October 27, 1858
New York, New York
Died January 6, 1919, age 60
Oyster Bay, New York
Political party Republican
Spouse (1) Alice Hathaway Lee (married 1880, died 1884)
(2) Edith Kermit Carow (married 1886)
Signature , Jr., (October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919), also known
as T.R. and to the public (but never to friends and intimates) as Teddy,
was the 26th President of the United States, and a leader of the Republican
Party and of the Progressive Movement. He served in many roles including
governor of New York, historian, naturalist, explorer, author, and soldier.
Roosevelt is most famous for his personality: his energy, his vast range
of interests and achievements, his model of masculinity, and his "cowboy”
In 1901, he became
President after the assassination of President William McKinley. Roosevelt
was a Progressive reformer who sought to move the dominant Republican
Party into the Progressive camp. He distrusted wealthy businessmen and
dissolved 40 monopolistic corporations as a "trust buster."
He was clear, however, to show that he did not disagree with trusts
and capitalism in principle but was only against their corrupt, illegal
practices. His "Square Deal" promised a fair shake for both
the average citizen, including regulation of railroad rates and pure
foods and drugs, and the businessmen. As an outdoorsman, he promoted
the conservation movement, emphasizing efficient use of natural resources.
After 1906, he moved left, attacking big business and suggesting the
courts were biased against labor unions. In 1910, he broke with his
friend and anointed successor William Howard Taft, but lost the Republican
nomination to Taft and ran in the 1912 election on his own one-time
Bull Moose ticket. Roosevelt lost but pulled so many Progressives out
of the Republican Party that Democrat Woodrow Wilson won in 1912, and
the conservative faction took control of the Republican Party for the
next two decades.
As Assistant Secretary
of the U.S. Navy, he prepared for and advocated war with Spain in 1898.
He organized and helped command the first U.S. volunteer cavalry regiment,
the Rough Riders, during the Spanish-American War. Returning to New
York as a war hero, he was elected Republican governor in 1898. He was
a professional historian, a lawyer, a naturalist and explorer of the
Amazon Basin; his 35 books include works on outdoor life, natural
history, the American frontier, political history, naval history, and
the strategic significance of the Panama Canal, and negotiated for the
U.S. to take control of its construction in 1904; he felt that the Canal's
completion was his most important and historically significant international
achievement. He was the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize,
winning its Peace Prize in 1906, for negotiating the peace in the Russo-Japanese
Bailey, who disagreed with Roosevelt's policies, nevertheless concluded,
"Roosevelt was a great personality, a great activist, a great preacher
of the moralities, a great controversialist, a great showman. He dominated
his era as he dominated conversations....the masses loved him; he proved
to be a great popular idol and a great vote getter." His image
stands alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln on Mount Rushmore.
Surveys of scholars have consistently ranked him from #3 to #7 on the
list of greatest American presidents.
and Personal Life
at age 11Roosevelt was born at 28 East 20th Street in the modern-day
Lemming section of New York City on October 27, 1858, the second of
four children of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. (1831–1877) and Mittie
Bulloch (1834–1884). He had an elder sister Anna, nicknamed "Bamie"
as a child and "Bye" as an adult for being always on the go;
and two younger siblings — his brother Elliott (the father of
Eleanor Roosevelt) and his sister Corinne, (grandmother of newspaper
columnists, Joseph and Stewart Alsop).
The Roosevelts had
been in New York since the mid 17th century and had grown with the emerging
New York commerce class after the American Revolution. By the 18th Century,
the family had grown in wealth, power and influence from the profits
of several businesses including hardware and plate-glass importing.
The family was strongly Democratic in its political affiliation until
the mid-1850s, then joined the new Republican Party. Theodore's father,
known in the family as "Thee", was a New York City philanthropist,
merchant, and partner in the family glass-importing firm Roosevelt and
Son. He was a prominent supporter of Abraham Lincoln and the Union effort
during the American Civil War. Theodore's mother Mittie Bulloch was
a Southern belle from a slave-owning family in Savannah, Georgia and
had quiet Confederate sympathies. Mittie's brother, Theodore's uncle,
James Dunwoody Bulloch, "Uncle Jimmy", was a U.S. Navy officer
who became a Confederate admiral and naval procurement agent in Britain.
Another uncle Irvine Bulloch was a midshipman on the Confederate raider,
CSS Alabama; both remained in England after the war.
Sickly and asthmatic
as a youngster, Roosevelt had to sleep propped up in bed or slouching
in a chair during much of his early childhood, and had frequent ailments.
Despite his illnesses, he was a hyperactive and often mischievous young
man. His lifelong interest in zoology was formed at age seven upon seeing
a dead seal at a local market. After obtaining the seal's head, the
young Roosevelt and two of his cousins formed what they called the "Roosevelt
Museum of Natural History". Learning the rudiments of taxidermy,
he filled his makeshift museum with many animals that he killed or caught,
studied, and prepared for display. At age nine, he codified his observation
of insects with a paper titled "The Natural History of Insects".
To combat his poor
physical condition, his father compelled the young Roosevelt to take
up exercise. To deal with bullies, Roosevelt started boxing lessons.
Two trips abroad had a permanent impact: family tours of Europe in 1869
and 1870, and of the Middle East 1872 to 1873.
Theodore Sr. had
a tremendous influence on young Theodore and was a life-long source
of inspiration. Of him Roosevelt wrote, "My father, Theodore Roosevelt,
was the best man I ever knew. He combined strength and courage with
gentleness, tenderness, and great unselfishness. He would not tolerate
in us children selfishness or cruelty, idleness, cowardice, or untruthfulness."
Roosevelt's sister later wrote, "He told me frequently that he
never took any serious step or made any vital decision for his country
without thinking first what position his father would have taken."
as he was nicknamed as a child, (the nickname "Teddy" was
from his first wife, and he later harbored an intense dislike for it)
was mostly home schooled by tutors and his parents. A leading biographer
says: "The most obvious drawback to the home schooling Roosevelt
received was uneven coverage of the various areas of human knowledge."
He was solid in geography (thanks to his careful observations on all
his travels) and very well read in history, strong in biology, French
and German, but deficient in mathematics, Latin and Greek. He matriculated
at Harvard College in 1876, graduating magna cum laude. His father's
death in 1878 was a tremendous blow, but Roosevelt redoubled his activities.
He did well in science, philosophy and rhetoric courses but fared poorly
in Latin and Greek. He studied biology with great interest and indeed
was already an accomplished naturalist and published ornithologist.
He had a photographic memory and developed a life-long habit of devouring
books, memorizing every detail. He was an unusually eloquent conversationalist
who, throughout his life, sought out the company of the smartest men
and women. He could multitask in extraordinary fashion, dictating letters
to one secretary and memoranda to another, while browsing through a
new book. During his adulthood, a visitor would get a not-so-subtle
hint that Roosevelt was losing interest in the conversation when he
would pick up a book and begin looking at it now and then as the conversation
While at Harvard,
Roosevelt was active in numerous clubs, including the Alpha Delta Phi
and Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternities. He also edited a student magazine.
He was runner-up in the Harvard boxing championship, losing to C.S.
Hanks. The sportsmanship Roosevelt showed in that fight was long remembered.
Upon graduating from Harvard, Roosevelt underwent a physical examination
and his doctor advised him that due to serious heart problems, he should
find a desk job and avoid strenuous activity. Roosevelt disregarded
the advice and chose to embrace the strenuous life instead.
He graduated Phi
Beta Kappa and magna cum laude (22nd of 177) from Harvard in 1880, and
entered Columbia Law School. When offered a chance to run for New York
Assemblyman in 1881, he dropped out of law school to pursue his new
goal of entering public life.
Early public life
Roosevelt as NY State Assemblyman 1883, photoRoosevelt was a Republican
activist during his years in the Assembly, writing more bills than any
other New York state legislator. Already a major player in state politics,
he attended the Republican National Convention in 1884 and fought alongside
the Mugwump reformers; they lost to the Stalwart faction that nominated
James G. Blaine. Refusing to join other Mugwumps in supporting Democrat
Grover Cleveland, the Democratic nominee, he stayed loyal to the party
and supported Blaine.
On his 22nd birthday, Roosevelt married his first wife, 19-year-old
Alice Hathaway Lee, on October 27, 1880, at the Unitarian Church in
Brookline, Massachusetts. Alice was the daughter of the prominent banker
George Cabot Lee and Caroline Haskell Lee. The couple first met in 1878.
He proposed in June 1879. However, Alice waited another six months before
accepting the proposal. They announced their engagement on Valentine's
Day 1880. Alice Roosevelt died exactly four years later, only two days
after the birth of their first child, also named Alice. In a tragic
coincidence, Roosevelt's mother died of typhoid fever on the same day,
also at the Roosevelt family home in Manhattan.
Diary Entry Feb 14, 1884Although he noted her loss in his diary and
made several references to her in the subsequent months, from the next
year on Roosevelt refused to speak his first wife's name again (even
omitting her name from his autobiography) and did not allow others to
speak of her in his presence. With his daughter, Alice, the siblings
were taught to call her "sister," and Alice's half-brother
Ted, Jr. would have to ask "has anyone seen sister this morning?"
This practice put
an early strain on his relationship with his daughter who was given
his late wife's name. However, as she grew into adulthood and better
understood her father's deep moral convictions, the bond between them
became strong. Alice continued to support her father's ideas after his
death in 1919.
Later that year,
Roosevelt left the General Assembly and his infant daughter Alice, whom
he had left in the long-term care of his older sister, Bamie. In letters
to Bamie, he would refer to Alice as Baby Lee. Roosevelt moved to his
Maltese Cross ranch seven miles from Medora in the Badlands of the Dakota
Territory to live a more simple life as a rancher and lawman.
Life in Badlands
as Badlands hunter in 1885. New York studio photo. Note the engraved
knife and rifle courtesy of Tiffany and Co.Roosevelt built a second
ranch he named Elk Horn thirty five miles north of the boomtown, Medora,
North Dakota. On the banks of the "Little Missouri", Roosevelt
learned to ride, rope, and hunt. There, in the waning days of the American
Old West, he rebuilt his life and began writing about frontier life
for Eastern magazines. As a deputy sheriff, Roosevelt hunted down three
outlaws who stole his river boat and were escaping north with it up
the Little Missouri River. Capturing them, he decided against hanging
them and sending his foreman back by boat, he took the thieves back
overland for trial in Dickinson, guarding them forty hours without sleep
and reading Tolstoy to keep himself awake. When he ran out of his own
books he read a dime store western that one of the thieves was carrying.
While working on
a tough project aimed at hunting down a group of relentless horse thieves,
Roosevelt came across the famous Deadwood, South Dakota Sheriff Seth
Bullock. The two would remain friends for life. (Morris, Rise of, 241-245,
After the 1886-1887
winter wiped out his herd of cattle and his $60,000 investment (together
with those of his competitors), he returned to the East, where in 1885,
he had purchased Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, New York. It would be
his home and estate until his death. Roosevelt ran as the Republican
candidate for mayor of New York City in 1886, coming in a distant third.
Following the election, he went to London in 1886 and married his childhood
sweetheart, Edith Kermit Carow. They honeymooned in Europe, and
Roosevelt climbed Mont Blanc, leading only the third recorded expedition
to reach the summit, a feat which resulted in his induction into the
British Royal Society. They had five children: Theodore Jr., Kermit,
Ethel Carow, Archibald Bulloch "Archie", and Quentin.
"Uncle Ted" was the godfather and favorite uncle of Eleanor
Roosevelt, whom he gave away in marriage to their fifth cousin Franklin
D. Roosevelt on March 17, 1905.
Roosevelt is the
only President to have become a widower and remarry before becoming
In the 1880s, he gained recognition as a serious historian. His The
Naval War of 1812 (1882) was the standard history for two generations.
By comparison, however, his hastily-written biographies of Thomas Hart
Benton (1887) and Gouverneur Morris (1888) are considered superficial.
His major achievement was a four-volume history of the frontier, The
Winning of the West (1889-1896), which had a notable impact on historiography
as it presented a highly original version of the frontier thesis elaborated
upon in 1893 by his friend Frederick Jackson Turner. Roosevelt argued
that the harsh frontier conditions had created a new "race"
or people--the American people. He was using a Lamarkean model in which
new environmental conditions allow a new species to form. His many articles
in upscale magazines provided a much-needed income, as well as cementing
a reputation as a major national intellectual. He was later chosen president
of the American Historical Association
Return to public life
New York City Police Commissioner 1896In the 1888 presidential election,
Roosevelt campaigned for Benjamin Harrison in the Midwest. President
Harrison appointed Roosevelt to the United States Civil Service Commission,
where he served until 1895. In his term, he vigorously fought the
spoilsmen and demanded the enforcement of civil service laws. In spite
of Roosevelt's support for Harrison's reelection bid in the presidential
election of 1892, the eventual winner, Grover Cleveland (a Bourbon Democrat),
reappointed him to the same post.
In 1895, he became
president of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners. During
the two years that he held this post, Roosevelt radically changed the
way a police department was run. The police force was reputed as one
of the most corrupt forces in America. NYPD's history division records
that Roosevelt was, "an iron-willed leader of unimpeachable honesty,
(who) brought a reforming zeal to the New York City Police Commission
in 1895." Roosevelt and his fellow commissioners established
new disciplinary rules, created a bicycle squad to police New York's
traffic problems and implemented standardized 32 calibre pistol practice.
Roosevelt implemented regular inspections of firearms, annual physical
exams, appointed 1,600 new recruits appointed not on the basis of political
affiliation but solely for their physical and mental qualifications,
opened admission to the department to ethnic minorities and women, established
the first police meritorious service medals, shut down the corrupt police
hostelries, and a Municipal Lodging House was established by the Board
of Charities. Roosevelt required his officers to be registered with
the Board. He also had telephones installed in station houses. Always
an energetic man, he made a habit of walking officers' beats late at
night and early in the morning to make sure that they were on duty.
He became caught up in public disagreements with commissioner Parker,
who sought to negate or delay the promotion of many officers put forward
Assistant Secretary of the Navy
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt (front center) at the Naval
War College, c. 1897Roosevelt had always been fascinated by navies and
their history. Urged by Roosevelt's close friend, Congressman Henry
Cabot Lodge, President William McKinley appointed a delighted Roosevelt
to the post of Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897. (Because of
the inactivity of Secretary of the Navy John D. Long at the time, this
basically gave Roosevelt control over the department.) Roosevelt was
instrumental in preparing the Navy for the Spanish-American War
and was an enthusiastic proponent of testing the U.S. military in battle,
at one point stating "I should welcome almost any war, for I think
this country needs one".
War in Cuba
Roosevelt left his civilian Navy post to form the famous "Rough
Colonel Roosevelt and his "Rough Riders" after capturing San
Juan Hill during the Spanish-American WarUpon the declaration of war
in 1898 that would be known as the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt resigned
from the Navy Department and, with the aid of U.S. Army Colonel Leonard
Wood, organized the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment out of a diverse
crew that ranged from cowboys from the Western territories to Ivy League
friends from New York. The newspapers called them the "Rough Riders."
Originally Roosevelt held the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and served
under Colonel Wood, but after Wood was promoted to Brigadier General
of Volunteer Forces, Roosevelt was promoted to Colonel and given command
of the Regiment.
Under his leadership,
the Rough Riders became famous for their dual charges up Kettle Hill
and San Juan Hill in July 1898 (the battle was named after the latter
hill). Out of all the Rough Riders, Roosevelt was the only one who had
a horse, and was forced to dismount and walk up Kettle Hill on foot
after his horse, Little Texas, became tired. Roosevelt was posthumously
awarded the Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions. He was the first
and, as of 2007, the only President of the United States to be awarded
with America's highest military honor.
Governor and Vice
On leaving the Army, Roosevelt re-entered New York state politics and
was elected governor of New York in 1898 on the Republican ticket. He
made such a concerted effort to root out corruption and "machine
politics" that Republican boss Thomas Collier Platt forced him
on McKinley as a running mate in the 1900 election, against the wishes
of McKinley's manager Senator Mark Hanna. Roosevelt was a powerful campaign
asset for the Republican ticket, which defeated William Jennings Bryan
in a landslide based on restoration of prosperity at home and a successful
war and new prestige abroad. Bryan stumped for Free Silver again, but
McKinley's promise of prosperity through the Gold Standard, high tariffs,
and the restoration of business confidence proved far more attractive
to voters and he enlarged his margin of victory. Bryan had strongly
supported the war against Spain, but denounced the annexation of the
Philippines as imperialism that would spoil America's innocence. Roosevelt
countered with many speeches that argued it was best for the Filipinos
to have stability, and the Americans to have a proud place in the world.
Roosevelt's few months as Vice President (March to September, 1901)
Nashville Tennessee News sketch of Theodore Roosevelt inauguration minus
the customary Bible. Inauguration photos were not allowed after a rival
photographer unceremoniously knocked down another's camera.
John Singer Sargent, Theodore Roosevelt, 1903; click on photo for background
story.Main article: Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt
President McKinley was shot by Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, on September
6, 1901. Vice President Roosevelt had been delivering a speech in Vermont
when he got word of McKinley's shooting. He arrived in Buffalo the next
day, accepting an invitation to stay at the home of Ansley Wilcox, a
prominent lawyer and friend since the early 1880s when they had both
worked closely with New York State Governor Grover Cleveland on civil
service reform. Wilcox would recall that "the family and most of
the household were in the country, but he [Roosevelt] was offered a
quiet place to sleep and eat, and accepted it." Roosevelt took
the oath of office in the Ansley Wilcox House at Buffalo, New York borrowing
Wilcox's morning coat. Roosevelt did not swear on the Bible nor on any
other book, making him unique among presidents. He was the youngest
person to assume the presidency, and he promised to continue McKinley's
cabinet and his basic policies. Roosevelt did so, but after reelection
in 1904, he moved to the political left, stretching his ties to the
Republican Party's conservative leaders.
: Coal Strike of
A national emergency was averted in 1902 when Roosevelt found a compromise
to the anthracite coal strike by the United Mine Workers of America
that threatened the heating supplies of most urban homes. Roosevelt
called the mine owners and the labor leaders to the White House and
negotiated a compromise. Miners were on strike for 163 days before it
ended; they were granted a 10% pay increase and a 9-hour day (from the
previous 10 hours), but the union was not officially recognized and
the price of coal went up.
to continue McKinley's program, and at first he worked closely with
McKinley's men. His 20,000-word address to the Congress in December
1901, asked Congress to curb the power of trusts "within reasonable
limits." They did not act but Roosevelt did, issuing 44 lawsuits
against major corporations; he was called the "trust-buster."
Mark Hanna was the
rival power in the Republican party. Hanna died, and Roosevelt had an
easy renomination and reelection in 1904. He won 336 of 476 electoral
votes, and 56.4% of the total popular vote. He therefore became the
first President who came into office due to the death of his predecessor
to be elected in his own right.
Roosevelt as militarist and ineffective in this 1904 election cartoon
Building on McKinley's
effective use of the press, Roosevelt made the White House the center
of news every day, providing interviews and photo opportunities. His
children were almost as popular as he was, and their pranks in the White
House made headlines. His daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, became quite
popular in Washington.
Regulation of industry
Roosevelt firmly believed: "The Government must in increasing degree
supervise and regulate the workings of the railways engaged in interstate
commerce." Inaction was a danger, he argued: "Such increased
supervision is the only alternative to an increase of the present evils
on the one hand or a still more radical policy on the other."
His biggest success was passage of the Hepburn Act of 1906, granting
the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) the power to set maximum railroad
rates; it also stopped free passes given to friends of the railroad.
At that time it was universally assumed that railroads would continue
to be a vast and powerful force. No one dreamed they would eventually
be challenged by truck and automobile traffic, and hence struggle to
survive under the provisions of the Hepburn Act designed to protect
merchants and consumers.
In response to public
clamor, Roosevelt pushed Congress to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act
of 1906, as well as the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. These laws provided
for labeling of foods and drugs, inspection of livestock and mandated
sanitary conditions at meatpacking plants. Congress replaced Roosevelt's
proposals with a version supported by the major meatpackers who worried
about the overseas markets, and did not want small unsanitary plants
undercutting their domestic market.
Roosevelt worked closely with early conservationists such as Gifford
Pinchot, pictured above, with whom he organized the first National Governors
Conservation Conference at the White House in 1908Roosevelt was the
first American president to consider the long-term needs for efficient
conservation of national resources, winning the support of fellow hunters
and fishermen to bolster his political base. Roosevelt was the last
trained observer to ever see a passenger pigeon, and on March 14, 1903,
Roosevelt created the first National Bird Preserve, (the beginning of
the Wildlife Refuge system), on Pelican Island, Florida. Assuming the
conservationist role was a natural step for him, and he decided that
it was overdue to put the issue high on the national agenda. He worked
with all the major figures of the movement, especially his chief advisor
on the matter Gifford Pinchot. Roosevelt urged congress to establish
the United States Forest Service (1905), to manage government forest
lands, and he appointed Gifford Pinchot to head the service. Roosevelt
set aside more land for national parks and nature preserves than all
of his predecessors combined, 194 million acres. In all, by 1909, the
Roosevelt administration had created an unprecedented 42 million acres
of national forests, 53 national wildlife refuges and 18 areas of "special
interest", including the Grand Canyon. This environmental record
was unequaled until President Bill Clinton's term, 90 years later.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands commemorates his
conservationist philosophy. In 1903, Roosevelt toured the Yosemite Valley
with John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, but he rejected Muir's philosophy
that privileged nature, and emphasized instead the more efficient use
of nature. In 1907, with Congress about to block him, Roosevelt hurried
to designate 16 million acres (65,000 km²) of new national forests.
In May 1908, he sponsored the Conference of Governors held in the White
House, with a focus on the most efficient planning, analysis and use
of water, forests and other natural resources. Roosevelt explained,
"There is an intimate relation between our streams and the development
and conservation of all the other great permanent sources of wealth."
During his presidency, Roosevelt promoted the nascent conservation movement
in essays for Outdoor Life magazine. Roosevelt, like Pinchot (but unlike
Muir), believed in the more efficient use of natural resources by corporations
like lumber companies. To Roosevelt, conservation meant more and better
usage and less waste, and a long-term perspective.
his Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks.Roosevelt's conservationist
leanings also impelled him to preserve national sites of scientific,
particularly archaeological, interest. The 1906 passage of the Antiquities
Act gave him a tool for creating national monuments by presidential
proclamation, without requiring Congressional approval for each monument
on an item-by-item basis. The language of the Antiquities Act specifically
called for the preservation of "historic landmarks, historic and
prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific
interest," and was primarily construed by its creator, Congressman
James F. Lacey (assisted by the prominent archaeologist Edgar Lee Hewett),
as targeting the prehistoric ruins of the American Southwest. Roosevelt,
however, applied a typically broad interpretation to the Act, and the
first national monument he proclaimed, Devils Tower National Monument
in Wyoming, was preserved for reasons tied more to geology than archaeology.
Roosevelt's administration was marked by an active approach to foreign
policy. Roosevelt saw it as the duty of more developed ("civilized")
nations to help the underdeveloped ("uncivilized") world move
forward. In Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and the Panama Canal
Zone, he used the Army's medical service, under Walter Reed and William
C. Gorgas, to eliminate the yellow fever menace and install a new regime
of public health. He used the army to build up the infrastructure of
the new possessions, building railways, telegraph and telephone lines,
and upgrading roads and port facilities.
Roosevelt builds the canal—and shovels dirt on ColombiaRoosevelt
dramatically increased the size of the navy, forming the Great White
Fleet, which toured the world in 1907. Roosevelt also added the Roosevelt
Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the United States
could intervene in Latin American affairs when corruption of governments
made it necessary.
international praise for helping negotiate the end of the Russo-Japanese
War, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt later
arbitrated a dispute between France and Germany over the division of
Morocco. Some historians have argued these latter two actions helped
in a small way to avert a world war.
Roosevelt's most famous foreign policy initiative, following the Hay-Pauncefote
Treaty, was the construction of the Panama Canal, which upon its completion
shortened the route of freighters between San Francisco, California
and New York City by 8,000 miles (13,000 km).
Colombia first proposed
the canal in their country as opposed to rival Nicaragua, and Colombia
signed a treaty for an agreed-upon sum. At that time, Panama was a province
of Colombia. According to the treaty, in 1902, the U.S. was to buy out
the equipment and excavations from France, which had been attempting
to build a canal since 1881. While the Colombian negotiating team had
signed the treaty, ratification by the Colombian Senate became problematic.
The Colombian Senate
balked at the price and asked for 10 million dollars over the original
agreed upon price. When the U.S. refused to re-negotiate the price,
the Colombian politicians proposed cutting the original French company
that started the project out of the deal and giving that difference
to Colombia. The original deal stipulated that the French company was
to be reasonably compensated. Realizing that the Colombian Senate was
no longer bargaining in good faith, Roosevelt tired of these last-minute
attempts by the Colombians to cheat the French out of their entire investment.
decided, with the encouragement of Panamanian business interests, to
help Panama declare independence from Colombia in 1903. A brief revolution,
of only a few hours, followed the declaration, and Colombian soldiers
were bribed $50 each to lay down their arms. On November 3, 1903, the
Republic of Panama was created, with its constitution written in advance
by the United States. Shortly thereafter, a treaty was signed with Panama.
The U.S. paid $10 million to secure rights to build on and control the
Canal Zone. Construction began in 1904 and was completed in 1914.
It took a long time
to build the Panama Canal because illness spread quickly in Panama.
Over 200 workers died of yellow fever and malaria, spread by mosquitoes.
Roosevelt worked on clearing swamps and other areas in which the insects
bred. Finally the health threat receded, and facilitated the construction
of the Canal.
The Great White
Main article: Great White Fleet
Mort Kuntsler 1977 painting "The Great White Fleet Sails."
Roosevelt, (on the 12" gun turret at right), addresses the crew
of USS Connecticut (BB18), in Hampton Roads, Virginia, upon her return
from the Fleet's cruiseAs Roosevelt's administration drew to a close,
the president dispatched a fleet consisting of four US Navy battleship
squadrons and their escorts, on a world-wide voyage of circumnavigation
from December 16, 1907, to February 22, 1909. With their hulls painted
white except for the beautiful gilded scrollwork with a red, white,
and blue banner on their bows, these ships would come to be known as
The Great White Fleet. Roosevelt wanted to demonstrate to his country
and the world that the US Navy was capable of operating in a global
theater, particularly in the Pacific. This was extraordinarily important
at a time when tensions were slowly growing between the United States
and Japan. The latter had recently shown its navy's competence in defeating
the Russians in the Russo-Japanese War and the US Navy fleet to the
west was relatively small. The Atlantic Fleet battleships only later
came to be known as the "Great White Fleet." When the fleet
sailed into Yokahama, Japan, the Japanese went to extraordinary lengths
to show that their country desired peace with the US. Thousands of Japanese
school children waving American flags greeted the Navy brass as they
came ashore. In February 1909, Roosevelt was in Hampton Roads, Virginia
to witness the triumphant return of the fleet and indicate that he saw
the fleet's long voyage as a fitting finish for his administration.
Roosevelt said to the officers of the Fleet, "Other nations may
do what you have done, but they'll have to follow you." This parting
act of grand strategy by Roosevelt greatly expanded the respect for
as well as the role of the United States in the international arena.
The visit of the Great White Fleet to Tokyo, Japan, which brought thousands
of Japanese school children to line the beaches waving American flags
purchased by the government, nevertheless, encouraged Japanese militarists
who argued for an aggressive Japanese ship building and naval expansion
Life in the White
Roosevelt relished the presidency and seemed to be everywhere at once.
He took Cabinet members and friends on long, fast-paced hikes, boxed
in the state rooms of the White House, romped with his children, and
read voraciously. In 1908, he was permanently blinded in his left
eye during one of his boxing bouts, but this injury was kept from the
public at the time. His many enthusiastic interests and limitless
energy led one ambassador to wryly explain, "You must always remember
that the President is about six."
holes in the dictionary as the ghosts of Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dr
Johnson moanDuring his presidency, Roosevelt tried but failed to advance
the cause of simplified spelling. He tried to force government to adopt
the system, sending an order to the Public Printer to use the system
in all public documents. The order was obeyed, and among the documents
thus printed was the President's special message regarding the Panama
Canal. The New York World translated the Thanksgiving Day proclamation:
When nerly three
centuries ago, the first settlers kam to the kuntry which has bekom
this great republik, tha confronted not only hardship and privashun,
but terible risk of thar lives. . . . The kustum has now bekum nashnul
and hallowed by immemorial usaj.
The reform annoyed
the public, forcing him to rescind the order. Roosevelt's friend, literary
critic Brander Matthews, one of the chief advocates of the reform, remonstrated
with him for abandoning the effort. Roosevelt replied on December 16:
"I could not by fighting have kept the new spelling in, and it
was evidently worse than useless to go into an undignified contest when
I was beaten. Do you know that the one word as to which I thought the
new spelling was wrong — thru — was more responsible than
anything else for our discomfiture?" Next summer Roosevelt was
watching a naval review when a launch marked "Pres Bot" chugged
ostentatiously by. The President waved and laughed with delight.
daughter, Alice, was a controversial character during Roosevelt's stay
in the White House. When friends asked if he could rein in his elder
daughter, Roosevelt said, "I can be President of the United States,
or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both." In turn,
Alice said of him that he always wanted to be "the bride at every
wedding and the corpse at every funeral."
to the White House was the construction of the original West Wing, which
he had built to free up the second floor rooms in the residence that
formerly housed the president's staff. He and Edith also had the entire
house renovated and restored to the federal style, tearing out the Victorian
furnishings and details (including Tiffany windows) that had been installed
over the previous three decades.
In the sphere of race relations, Booker T. Washington became the first
black man to dine as a guest at the White House in 1901.
Oscar S. Straus became the first Jew appointed as a Cabinet Secretary,
In 1902, in response to the assassination of President William McKinley
on September 6, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became the first president
to be under constant Secret Service protection.
Roosevelt in 1904, became the first former Vice-President who had succeeded
to the presidency on the death of the incumbent, to be elected President
in his own right or even win his party’s nomination for election.
In 1906, Roosevelt became the first American to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
In 1906, he made the first trip, by a President, outside the United
States, visiting Panama to inspect the construction progress of the
Panama Canal on November 9.
He was the first and to date only president from Long Island, New York.
He was the first President to refer to the White House as such on his
official stationery. Until then the mansion had been referred to simply
as 'The President's House'
to the Union
During Roosevelt's Presidency, one state, Oklahoma, was admitted to
the Union. This new state included the former Indian Territory, which
had attempted to gain admission on its own into the Union as the State
of Sequoyah. (Formerly, the state of Oklahoma had been divided into
the Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory.) In 1906, a bill was introduced
in Congress providing for the admission of the Oklahoma and Indian Territories
as one state, and Arizona and New Mexico as another state. Although
the bill passed on June 14 and was signed into law by Roosevelt, the
people of Arizona and New Mexico rejected the offer of statehood.
Roosevelt standing next to a dead elephant during a safariIn March 1909,
shortly after the end of his second term, Roosevelt left New York for
a safari in Africa. The trip was sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution
and the National Geographic Society and received worldwide media attention.
His party, which included scientists from the Smithsonian and was led
by Frederick Selous, the famous big game hunter and explorer, killed
or trapped over 11,397 animals, from insects and moles to hippopotamuses
and elephants. 512 of the animals were big game animals, of which 262
were consumed by the expedition. This included six white rhinos. Tons
of salted animals and their skins were shipped to Washington; the number
of animals was so large, it took years to mount them. The Smithsonian
was able to share many duplicate animals with other museums. Of the
large number of animals taken, Roosevelt said, "I can be condemned
only if the existence of the National Museum, the American Museum of
Natural History, and all similar zoological institutions are to be condemned."
Although based in the name of science, there was a large social element
to the safari. Interactment with many native peoples, local leaders,
renowned professional hunters, and land owning families made the safari
much more than a hunting excursion. Roosevelt wrote a detailed account
of this adventure; "African Game Trails" describes the excitement
of the chase, the people he met, and flora and fauna he collected in
the name of science.
Roosevelt certified William Howard Taft to be a genuine "progressive"
in 1908, when Roosevelt pushed through the nomination of his Secretary
of War for the Presidency. Taft easily defeated three-time candidate
William Jennings Bryan. Taft had a different progressivism, one that
stressed the rule of law and preferred that judges rather than administrators
or politicians make the basic decisions about fairness. Taft usually
proved a less adroit politician than Roosevelt and lacked the energy
and personal magnetism, not to mention the publicity devices, the dedicated
supporters, and the broad base of public support that made Roosevelt
so formidable. When Roosevelt realized that lowering the tariff would
risk severe tensions inside the Republican Party—pitting producers
(manufacturers and farmers) against merchants and consumers—he
stopped talking about the issue. Taft ignored the risks and tackled
the tariff boldly, on the one hand encouraging reformers to fight for
lower rates, and then cutting deals with conservative leaders that kept
overall rates high. The resulting Payne-Aldrich tariff of 1909 was too
high for most reformers, but instead of blaming this on Senator Nelson
Aldrich and big business, Taft took credit, calling it the best tariff
ever. Again he had managed to alienate all sides. While the crisis was
building inside the Party, Roosevelt was touring Africa and Europe,
so as to allow Taft to be his own man.
Handing off responsibility
to Taft in 1909Unlike Roosevelt, Taft never attacked business or businessmen
in his rhetoric. However, he was attentive to the law, so he launched
90 antitrust suits, including one against the largest corporation, U.S.
Steel, for an acquisition that Roosevelt had personally approved. Consequently,
Taft lost the support of antitrust reformers (who disliked his conservative
rhetoric), of big business (which disliked his actions), and of Roosevelt,
who felt humiliated by his protégé. The left wing of the
Republican Party began agitating against Taft. Senator Robert LaFollette
of Wisconsin created the National Progressive Republican League to defeat
the power of political bossism at the state level and to replace Taft
at the national level. More trouble came when Taft fired Gifford Pinchot,
a leading conservationist and close ally of Roosevelt. Pinchot alleged
that Taft's Secretary of Interior Richard Ballinger was in league with
big timber interests. Conservationists sided with Pinchot, and Taft
alienated yet another vocal constituency.
from Europe, unexpectedly launched an attack on the federal courts,
which deeply upset Taft. Not only had Roosevelt alienated big business,
he was also attacking both the judiciary and the deep faith Republicans
had in their judges (most of whom had been appointed by McKinley, Roosevelt
or Taft.) In the 1910 Congressional elections, Democrats swept to power,
and Taft's reelection in 1912 was increasingly in doubt. In 1911, Taft
responded with a vigorous stumping tour that allowed him to sign up
most of the party leaders long before Roosevelt announced.
Election of 1912
Main articles: U.S. presidential election, 1912 and Progressive Party
1912 (United States)
The battle between Taft and Roosevelt bitterly split the Republican
Party; Taft's people dominated the party until 1936.Late in 1911, Roosevelt
finally broke with Taft and LaFollette and announced himself as a candidate
for the Republican nomination. But Roosevelt had delayed too long, and
Taft had already won the support of most party leaders in the country.
Because of LaFollette's nervous breakdown on the campaign trail before
Roosevelt's entry, most of LaFollette's supporters went over to Roosevelt,
the new progressive Republican candidate.
up his attack on judges, carried 9 of the states with preferential primaries,
LaFollette took two, and Taft only one. The 1912 Primaries represented
the first extensive use of the Presidential Primary, a reform achievement
of the progressive movement. However, these primary elections, while
demonstrating Roosevelt's popularity with the electorate, were in no
ways as important as primaries are today. First of all, there were fewer
states where the common voter was given a forum to express himself,
such as a primary. Many more states selected convention delegates either
at party conventions, or in caucuses, which were not as open as today's
caucuses. So while the man in the street still adored Roosevelt, most
professional Republican politicians were supporting Taft, and they proved
difficult to upset in non-primary states.
At the Republican
Convention in Chicago, despite being the incumbent, Taft's victory was
not immediately assured. But after two weeks, Roosevelt, realizing that
he would not be able to win the nomination outright, asked his followers
to leave the convention hall. They moved to the Auditorium Theatre,
and then Roosevelt, along with key allies such as Pinchot and Albert
Beveridge created the Progressive Party, structuring it as a permanent
organization that would field complete tickets at the presidential and
state level. It was popularly known as the "Bull Moose Party",
which got its name after Roosevelt told reporters, "I'm as tough
as a bull moose." At the convention Roosevelt cried out, "We
stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord." The crusading
rhetoric resonated well with the delegates, many of them long-time reformers,
crusaders, activists and opponents of politics as usual. Included in
the ranks were Jane Addams and many other feminists and peace activists.
The platform echoed Roosevelt's 1907-08 proposals, calling for vigorous
government intervention to protect the people from the selfish interests.
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 14, 1912, a saloonkeeper named John
Schrank failed in an assassination attempt on Roosevelt. Schrank did
shoot the former President, but the bullet lodged in Roosevelt's chest
only after hitting both his steel eyeglass case and a copy of his speech
he was carrying in his jacket. Roosevelt declined suggestions that he
go to the hospital, and delivered his scheduled speech. He spoke vigorously
for ninety minutes. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were,
"I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been
shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." Afterwards,
doctors determined that he was not seriously wounded and that it would
be more dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet than to leave it in
his chest. Roosevelt carried it with him until he died.
to move the political system in his direction. He did win 4.1 million
votes (27%), compared to Taft's 3.5 million (23%). However, Wilson's
6.3 million votes (42%) were enough to garner 435 electoral votes. Roosevelt
had 88 electoral votes to Taft's 8 electoral votes. (This meant that
Taft became the only incumbent President in history to actually come
in third place in an attempt to be re-elected.) But Pennsylvania was
Roosevelt's only Eastern state; in the Midwest he carried Michigan,
Minnesota and South Dakota; in the West, California and Washington;
he did not win any Southern states. Although he lost, he won more votes
than former presidents Martin Van Buren and Millard Fillmore who also
ran again and also lost. More important, he pulled so many progressives
out of the Republican party that it took on a much more conservative
cast for the next generation.
1913-1914 South American Expedition
The initial party. From left to right (seated): Father Zahm, Rondon,
Kermit, Cherrie, Miller, four Brazilians, Roosevelt, Fiala. Only Roosevelt,
Kermit, Cherrie, Rondon and the Brazilians traveled up the River of
Doubt.His popular book Through the Brazilian Wilderness describes his
expedition into the Brazilian jungle in 1913 as a member of the Roosevelt-Rondon
Scientific Expedition co-named after its leader, Brazilian explorer
Cândido Rondon. The book describes all of the scientific discovery,
scenic tropical vistas and exotic flora, fauna and wild life experienced
on the expedition. A friend, Father John Augustine Zahm, had searched
for new adventures and found them in the forests of South America. After
a briefing of several of his own expeditions, he convinced Roosevelt
to commit to such an expedition in 1912. To finance the expedition,
Roosevelt received support from the American Museum of Natural History,
promising to bring back many new animal specimens. Once in South America,
a new far more ambitious goal was added: to find the headwaters of the
Rio da Duvida, the River of Doubt, and trace it north to the Madiera
and thence to the Amazon River. It was later renamed Rio Roosevelt in
honor of the former President. Roosevelt's crew consisted of his 24-year-old
son Kermit, Colonel Cândido Rondon, a naturalist sent by the American
Museum of Natural History named George K. Cherrie, Brazilian Lieutenant
Joao Lyra, team physician Dr. José Antonio Cajazeira, and sixteen
highly skilled paddlers (called camaradas in Portuguese). The initial
expedition started, probably unwisely, on December 9, 1913, at the height
of the rainy season. The trip up the River of Doubt started on February
sun helmet, barely survived an expedition in 1913 into the Amazonian
rain forest to trace the River of Doubt later named the Rio Roosevelt.During
the trip up the river, Roosevelt contracted malaria and a serious infection
resulting from a minor leg wound. These illnesses so weakened Roosevelt
that, by six weeks into the expedition, he had to be attended day and
night by the expedition's physician, Dr. Cajazeira and his son, Kermit.
By this time, Roosevelt considered his own condition a threat to the
survival of the others. At one point, Kermit had to talk him out of
his wish to be left behind so as not to slow down the expedition, now
with only a few weeks rations left. Roosevelt was having chest pains
when he tried to walk, his temperature soared to 103°F (39°C),
and at times he was delirious. He had lost over fifty pounds (20 kg).
Without the constant support of Dr. Cajazeira, and Rondon's leadership,
Roosevelt would likely have perished.
Upon his return
to New York, friends and family were startled by Roosevelt's physical
appearance and fatigue. Roosevelt wrote to a friend that the trip had
cut his life short by ten years. He might not have really known just
how accurate that analysis would prove to be, because the effects of
the South America expedition had so greatly weakened him that they significantly
contributed to his declining health. For the rest of his life, he would
be plagued by flareups of malaria and leg inflammations so severe that
they would require hospitalization.
When Roosevelt had
recovered enough of his strength, he found that he had a new battle
on his hands. In professional circles, there was doubt about his claims
of having discovered and navigated a completely uncharted river over
625 miles (1,000 km) long. Roosevelt would have to defend himself and
win international recognition of the expedition's newly-named Rio Roosevelt.
Toward this end, Roosevelt went to Washington, D.C., and spoke at a
standing-room-only convention to defend his claims. His official report
and its defense silenced the critics, and he was able to triumphantly
return to his home in Oyster Bay.
Despite his weakened condition and slow recovery from his South America
expedition, Roosevelt continued to write with passion on subjects ranging
from foreign policy to the importance of the national park system. As
an editor of Outlook magazine, he had weekly access to a large, educated
national audience. In all, Roosevelt wrote about 18 books (each in several
editions), including his Autobiography, Rough Riders and History of
the Naval War of 1812, ranching, explorations, and wildlife. His most
important book was the 4 volume narrative The Winning of the West, which
traced the origin of a new "race" of Americans to frontier
conditions in the 18th century.
World War I
Roosevelt angrily complained about the foreign policy of President Wilson,
calling it "weak". This caused him to develop an intense dislike
of Woodrow Wilson. When World War I began in 1914, Roosevelt strongly
supported Britain, France and the Allies of World War I because he admired
their fight for civilization; he demanded a harsher policy against Germany,
especially regarding submarine warfare. In 1916, he campaigned energetically
for Charles Evans Hughes and repeatedly denounced those Irish-Americans
and German-Americans whose pleas for neutrality Roosevelt said were
unpatriotic because they put the interest of Ireland and Germany ahead
of America's. He insisted that one had to be 100% American, not a "hyphenated
American" who juggled multiple loyalties. When the U.S. entered
the war in 1917, Roosevelt sought to raise a volunteer infantry division,
but Wilson refused.
on Wilson helped the Republicans win control of Congress in the off-year
elections of 1918. Roosevelt was popular enough to seriously contest
the 1920 Republican nomination, but his health was broken by 1918 because
of the lingering malaria. His son Quentin, a daring pilot with the American
forces in France, was shot down behind German lines in 1918. Quentin
was his youngest son and probably the most like him. It is said that
the death of his son distressed him so much that Roosevelt never recovered
from his loss.
Theodore RooseveltDespite his debilitating diseases Roosevelt remained
upbeat to the end of his life. He was an enthusiastic proponent of the
Scouting movement. The Boy Scouts of America gave him the title of Chief
Scout Citizen, the only person to hold such title. One early Scout leader
said, "The two things that gave Scouting great impetus and made
it very popular were the uniform and Teddie Roosevelt's jingoism."
On January 6, 1919,
at the age of 60, Roosevelt died in his sleep of a coronary embolism
at Oyster Bay, and was buried in nearby Young's Memorial Cemetery. Upon
receiving word of his death, his son, Archie, telegraphed his siblings
simply, "The old lion is dead." Woodrow Wilson's vice
president at the time Thomas R. Marshall said of his death "Death
had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would
have been a fight."
Roosevelt Family in 1903 with Quentin on the left, TR, Ted, Jr., "Archie",
Alice, Kermit, Edith, and EthelRoosevelt was baptized in the family's
church, part of the Reformed Church in America. He intensely disliked
being called "Teddy," and was quick to point out this fact
out to those who used the nickname, though it would become widely used
by newspapers during his political career. Apparently, the pronunciation
of his last name was [ru:z?v?lt], that is, with the same vowel as in
the word "whose." (His cousin Franklin Roosevelt used the
vowel sound of the word "rose.") He attended the Madison Square
Presbyterian Church until the age of 16. Later in life, when Roosevelt
lived at Oyster Bay he attended an Episcopal church with his wife. While
in Washington he attended services at Grace Reformed Church. As
President he firmly believed in the separation of church and state and
thought it unwise to have In God We Trust on currency, because he thought
it sacrilegious to put the name of the Deity on something so common
as money. He was also a Freemason, and regularly attended the Matinecock
Lodge's meetings. He once said that "One of the things that so
greatly attracted me to Masonry that I hailed the chance of becoming
a Mason was that it really did act up to what we, as a government, are
pledged to — namely to treat each man on his merit as a man."
Roosevelt had a
lifelong interest in pursuing what he called "the strenuous life."
To this end, he exercised regularly and took up boxing, tennis, hiking,
rowing, polo, and horseback riding. As governor of New York, he boxed
with sparring partners several times a week, a practice he regularly
continued as President until one blow detached his left retina, leaving
him blind in that eye (a fact not made public until many years later).
Thereafter, he practiced jujutsu and continued his habit of skinny-dipping
in the Potomac River during winter.
Sagamore Hill, Roosevelt's estateHe was an enthusiastic singlestick
player and, according to Harper's Weekly, in 1905 showed up at a White
House reception with his arm bandaged after a bout with General Leonard
Wood. Roosevelt was also an avid reader, reading tens of thousands
of books, at a rate of several a day in multiple languages. Along with
Thomas Jefferson Roosevelt is often considered the most well read of
any American politician.
His children made
up what they called the "White House Gang".
Roosevelt's face on Mt. RushmoreFor his gallantry at San Juan Hill,
Roosevelt's commanders recommended him for the Medal of Honor, but his
subsequent telegrams to the War Department complaining about the delays
in returning American troops from Cuba doomed his chances. In the late
1990s, Roosevelt's supporters again took up the flag on his behalf and
overcame opposition from elements within the U.S. Army and the National
Archives. On January 16, 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Theodore
Roosevelt the Medal of Honor posthumously for his charge up San Juan
Hill, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt's eldest son,
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., received the Medal of Honor
for heroism at the Battle of Normandy in 1944. The Roosevelts thus became
one of only two father-son pairs to receive this honor.
includes several other important commemorations. Roosevelt was included
with George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln at the
Mount Rushmore Memorial, designed in 1927. The United States Navy named
two ships for Roosevelt: the USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600), a submarine
was in commission from 1961 to 1982; and the USS Theodore Roosevelt
(CVN-71), an aircraft carrier has been on active duty in the Atlantic
Fleet since 1986.
Roosevelt was almost seven years old when a famous picture was taken
showing him looking out his second story window (the one opened) at
Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. 
On September 3, 1902 a landau carrying Roosevelt and Secret Service
Operative William Craig was struck by a trolley in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
Craig was killed and Roosevelt was injured.
In 1906-1907, when there were disagreements between Roosevelt and Senator
Benjamin Tiller over the railroad rate bill, and also controversy between
Roosevelt and "nature fakers," the press coined the term Ananias
Club, which meant "liar."
Roosevelt was a judo brown belt, a very noteworthy
achievement at the time. The Lion in White House (2006), a novel by
Vichey about Roosevelt's adventures, thrilling stories, and about his
activities in his domains, was published in Cambodia in the Khmer language.
Roosevelt's first appearance on US currency was on the reverse of the
Mount Rushmore commemorative Dollar and Half Dollar.
He is the fifth cousin of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
His coat of arms features roses and ostrich plumes, and is similar to
that of Franklin Roosevelt.
Roosevelt was more
than just the 26th president of the United States. He was a writer,
historian, explorer, big-game hunter, soldier, conservationist, ranchman
and Nobel Peace Prize winner. It is not surprising that his philosophy
of life was known as The Strenuous Life.
Theodore was born into a wealthy and socially prominent New York family
in 1858. Although blessed with a quick mind he was not blessed with
a strong body. He suffered from life-threatening asthma attacks throughout
his childhood. Spurred on by his father, Theodore began to build up
his body by strenuous exercise, and by adulthood he had become a model
of physical courage and toughness. This early example of his character
was indicative of the way he lived the rest of his life. He did not
back down in the face of adversity, and he continually displayed remarkable
physical and moral courage.
As a young man Roosevelt
decided on a dual career; law and politics. At the time, New York politics
was dominated by men involved in machine politics. These were not exactly
the kind of people he had met at Harvard. Yet he persisted in getting
to know and understand them, while at the same time attending Columbia
Law School. Eventually he secured the friendship and patronage of an
influential man named Joe Murray who was able to get him nominated as
a 21st District State Republican Assemblyman. Together, with Murray's
contacts and knowledge of machine politics and his own family and social
connections, Roosevelt was able to easily win the election. He was 23
and in Albany.
Theodore served three terms in the New York Assembly. He became known
as an outspoken and active opponent of the "wealthy criminal class"
as he called them and of political corruption - of which there was no
shortage. He was a rising progressive star. His ascent, however, was
cut short by the presidential election of 1884. Roosevelt was a delegate
to the Republican convention, and as a matter of principle he vigorously
opposed the leading candidates - James G. Blaine and President Arthur.
Roosevelt supported a reformer, Senator George F. Edmunds. In the end
Blaine won the nomination, and this put Roosevelt in a difficult position.
He did not believe that Blaine was honest, yet if he followed the example
of other progressives and did not support him he realized he would be
through in the Republican party. He supported Blaine. When Blaine lost
Theodore received no political position, and his political career was
Roosevelt not only
suffered political defeat in 1884 but deeply personal defeats as well.
On the same day both his mother and wife died. These disappointments
led to a radical change in Roosevelt's life. He decided to move to the
Dakota Badlands to become a rancher. At the time many people thought
that this was a good way to become rich. The Dakotas were not like the
East - life could be a little wild and woolly. Resolution of disputes
was done at the end of a gun, and thieves were often hanged as soon
as they were caught. Roosevelt excelled at this rough and tumble way
of life and earned the respect and devotion of the men around him. Roosevelt,
however, did not excel at making money. He lost about half of his entire
capital in ranching. But what he gained was, in the long run, of much
greater value. The men he met there were to later join the famous Rough
Riders whose exploits were the major impetus to his political success.
In 1886 Roosevelt returned to New York to marry a childhood friend -
Edith Carow. Highly intelligent, Edith was one of the few people who
could actually manage Theodore. In order to control his free spending
habits she put him on a strict two dollar a day allowance - even when
he was president. Together they had a very successful marriage and produced
five children in addition to Alice, Roosevelt's child by his first marriage.
Politics was still
the place that Roosevelt wanted to be, but there were not many opportunities
since his party was out of power. In order to support his family Roosevelt
spent his time writing. This was not a new vocation for Roosevelt. Equally
at home hunting for a book as hunting for a bear he wrote his first
book The Naval War of 1812 while in law school and running for the New
York Assembly. By the end of his life he had written and published dozens
In 1888 Roosevelt
saw his chance to jump back into politics by campaigning for the election
of Benjamin Harrison. When Harrison won he appointed Roosevelt to be
a Civil Service Commissioner. It was with this job and later as Police
Commissioner that Roosevelt made his reputation as a reformer. At the
time both the Civil Service and the New York Police Department had serious
corruption problems. Roosevelt did his best to clean up the corruption
and make things work fairly. For example, as a Police Commissioner he
took control of the police department, reorganized it, fired corrupt
policemen and used to spend his nights walking through the city looking
for policemen asleep on their jobs.
In the presidential
election of 1896 the Republican William McKinley ran against the Democrat
William Jennings Bryan. Roosevelt campaigned hard for McKinley, and
he was rewarded by the job he coveted most - Assistant Secretary of
It was during this time that Roosevelt first met William Allen White,
a newspaper editor from Kansas. White's autobiography paints Roosevelt's
personality perfectly "..and we sat there for an hour after lunch
and talked our jaws loose about everything. I had never known such a
man as he, and never shall again. He overcame me. And in the hour or
two we spent that day at lunch, and in a walk down F Street, he poured
into my heart such visions, such ideals, such hopes, such a new attitude
toward life and patriotism and the meaning of things, as I had never
dreamed men had. ...so strong was this young Roosevelt--hard-muscled,
hard-voiced even when the voice cracked in falsetto, with hard, wriggling
jaw muscles, and snapping teeth, even when he cackled in raucous glee,
so completely did the personality of this man overcome me that I made
no protest and accepted his dictum as my creed."
Being Assistant Secretary of the Navy provided this powerful young man
his first chance to act on his foreign policy ideas. Roosevelt was a
strong nationalist. He believed fervently that not only was the United
States on the brink of becoming a world power, but that it had a responsibility
and a duty to establish U.S. supremacy. For an explanation of these
views in his own words see his speech The Strenuous Life. This faith
in national supremacy spawned a host of related goals. In order for
the U.S. to become a world power it needed to be able to transport its
military quickly between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. At that
time ships had to sail around the tip of South America to make that
trip. If, instead, they could go through an isthmian canal it would
cut weeks off the trip time. But having a canal meant that military
control had to be established over the canal. To do this the United
States would have to secure the Caribbean, and that in turn meant war
with Spain. Spain's empire in Latin America was just a sliver of what
it had once been, but it still controlled Cuba and Puerto Rico. This
is why Roosevelt zealously worked to promote the Spanish-American War.
All wrapped around and through these ideas was the need for a strong
navy. Toward this goal Roosevelt worked very hard while Assistant Secretary.
He fought and pushed and prodded and on occasion was insubordinate in
his efforts to strengthen the navy for war. His cause was helped enormously
when the United States battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor on
February 15, 1898. This was just the sort of incendiary event needed
to push the U.S. into war. The bombing was blamed on the Spanish even
though nobody really knew who or what was responsible. War was officially
declared on April 21, 1898.
It would have never done for Roosevelt to be stuck behind a desk while
a war was on. He was just itching to become a soldier. He quit the Naval
Department and joined the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. Together he
and his superior officer, Colonel Wood, were responsible for raising
volunteers for the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry regiment. By the time the
war was over Roosevelt was the Colonel in charge, and his regiment,
popularly known as Roosevelt's Rough Riders, was famous. For Roosevelt
the war was the event that catapulted him politically. It was only three
more years until he was the President of the United States.
New York Governor
When Roosevelt returned
from Cuba he was a national hero and political gold. Men were lining
up to beg him to run for office. Tom Platt, the boss of the Republican
machine in New York was no exception, except that he was not real thrilled
about it. Platt's political power base was big business, but here he
was asking Roosevelt to run for governor - a man that had an annoying
tendency to do what he felt was right rather than heedlessly protect
powerful business interests. Unfortunately for Platt finding a man that
could actually win was a bigger problem - a problem that Roosevelt could
When Roosevelt became governor in January of 1899 he fulfilled Platt's
worst expectations. He would not let Platt dominate his term or his
decision making. In particularly he angered and defied Platt on the
biggest issue of his term - utility franchise taxes. At that time public
service corporations did not pay taxes on their franchises. They did
pay Platt to make sure it stayed that way. Roosevelt felt that government
should not give preferential treatment to big business, and that it
had an important role in its regulation. In the end Roosevelt prevailed
and utility companies were forced to pay taxes. This enraged both Platt
and his supporters. In a weird twist it was this anger that helped paved
the way for Roosevelt to become president.
In 1899 Garret Hobart, vice-president of the United States, died and
in his death Platt saw his chance. He did everything he could to encourage
the nomination of Roosevelt for vice-president. Others, with less selfish
motivations, also thought it was a wonderful idea and applied pressure
to both President McKinley and Roosevelt. Neither one of which was thrilled
about the idea. McKinley had no particular interest in Roosevelt, and
Roosevelt's active nature revolted at the thought of having a ceremonial
and impotent political position. In the end they both relented, Roosevelt
accepted the vice-president nomination and their ticket went on to win
the 1900 presidential election against William Jennings Bryan. Roosevelt
resigned himself to being vice-president.
opportunity also came at the expense of another person's death. In September
of 1901, less than one year into his new term, McKinley was shaking
hands with the public at the Pan-American Exposition when a young man
named Leon Czolgosz walked up to him and shot him twice. At first it
looked like McKinley would survive the shooting, but he ended up dying
on September 14th. Characteristically Roosevelt was climbing a mountain
when he got word that McKinley was dying, and that he would soon be
President of the
At the turn of the
century the United States was a country rapidly coming into its own.
Now it had a president that could not only keep up with it but push
it even faster. Both on the domestic and international front Roosevelt
aggressively expanded the power of the presidency, the federal government
and the nation.
It was in the business
arena that Roosevelt most aggressively extended the power of the federal
government. Until his administration the dominate idea that governed
the relationship between government and business was laissez faire.
The government passed few business regulations and in general left businesses
to do as they saw fit. Roosevelt was the first president that felt it
was the proper role of the federal government to make sure that business
was responsive to public needs. Because of this he actively sought to
regulate business by enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and pushing
new regulatory legislation through Congress.
The Sherman Anti-Trust Act had been passed in 1890, but it had never
been used to prosecute a trust - only unions. Meanwhile the changes
in the business environment were phenomenal. Whole industries became
dominated by a single company or a combination of companies controlled
by a trust. Once it had a monopoly a trust could unilaterally control
prices and rack up huge profits. The king of trusts was J.P. Morgan,
a banker, who was to become the first target of Roosevelt's assault.
Many progressives felt that all trusts were bad and should be abolished.
Roosevelt was more moderate. He thought that the era of big business
was inevitable, and that it had important economic benefits such as
increased productivity and efficiency. In his opinion, there were good
trusts and bad trusts. The good ones were responsive to the needs of
the public, and he wanted to leave those alone. He only wanted to go
after ones that did not act in the public interest. In order to do this
he came up with the radical idea of actually enforcing existing law.
On February 18, 1902 he directed the Justice Department to use the Sherman
Anti-Trust Act to prosecute the Northern Securities Company run by J.P.
Morgan. Morgan had created this trust to control the activities of several
powerful railroad companies. He was a rich and powerful adversary, but
Roosevelt was victorious in March of 1904 when the Supreme Court ruled
against the Northern Securities Company and forced it to break up. This
marked an important shift in the scope of government. For the first
time the federal government was taking an active, regulatory position
in regard to business.
Roosevelt could not achieve all he wanted with existing law. So he worked
to pass two landmark pieces of legislation - the Pure Food & Drug
Act and a meat inspection bill. These laws were intended to protect
consumers against the food industry - especially meat packing. Meat
packers used diseased and rotten meat, processed meat in unsanitary
conditions and put labels on their cans that had precious little relationship
to the actual contents. This was a problem that Roosevelt had personally
experienced. He wrote the following about the meat supplied to his regiment
in the Spanish-American War. "If we had been given canned corn-beef
we would have been all right, but instead of this the soldiers were
issued horrible stuff called "canned fresh beef." There was
no salt in it. At the best it was stringy and tasteless; at the worst
it was nauseating. Not one-fourth of it was ever eaten at all, even
when the men became very hungry". Roosevelt's greatest ally in
his struggle against meat packers was the novel The Jungle by Upton
Sinclair. Its descriptions of the conditions in meat packing horrified
and enraged the public, who in turn motivated their political representatives
to support Roosevelt. As a result, on June 30, 1906 the President signed
both of his consumer protection bills into law.
Roosevelt was also the first president to use the power of the federal
government as a broker in the conflict between labor and capital. In
May of 1902 the coal miners of eastern Pennsylvania went on strike.
They were working 12 hour shifts, six days a week for an average wage
of $560 per year. The mine owners rejected their demands, and the strike
continued through the summer into the fall. Eventually the prospect
of a winter without heat began to frighten people, and Roosevelt decided
to intervene in the interest of the public. He invited the leaders of
both sides to come to Washington to meet with him. At that meeting he
proposed that an arbitration committee help them settle their differences.
The union agreed to this but the mine owners rejected it. By that time
Roosevelt had become very put off by the attitude of the mine owners.
He threatened to send in federal troops to take charge of the mines.
Eventually they gave in and agreed to arbitration. The miners won a
9 hour day, a 10% wage increase and the right to have their own representatives
present when the coal was weighed.
was marked by the same activism as domestic affairs. He was definitely
not an isolationist. He aggressively positioned the United States as
a new world power in order to establish a leadership position and protect
national security. For example, in 1901 the U.S. was the fifth strongest
naval power in the world. By 1907 it was in second place behind Great
In 1823 the United States had issued the Monroe Doctrine which stated
that the American continents were to be free of European interference
and conquest. This expression of territoriality came before the U.S.
really possessed the force necessary to back up its words. But by the
turn of the century this was no longer true. European countries were
quickly gaining respect for the might of the new american power. It
was Roosevelt, of course, who added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe
Doctrine. This confirmed the restriction on European activities in the
Western Hemisphere but added the idea that when a country in the Western
Hemisphere did not "behave", such as by not paying their debts
to European countries, the United States had a responsibility to discipline
them. This is where the idea of the United States fulfilling the role
of world policeman got started. A role still being played by the U.S.
in places like Haiti and Bosnia.
In 1905 Roosevelt got his first chance to put the United States in this
new role of policeman. Internally the Dominican Republic was a mess
and among other things was not able to pay off its debts to its European
creditors. The United States took control of the collection of customs
receipts, using them to pay off the creditors and put the country back
on a stable footing. It should be noted that this was all done at the
request of the Dominican Republic not against their will.
Roosevelt's extension of control over all of the Western Hemisphere
and in particular the Caribbean was directly connected with his intent
to build the Panama Canal. Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans
in Central America had been a dream of many for decades. The advantages
were enormous and obvious, but the problems were daunting. The French
had already tried and failed. There were huge technological problems
to be worked out. Yellow fever killed 22,000 workers during the French
attempt. In addition, there were political problems like how to end
the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty which committed the United States to building
the canal with Great Britain and sharing control. Roosevelt did not
want to share control, he wanted to have control. In addition there
was disagreement within the U.S. government about what route to take;
through Panama or through Nicaragua.
Roosevelt, however, was not a man to let a few problems to stand in
his way. He stretched his power to the maximum, and in the end it was
due to him that the canal finally got built. In 1901 Great Britain agreed
to give up their right to share control of the canal with the United
States, and in 1902 the Congress finally decided on the route through
Panama. The way was clear for Roosevelt to negotiate with the Colombians
for a right-of-way. At that time Panama was part of Colombia - but not
for long. Colombia decided it wanted more money, and it rejected the
negotiated treaty. Roosevelt was angry. Angry enough to make it clear
(unofficially) that a revolution in Panama would be supported by the
United States. Panama obliged by declaring their independence on November
4, 1903. The United States got its canal, Panama got $10 million and
Colombia got nothing.
Roosevelt's unorthodoxed actions in central america were controversial,
but they powerfully illustrated the power of the nation he commanded.
In addition they contributed to the growth of that power by giving the
United States total control over a strategically crucial waterway. It
was one of the most important accomplishments of his administration.
Roosevelt was a
man that thoroughly relished the power and responsibility of being president.
He really enjoyed his position. But while running for president in 1904
he had made a rash promise to not seek another term in 1908. He decided
to honor that promise. He did, however, hand pick his own successor
- William H. Taft. Taft was expect to follow his predecessor's progressive
Roosevelt was not the kind of guy to spend the rest of his life retired
at his Long Island home. Just his life after the presidency was enough
to eclipse the accomplishments of most. Once Taft was inaugurated in
1909, Roosevelt went on a year long hunting trip through Africa and
followed it up with an European tour. On his African trip he collected
animal specimens for museums and wrote articles for Scribners, which
were later turned into a book. He made a triumphant tour through Europe
and picked up his Nobel Peace Prize - awarded for his role in ending
the Russo-Japanese War.
Roosevelt returned to the States in June of 1910. He had been kept posted
on Taft's activities while he had been gone, and he was not happy. Taft
had turned from Roosevelt's progressive policies to a more conservative
position. Roosevelt was angry, and he decided to contest Taft for the
1912 Republican nomination.
Roosevelt was still extremely popular and won a majority of delegates.
Taft, however, controlled the party machinery which made sure he was
nominated. A part of the Republican party split off to begin the Progressive
Party and made Roosevelt their nominee. This split divided the Republican
vote and put the Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, in office.
After this failure, Roosevelt still did not slow down. He went to South
America for a speaking tour and to make a wilderness expedition to map
the Rio da Divuda river in Brazil. The trip started in January of 1914
and included one of Roosevelt's sons - Kermit. It was a horrendous trip.
Roosevelt injured his leg, got dysentery and malaria and at one point
begged to be left behind so that he would not slow down the rest of
the group. But in the end he made it, and in his honor Brazil renamed
the river Rio Roosevelt.
Roosevelt returned to the United States in 1914, the same year that
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and World War I began. He
agitated for preparedness and entry into the war. He even wanted to
join up to fight but was refused this wish because of his age. In the
end he had to be content with sending all four of his sons to war, one
of them to his death.
Theodore had always been a man determined to wear out - not to rust
out. He accomplished this goal like few others ever have. His journey
ended on January 6, 1919 when he died of an embolism at his home while