite child was his youngest, Quentin. The two were most alike in personality, and Roosevelt was amused when his boy carved a makeshift baseball diamond into the White House lawn. In America's eyes, the president's home might be bigger than most, but for the first time in history, the children inside acted much like those in any other home in any other neighborhood, on any other street.
Like his children, Roosevelt enjoyed the spotlight, and he never hesitated to speak his mind on any given issue. An animated speaker, the president used great sweeping hand and arm gestures to reinforce his points. For him, the presidency was a "bully pulpit," a public position to be used to announce his personal viewpoint. Coming from someone else, the public may have found such directness offensive. Coming from Roosevelt, they found it amusing.
The beginning of the twentieth century was a time of major change, and not all for the better. As it never had before, big businesses (and the men who ran them) influenced almost every aspect of American society. A huge proportion of the country's wealth was in the hands of a few select men, and that kind of power tended to lead to corruption. From the start, Roosevelt recognized America's need for a committed government. He led his administration with the idea that government should work for not just the wealthy citizens but for all people.
A selective trustbuster
The president recognized the need for the kinds of reforms expressed in the writings of new journalists called muckrakers. It was Roosevelt who gave these journalists their nickname in a 1906 speech; the writers who exposed scandalous and unethical practices among established institutions in America "raked" through "muck," digging through the dirt and filth of corruption to expose the truth. Some of the more famous muckrakers were Ida Tarbell (1857–1954), for her series on the Standard Oil Company; Upton Sinclair (1878–1968; see entry), for exposing the dangers and poor working conditions of the meatpacking industry in Chicago; and Lincoln Steffens (1866–1936), for his investigation of the scandals among city and state politicians. Although the president disliked the negative focus of muckraking, he believed in what the writers did because they were committed to uncovering the truth.
Like much of the American voting public, Roosevelt did not approve of the majority of economic power resting in the hands of a wealthy few. His primary mission was the regulation of big business so that healthy competition could take place. He became known as a "trustbuster" because of his determination to break up trusts. (A trust was formed when several companies banded together to limit competition by controlling the production and distribution of a product or service.) Trusts were illegal under the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, and Roosevelt began to enforce the act more vigorously than it had been in the past decade. Roosevelt's administration began more than forty lawsuits against companies. Curiously, the president was more in favor of regulating trusts than he was of dissolving them; he called the Sherman Anti-Trust Act "foolish." Congress refused to enact his suggestions for the federal licensing and regulation of interstate companies, which would have limited their power. The only choice Roosevelt had, then, was to enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Still, he made it clear that in his eyes, some trusts were good, while others were bad.
Roosevelt took action in 1902 against both the beef trust and the Northern Securities Company, a railroad monopoly. (In a monopoly, one company dominates a sector of business, leaving the consumer no choices and other businesses no possibility of success.) Northern Securities had been established by some of the country's wealthiest businessmen: John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), J. P. Morgan (1837–1913), James Hill (1838–1916), and Edward Harriman (1848–1909; see entry). Roosevelt ordered the Justice Department to file a suit to dissolve the company. Within a few months, the president filed suit against a Chicago meatpacking company called Swift & Company. America cheered as it watched the unethical companies struggle against the law. Roosevelt had made his point: Big business would have to deal with the federal government if it broke the law.
Roosevelt's "Square Deal"
In May 1902, coal miners in Pennsylvania went on strike (refused to work). They had tried for months to meet with management and mine owners to negotiate better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. When negotiations failed, the workers refused to enter the mines.
Anthracite (hard) coal was used to fuel trains and to heat houses and businesses. In 1902, as spring passed into summer and then into fall, Americans became concerned that the continued strike would result in a coal shortage. Businesses would close and citizens would freeze. President Roosevelt also felt concerned, and in October he invited representatives from the miners and the coal operators to the White House. In doing so, he became the first president in history to mediate (act as a go-between in) a labor strike. The meeting was called the Coal Strike Conference of 1902. During the conference, Roosevelt expressed his concerns. The miners agreed to go back to work if they could get a small, immediate pay increase and a promise that negotiations would continue. The coal operators refused, despite the president's involvement.
When Roosevelt realized the strike would continue, he took direct action. He threatened to send military troops to take over operation of the mines. If this were to happen, miners and owners alike would lose money. Both sides entered into negotiations with a committee appointed by Roosevelt, and miners returned to work on October 23. They had received a 10-percent increase in wages as well as a guarantee of shorter work days.
Roosevelt's involvement in the mining dispute set a precedent (an established example) of what could happen in future labor-management conflicts. The working class realized it had the support of an intelligent, influential president. Big business was all too aware that its authority was no longer limitless. Roosevelt called his program the "square deal," meaning both sides got fair treatment and consideration.
The president showed his support of business regulation again in 1903 when he passed a bill to establish the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor, and again when he passed the Elkins Act. This law prohibited railroads from giving rebates (refunds) to those shippers whoused their services most. Those refunds were discriminatory because they favored only the big companies; smaller companies did not do enough shipping to qualify for these refunds.
Big Stick diplomacy
Days before President McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt spoke at the Minnesota State Fair. During his speech, he explained his stance on foreign policy by reciting an African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." By quoting this saying, Roosevelt expressed his belief that to be effective, one did not have to be the mightiest, but just needed the power to fight back if necessary. His ideas about foreign policy became known as Big Stick diplomacy. The president embraced this policy throughout his two terms in office.
Roosevelt proved the effectiveness of his philosophy in 1902. During that year, the Venezuelan government found itself heavily in debt to other countries. Germany, Italy, and Great Britain wanted to invade Venezuela to claim some of its territory as repayment. Roosevelt stepped in to help the countries reach an acceptable agreement, thereby avoiding war.
Roosevelt carried his love of the outdoors into adulthood. He was an avid big-game hunter. When he realized America's bison herds were being hunted to near extinction, it concerned him. As the years passed, that concern was extended to wilderness lands and their wildlife.
Working closely with conservationists such as John Muir (1838–1914; see entry) and Gifford Pinchot (1865–1946), Roosevelt used his power of office to pass protective legislation to guarantee the preservation of America's natural resources. In 1902, Congress passed the New-lands Act, also known as the Reclamation Act. Reclamation is the process of altering or restoring a region or land to a healthy ecosystem. The new law used money from the sale of public lands in sixteen western states to build irrigation systems to maintain the country's arid (dry) regions. Settlers who benefited from these systems would repay the costs so that a revolving fund was available. Roosevelt eventually approved twenty-one reclamation projects.
Roosevelt has a national park named after him in North Dakota. He is also represented on Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Arizona is home to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam, which forms Theodore Roosevelt Lake. Both of these projects were completed under the Newlands Act in 1911.
Campaign and election of 1904
Roosevelt knew he had not earned his first years in the White House; no one elected him. But when it came time for another presidential election, he had proved himself a highly capable leader in the political and business worlds. His own Republican Party trusted him without reservation. The southern African American population supported him; this was an impressive feat, given that Roosevelt did not truly believe African Americans were equal to whites. He thought that African Americans were not able to govern themselves and that white Christians had the responsibility to look after the race.
Roosevelt broke the race barrier in 1901 when he invited African American reformer Booker T. Washington (1856–1915; see entry) to lunch at the White House. Washington was an advisor and consultant to many powerful white politicians of the day. He embraced the idea of the time that African Americans should be satisfied with whatever rights were given them by white society and work hard to prove themselves. He believed that only through hard work and determination would African Americans gain equal rights.
The Republican Party nominated Roosevelt for president unanimously. Roosevelt was fairly certain he would win the presidency. The Republican Party (also known since 1880 as the Grand Old Party, or GOP) was the majority party in national politics. The Democratic Party continued to be split from within, which weakened whatever political power it had.
The Making of the Teddy Bear
While visiting the South to settle a border dispute between Mississippi and Louisiana in 1902, Roosevelt went bear hunting in Mississippi. In order to guarantee the president would go home with a trophy, some men had a pack of hounds chase a bear cub. After wounding the creature, they then roped the cub to a tree. Roosevelt found the situation appalling and refused to kill the bear (although he ordered a companion to shoot it and put it out of its misery). The press caught wind of the story and printed it in newspapers across the country.
Newspaper cartoonist Clifford K. Berryman (1869–1949) of the Washington Post ensured a place in history for the story with a November 16, 1902, front-page cartoon entitled "Drawing the Line in Mississippi."
Berryman's original drawing made the bear look fierce. He redrew the animal, however, to look more cuddly, less dangerous. The story became so popular that within a year, a stuffed "Teddy Bear" appeared on the market. Several stories circulated about how the bear was invented, but this is the most widely accepted version:
Morris Michtom was a New York City candy store owner. After seeing Berryman's cartoon, he came up with the idea to memorialize the popular incident. His wife created a stuffed bear, for which Michtom asked permission from the president to name Teddy. Released in 1903, the Teddy Bear became such a hit that the Michtoms quit the candy-store business and opened the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company in 1906. Their bear remained the president's mascot for the rest of his life. One of the original teddy bears is housed at the National Museum of American History.
The Ideal Company went on to produce some of the most popular toys in American history. Ideal toys include dozens of inventive dolls (the company was the first to make dolls whose eyes closed when laid down); the Evel Knievel toys popular in the 1970s; and the award-winning Rubik's Cube of 1980s fame.
Although William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) had been the Democratic candidate in the presidential elections in 1896 and 1900 (and would be again in 1908), Democrats did not nominate him for the 1904 race. Instead, they selected Alton B. Parker (1852–1926), chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals. Roosevelt and his running mate, U.S. senator Charles W. Fairbanks (1852–1918) of Indiana, did not travel extensively during the campaign. Roosevelt instead directed the campaign from the front porch of his home in Oyster Bay, New York. In addition, he turned to some of the nation's wealthiest businessmen for funding. Edward Harriman, Henry Frick (1849–1919), and J. P. Morgan (1837–1913) donated 70 percent of the more than $2 million raised by the Republican Party. The size of these donations raised the ethical issue of campaign contributions by large corporations, a practice that logically gave one political party an advantage over the other (in this case, the Republican Party over the Democratic Party). Within three years, Congress would prohibit contributions by national banks and corporations, but not by their officers as individuals.
Roosevelt beat Parker, 336 electoral votes to 140. Electoral votes are the votes a presidential candidate receives for having won a majority of a state's popular vote (citizens' votes). The candidate who receives the most popular votes in a particular state wins all of that state's electoral votes. Each state receives two electoral votes for its two U.S. senators and an amount for the number of U.S. representatives it has (which is determined by a state's population). A candidate must win a majority of electoral votes (over 50 percent) in order to win the presidency. Roosevelt also won the popular vote by a majority never before seen in the country's history: 57.4 percent. Roosevelt was the first man to be elected president on his own after serving out his deceased predecessor's term. In addition, he was viewed by many as the most popular president in history at that point.
Four more years
Roosevelt became more aggressive in his domestic policy during his second term as president, mostly because the changing times required it. Two major reforms were established, both in June 1906. On June 29, Roosevelt directed the passage of the Hepburn Act (named after U.S. representative William P. Hepburn [1833–1916] of Iowa, chairman of the Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce). The act strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) by adding two more members and allowing the committee to determine fair rates after complaints surfaced of a railroad shipper charging unfair rates. The ICC had been established as a result of the Interstate Commerce Act, which had passed in 1887. This act demanded that all railroad shipping rates be fair and reasonable. The Commission's job was to enforce the new laws.
The other major reform applied to the food industry. One day after signing the Hepburn Act into law, Roosevelt passed the Pure Food and Drug Act. This act was designed to protect consumers from fraudulent (untrue) food labeling and unsafe food. Although individual states had enacted food laws, they were difficult to enforce. Harvey Wiley (1844–1930), head of the Bureau of Chemistry in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, lobbied for stricter laws regarding food handling. Wiley enlisted the support of the more ethical food producers and drug manufacturers. Even so, his concerns were largely drowned out by the powerful Beef Trust (the five biggest meatpacking companies) as well as by large pharmaceutical companies and small producers of patent medicines.
During the Spanish-American War, America experienced a beef scandal. Meat was being sent overseas to U.S. troops. Soon reports were printed claiming the beef was tainted (made less wholesome) with embalming fluid to preserve it. (Embalming fluid is what corpses are injected with to delay the decaying process.) Shortly after the war ended, muckraker Charles Edward Russell (1860–1941) wrote a serial documentary exposing the greed and corruption of the Beef Trust. In 1906, journalist Upton Sinclair wrote the groundbreaking novel The Jungle, which detailed horrifying accounts of how meat was handled and processed in Chicago's meatpacking industry. With the public in an uproar over this health issue, Roosevelt signed the Pure Food and Drug Act as well as its accompanying Meat Inspection Act. The Meat Inspection Act required the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect all slaughtered animals to insure safety in the handling and processing of the meat. Lawbreakers could be jailed, fined, or both. These two food-related pieces of legislation were considered major efforts in progressive reform. Although the president did not introduce them, he is often given credit for doing so.
Panic of 1907
Roosevelt's views on trusts did not change. He spent his second term committed to ridding society of what he felt were "evil" trusts. He filed suits against DuPont, Standard Oil, American Tobacco, and New Haven Railroad. These lawsuits did nothing to improve the president's relations with the business community. The situation was only made worse with the Panic of 1907.
In the summer of 1907, several businesses and financial firms went bankrupt (declared themselves unable to pay their debts; often, this means the business closes). In October of that year, the Knickerbocker Trust in New York and the Westinghouse Electric Company closed their doors to business, setting off what became known as the Panic of 1907. Stock market prices decreased, and people and businesses began pulling their money out of banks for fear they would lose it. Banks began closing rapidly.
Just as President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908; served 1885–89 and 1893–97; see entry) had done when he was in office, Roosevelt called upon J. P. Morgan to restore order to the American economy. Morgan was a financier, an investment banker who works on a grand scale with large amounts of money. Morgan called upon the best bankers and financial experts, and together the men gathered in Morgan's home. From there, they channeled money to the weaker businesses and institutions in an effort to keep them from going bankrupt. Economic conditions improved within weeks, and the crisis passed.
The Panic of 1907 led reformers from both political parties to call for change in the banking business and its procedures. Various banking reforms and legislation were passed throughout the ensuing years. In 1913, the Federal Reserve System was established and became the banking headquarters of the United States.
Through it all, a conservationist
Roosevelt continued passing conservation and environmental legislation throughout his second term. In 1905, with the help and advice of his good friend Pinchot, Roosevelt moved the Division of Forestry from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture and renamed it the U.S. Forest Service. That department would eventually come to be known as the National Forest Service. Under Pinchot's leadership for the first five years, America's national forests grew from 56 million acres (226,624 square kilometers) to 172 million acres (696,059 square kilometers).
In 1906, Roosevelt signed into law the American Antiquities Act, which gave him the authority to proclaim historic landmarks and structures as well as other areas of historic interest, such as national monuments. Although the law specifically stated that the president should include in the monument the smallest amount of land needed, Roosevelt interpreted the guidelines loosely. His first dedication was Devil's Tower in Wyoming. In 1906, he proclaimed a very generous amount of land, 800,000 acres (3,237 square kilometers) of the Grand Canyon, to be a national monument.
Throughout his years as president, Roosevelt used his power and authority to establish 150 national forests, 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 bird reserves, and 4 game preserves. Altogether, he set aside for preservation 230 million acres (930,777 square kilometers) of land.
Winning the Spanish-American War made America a world power. The victory gave the United States the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico and allowed America to purchase the Philippine Islands. Taking over foreign countries and controlling their political and economic systems is known as imperialism, and Roosevelt firmly believed in it. Many Americans disagreed with him. Called anti-imperialists, they felt that imperialism was too costly and would eventually attract too many non-whites into the country. They also believed that the United States did not have the right to impose its values on another country and that it should not govern countries so far outside its own boundaries.
Roosevelt approached foreign policy using the doctrine of "New Imperialism." Nations he personally believed were uncivilized would gain independence only once they conformed to the American model of government and democracy. The president believed in the superiority of his own country's morals and history and thought that his belief justified America's involvement in countries with which it normally had little interaction. Under this direction, the United States became a sort of watchdog throughout the western half of the world. Under Roosevelt's leadership, America's empire grew to include the Philippines, Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. In 1906, Cuba revolted against the United States's authority. According to the Platt Amendment, which had been passed in 1903, Cuba was forbidden to make independent treaties with other nations. The amendment also gave the United States the right to intervene in Cuban affairs in order to maintain order and the island's independence. Finally, the amendment required Cuba to lease a naval base (Guantanamo Bay) to the United States for an unstated length of time. Cuban nationalists (people who put the good of the country above all else, including individual rights) were deeply grieved by the power given to the United States; they wanted complete freedom and were willing to fight and die for it. Roosevelt sent in Marine Corps troops, beginning an occupation that would last until 1909.
The Panama Canal
Perhaps the most famous of Roosevelt's foreign policy initiatives involved the creation of the Panama Canal (a man-made waterway). For years, American naval leaders wanted to build a passage between the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans through Central America. The United States now owned territory on both sides, so a canal took on even greater importance, as it would drastically reduce the amount of shipping and travel time.
Building of the canal across the Isthmus of Panama (then a territory of Colombia) had officially begun in 1878 by Ferdinand de Lesseps (1805–1894), the French engineer who had built the Suez Canal in Egypt. Construction came to a halt when laborers contracted tropical diseases and engineering problems arose. Even so, a French company retained rights to the project, so no one else could continue the construction. Roosevelt tried to buy those rights for $40 million. He also offered to pay $10 million for a 50-mile (80.47-kilometer) stretch across the isthmus, but Colombia refused. Roosevelt correctly predicted a revolution in Panama against Colombian rule. He then sent a naval ship and military troops to support Panama's rebellion. When Roosevelt presented the rebels with the $10-million offer, they happily accepted, and America had total control of a 10-mile (16.1-kilometer) canal zone.
Thousands of workers began digging the canal. For ten years, thirty thousand workers, most from the West Indies, were paid 10 cents an hour for ten-hour shifts. Many died of yellow fever, a disease carried by mosquitoes. Despite the disapproval of many Americans who felt Roosevelt had acted in an unconstitutional manner in obtaining the canal zone, work continued. On August 15, 1914, the Panama Canal opened for business. In addition to building the canal, workers also constructed three railroads and created a man-made lake.
The project cost $400 million and was considered one of the world's greatest engineering projects. By 1925, more than five thousand merchant ships had traveled the Panama Canal. The waterway shortened the trip from San Francisco, California, to New York City by nearly 8,000 miles (12,872 kilometers). Equally as important, the canal became a major military asset that made the United States the dominant power in Central America.
The Panama Canal remained an American asset until December 31, 1999, at which time it (and its surrounding land) was handed over to Panamanian authorities. During his presidency, Jimmy Carter (1924–; served 1977–81) had signed a transfer agreement. During the twenty years between the signing of the agreement and the actual transfer, a transitional committee ran the Canal. An American leader led the committee during the first decade, followed by a Panamanian leader for the second. Along with the canal, Carter offered Panama his apologies and acknowledged that although Roosevelt's vision was to be praised, the feelings of American colonialism in Panama created controversy. The agreement holds that the United States can interfere if the Canal loses its neutrality or threatens American interests in any way.
War erupted between Russia and Japan in 1904. Both countries had plans for Korea and Manchuria, a large region in northeast Asia. At the time, China had control of a port in Manchuria that Russia wanted to take over. It convinced China to lease the port, which gave Russia occupation within southern Manchuria. Japan was angered over this move because Russia had forced Japan to give up its own right to be in Manchuria when Japan beat China in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–95). Then in 1896, Russia ended an alliance with China against Japan and won the rights to extend the Trans-Siberian Railroad across parts of China-controlled Manchuria. This gave Russia control of an important territory in Manchuria. Roosevelt had been expecting the conflict, and his sympathies lay with Japan. America had long wanted to put an end to Russia's plan to take over Manchuria. Now that Japan was fighting the battle, America would not have to.
The war ended in 1905 with Japan defeating Russia's navy and overrunning Manchuria's neighbor, Korea. This defeat prohibited Russia from expanding its power in the Far East. At the same time, Japan became the first Asian power to defeat a European power. This victory suddenly made Japan a much stronger nation than it had been in the past, which concerned Roosevelt. To add further worry, Japan had already established an alliance (a partnership with another country or countries) with the powerful Great Britain in 1902. This alliance threatened the United States's ability to be the dominant superpower.
Roosevelt also kept in mind the Open-Door policy the United States had with China. This policy stated that all trading nations of the world would have access to China's market. In order to keep the policy in action, the president invited leaders from Japan and Russia to New Hampshire to work out an agreement that would become known as the Treaty of Portsmouth (named after the city in which negotiations were held). Japan, though victorious in its war against Russia, was in trouble financially, and both countries agreed to negotiate. Roosevelt would later be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his peacekeeping efforts. Although Roosevelt's mediation brought peace, the conference did not go quite as he had hoped. The president had to give Japan a similar position and influence in China that America demanded for itself in the Western Hemisphere. This was power he had not intended to share.
In keeping with his belief that the world could be made up of great superpowers that maintained stability even as they competed, Roosevelt negotiated a secret deal with Japan in 1905 called the Taft-Katsura Agreement. This deal assured the United States that Japan had no interest in the Philippines, which had remained an important interest for America; in return, America pledged not to interfere in Japan's relations in Korea. Soon after, Korea became a Japanese protectorate (a region under the protection and partial control of a country).
The personal becomes the public
Roosevelt was a prolific (productive) writer. In his lifetime, he authored twenty-seven books and countless articles. His writing and many speeches covered a wide range of topics, and included everything from football to birth control, morals to women's equality. Roosevelt knew his beliefs and did not miss an opportunity to share them with anyone who would listen.
On the subject of women's rights, he was uncharacteristically silent, though he did support woman's suffrage (right to vote) and educational equality. In keeping with the traditional, conservative views of his times, however, the president believed that the education of females should include an awareness of what was going on in the world but no encouragement to participate in it, whereas the education of males should encourage them to make use of their fighting instincts. Roosevelt had no patience for cowardice.
Roosevelt was popular and he knew it. But in keeping with his 1904 campaign promise not to seek reelection in 1908, Roosevelt hand-picked Secretary of War William Howard Taft (1857–1930) to run as the Republican candidate in the presidential race. He easily won nomination. Taft's opponent was William Jennings Bryan, and Taft won with 51.6 percent of the popular vote.
Goes on safari
Needing some relaxation, fifty-year-old Roosevelt and his son Kermit spent a year in Africa on safari, where he hunted and killed thousands of animals. Among these were five elephants, nine lions, thirteen rhinos, and seven hippos.
News reports of political trouble back in the United States reached Roosevelt while on safari, but when he and Kermit reached Egypt, Roosevelt's wife Edith joined them for a grand tour of Europe. The family returned to New York City, where they were met with the largest reception in the city up to that time. By then, Roosevelt was angry at Taft over some of the anticonservation measures Taft signed into law. He was also upset that Taft was not running the presidency as he himself had. Roosevelt considered his old friend's behavior an act of betrayal.
Back in the running
By 1912, Roosevelt was disgruntled enough with Taft's job as president that he decided to run for the top office again. The year 1912 was the first year in which there were presidential primaries (elections to pare down the candidates so that there is just one per political party). At that early stage of primary elections, only twelve states held Republican primaries. That left thirty-six states without a primary election. Of the twelve Republican primaries, Roosevelt beat Taft in landslide victories. In those other thirty-six states, delegates were chosen by state convention. To get to the state convention, a delegate had to be nominated by the local convention. At that level, professional politicians easily dominated the proceedings.
In the 1912 campaign, 254 delegate seats were up for grabs. The Republican National Committee was in a position to decide the outcome. In 1912, Taft supporters dominated that committee; they were not about to let Roosevelt disgrace their candidate. They awarded Roosevelt 19 seats, while Taft was given 254. Taft was renominated. The stubborn Roosevelt then decided his only option was to run for president as a third-party candidate on the Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party (see box) ticket.
With the Republican Party now split in two, it was highly unlikely either Roosevelt or Taft would win the election. New Jersey governorWoodrow Wilson (1856–1924) claimed victory, the first Democrat to serve in the White House in sixteen years. Wilson won 435 electoral votes, compared with Roosevelt's 88 and Taft's 8. Wilson received 41.9 percent of the popular vote, leaving 27.4 percent to Roosevelt and 23.1 percent to Taft. The remaining votes were divided between Socialist Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926) and Prohibition Party leader Eugene W. Chafin (1852–1920).
Life goes on
After his defeat, Roosevelt once more headed for the jungle with his son Kermit, this time in Brazil. While away, he continued to write. He churned out history books as well as essays for publication in magazines. Most of those essays were scientific in nature, but he also published some in which he tried to persuade America that its participation in World War I (1914–18) was inevitable.
Roosevelt lost his beloved son Quentin in the war. With his son's passing went the former president's enthusiasm. A sadness he had never known before came over Roosevelt. German propagandists (those who publish one-sided information to rally support for a specific cause) published photos of Quentin's disfigured body alongside his plane for all the world to see.
Roosevelt died in his home on Oyster Bay on January 6, 1919. His physically and mentally stressful life had taken its toll on his sixty-one-year-old body, and he died from a blood clot in his heart. Five hundred invited guests attended his funeral, while thousands of respectful mourners waited outside the church. His service was simple, without music or eulogy, and his oak coffin was covered by a wreath from the Rough Riders. He was buried in a cemetery on Oyster Bay.
Who Was the Progressive Party?
No professional politicians ran the Progressive Party. The membership of the party was well educated and respectable, including in its numbers many professional and civic-minded women. As a result of this mix, it was the only major political party of the election to support women's rights. Aside from women's rights, the central idea of the party was to redistribute the nation's wealth so that more Americans could enjoy a better quality of life. Despite this concern for the nation's workforce, the Progressives were not a labor party. They wanted to help but not engage the participation of the workers themselves. Progressives were cultured, middle-class Americans, and that is how they intended the party to stay.
For More Information
Chambers, John Whiteclay II. The Tyranny of Change: America in the Progressive Era, 1890–1920. 2nd ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2000.
Ingram, Scott. The Panama Canal (Building World Landmarks). San Diego: Blackbirch Press, 2003.
Kraft, Betsy Harvey. Theodore Roosevelt: Champion of the American Spirit. New York: Clarion Books, 2003.
Lansford, Tom, and Robert P. Watson, eds. Theodore Roosevelt (Presidents & Their Decisions). San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003.
McPherson, Stephanie Sammartino. Theodore Roosevelt (Presidential Leaders). Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2005.
Painter, Nell Irvin. Standing at Armageddon: The United States, 1877–1919. New York: W. W. Norton, 1987.
Wiebe, Robert H. The Search for Order, 1877–1920. New York: Hill and Wang, 1967. Reprint, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980.
"The Funeral of Theodore Roosevelt." Theodore Roosevelt Association.http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/Religion.htm#FUNERAL (accessed on September 4, 2006).
"In His Own Words." Theodore Roosevelt Association.http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/quotes.htm (accessed on September 4, 2006).
"Life of Theodore Roosevelt." Theodore Roosevelt Association.http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/life/lifeoftr.htm (accessed on September 4, 2006).
National Park Service. "Theodore Roosevelt." Theodore Roosevelt National Park.http://www.nps.gov/thro/tr_cons.htm (accessed on September 4, 2006).
"Teddy Bear." National Museum of American History. http://americanhistory.si.edu/news/factsheet.cfm?key=30&newskey=6 (accessed on September 4, 2006).
"Theodore Roosevelt and Big Stick Diplomacy." Mt. Holyoke College.http://www.mtholyoke.edu/~jlgarner/classweb/worldpolitics/bigstick.html (accessed on September 4, 2006).
"Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century." National Portrait Gallery.http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/roosevelt/ (accessed on September 4, 2006).
"Theodore Roosevelt (1901–1909)." American President.http://www.americanpresident.org/history/theodoreroosevelt/ (accessed on September 4, 2006).
"Theodore Roosevelt: The Nobel Peace Prize 1906: Biography." Nobelprize.org.http://nobelprize.virtual.museum/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1906/roosevelt-bio.html (accessed on September 4, 2006).
Born October 27, 1858
Died January 6, 1919
Oyster Bay, New York
"The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life."
Theodore Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president of the United States, serving from 1901 (after the assassination of President William McKinley [1843–1901]) until 1909. An extraordinary individual by any measure, Roosevelt took strong action to curb the powers of so-called corporate trusts, or monopolies, that had been built up as the Industrial Revolution blossomed in the last decade of the nineteenth century. In so doing, Roosevelt set the precedent for modern government regulation of business.
Before he was president, Roosevelt had been a deputy sheriff in North Dakota and a war hero who led his men into withering enemy fire during a cavalry charge in the Battle of San Juan Hill, in Cuba, during the Spanish-American War (1898). During a campaign for a third term in office, he was wounded in the chest in an assassination attempt, but insisted on delivering his speech despite spitting up blood. He was widely admired as an author of history and wildlife books and as a leading conservationist. And it was Roosevelt who harnessed his extraordinary energy and spirit to go after the giant corporations that, in his view, threatened competition in the first decade of the twentieth century.
Roosevelt was a contemporary of such giants of the Industrial Revolution as J. P. Morgan (1837–1913) and John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937; see entries) in an era when wealthy business owners were trying to build trusts, or effective monopolies, over such key industries as railroads and petroleum. Roosevelt believed that trusts stifled competition and did not benefit the United States, and he took an aggressive stand to break them up and restore competition.
Moreover, Roosevelt was the first president to establish agencies to protect public health by insisting on federal meat inspection, for instance, in the wake of revelations of horrific violations of basic sanitation in slaughterhouses. He also campaigned for an income tax, a federal minimum wage, and an eight-hour work day. A century after he took office, Theodore Roosevelt was still ranked among the half-dozen most-admired presidents.
Birth, childhood and early career
Theodore Roosevelt was born into a wealthy, long-established family in New York City in 1858, less than three years before the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War (1861–65). His ancestors had come to New York when it was still the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, in the 1640s. His mother, Martha Bulloch, was a descendant of the first president of the Georgia provincial legislature. Theodore (also called "Teddy") grew up in a cultured house in Manhattan, a member of New York City's aristocracy.
He was educated by private tutors. As a boy, Roosevelt suffered from asthma and poor eyesight and was regarded as somewhat weak and sickly. Legend has it that one day when he was around eleven, his father told him, "You have the mind but not the body and without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You must make your body." And so he did. Using a punching bag and lifting weights in an exercise room his father installed in their townhouse, Roosevelt built up his body. When he was fourteen, he was beaten by a bully, and thereafter took boxing and wrestling lessons, and eventually learned the Asian art of self-defense called jujitsu.
Roosevelt learned his lessons well. Later, after he had been elected to the New York State legislature, he once knocked a political opponent unconscious. Before that, living as a rancher in the Dakotas where he worked as a deputy sheriff, he slammed a wanted man to a saloon floor. Even as president, he threw the governor of New Mexico down a flight of stairs during a reunion of the Rough Riders, his old regiment from the Spanish-American War.
Roosevelt grew up just at the time the United States was becoming fully engrossed in the Industrial Revolution, a period marked by the widespread replacement of manual labor by machines that began in Great Britain in the middle of the eighteenth century, and in the half-century when European settlers were heading west in wagon trains or via the new railroads that were being built. He reflected the spirit of machismo (pronounced ma-CHEESE-moe, from a Spanish word referring to masculine pride) associated with the American cowboy.
Roosevelt attended Harvard University, where he earned academic honors. He considered a career as a naturalist but disliked Harvard's concentration on laboratory work instead of studies outdoors in the field. His father died suddenly in 1878, when he was halfway through Harvard, and he considered becoming a lawyer after graduating in 1880. But eager to pursue his interests in history and politics, he dropped out of Columbia University's law school.
In 1882 Roosevelt decided to write a history of the War of 1812, one of more than fifty books he eventually authored. That same year, a Republican Party leader in New York recruited Roosevelt to run for the New York State legislature. Roosevelt won the seat and served in the Albany legislature for three terms, receiving positive notices in the press. Among other causes, Roosevelt worked to root out corruption in the New York City government and supported laws favoring the rights of working people.
Roosevelt married Alice Hathaway Lee of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, in 1880. In February 1884 his wife died not long after the birth of their daughter, Alice Lee; Roosevelt's mother died the same day. Grief stricken, Roosevelt retreated to a ranch he had bought in Dakota Territory, where he lived the strenuous life of a cowboy and occasional deputy sheriff.
Back to politics
Two years later, Roosevelt returned to the East Coast and reentered politics, while at the same time turning out a series of history volumes. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York in 1886, and two years later supported the successful Republican ticket that installed Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901) as president. In return for Roosevelt's political support, Harrison named him a civil service commissioner in 1889, in charge of regulating the hiring of federal employees. In this job, as in other political jobs he held, Roosevelt was determined to fight corruption. He soon earned a reputation as an honest reformer.
Partly as a result of this image, Roosevelt was appointed police commissioner of New York City in 1895, a job that enhanced his reputation for fighting corruption. After Republican William McKinley (1843–1901) was elected president in 1896, Roosevelt was named assistant secretary of the navy; in this post he became a strong advocate for going to war against Spain in order to control Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. When war did break out, Roosevelt insisted on resigning his post and organizing a cavalry group (soldiers trained to fight on horseback) to fight in Cuba. Known as the Rough Riders, the regiment earned fame, and Roosevelt became a national hero by leading his men in a charge into merciless gunfire in the Battle of San Juan Hill in 1898.
As a returning war hero Roosevelt made an attractive candidate for vice president on the Republican ticket headed by President McKinley in 1900. Not everyone was happy with McKinley's choice; some Republican politicians were uncomfortable having a man with Roosevelt's personality in line to become president. And in September 1901, their fears were realized when McKinley was shot at the world's fair in Buffalo, New York. President McKinley died a few days later, and Roosevelt, at age forty-three, became president.
Peace in the coal mines
Roosevelt was president for slightly more than seven years, the remaining three and a half years of McKinley's term and a full term that he won in his own right in the election of 1904. In a sense, his was the first presidency of the twentieth century, and much attention was focused on Roosevelt's foreign policy, summarized in the African proverb he occasionally quoted: "Speak softly, and carry a big stick." Under Roosevelt's leadership, the United States assumed a position as an equal to the main European powers in an era when African, Asian, and Latin American countries were largely dominated by European economic and military power.
Inside the United States, the Roosevelt administration defined a new relationship between government and private business as the Industrial Revolution overwhelmed the older agricultural economy of the United States. Two economic issues dominated the Roosevelt administration: the unrestricted power of monopolies (called trusts) and the emergence of workers as an organized political force.
Up until the Roosevelt administration, the U.S. government had played a small role in economic affairs. The prevailing philosophy was that business could, and should, look
after its own affairs, and the government should leave the economy to business leaders. The only role for government, it was thought by some, was to protect property rights and public order, which sometimes included suppressing workers trying to organize strikes. Of course, labor organizers had long been trying to organize unions (organizations of workers devoted to obtaining higher pay and better working conditions), and socialists (people who believe in government control over the economy) had long advocated democratic, government control over big business.
Under Roosevelt, a new role emerged for government: looking out for the good of the ordinary citizen and countering the power of private corporations—a role that government continues to take in the twenty-first century.
Roosevelt's first economic crisis came in 1902. Coal miners in Pennsylvania went on strike to demand higher wages, an eight-hour (as opposed to twelve-hour) workday, and recognition of their union, the United Mine Workers of America. The shutdown of the coal mines threatened to shut down the railroads as well, to close industries dependent on coal for fuel, and also to deprive millions of Americans in the Northeast of fuel to heat their homes in the coming winter.
For the mine owners, the issue was not just economic, but one of prestige as well. They resisted recognizing the union's role in coal mining and demanded that the federal government dispatch troops to end the strike. The strike had been accompanied by violence on both sides, resulting in several deaths. The two sides were unable to reach an agreement.
According to historian Edmund Morris, the governor of Massachusetts warned Roosevelt: "Unless you end this strike, the workers in the North will begin tearing down buildings for fuel. They will not stand being frozen to death."
Roosevelt faced a dilemma. As he noted at the time: "Unfortunately the strength of my public position before the country is also its weakness. I am genuinely independent of the big monied men in all matters where I think the interests of the public are concerned, and probably I am the first President of recent times of whom this could truthfully be said."
Eventually Roosevelt settled on a suggestion by the governor of Massachusetts, W. Murray Crane: a government arbitration panel would be set up to examine the issues separating the miners and the mine owners and recommend a compromise. Roosevelt sent a telegram to seven leading mine owners and to the mineworkers' union, inviting them to a conference in Washington, D.C., on October 3, 1902.
At the conference, Roosevelt told the owners and the union that there were in fact three parties to their dispute: the mine owners, the miners, and the public, represented by Roosevelt himself. Initially the mine owners refused Roosevelt's suggestion to settle the dispute. They apparently believed that their property rights were being threatened and arrogantly stalked out of a meeting with Roosevelt, insisting that he send in federal troops to guard their mines against the union and protect strikebreaking workers willing to go back to work.
Facing a potential national crisis, Roosevelt told the mine owners that he was prepared to use federal troops—not to end the strike by forcing strikers back to work, as the owners wanted, but to seize the mines from the owners and get coal supplies flowing again.
Ten days after the president first convened the meeting between mine owners and the union, the owners made a major concession: they would accept arbitration (referring a dispute to an impartial group for judgement on the matter), and they would accept the United Mine Workers union as the representative of their workers. The crisis was over. Eventually, both the miners and mine owners accepted the compromise settlement proposed by Roosevelt's commission. The big winner was the president, whose popularity soared as the crisis over winter heating disappeared. According to Sean McCollum, he later wrote about the settlement in a letter to his sister:
The little world in which the [mine owners] moved was absolutely out of touch with the big world that included practically all the rest of the country.… The trouble with those who said that they would rather die of cold than yield on such a high principle as recognizing arbitration with these miners was that they were not in danger of dying of cold … but the poor people around them could not get coal and with them it would not be discomfort but acute misery and loss of life.
Roosevelt's successful strategy set the precedent for presidential involvement in labor disputes thereafter.
Busting the trusts
Roosevelt's other great economic challenge came from the emerging trusts, or monopolies, that were gaining domination over key industries. Businessmen like John D. Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan, for example, had gradually obtained control over so much of the oil and steel industries, respectively, that they were in a position to dictate terms and prices to their customers. Smaller firms could not compete and often ended up selling out to the trusts or simply being driven out of business. By driving competitors out of business, the trusts had consolidated not only economic power but political power as well.
Muckrakers and the Trusts
President Roosevelt had help in understanding the implications of trusts, or monopolies, on American life. He was president at a time when crusading journalists and writers were constantly revealing excesses of corporate greed.
The Roosevelt era coincided with the era of "muckraking" journalism, a term Roosevelt coined to describe newspaper and magazine stories that revealed the everyday implications of uncontrolled corporate maneuvering.
Among the best-known muckrakers were Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbell, Lincoln Steffens , and Upton Sinclair (see entry on The Muckrakers). They wrote both nonfiction (for instance, Tarbell's 1904 book The History of the Standard Oil Company) and fiction (Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle, about the unsanitary conditions in Chicago's stockyards) to bring home to Americans the abuses of the industrial age.
Several popular magazines, especially Collier's and McClure's, specialized in reports on abuse of power by giant companies—and at the same time made it easier for Roosevelt to use government power to address the abuses. The continuing popular appeal of these magazines was evidence of growing public discontent with the evolution of the powerful business monopolies. And continuing revelations about corporate greed made business tycoons—the Industrial Revolution's so-called robber barons—into highly unpopular symbols of the abuse of power by giant corporations.
The muckraking movement was closely aligned with the Progressive Party headed by Roosevelt in the election of 1912.
The tendency of capitalists (people who own large businesses) to create anticompetitive monopolies had long been recognized; the Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723–1790; see entry) wrote about it in the mid-1700s. But until the time of Theodore Roosevelt, no American president had been willing to take on the giants of business, partly because politicians relied on the financial support of big business to remain in office. And most politicians in the latter half of the 1800s thought that government had no role in business and economic affairs. But in his first address to Congress, in December 1901, Roosevelt put forward a different viewpoint: "There is," he said, "a widespread conviction among the American people that the great corporations known as trusts are … hurtful to the general welfare. It is based upon sincere conviction that combination and concentration [of business interests] should be, not prohibited, but supervised and within reasonable limits controlled."
In 1902 Roosevelt proposed—and Congress created—a Bureau of Corporations, designed to regulate the previously unregulated corporations.
Roosevelt initiated a more significant move on February 18, 1902, by filing a lawsuit against the Northern Securities Company, accusing it of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890. His choice of targets was significant: the Northern Securities Company had been organized by the foremost financier of the day, J. P. Morgan. Northern Securities was a company designed to control two railroads, the Northern Pacific and the Great Northern, which formerly had competed with one another to carry passengers and freight east-to-west across the northern tier of states. The objective of the Northern Securities Company was to organize the two railroads so that they would cooperate instead of compete. To the owner and developer of the Great Northern, James J. Hill (1838–1916; see entry), it was simply a question of improving efficiency.
The case worked its way through federal courts and two years after it was initially filed, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government. The Northern Securities Company was ordered broken up into its original companies.
Eventually, Roosevelt's government would file a total of forty-three such lawsuits, including one of the most famous that resulted in the breakup of John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company in 1911, after Roosevelt had left office.
In addition to filing suits against trusts, Roosevelt was vigorous in pushing unprecedented legislation to regulate the activities of businesspeople. During his years in office, magazine stories and books published by the Muckrakers (see box on page 156) exposed corporate abuses and generated a strong public sentiment in favor of gaining control over private businesses or eliminating competition and driving independent businesspeople into financial ruin.
Was Teddy Roosevelt antibusiness?
Roosevelt's suits and legislation enraged many businessmen, who continued to feel that the government had no right to regulate business—an attitude that has persevered into the twenty-first century. To some, he was considered antibusiness.
Roosevelt saw things differently. He believed that in order to prosper, industrial-era businesses had to grow. But he realized that such growth gave corporations unprecedented social and economic power, and that government needed to step in to act as a counterbalance to that power. The economic influence exerted by huge corporations, he believed, could soon dwarf the political power of the government, resulting in a society dominated by the wealthy. It is a struggle that continues to play out in the twenty-first century.
For his part, Roosevelt had promised in 1904 that he would not run for another term in 1908. But during the term of William Howard Taft (1857–1930), the Republican who succeeded Roosevelt, the ex-president grew restless and dissatisfied with what he thought was Taft's leaning in the direction of the interests of corporate owners at the expense of ordinary voters.
In 1910 Roosevelt launched a campaign for what he called the "new nationalism," an era in which the national government would take precedence over local governments and serve an active role in regulating business for the common good. Roosevelt challenged Taft for the 1912 Republican nomination, and although he easily won in party primary elections (elections held to choose a political party's candidate for office), Roosevelt ultimately lost the nomination to Taft, who exerted his control over officials inside the Republican Party.
Not one to give up without a strenuous fight, Roosevelt switched parties and ran for president as the head of the Progressive Party (sometimes called the Bull Moose Party). Roosevelt called for a federal tax on incomes and inheritances, increased regulation of corporations, and legislation to create social justice for working people. In the election, he and Taft divided the vote of the Republicans, allowing a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), to be elected president.
By then, the era of reform was largely over. Some of the muckrakers of the previous decade actively supported Wilson, even though it was Roosevelt who started the push to regulate industrial enterprises and clean up the corruption and bribery that had allowed businesses at all levels, from local to national, to influence government.
After losing the election of 1912, Roosevelt continued to take an active role in the public arena. After World War I (1914–18) broke out in Europe in 1914, he campaigned for the United States to enter the war on the side of Britain and France. He criticized President Wilson for being too slow in mobilizing the U.S. Army once the United States did enter the war in 1917. After the war, he questioned the wisdom of the United States's joining the League of Nations, a predecessor to the United Nations that Woodrow Wilson hoped would avoid future wars.
Roosevelt was among the most influential of all presidents in shaping the future. It was he who realized the need for a new balance of power between the huge corporations born of the Industrial Revolution, and ordinary citizens as represented by the government. He addressed the balance of property rights and human rights. He saw the dangers in having a society marked by a huge imbalance of wealth, in which a handful of business owners were worth billions of dollars while millions of working people were on the verge of starvation.
Roosevelt was also responsible for the federal government taking an active role in protecting environmental treasures in the American West from unregulated economic exploitation by creating national monuments and parks.
Theodore Roosevelt died at his estate in Oyster Bay, Long Island, on January 6, 1919.
For More Information
Auchincloss, Louis. Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Times Books/Henry Holt, 2001.
Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.
Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.
Roosevelt, Theodore. Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children. New York: Scribner's, 1919.
Schuman, Michael A. Theodore Roosevelt. Springfield, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1997.
McCollum, Sean. "Teddy—the Bear in the Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt Could Be Brash and Outrageous, but He Shaped the Modern Presidency." Scholastic Update, November 3, 1997, p. 15.
Morris, Edmund. "Theodore Roosevelt, President." American Heritage, June–July 1981, p. 4.
Theodore Roosevelt Association.http://www.theodoreroosevelt.org/ (accessed on February 15, 2003).
"Theodore Roosevelt, His Life and Times on Film." Library of Congress.http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/trfhtml/trfhome.html (accessed on February 15, 2003).
"Theodore Roosevelt: Icon of the American Century." Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery.http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/roosevelt/ (accessed on February 15, 2003).
Excerpt from Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail
Originally published in 1888; available at Bartleby.com (Web site)
"The hunter is the arch-type of freedom. His well-being rests in no man's hands save his own. He chops down and hews out the logs for his hut, or perhaps makes merely a rude dug-out in the side of a hill, with a skin roof, and skin flaps for the door. He buys a little flour and salt, and in times of plenty also sugar and tea; but not much, for it must all be carried hundreds of miles on the backs of his shaggy pack-ponies."
For those Americans living in the Gilded Age, the western territories of the country were mysterious, dangerous, intriguing. The Wild West was the stage for the Plains Indian Wars (1866–90), and those more urbanized populations in the East and even in the South considered the frontier (the far edge of the wilderness, characterized by some settlement) a boundary. Cross that imaginary dividing line between civilization and wilderness (vast acreage of unsettled land) and there was no telling what could happen. And women—"proper" single women—dared not travel in the frontier.
For as long as it has existed, America's wilderness frontier has been the birthplace of myths and legends. The adventures of men such as explorer Daniel Boone (1734–1820), outlaw Jesse James (1847–1882), and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok (1837–1876) were told and retold until their stories were more fiction than fact. Mountain men, those who lived high in the mountains and survived by their own skills of hunting and trapping, were the subjects of many novels and short stories. To live on the frontier meant dealing with outlaws and other men of questionable and rough character; women of the era were believed to be delicate in nature, not able to take care of themselves. Having been raised to appreciate good manners, the security of home, and the safety provided by a well-bred husband, most women could not imagine life in the wilderness frontier.
Even before becoming president of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) profoundly influenced the history of the American West. Although often ill as a child, he increased his physical endurance through exercise. In doing so, he developed a love of the outdoors.
Roosevelt first headed West from New York in 1883. Having heard reports that the buffalo herds of the Dakota Territory were all but extinct (gone forever), the outdoorsman wanted to shoot himself a buffalo to add to his trophy collection. While in the West, he developed a great appreciation and affection for not only the land but also its people. He bought two ranches in the Dakota Badlands before heading home. Throughout his life, those ranches would be his escape from city and political life.
Roosevelt began publishing books about his experiences in the West. His engaging writing style and sense of humor made these books popular among readers not only in America but also throughout the world. One of these books was titled Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail and was published in book form in 1888. Before that, the stories were published in Century Magazine over the course of many months.
Things to remember while reading an
excerpt from Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail:
- Most of the readers of Roosevelt's work lived in the eastern regions of the United States. They had never been West, and so their perception of what the frontier was like was formed by what they read.
- Roosevelt's account of the West was romantic; it focused on portraying Americans there as strong, determined, and able-bodied. His stories gave America a version of itself it wanted to believe, one rooted, perhaps, more in storytelling than in accuracy.
- Roosevelt was a biased (judgmental) writer. Although he discussed the course of events as the frontier was settled and how they affected both sides, there was never a doubt which side he was on. Without hesitation, he favored the pioneers and settlers over Native Americans.
- The following excerpt is from a chapter entitled "Frontier Types."
Excerpt from Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail
The old race of Rocky Mountain hunters and trappers, of reckless, dauntless Indian fighters, is now fast dying out. Yet here and there these restless wanderers of the untrodden wilderness still linger, in wooded fastnesses so inaccessible that the miners have not yet explored them, in mountain valleys so far off that no ranchman has yet driven his herds thither. To this day many of them wear the fringed tunic or hunting-shirt, made of buckskin or homespun, and belted in at the waist—the most picturesque and distinctively national dress ever worn in America. It was the dress in which [explorer] Daniel Boone was clad when he first passed through the trackless forests of the Alleghanies [sic] and penetrated into the heart of Kentucky, to enjoy such hunting as no man of his race had ever had before; it was the dress worn by grim old [frontiersman] Davy Crockett when he fell at the Alamo. The wild soldiery of the backwoods wore it when they marched to victory over [British major Patrick] Ferguson and [British general Edward] Pakenham, at King's Mountain and New Orleans; when they conquered the French towns of the Illinois; and when they won at the cost of [Native American leader] Red Eagle's warriors the bloody triumph of the Horseshoe Bend.
These old-time hunters have been the forerunners of the white advance throughout all our Western land. Soon after the beginning of the present century they boldly struck out beyond the Mississippi, steered their way across the flat and endless seas of grass, or pushed up the valleys of the great lonely rivers, crossed the passes that wound among the towering peaks of the Rockies, toiled over the melancholy wastes of sage brush and alkali, and at last, breaking through the gloomy woodland that belts the coast, they looked out on the heaving waves of the greatest of all the oceans. They lived for months, often for years, among the Indians, now as friends, now as foes, warring, hunting, and marrying with them; they acted as guides for exploring parties, as scouts for the soldiers who from time to time were sent against the different hostile tribes. At long intervals they came into some frontier settlement or some fur company's fort, posted in the heart of the wilderness, to dispose of their bales of furs, or to replenish their stock of ammunition and purchase a scanty supply of coarse food and clothing.
Frederic Remington: Painter of the Wild Frontier
No artist is more connected with the American West than Frederic Remington (1861–1908). Like many young men of his day, Remington heeded the call to "Go West" and left his home in New York for the adventure of a lifetime. His travels gave him time to sketch the people of and places on the frontier. In 1886, he solidified his reputation as an artist of the West when he began selling his work to the major magazines of the time.
Remington worked primarily in charcoal, but quickly established himself as a painter. Most of his illustrations were of sweeping landscapes, Western heroes, and moments of danger that captured America's perception of the wild frontier. Nearly all his works revolve around the theme of the struggles of the individual against overwhelming odds.
Remington focused his efforts on sculpture beginning in the mid-1890s, and he quickly became a master of the art. His bronze sculptures were popular for the energy the artist was able to capture within them. One of his most famous pieces was the "Bronco Buster."
By the time of his death in 1908, Remington had produced more than three thousand drawings and paintings, twenty-two sculptures, over one hundred articles and stories, a novel, and a Broadway play. He worked with Theodore Roosevelt on the memoir Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail, enhancing the text with colorful illustrations.
Although Remington's talent cannot be denied, it was his understanding of America's need to see itself as tough, independent, and optimistic that gave the artist a lasting place in American art history. Remington gave his country a vision of itself that it wanted to see; in return, he became a permanent part of the American West.
From that day to this they have not changed their way of life. But there are not many of them left now. The basin of the Upper Missouri was their last stronghold, being the last great hunting-ground of the Indians, with whom the white trappers were always fighting and bickering, but who nevertheless by their presence protected the game that gave the trappers their livelihood. My cattle were among the very first to come into the land, at a time when the buffalo and beaver still abounded, and then the old hunters were common. Many a time I have hunted with them, spent the night in their smoky cabins, or had them as guests at my ranch. But in a couple of years after the inrush of the cattlemen the last herds of the buffalo were destroyed, and the beaver were trapped out of all the plains' streams. Then the hunters vanished likewise, save that here and there one or two still remain in some nook or out-of-the-way corner. The others wandered off restlessly over the land—some to join their brethren in the Coeur d'Alene or the northern Rockies, others to the coast ranges or to faraway Alaska. Moreover, their ranks were soon thinned by death, and the places of the dead were no longer taken by new recruits. They led hard lives, and the unending strain of their toilsome and dangerous existence shattered even such iron frames as theirs. They were killed in drunken brawls, or in nameless fights with roving Indians; they died by one of the thousand accidents incident to the business of their lives—by flood or quicksand, by cold or starvation, by the stumble of a horse or a footslip on the edge of a cliff; they perished by diseases brought on by terrible privation, and [diseases] aggravated by the savage orgies with which it was varied.
Yet there was not only much that was attractive in their wild, free, reckless lives, but there was also very much good about the men themselves. They were—and such of them as are left still are—frank, bold, and self-reliant to a degree. They fear neither man, brute, nor element. They are generous and hospitable; they stand loyally by their friends, and pursue their enemies with bitter and vindictive hatred. For the rest, they differ among themselves in their good and bad points even more markedly than do men in civilized life, for out on the border virtue and wickedness alike take on very pronounced colors. A man who in civilization would be merely a backbiter becomes a murderer on the frontier; and, on the other hand, he who in the city would do nothing more than bid you a cheery good-morning, shares his last bit of sun jerked venison with you when threatened by starvation in the wilderness. One hunter may be a dark-browed, evil-eyed ruffian, ready to kill cattle or run off horses without hesitation, who if game fails will at once, in Western phrase, "take to the road,"—that is, become a highwayman. The next is perhaps a quiet, kindly, simple-hearted man, law-abiding, modestly unconscious of the worth of his own fearless courage and iron endurance, always faithful to his friends, and full of chivalric and tender loyalty to women.
The hunter is the arch-type of freedom. His well-being rests in no man's hands save his own. He chops down and hews out the logs for his hut, or perhaps makes merely a rude dug-out in the side of a hill, with a skin roof, and skin flaps for the door. He buys a little flour and salt, and in times of plenty also sugar and tea; but not much, for it must all be carried hundreds of miles on the backs of his shaggy pack-ponies. In one corner of the hut, a bunk covered with deer-skins forms his bed; a kettle and a frying-pan may be all his cooking-utensils. When he can get no fresh meat he falls back on his stock of jerked venison, dried in long strips over the fire or in the sun.
Most of the trappers are Americans, but they also include some Frenchmen and half-breeds. Both of the last, if on the plains, occasionally make use of queer wooden carts, very rude in shape, with stout wheels that make a most doleful squeaking. In old times they all had Indian wives; but nowadays those who live among and intermarry with the Indians are looked down upon by the other frontiersmen, who contemptuously term them "squaw men." All of them depend upon their rifles only for food and for self-defense, and make their living by trapping, peltries being very valuable and yet not bulky. They are good game shots, especially the pure Americans; although, of course, they are very boastful, and generally stretch the truth tremendously in telling about their own marksmanship. Still they often do very remarkable shooting, both for speed and accuracy. One of their feats, that I never could learn to copy, is to make excellent shooting after nightfall. Of course all this applies only to the regular hunters; not to the numerous pretenders who hang around the outskirts of the towns to try to persuade unwary strangers to take them for guides.
What happened next …
With vivid detail and humorous stories about the ranching life, Roosevelt's writing prompted many wealthy easterners to visit the Dakota Territory. Tourists came in such great numbers that many ranchers opened up their ranches to them. These operations, which became known as dude ranches, welcomed city dwellers to stay and get a taste of the ranching life. Visitors wore Western clothing, helped with chores around the ranch, learned to herd cattle.
In addition to helping establish a new tourist industry, Roosevelt's stories directly affected the way the general public perceived the Wild West. By giving the impression that westerners were self-reliant, honorable, and hard-working, Roosevelt made the frontier a challenge for all Americans. If they could make it there, they could survive anywhere.
The frontier wilderness closed two years after the publication of Roosevelt's memoirs. In 1890, U.S. Cavalry slaughtered more than three hundred Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Known as the Wounded Knee Massacre, that bloody conflict marked the end of the Plains Indian Wars as well as the frontier. From that point on, it was no longer considered wilderness area, as thousands of settlers migrated West.
Roosevelt saw firsthand what could happen to natural resources if left in the hands of the greedy, the ignorant, and the selfish. He witnessed the overgrazing of land, the clear-cutting of forests, battles for water rights, and the over-hunting of many animal species, the buffalo in particular. A common activity among men during the era was to shoot buffalo from passing trains. Nothing was done with the dead and wounded animals; the point of the shooting was just to be able to do it. Roosevelt's already-developed sense of connection to the outdoors was only intensified during his years in the Dakota Territory.
TR's Opinion of Women on the Frontier
Theodore Roosevelt admired frontier women, as evidenced by this excerpt from Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail:
There is an old and true border saying that "the frontier is hard on women and cattle." There are some striking exceptions; but, as a rule, the grinding toil and hardship of a life passed in the wilderness, or on its outskirts, drive the beauty and bloom from a woman's face long before her youth has left her. By the time she is a mother she is sinewy and angular, with thin, compressed lips and furrowed, sallow [pale] brow. But she has a hundred qualities that atone for the grace she lacks. She is a good mother and a hard-working housewife, always putting things to rights, washing and cooking for her stalwart spouse and offspring. She is faithful to her husband, and, like the true American that she is, exacts faithfulness in return. Peril cannot daunt her, nor hardship and poverty appall her. Whether on the mountains in a log hut chinked with moss, in a sod or adobe hovel on the desolate prairie, or in a mere temporary camp, where the white-topped wagons have been drawn up in a protection-giving circle near some spring, she is equally at home. Clad in a dingy gown and a hideous sun-bonnet she goes bravely about her work, resolute, silent, uncomplaining.
When he became president in 1901, Roosevelt took it upon himself to use his power and authority to conserve, or save, what he saw as America's most valuable resources. As was true of anything else Roosevelt believed, he was not afraid to speak his mind, and he made no apologies when some people perceived him as the "bully" president. Afire with commitment to his beliefs, Roosevelt often spoke with the enthusiasm and intention of converting his audience, much like that of a preacher at his pulpit. Roosevelt himself referred to the White Houseas being a bully pulpit, a splendid place from which to pursue an agenda. He also established himself as the conservation president; while in office, many conservation and environmental laws were passed.
As president, Roosevelt was concerned with the long-term well-being of the nation. He considered the land an economic resource that must be conserved, managed, and protected. Among the conservation legislation passed throughout Roosevelt's presidency were the Alaska Game Act (1902; a law protecting certain game animals); the National Reclamation Act (1902; an act requiring the money from the sale and disposal of public lands in certain states and territories to be spent on the construction of irrigation works for dry lands, making them livable); and the Antiquities Act (1906; a law that allowed the president to designate federally protected national monuments for the sake of historic and scientific preservation; see Chapter 13).
Did you know …
- Roosevelt established 150 national forests, 51 bird preserves, 5 national parks, and 18 national monuments during his time as president.
- Most of the early cowboys in the 1870s and 1880s were Irish and Welsh immigrants from Ireland and Great Britain.
- One of the many jobs of children on the frontier was the gathering of buffalo chips (dried buffalo waste). These were used for fuel in the fireplace.
- Wanting a rest after completing his presidency in 1909, Roosevelt and his son Kermit went on a safari in Africa. They killed thousands of animals, including elephants, rhinos, and lions.
- Many cowboy words come from Mexican culture. Among them are "lariat," "chaps," "buckaroo," and "rodeo." Although largely considered the epitome of western wear, the cowboy hat also has its roots in Mexican culture and is a version of the sombrero.
Consider the following …
- How are the conservation concerns during the early twentieth century similar to those today? How are they different?
- How has Hollywood influenced America's perception of the cowboy?
- How might the life of a woman on the frontier differ from the life of a woman living in an eastern city?
For More Information
Hafen, LeRoy R., ed. Mountain Men and Fur Traders of the Far West. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
Kraft, Betsy Harvey. Theodore Roosevelt: Champion of the American Spirit. New York: Clarion Books, 2003.
Roosevelt, Theodore. Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail. New York: The Century Co., 1888. Multiple reprints.
West, Elliott. Growing Up with the Country: Childhood on the Far-Western Frontier. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1989.
PBS. "Frederic Remington." American Masters.http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/database/remington_f.html (accessed on July 25, 2006).
PBS. "Theodore Roosevelt." New Perspectives on the West.http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/i_r/roosevelt.htm (accessed on July 25, 2006).
"Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail." Bartleby.com.http://www.bartelby.com/54/ (accessed on July 20, 2006).
Zimmerman, Emily. "The Mountain Men: Pathfinders of the West, 1810–1860." American Studies at the University of Virginia.http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/HNS/Mtmen/home.html (accessed on July 25, 2006).
- A loose fitting robe-like garment.
- King's Mountain:
- South Carolina site of an American Revolution battle.
- New Orleans:
- Louisiana site of a War of 1812 battle.
- Horseshoe Bend:
- Alabama site of a Creek War battle in the War of 1812.
- Periods of time.
- Secluded place.
- Brothers; fellow human beings.
- Coeur d'Alene:
- Northern area of Idaho.
- Characterized by hard work.
- Incident to:
- Regularly occurring in.
- Savage orgies with which it was varied.:
- Opposite of privation; excessive indulgence in food and alcohol, for example.
- Honest and direct.
- Weather, usually severe.
- One who makes mean or spiteful comments about another person.
- Sun jerked:
- Thief who preys on travelers.
- Perfect symbol.
- Strange, odd.
The first modern American president, Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) was also one of the most popular, important, and controversial. During his years in office he greatly expanded the power of the presidency.
A strong nationalist and a resourceful leader, Theodore Roosevelt gloried in the opportunities and responsibilities of world power. He especially enlarged the United States role in the Far East and Latin America. At home he increased regulation of business, encouraged the labor movement, and waged a long, dramatic battle for conservation of national resources. He also organized the Progressive party (1912) and advanced the rise of the welfare state with a forceful campaign for social justice.
Roosevelt was born in New York City on Oct. 27, 1858. His father was of an old Dutch mercantile family long prominent in the city's affairs. His mother came from an established Georgia family of Scotch-Irish and Huguenot ancestry. A buoyant, dominant figure, his father was the only man, young Roosevelt once said, he "ever feared." He imbued his son with an acute sense of civic responsibility and an attitude of noblesse oblige.
Partly because of a severe asthmatic condition, Theodore was educated by private tutors until 1876, when he entered Harvard College. Abandoning plans to become a naturalist, he developed political and historical interests, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa, and finished twenty-first in a class of 158. He also began writing The Naval War of 1812 (1882), a work of limited range but high technical competence. Four months after his graduation in 1880, he married Alice Hathaway Lee, by whom he had a daughter.
Bored by the study of law in the office of an uncle and at Columbia University, Roosevelt willingly gave it up in 1882 to serve the first of three terms in the New York State Assembly. He quickly distinguished himself for integrity, courage, and independence, and upon his retirement in 1884 he had become the leader of the Republican party's reform wing. Though his reputation was based on his attacks against corruption, he had shown some interest in social problems and had begun to break with laissez-faire economics. Among the many bills he drove through the Assembly was a measure, worked out with labor leader Samuel Gompers, to regulate tenement workshops.
Roosevelt's last term was marred by the sudden deaths of his mother and his wife within hours of each other in February 1884. After the legislative session ended, he established a ranch, Elkhorn, on the Little Missouri River in the Dakota Territory. Immersing himself in history, he completed Thomas Hart Benton (1886) and Gouverneur Morris (1887) and began to prepare his major work, the four-volume Winning of the West (1889-1896). A tour de force distinguished more for its narrative power and personality sketches than its social and economic analysis, it won the respect of the foremost academic historian of the West, Frederick Jackson Turner. It also gave Roosevelt considerable standing among professional historians and contributed to his election as president of the American Historical Association in 1912. Meanwhile, he published numerous hunting and nature books, some of high order.
Politics and a romantic interest in a childhood friend, Edith Carow, drew Roosevelt back east. Nominated for mayor of New York, he waged a characteristically vigorous campaign in 1886 but finished third. He then went to London to marry Carow, with whom he had four sons and a daughter.
In 1889 Roosevelt was rewarded for his earlier services to President Benjamin Harrison with appointment to the ineffectual Civil Service Commission. Plunging into his duties with extraordinary zeal, he soon became head of the Commission. He insisted that the laws be scrupulously enforced in order to open the government service to all who were qualified, and he alienated many politicians in his own party by refusing to submit to their demands. By the end of his six years in office Roosevelt had virtually institutionalized the civil service.
Roosevelt returned to New York City in 1895 to serve two tumultuous years as president of the police board. Enforcing the law with relentless efficiency and uncompromising honesty, he indulged once more in acrimonious controversy with the leaders of his party. He succeeded in modernizing the force, eliminating graft from the promotion system, and raising morale to unprecedented heights. "It's tough on the force, for he was dead square … and we needed him," said an unnamed policeman when Roosevelt resigned in the spring of 1897 to become President William McKinley's assistant secretary of the Navy.
As assistant secretary, Roosevelt instituted personnel reforms, arranged meaningful maneuvers for the fleet, and lobbied energetically for a two-ocean navy. He uncritically accepted imperialistic theories, and he worked closely with senators Henry Cabot Lodge and Alfred Beveridge for war against Spain in 1898. Although moved partly by humanitarian considerations, he was animated mainly by lust for empire and an exaggerated conception of the glories of war. "No qualities called out by a purely peaceful life," he wrote, "stand on a level with those stern and virile virtues which move the men of stout heart and strong hand who uphold the honor of their flag in battle."
Anxious to prove himself under fire, Roosevelt resigned as assistant secretary of the Navy in April to organize the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (the "Rough Riders"). He took command of the unit in Cuba and distinguished himself and his regiment in a bold charge up the hill next to San Juan. In late summer 1898 he returned to New York a war hero.
New York's Governor
Nominated for governor, Roosevelt won election in the fall of 1898 by a narrow margin. His 2-year administration was the most enlightened to that time. By deferring to the Republican machine on minor matters, by mobilizing public opinion behind his program, and by otherwise invoking the arts of the master politician, Roosevelt forced an impressive body of legislation through a recalcitrant Assembly and Senate. Most significant, perhaps, was a franchise tax on corporations. As the Democratic New York World concluded when he left office, "the controlling purpose and general course of his administration have been high and good."
Roosevelt accepted the vice-presidential nomination in 1900. A landslide victory for McKinley and Roosevelt ensued. Then, on Sept. 14, 1901, following McKinley's death by an assassin's bullet, Roosevelt was sworn in. Not quite 43, he was the youngest president in history.
First Presidential Administration
Roosevelt's first three years in office were inhibited by the conservatism of Republican congressional leaders and the accidental nature of his coming to power. He was able to sign the Newlands Reclamation Bill into law (1902) and the Elkins Antirebate Bill (1903); he also persuaded Congress to create a toothless Bureau of Corporations. But it was his sensational use of the dormant powers of his office that lifted his first partial term above the ordinary.
On Feb. 18, 1902, Roosevelt shook the financial community and took a first step toward bringing big business under Federal control by ordering antitrust proceedings against the Northern Securities Company, a railroad combine formed by J. P. Morgan and other magnates. Suits against the meat-packers and other trusts followed, and by the time Roosevelt left office 43 actions had been instituted. Yet he never regarded antitrust suits as a full solution to the corporation problem. During his second administration he strove, with limited success, to provide for continuous regulation rather than the dissolution of big businesses.
Hardly less dramatic than his attack on the Northern Securities Company was Roosevelt's intervention in a five-month-long anthracite coal strike in 1902. By virtually forcing the operators to submit to arbitration, he won important gains for the striking miners. Never before had a president used his powers in a strike on labor's side.
Roosevelt's conduct of foreign policy was as dynamic and considerably more far-reaching in import. Believing that there could be no retreat from the power position which the Spanish-American War had dramatized but which the United States industrialism had forged, he stamped his imprint upon American policy with unusual force. He established a moderately enlightened government in the Philippines, while persuading Congress to grant tariff concessions to Cuba. He settled an old Alaskan boundary dispute with Canada on terms favorable to the United States. And he capitalized on an externally financed revolution in Panama to acquire the Canal Zone under conditions that created a heritage of ill will.
At the instance of the president of Santo Domingo, Roosevelt also arranged for the United States to assume control of the customs of that misgoverned nation in order to avert intervention by European powers. He had about the same desire to annex Santo Domingo, he said, "as a gorged boa constrictor might have to swallow a porcupine wrong-end-to." But he had already forestalled German intervention in Venezuela in 1902 and was anxious to establish a firm policy against it. So on May 20, 1904, and again in December he set forth what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The United States, he declared, assumed the right to intervene in the internal affairs of the Latin American nations in the event of "chronic wrongdoing" or "impotence."
Roosevelt's first administration was also marked by a revitalization of the bureaucracy. The quality of appointees was raised, capable members of minority groups were given government posts (in 1906 Roosevelt named the first Jew, Oscar Straus, to a Cabinet position), and the civil service lists were expanded. At the same time, however, the President ruthlessly manipulated patronage so as to wrest control of Republican party machinery from Senator Mark Hanna and secure his nomination to a full term in 1904. "In politics," he disarmingly explained, "we have to do a great many things we ought not to do." Overwhelming his conservative Democratic opponent by the greatest popular majority to that time, Roosevelt won the election and carried in a great host of congressional candidates on his coattails.
Although the resentment of the Republican party's Old Guard increased rather than diminished as his tenure lengthened, Roosevelt pushed through a much more progressive program in this second term. His "Square Deal" reached its finest legislative flower in 1906 with passage of the Hepburn Railroad Bill, the Pure Food and Drug Bill, an amendment providing Federal regulation of stockyards and packing houses, and an employers' liability measure. Yet he probably did even more to forward progressivism by using his office as a pulpit and by appointing study commissions such as those on country life and inland waterways. Several of his messages to Congress in 1907 and 1908 were the most radical to that time. In the face of the Old Guard's open repudiation of him, moreover, he profoundly stimulated the burgeoning progressive movement on all levels of government.
In conservation Roosevelt's drive to control exploitation and increase development of natural resources was remarkable for sustained intellectual and administrative force. In no other cause did he fuse science and morality so effectively. Based on the propositions that nature's heritage belonged to the people, that "the fundamental idea of forestry is the perpetuation of forests by use," and that "every stream is a unit from its source to its mouth, and all its uses are interdependent," his conservation program provoked bitter conflict with Western states'-rightists and their allies, the electric power companies and large ranchers. In the end Roosevelt failed to marshal even a modicum of support in Congress for multipurpose river valley developments. But he did save what later became the heart of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) by vetoing a bill that would have opened Muscle Shoals to haphazard private development.
By March 1909 Roosevelt's audacious use of executive power had resulted in the transfer of 125 million acres to the forest reserves. About half as many acres containing coal and mineral deposits had been subjected to public controls. Sixteen national monuments and 51 wildlife refuges had been established. And the number of national parks had been doubled. As Roosevelt's bitter enemy Senator Robert M. La Follette wrote, "his greatest work was inspiring and actually beginning a world movement for … saving for the human race the things on which alone a peaceful, progressive, and happy life can be founded."
Roosevelt's pronounced impact on the international scene continued during his second term. He intervened decisively for peace in the Algeciras crisis of 1905-1906, and he supported the call for the Second Hague Conference of 1907. But it was in the Far East, where he gradually abandoned the imperialistic aspirations of his pre-presidential years, that he played the most significant role. Perceiving that Japan was destined to become a major Far Eastern power, he encouraged that country to serve as a stabilizing force in the area. To this end he used his good offices to close the Russo-Japanese War through a conference at Portsmouth, N.H., in 1905; for this service he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He also acquiesced at this time in Japan's extension of suzerainty over Korea (Taft-Katsura Memorandum).
By 1907 Roosevelt realized that the Philippines were the United States' "heel of Achilles." He had also come to realize that the China trade which the open-door policy was designed to foster was largely illusory. He consequently labored to maintain Japan's friendship without compromising American interests. He fostered a "gentleman's agreement" on immigration of Japanese to the United States. He implicitly recognized Japan's economic ascendancy in Manchuria through the Root-Takahira agreement of 1908. (Later he urged his successor, President William H. Taft, to give up commercial aspirations and the open-door policy in North China, though he was unsuccessful in this.)
Rejecting suggestions that he run for reelection, Roosevelt selected Taft as his successor. He then led a scientific and hunting expedition to Africa (1909) and made a triumphal tour of Europe. He returned to a strife-ridden Republican party in June 1910. Caught between the conservative supporters of Taft and the advanced progressive followers of himself and La Follette, he gave hope to La Follette by setting forth a radical program—the "new nationalism"— of social and economic reforms that summer. Thereafter pressure to declare himself a candidate for the nomination in 1912 mounted until he reluctantly did so.
Although Roosevelt outpolled Taft by more than 2 to 1 in the Republican primaries, Taft's control of the party organization won him the nomination in convention. Roosevelt's supporters then stormed out of the party and organized the Progressive, or "Bull Moose," party. During the three-cornered campaign that fall, Roosevelt called forcefully for Federal regulation of corporations, steeply graduated income and inheritance taxes, multipurpose river valley developments, and social justice for labor and other underprivileged groups. But the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, running on a more traditional reform platform, won the election.
World War I
Within 3 months of the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914, Roosevelt began his last crusade: an impassioned campaign to persuade the American people to join the Allies and prosecute the war with vigor. He believed that a German victory would be inimical to American economic, political, and cultural interests. But he was also influenced, as in 1898, by his romantic conception of war and ultranationalism. As a result, he distorted the real nature of his thought by trumpeting for war on the submarine, or American-rights, issue alone. More regrettable still, he virtually called for war against Mexico in 1916.
Following America's declaration of war in April 1917, Roosevelt relentlessly attacked the administration for failing to mobilize fast enough. Embittered by Wilson's refusal to let him raise a division, he also attacked the President personally. He was unenthusiastic about the League of Nations, believing that a military alliance of France, Great Britain, and the United States could best preserve peace. He was prepared to support Senator Henry Cabot Lodge's nationalistic reservations to the League Covenant, but he died in his home at Oyster Bay, Long Island, on Jan. 6, 1919, before he could be effective.
Roosevelt's reputation as a domestic reformer remains high and secure. He was the first president to concern himself with the judiciary's massive bias toward property rights (as opposed to human rights), with the maldistribution of wealth, and with the subversion of the democratic process by spokesmen of economic interests in Congress, the pulpits, and the editorial offices. He was also the first to understand the conservation problem in its multiple facets, the first to evolve a regulatory program for capital, and the first to encourage the growth of labor unions. The best-liked man of his times, he has never been revered because his militarism and chauvinism affronted the human spirit.
Roosevelt can be studied through his own writings. Especially valuable are his Letters, edited by Elting E. Morison and John M. Blum (8 vols., 1951-1954), and a collection of his essays, books, and speeches, The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, edited by Hermann Hagedorn (24 vols., 1923-1925). A general collection, Writings, was edited by William H. Harbaugh (1967). Roosevelt's An Autobiography (1913) is revealing despite the usual deficiencies of such works.
William H. Harbaugh, Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt (1961; rev. ed., entitled The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt, 1963), is a full-length biography. The best study of Roosevelt's early career is Carleton Putnam, Theodore Roosevelt, vol. 1: The Formative Years (1958); the best treatment of his governorship is G. Wallace Chessman, Governor Theodore Roosevelt (1965). John M. Blum, The Republican Roosevelt (1954; new ed. 1962), is a penetrating essay. The roots of Roosevelt's imperialism are examined in David H. Burton, Theodore Roosevelt: Confident Imperialist (1968).
Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (1956), is a seminal study. Fine short accounts are George E. Mowry, The Era of Theodore Roosevelt, 1900-1912 (1958), and G. Wallace Chessman, Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of Power, edited by Oscar Handlin (1969). □
Theodore Roosevelt was the twenty-sixth president of the United States. Although he came to the presidency as the result of tragedy, he was the era's most popular president. Historians generally rank him as one of the most effective presidents ever.
Born into a wealthy New York City family on October 27, 1858, Theodore Roosevelt was a sickly child who suffered from several medical disorders, including severe asthma. His response to his poor health was to lift weights, exercise, and take boxing lessons. By early adulthood, his
asthma had virtually disappeared, and he would spend the rest of his life a passionate outdoorsman.
Roosevelt was homeschooled, and he passed the entrance examinations for Harvard University in 1875. An avid reader and writer, he did well at school and decided to study law. He graduated from Yale University in 1880 with honors and then enrolled in Columbia Law School, but he soon tired of his law studies and focused instead on finishing a book he had begun writing in college. The Naval War of 1812 was published in 1882 and remains one of the most honest studies of its subject.
Leaves law for politics
Roosevelt dropped out of law school and entered politics, joining the Republican Club in New York City. In 1881, at age twenty-two, he became the youngest member of the state legislature, where he immediately established himself as a reform-minded politician and supported bills that called for better conditions for industrial workers. Although Roosevelt was impulsive and somewhat egotistical, he had amazing reserves of energy and intelligence, and he was honest in both his political and personal life.
In 1884, Roosevelt's wife died giving birth to their only child, Alice Lee. On that same day, his beloved mother died as well, in the same house. Roosevelt was a broken man, and he left his daughter behind to be cared for by relatives as he headed west for two years of cattle ranching. That separation from his daughter was the first of many; Alice would grow up to be a strong-willed woman.
During his self-imposed exile in the west, Roosevelt wrote three books about hunting and ranch life. Now and then, he returned to New York to see Alice and take care of business. During one of these trips he saw Edith Carow, a girlfriend from his teenage years. They married in 1886, and eventually had four boys and a girl. Roosevelt spent much of his time writing biographies and history.
In the navy
Roosevelt was appointed civil service commissioner in 1888 and kept the job until 1895, when he accepted a post as president of the New York City Police Board. He cleaned up the city's police force by getting rid of corrupt officers and officials. In 1897, President William McKinley (1843–1901; served 1897–1901) appointed Roosevelt assistant to the secretary of the U.S. Navy . It was a commission he thoroughly enjoyed.
The Spanish-American War
In 1895, Cuba revolted against the repressive rule of the Spanish. Spain's response was to round up three hundred thousand Cubans and put them in camps where they could not help the rebels. This angered many Americans who believed that Cuba should be independent of Spain's rule.
Throughout 1897, President McKinley tried to convince Spain to give Cuba its independence. In November of that year, Spain gave Cuba limited independence and closed the camps. (Limited independence meant that Cuba could govern itself in domestic matters; Spain would still govern international matters.) The peace was short-lived. In January 1898, pro-Spanish demonstrators rioted on the streets of Havana, Cuba. McKinley sent the U.S. battleship Maine to the Havana harbor to protect American citizens who had arrived to help Cuba and to let Spain know that the United States still valued its relationship with Cuba.
Tensions rose when the Cubans intercepted a private letter written by the Spanish minister to the United States describing McKinley as weak and indicating that the Spanish were not negotiating in good faith with the United States. The Cubans leaked the letter to the press, and when it was published in the New York Journal, it infuriated Americans, who saw it as an attack on the honor of both their president and their nation.
The situation worsened when the USS Maine exploded and sank on February 15, 1898. The explosion killed 266 crewmembers. A Navy investigation concluded that the explosion had been caused by an outside source, presumably a Spanish mine. (More recent scholarship has speculated, however, that the explosion more likely occurred because of mechanical problems with the ship itself.) McKinley did not want to go to war, but he saw no alternative at this point. He ordered U.S. ships to block Cuba's ports; the United States and its president wanted an end to the Cuban crisis. On April 23, 1898, Spain declared war on the United States. Two days later, the United States declared war on Spain.
The Rough Riders
When the Spanish-American War broke out in Cuba, thirty-nine-year-old Roosevelt was the commander of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, a unit known as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt had left his job with the Navy to join the cavalry, which included more than twelve hundred men of all backgrounds from New Mexico , Arizona , Oklahoma , and other western states.
Roosevelt and Colonel Leonard Wood (1860–1927) trained their volunteers so well that the unit was allowed to engage in battle, even though volunteer units generally were not allowed to see action. They formed in Texas and shipped out to Cuba on June 14, 1898. Although they were called Rough Riders, they fought mainly on foot because there was no room for their horses on the ship to Cuba.
The Rough Riders landed in Cuba on June 22 and saw their first battle two days later. Their next assignment was to join trained military forces in the attack on the Spanish city of Santiago on July 1. Roosevelt's unit, along with regular regiments and the Buffalo Soldiers (African American infantrymen), captured Kettle Hill and moved on to San Juan Heights. With the Buffalo Soldiers reaching the crest of the hill first, the Rough Riders joined in the battle, and the hill was captured. Santiago surrendered soon after, and Spain's war with the United States was over in just three months. According to historian Virgil Harrington Jones, no American unit in the Spanish-American War suffered as many deaths as the Rough Riders, which lost 37 percent of its men before leaving Cuba.
The hero returns
Roosevelt returned to New York a war hero and used his popularity and status to get elected as his state's governor in November 1898. He immediately set to work reforming the corrupt political system. In 1900, the Republicans chose Roosevelt as the running mate for President McKinley, who was seeking his second term. (McKinley's first-term vice president, Garret A. Hobart [1844–1899], had died in November 1899.) In the campaign, Roosevelt covered more than 21,000 miles (33,789 kilometers) and made hundreds of speeches in 567 cities and 24 states. McKinley, in contrast, gave speeches from the front porch of his home in Canton, Ohio . Many historians believe that Roosevelt's popularity helped McKinley win the election. Only six months after the inauguration, McKinley died from an assassin's bullet; on September 14, 1901, the forty-two-year-old Roosevelt became the youngest president of the United States.
President for the people
Throughout his presidency, Roosevelt promoted social reform, naval expansion, and nature conservation. He was called the “great conservationist,” and passed many laws benefiting the environment and preserving America's natural resources. (See Conservation Movement .)
The president earned a reputation as a trustbuster as well. During his tenure, it was common practice for powerful companies and businesses to band together to limit competition and control the production and distribution of products or services. This banding together was known as a trust, and trusts were illegal by 1890. In Roosevelt's eyes, some trusts were good, others were bad, and he made it his mission to disband those he believed were harmful to healthy commerce. (See Monopolies and Trusts .)
Roosevelt took action in 1902 against both the beef trust and the Northern Securities Company, a railroad monopoly. (In a monopoly, one company dominates a sector of business, leaving the consumer no choices and other businesses no possibility of success.) Northern Securities had been established by some of the country's wealthiest businessmen: John D. Rockefeller (1839–1937), J. P. Morgan (1837–1913), James Hill (1838–1916), and Edward Harriman (1848–1909). Roosevelt ordered the Justice Department to file a suit to dissolve the company. Within a few months, the president filed another suit, against a Chicago meatpacking company called Swift & Company. Roosevelt had made his point: Big business would have to deal with the federal government if it broke the law.
Roosevelt's “Square Deal”
In May 1902, coal miners in Pennsylvania went on strike (refused to work). They had tried for months to meet with management and mine owners to negotiate better pay, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. When negotiations failed, the workers refused to enter the mines.
Anthracite (hard) coal was used to fuel trains and to heat houses and businesses. In 1902, as spring passed into summer and then into fall, Americans became concerned that the continued strike would result in a coal shortage: Businesses would close and citizens would freeze in their homes. In October, Roosevelt invited representatives from the miners and the coal operators to the White House. In doing so, he became the first president in history to mediate (act as a go-between in) a labor strike. The meeting was called the Coal Strike Conference of 1902. During the conference, Roosevelt expressed his concerns, and the miners agreed to go back to work if they could get a small, immediate pay increase and a promise that negotiations would continue. The coal operators refused, despite the president's involvement.
When Roosevelt realized the strike would continue, he took direct action. He threatened to send military troops to take over operation of the mines. If this were to happen, both the miners and the owners would lose. Both sides entered into negotiations with a committee appointed by Roosevelt, and miners returned to work on October 23. They had received a 10-percent increase in wages as well as a guarantee of shorter workdays.
Roosevelt's involvement in the mining dispute set a precedent (an established example) of what could happen in future labor-management conflicts. The working class realized it had the support of an intelligent, influential president. Big business was put on notice that its power was no longer limitless. Roosevelt called his program the “square deal,” meaning both sides got fair treatment and consideration.
The president showed his support of business regulation again in 1903 when he passed a bill to establish the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor (ten years later it was split into two departments), and again when he passed the Elkins Act. This law prohibited railroads from giving rebates (refunds) to those shippers who used their services most. The refunds were discriminatory because they favored only the big companies; smaller companies did not do enough shipping to qualify for them. (See Railroad Industry .)
Big Stick diplomacy
Days before President McKinley was shot in 1901, Roosevelt made a speech about foreign policy at the Minnesota State Fair, quoting an African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” With this slogan, Roosevelt expressed his belief that to be effective, the nation needed to back up its foreign diplomacy with an implied threat of military force. His ideas about foreign policy became known as “Big Stick diplomacy.” The president embraced this policy throughout his two terms in office.
An example of Big Stick diplomacy was the U.S. role in the creation of the Republic of Panama in 1903. Roosevelt wanted to construct a canal in what was then Colombian territory to make shipping trade easier for the United States. When the Colombian government rejected Roosevelt's plan, the United States supported the independence movement in Panama, and sent the gunboat Nashville to prevent the Colombian military from sailing to the area to reassert its control. The United States was the first country to recognize Panama's independence, and later, Roosevelt sent troops to protect U.S. interests in Panama. In Panama, and in other areas of the world, when U.S. diplomacy failed, military force was the next step.
Reelection and retirement
Roosevelt was elected for another term in office in 1904 and continued in his quest for reform. His successor, whom Roosevelt had supported, was William Howard Taft (1857–1930; served 1909–13). Taft had made some decisions that Roosevelt disagreed with, and the former president decided to run against Taft in the 1912 presidential election. Roosevelt formed a new party, the Progressive Party, but lost the election to Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924; served 1913–21).
Roosevelt spent his retirement years traveling on safari with his son Kermit. His health slowly declined, and he died in his sleep on January 6, 1919.
26th president, 1901–1909
Born: October 27, 1858
Died: January 6, 1919
Vice President: Charles W. Fairbanks
First Lady: Edith Carow Roosevelt
Children: Alice, Theodore, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, Quentin
While John F. Kennedy was the youngest president-elect in U.S. history, it was Theodore Roosevelt who was the youngest person ever to take office. Vice President Roosevelt was 42 years old when President McKinley was assassinated.
Roosevelt was born in October 1858 in New York City to a wealthy family. He was a sickly child with poor eyesight. He built his body through exercises, such as boxing and horseback riding.
In 1884, his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, and his mother died on the same day. Roosevelt spent much of the next two years operating his cattle ranch in the Badlands of Dakota Territory. On a visit to London, he married Edith Carow in December 1886.
After serving as the assistant secretary of the Navy in McKinley's first term, Roosevelt took command of a special fighting force that invaded Cuba in 1898. The U.S. victory made him widely popular.
- Roosevelt is one of four presidents whose faces are carved into Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. The other three are Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln.
- During his presidency, Roosevelt suffered a detached retina in a boxing match, which caused him to become blind in one eye.
- In 1906, Roosevelt became the first president to win the Nobel Prize for peace.
- Roosevelt was the only president to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. It was awarded to him in 2001, more than 80 years after his death in recognition of his army service during the Spanish-American War.
Despite his youth, Roosevelt was a commanding personality who believed that the president should be an active leader. He fought for workers' rights against powerful business interests. He also fought to have government safety inspections of drugs and foods. Roosevelt was also one of the first presidents to speak about the importance of creating national parks and forests. He added enormously to the national forests in the West, reserved lands for public use, and fostered great irrigation projects.
In his dealings with foreign nations, Roosevelt was equally active and forceful. He ensured U.S. control of the Panama Canal and won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese War.
When Roosevelt Was in Office
- Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle exposed the unsanitary conditions in the meat-packing industry. As a result, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906.
- Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful airplane flight, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.
- New York became the first state to have a speed limit for automobiles.
- Albert Einstein proposed the theory of relativity.
- Much of San Francisco was destroyed in a major earthquake and fire.
- Oklahoma became a state.
- Henry Ford introduced the Model T automobile.
After leaving the presidency in 1909, Roosevelt went on an African safari, then jumped back into politics. In 1912, he ran for president as a third-party candidate. While campaigning in Milwaukee, he was shot in the chest by a fanatic. Roosevelt insisted on giving his speech before the bullet was removed. The death of his son Kermit in World War I caused terrible sorrow for Roosevelt, and he died shortly after the war ended in 1919.
On Roosevelt's Inauguration Day
Roosevelt had already been in office nearly four years when he gave his brief Inaugural Address. He was a very popular leader, and during his four years in office after McKinley's assassination, he had shown himself to be one the most active men ever to hold the office. The ambassador of Great Britain once remarked that spending time with "TR," as he was known, was like spending time with an energetic six-year-old.
Theodore Roosevelt's Inaugural Address
In Washington, D.C., Saturday, March 4, 1905
MY fellow-citizens, no people on earth have more cause to be thankful than ours, and this is said reverently, in no spirit of boastfulness in our own strength, but with gratitude to the Giver of Good who has blessed us with the conditions which have enabled us to achieve so large a measure of well-being and of happiness. To us as a people it has been granted to lay the foundations of our national life in a new continent. We are the heirs of the ages, and yet we have had to pay few of the penalties which in old countries are exacted by the dead hand of a bygone civilization. We have not been obliged to fight for our existence against any alien race; and yet our life has called for the vigor and effort without which the manlier and hardier virtues wither away. Under such conditions it would be our own fault if we failed; and the success which we have had in the past, the success which we confidently believe the future will bring, should cause in us no feeling of vainglory, but rather a deep and abiding realization of all which life has offered us; a full acknowledgment of the responsibility which is ours; and a fixed determination to show that under a free government a mighty people can thrive best, alike as regards the things of the body and the things of the soul.
Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as beseems a people with such responsibilities. Toward all other nations, large and small, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship.1 We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their good will by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of all their rights. But justice and generosity in a nation, as in an individual, count most when shown not by the weak but by the strong. While ever careful to refrain from wrongdoing others, we must be no less insistent that we are not wronged ourselves. We wish peace, but we wish the peace of justice, the peace of righteousness. We wish it because we think it is right and not because we are afraid. No weak nation that acts manfully and justly should ever have cause to fear us, and no strong power should ever be able to single us out as a subject for insolent aggression.
Our relations with the other powers of the world are important; but still more important are our relations among ourselves. Such growth in wealth, in population, and in power as this nation has seen during the century and a quarter of its national life is inevitably accompanied by a like growth in the problems which are ever before every nation that rises to greatness. Power invariably means both responsibility and danger. Our forefathers faced certain perils which we have outgrown. We now face other perils, the very existence of which it was impossible that they should foresee. Modern life is both complex and intense, and the tremendous changes wrought by the extraordinary industrial development of the last half century are felt in every fiber of our social and political being.2 Never before have men tried so vast and formidable an experiment as that of administering the affairs of a continent under the forms of a Democratic republic. The conditions which have told for our marvelous material well-being, which have developed to a very high degree our energy, self-reliance, and individual initiative, have also brought the care and anxiety inseparable from the accumulation of great wealth in industrial centers. Upon the success of our experiment much depends, not only as regards our own welfare, but as regards the welfare of mankind. If we fail, the cause of free self-government throughout the world will rock to its foundations, and therefore our responsibility is heavy, to ourselves, to the world as it is to-day, and to the generations yet unborn. There is no good reason why we should fear the future, but there is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding from ourselves the gravity of the problems before us nor fearing to approach these problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright.
Yet, after all, though the problems are new, though the tasks set before us differ from the tasks set before our fathers who founded and preserved this Republic, the spirit in which these tasks must be undertaken and these problems faced, if our duty is to be well done, remains essentially unchanged. We know that self-government is difficult. We know that no people needs such high traits of character as that people which seeks to govern its affairs aright through the freely expressed will of the freemen who compose it. But we have faith that we shall not prove false to the memories of the men of the mighty past. They did their work, they left us the splendid heritage we now enjoy. We in our turn have an assured confidence that we shall be able to leave this heritage unwasted and enlarged to our children and our children's children.3 To do so we must show, not merely in great crises, but in the everyday affairs of life, the qualities of practical intelligence, of courage, of hardihood, and endurance, and above all the power of devotion to a lofty ideal, which made great the men who founded this Republic in the days of Washington, which made great the men who preserved this Republic in the days of Abraham Lincoln.
Quotes to Note
- "Toward all other nations..." Roosevelt's actions in the development of the Panama Canal did not support this statement. Roosevelt felt that Colombia wanted too much money for the rights to construct a canal at the isthmus of Panama—a province of the country. To gain the rights, he had U.S. forces support a revolution among the people of Panama against Colombia. He then negotiated the rights to the canal from the newly independent country.
- "the tremendous changes wrought..." Roosevelt was active in assuring that the government oversaw big businesses to prevent their abuse of power. The Pure Food and Drug Act was passed and the Department of Commerce was established during his terms.
- "we shall be able to leave this heritage..." Roosevelt makes what is possibly the first statement in an inaugural address about the importance of preserving the environment.
Born: October 27, 1858
New York, New York
Died: January 16, 1919
Oyster Bay, New York
American president, politician, and cavalryman
The first modern American president, Theodore Roosevelt was also the youngest and one of the most popular, important, and controversial. During his years in office he greatly expanded the power of the presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt was born in New York City, New York, on October 27, 1858. His father was of an old Dutch mercantile (relating to trade) family in the city's affairs. An energetic, dominant figure, his father was the only man, young Roosevelt once said, that he "ever feared."
As an adult, Roosevelt was known for his great energy and athleticism. But as a young boy, he was very sick. He suffered from severe asthma, a respiratory disease that can cause difficulty breathing. Because of his sickness, he was educated at home by private tutors until the time that he entered college. At age twelve he followed his father's advice and began building his strength through weightlifting, horseback riding, boxing, wrestling, and hunting. He grew to love such activities throughout his life.
Roosevelt entered Harvard College in 1876. At Harvard, he developed his lifelong political and historical interests. Four months after his graduation in 1880, he married Alice Hathaway Lee, with whom he had a daughter.
In 1882 Roosevelt began the first of three political terms in the New York State Assembly, one of the houses of government of New York state. Upon his retirement in 1884 he had become the leader of the Republican party's reform wing. As a reformer, he gained a reputation for fighting against political corruption (illegal or unethical practices).
In his last term, Roosevelt was discouraged by the sudden deaths of his mother and his wife within hours of each other in February 1884. He retired to a ranch in the American West to study history, completing books on the American senator Thomas Hart Benton and the American statesman Gouverneur Morris. He also began writing his major work, the four-volume Winning of the West.
Politics and a romantic interest in childhood friend, Edith Carow, eventually drew Roosevelt back east. He married Carow in 1886. The couple had four sons and a daughter.
Serving the nation
In 1889 he was in Washington, D.C., where he had been appointed by President Benjamin Harrison (1833–1901) to serve on the Civil Service Commission. Under Roosevelt's leadership the group became dedicated to opening equal opportunities for all who were qualified to serve and work in government.
In 1895 Roosevelt returned to New York City to serve two years as president of the police board. He enforced the law with relentless efficiency and honesty, which often led him into arguments with the leaders of his own Republican party. He succeeded in modernizing the force, limiting corruption, and raising morale to new heights. However, he resigned from this position in 1897 to become President William McKinley's (1843–1901) assistant secretary of the Navy.
As assistant secretary, Roosevelt worked closely with senators in Congress to promote war against Spain. This conflict, the Spanish American War (1898), ended Spain's control of colonies in Latin America and resulted in America's gaining its own territories, including the Philippines. Roosevelt embraced the war mainly to expand America's global influence and because he had exaggerated notions of the heroic glories of war. Anxious to prove himself under fire, Roosevelt resigned from the navy in April 1898 to organize the 1st Volunteer Cavalry regiment. This horseback cavalry unit was known as the "Rough Riders." Roosevelt took command of the unit in Cubaand distinguished himself in a bold charge up the hill next to San Juan. In late summer 1898 he returned home as a war hero and was nominated for governor of New York.
From governor to president
Roosevelt won election as governor in the fall of 1898. His two-year administration was full of positive activity. Winning the favor of public opinion and showing himself to be a master politician, he forced an impressive body of new laws and regulations through a reluctant New York Assembly and Senate.
In 1900 Roosevelt accepted the Republican vice presidential nomination. A landslide victory for McKinley and Roosevelt followed, but on September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot in Buffalo, New York, and he died eight days later. Roosevelt was sworn in as president.
First presidential term
Roosevelt's first three years in office were limited by the conservative policies of Republicans in Congress and the way in which he had come to power. Nevertheless, in 1902 Roosevelt shook the financial community by ordering proceedings against the association of railroad groups known as the Northern Securities Company. When a group of firms or corporations combines or cooperates in order to control prices or reduce competition, this action is known as a trust. Efforts to combat trusts, such as Roosevelt's actions against Northern Securities, are known as antitrust actions. By the time Roosevelt left office as president he had begun forty-three antitrust actions.
In his foreign policy, Roosevelt was intent on expanding the United States' global power. He established a somewhat tolerant government in the Philippines, settled an old Alaskan boundary dispute with Canada on terms favorable to the United States, and took advantage of a revolution in Panama to acquire the Panama Canal Zone. Roosevelt's policies aimed at expanding American influence and limiting European power in the Western Hemisphere. The United States, he declared, assumed the right to intervene in the internal affairs of the Latin American nations in the event of "chronic wrongdoing" or "impotence [weakness or inability]."
In 1904 Roosevelt ran for a second, full presidential term. He won the election and carried in a great number of candidates to Congress through the influence of his popularity.
Roosevelt pushed through a much more progressive program in his second term. One of his primary accomplishments was his drive to protect and to increase development of America's natural resources. By March 1909 Roosevelt's use of his executive power had resulted in the transfer of 125 million acres to the forest reserves. About half as many acres containing coal and mineral deposits had been placed under greater public control. Sixteen national monuments and fifty-one wildlife refuges had been established, and the number of national parks had been doubled.
In the area of foreign policy, Roosevelt's impact on the international scene continued during his second term. This was especially true in the Far East. Perceiving that Japan was destined to become a major Far Eastern power, he encouraged that country to serve as a force to keep the area stable. To this end he used his influence to end a war between Russia and Japan that took place in 1904–5. For his efforts, he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Rejecting suggestions that he run for reelection, Roosevelt selected William Howard Taft (1857–1930) as his successor. Taft was elected and this led to disputes within the Republican Party. Caught between the conservative supporters of Taft and the advanced progressive followers of himself and Senator Robert M. La Follette, Roosevelt set forth a radical program of social and economic reforms in 1910. Thereafter pressure to declare himself a candidate for the nomination in 1912 mounted until he reluctantly did so.
Although Roosevelt outpolled Taft easily in the Republican primaries, Taft's control of the party organization won him the nomination. Roosevelt's supporters then stormed out of the party and organized the Progressive Party, also known as the Bull Moose Party. During the campaign that fall, Roosevelt called forcefully for federal regulation of corporations, tax reform, river valley developments, and social justice for workers and the underprivileged. But the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), won the election.
Roosevelt died at his home in Oyster Bay, Long Island, on January 6, 1919. Today, his reputation as a domestic reformer remains secure.
For More Information
Brands, H. W. T. R: The Last Romantic. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Burton, David H. Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1972.
Gable, John A. Theodore Roosevelt Cyclopedia Rev. ed. Westport, CT: Meckler, 1989.
Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. Random House, 2001.
Roosevelt, Theodore. Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography. New York: Macmillan, 1913. Reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1985.
Theodore ("Teddy") Roosevelt served as the twenty-sixth president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. A writer, explorer, and soldier, as well as a politician, Roosevelt distinguished himself as president by advocating conservation of natural resources, waging legal battles against
economic monopolies and trusts, and exercising leadership in foreign affairs. An energetic man with a colorful personality, Roosevelt later sought to reclaim the presidency in 1912 as the head of the progressive party.
Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City, a descendant of a wealthy and aristocratic family that first settled in New York in the 1600s. A sickly boy, Roosevelt developed a regimen of diet and exercise that transformed him into a vigorous young man. He graduated from Harvard University in 1880 and was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1881.
Roosevelt resigned in 1884, following the death of his wife, and spent two years at his ranch in the Badlands of the Dakota Territory. During this period he developed both his association with the Wild West world of cowboys and his appreciation of the wilderness. He returned to New York City in 1886 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor. From 1889 to 1895, Roosevelt served as a civil service commissioner in Washington, D.C. In 1895 he was appointed as a reform-minded New York City police commissioner. His main occupation, however, was that of writer: he wrote many magazine articles and twelve books between 1880 and 1900.
Roosevelt's rise to national prominence came during the spanish-american war of 1898. Anxious to be a part of the forces that would go to Cuba, he organized a group of cowboys and New York aristocrats into a cavalry regiment nicknamed the Rough Riders. As a lieutenant colonel, Roosevelt became a national hero and darling of the national news media when he led his Rough Riders to victory at the Battle of San Juan Hill in July 1898.
The New York republican party, under the leadership of Senator Thomas C. Platt, nominated Roosevelt for governor in 1898, in the hope that his popularity could rescue a party plagued by scandal. Roosevelt was easily elected but soon offended party leaders by asserting his political independence. Platt became so frustrated with Roosevelt's reform agenda that he persuaded President william mckinley to make Roosevelt his vice presidential running mate in 1900. Reluctantly, Roosevelt accepted the nomination. His popularity helped McKinley win a second term. On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon F. Czolgosz shot McKinley when he visited the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Eight days later McKinley died and Roosevelt assumed the presidency.
As president, Roosevelt sought to attack corruption and to promote economic and political reform. He insisted that government should be the arbiter of economic conflicts between capital and labor. He demonstrated his convictions by negotiating a settlement of a strike between coal miners and mine operators in 1902, the first time a president had intervened in a labor dispute. Roosevelt referred to his platform for business and labor as the Square Deal.
Roosevelt won public acclaim for being a "trust buster." By the early twentieth century, a few large companies in key industries, including railroads, oil, and steel, had stifled competition and created monopolies. In one of his first major acts, Roosevelt filed suit to dissolve the Northern Securities Company, a trust controlled by the three major railroads in the Northwest. Using the sherman anti-trust act of 1890 (15 U.S.C.A. § 1 et seq.), the Roosevelt administration successfully broke up Northern Securities; antitrust lawsuits against forty-three other major corporations soon followed.
In 1904 the Republican Party nominated Roosevelt for a second term. He easily defeated the Democratic candidate Alton B. Parker of New York. In his second term Roosevelt helped enact several groundbreaking pieces of federal legislation. Spurred in part by public concern over the unsanitary food packing methods revealed by Upton Sinclair's 1906 novel The Jungle, Roosevelt pressured Congress and the meat packing industry to support the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 (21 U.S.C.A. § 601 et seq.). In 1906 Congress also passed the Pure Food and Drug Act (21 U.S.C.A. § 301 et seq.), which criminalized the misleading and harmful sale of patent medicines that made false claims about their medicinal effects. The act also established the food and drug administration, putting in place a federal agency dedicated to consumer protection. Roosevelt also was instrumental in the passage of the Hepburn Act of 1906 (34 Stat. 584), which increased the powers of the interstate commerce commission (ICC), allowing the ICC to inspect the business records of railroads.
Roosevelt became the first president to play a major international role in foreign policy. His favorite motto, based on an African proverb, was "speak softly and carry a big stick." The motto epitomized Roosevelt's foreign policy, as he increased the size of the U.S. Navy and sent the fleet around the world in 1908 to demonstrate both U.S. military strength and U.S. involvement in world affairs.
Roosevelt initiated the construction of the Panama Canal in 1902, reduced domestic discord by making an agreement with Japan on limiting the number of Japanese immigrants to the United States, and negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 at a peace conference held in Portsmouth, Maine. He earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for mediating the peace agreement.
Perhaps the most innovative aspect of Roosevelt's presidency was his commitment to the conservation of natural resources. He lobbied successfully for funds to convert large portions of federal land into national forests. In seven years 194 million additional acres of federal land were closed to commercial development, five times more than his three predecessors had reserved for conservation purposes. Roosevelt also approved the Newlands Act of 1903 (32 Stat. 388), which called for part of the receipts from the sale of public lands in the western states and territories to be reserved for dams and reclamation projects. The legislation saved much western wildlife from extinction.
Despite his relative youth and energy, Roosevelt declined to run for another term. His progressive reforms had angered many conservative Republicans in Congress. In addition, his public comments on "race suicide," in which he lamented the declining birthrate of U.S. citizens of northern European ancestry and the accelerating birthrate of Russian and southern European immigrants, troubled many people. He approved the Republican presidential nomination of his secretary of war, william howard taft, in the belief that Taft was a progressive Republican. Taft won the presidency in November 1908.
"No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man's permission when we ask him to obey it."
—Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt
After leaving office in March 1909, Roosevelt spent ten months in Africa on a hunting trip and then visited Europe. Upon his return to the United States in 1910, he was shocked at Taft's capitulation to the conservative Republicans in Congress. His animosity toward Taft grew, and in 1912 Roosevelt declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. Although he won most of the primaries, the Republican Party leaders controlled enough votes to give the nomination to Taft. Undaunted, Roosevelt
formed a third party, called the Progressive Party. Following a failed assassination attempt against him in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in October 1912, he said that it would take more than that to kill a bull moose. Thereafter, the Progressives were nicknamed the Bull Moose Party.
Roosevelt won more votes than Taft, but the division of Republican strength allowed Democrat woodrow wilson to be elected president. Roosevelt grew to despise Wilson and his policies, leveling harsh criticism against Wilson's foreign policy. Incensed when Wilson denied him the opportunity to form a regiment and fight in world war i, Roosevelt denounced Wilson's proposal for the league of nations, even though Roosevelt himself had once advocated such an organization.
Roosevelt's health deteriorated rapidly in his last years. He died on January 6, 1919, at his home in Oyster Bay, New York.
Burns, James MacGregor. 2001. The Three Roosevelts: Patrician Leaders Who Transformed America. New York: Atlantic Monthly.
Holmes, James. 2003. "Police Power: Theodore Roosevelt, American Diplomacy, and World Order." Fletcher Forum of World Affairs 27 (winter-spring).
Posner, Theodore R., and Timothy M. Reif. 2000. "Homage to a Bull Moose: Applying Lessons of History to Meet the Challenges of Globalization." Fordham International Law Journal 24 (November-December).
Rauchway, Eric. 2003. Murdering Mckinley: The Making of Theodore Roosevelt's America. New York: Hill and Wang.
(b. October 27, 1858, d. January 6, 1919) Twenty-fifth president of the United States (1901–1909).
Theodore Roosevelt led the United States into the front ranks of the world's imperial powers at the turn of the twentieth century. He pushed for war with Spain during the 1890s and then served in the Spanish-American War. As president from 1901 to 1909, Roosevelt promoted American overseas interests and modernized U.S. military forces. After World War I erupted in Europe, he argued for American military preparedness and intervention, and hoped to serve his country again on the battlefield.
Roosevelt was born into one of the richest families in New York City. Although asthma and physical frailty plagued him in his youth, he enjoyed a life of privilege. His formal education consisted chiefly of private tutors, studies in Germany, and a degree from Harvard College. Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, he served in various governmental positions, but his major impact on national and international affairs started only after President William McKinley appointed him assistant secretary of the navy in 1897.
Roosevelt claimed that a large navy was essential for the United States to be a great power. He believed even more strongly that imperial struggles were essential for encouraging "frontier virtues" such as courage, self-reliance, and physical hardiness. With the American West now settled, the pursuit of overseas interests, he asserted, would help preserve those qualities in an increasingly urbanized and industrialized country. Roosevelt argued for war with Spain, in particular, because of reports of Spanish brutality in suppressing a revolt in its colony of Cuba. Even as he urged American intervention in Cuba, he prepared the navy for possible battle, which included orders for possible action against Spain's colony in the Philippines. When the U.S.S. Maine, sent to Cuba to observe conditions there, exploded in Havana harbor in early 1898, Roosevelt blamed the Spaniards. After President McKinley called for war, Roosevelt resigned his Navy Department post and gained an appointment as lieutenant colonel in the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, nicknamed the Rough Riders. Composed of men from the wilds of the West and elite colleges in the East, this diverse and colorful unit captured national attention. By June 1898 the Rough Riders sailed as part of an army expedition to Cuba.
The Spanish-American conflict was brief. American warships swiftly destroyed Spanish naval forces in the Philippines at the Battle of Manila bay. In Cuba, small engagements climaxed in battles to take the hills over-looking Santiago de Cuba, where a Spanish naval force lay anchored. On July 1, 1898, Roosevelt led his troops first up Kettle Hill, and then on to San Juan Hill, as part of coordinated American attacks. These charges were the defining moment of Roosevelt's national political career and of American imperialism. Reporters made him the hero of the day, and the public thrilled to read of the success of the expedition, which in reality suffered from supply and medical problems. Roosevelt returned home to become governor of New York and then the vice president when McKinley ran for a second term in 1900. McKinley's assassination elevated Roosevelt to the presidency in 1901.
Roosevelt made military matters one of his top priorities as president. A naval building program increased the fleet to twenty battleships by 1909, and to demonstrate American sea power he sent this force on a round-the-world cruise from 1907 to 1909. Roosevelt also supported reform of the National Guard, and signed legislation creating an army general staff to provide better planning and command. He imposed a physical test on army and navy officers to make them models of physical fitness and sponsored new technologies. Roosevelt became an enthusiast for submarines after a voyage on the U.S.S. Plunger and also promoted the military potential of aviation. His greatest military and diplomatic interest was, however, the construction of an interoceanic canal in Central America to speed the transit of the navy, and trade, between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. To accomplish this goal, Roosevelt attempted, but failed to reach, an agreement with Colombia for a route through its province of Panama. Construction began only after Roosevelt encouraged a revolt in Panama and then used the U.S. Navy to support it. The canal opened in 1914, and Roosevelt considered it one of the country's greatest achievements, a symbol of American know-how and power. Reflecting the racial attitudes of his era, he dismissed the Colombians' bitterness over his actions.
In 1914 Roosevelt also focused on the outbreak of World War I in Europe. Although no longer in office, he still urged American military readiness and supported civilian training camps such as the one at Plattsburgh, New York, to prepare for any future mobilization. He also became increasingly outspoken in his support of Britain and France and in 1915 argued for war against Germany after 128 Americans died in the sinking of the British passenger liner Lusitania. Upon United States entry into the war in 1917, Roosevelt offered to raise a division to fight in France. President Woodrow Wilson declined the request, and Roosevelt instead could only send his four sons to war. Three survived, but the youngest, Quentin, died in combat in 1918. Roosevelt himself died soon after in January 1919.
Throughout his political career, Roosevelt rejected America's traditional isolationism to embrace a new role for the United States as a world power and colonial nation. Both roles were bitterly debated at the turn of the twentieth century. In particular America's war against insurgents in the Philippines who opposed U.S. rule was denounced by critics as abandoning the nation's traditional values and democratic principles. Despite entry into World War I, which Roosevelt favored, Americans later turned their backs on internationalism by rejecting Woodrow Wilson's dream of a League of Nations. America returned to isolationism until forced into war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Germany's declaration of war on the United States a few days later.
Brands, H. W. T.R.: The Last Romantic. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Dalton, Kathleen. Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life. New York: Knopf, 2002.
Morris, Edmund. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1979.
Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.
Reckner, James R. Teddy Roosevelt's Great White Fleet. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1988.
Roosevelt, Theodore. The Rough Riders. New York: Scribner, 1902; reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1990.
Matthew M. Oyos
See also:Imperialism; Journalism, Spanish American War; Wilson, Woodrow.