Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th president of the United States (1901-1909), one of the strongest and most vigorous presidents in United States history. In battles between business and labor, Roosevelt extended the power both of the presidency and of the federal government to protect what he saw as the public interest. He enjoyed the responsibilities of world power and greatly expanded United States involvement in world affairs. His domestic social and economic reforms were the first federal attempts to deal with the problems created by a modern industrial society.
Roosevelt became the youngest man ever to be president when he succeeded the assassinated William McKinley in 1901 at the age of 42. However, he was older than John F. Kennedy when he was elected in his own right. Roosevelt was adored by the majority of Americans. The reason, he thought, was that he “put into words what is in their hearts and minds but not their mouths.”
Theodore Roosevelt was a descendant of Claes Martenssen van Rosenvelt, who migrated to New Amsterdam (now New York City) from Zeeland, Holland (now in the Netherlands), in 1649. Roosevelt’s father, Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., was a New York businessman who married Martha Bulloch, a Southern belle from a prominent Georgia family.
The American Civil War (1861-1865) caused the Roosevelts much distress, because Mrs. Roosevelt’s brothers fought for the Confederacy. To spare his wife’s feelings, the elder Roosevelt did not enlist in the armed forces, although he was a staunch supporter of the Union. During the war he distinguished himself as an adviser to Union troops on missions that took him to the front lines. To his son the elder Roosevelt was “the best man I ever knew,” but the younger Roosevelt was ashamed all his life that his father had not fought during the war. Although he was an uncompromising Unionist, Roosevelt also took pride in the war exploits of his Southern relatives.
“Teedie,” as he was known in his childhood, was born in New York City on October 27, 1858, the second of four brothers and sisters. He was educated privately. Although never a profound student and despite having weak eyes, Roosevelt learned to read with phenomenal swiftness and breadth of interest. His first love was natural history. The subject fascinated him all his life, and he moved with considerable authority in its various branches.
Roosevelt suffered ill health through much of his youth, but his later battle for strength and manliness became a model for generations of young people. Roosevelt’s frequent boxing, wrestling, riding, hunting, and swimming activities, often under dangerous circumstances, continued during his years in the White House, the presidential mansion. There a boxing match with a professional fighter in December 1904 cost him the sight of one eye.
Roosevelt traveled with several members of his family to Europe and Egypt, and in 1872 and 1873 he lived with a family in Germany. During his years at Harvard University, from 1876 to 1880, he was an earnest student, achieving through hard work what others did through brilliance. Young men of Roosevelt’s wealthy social position were supposed to remain distant from the aggressive pursuits of the less wealthy, so his gusto, energy, and versatility were unusual among his fellow students. He engaged not only in club and literary activities but in athletics as well, riding horses at every opportunity and making numerous camping and hunting trips.
In 1878 he met Alice Hathaway Lee, with whom he fell in love. Married several months after his graduation, they settled down to live in New York City.
Roosevelt explored several careers before entering politics. He attended law classes at Columbia University, but he didn’t enjoy it. He worked industriously at his first book, The Naval War of 1812, for which he had begun research while still at Harvard. A thorough study of the subject, it was published in 1882. Although people of Roosevelt’s social position often believed politics to be beneath them, Roosevelt declared that he “intended to be one of the governing class.” Roosevelt easily won his first election in 1881 to the state assembly in Albany, New York, as a member of the Republican Party.
Despite his extreme youth, his expensive clothes, upper-class manners, and his high squeaky voice, Roosevelt immediately made his mark. He won respect by exposing a corrupt judge and by learning to work with men of both parties, notably Democratic Governor (later President) Grover Cleveland. Roosevelt became leader of the Republican minority but earned the ill will of powerful members of his party. In 1884, after rejecting what would have been another term in the legislature, he went to the Republican National Convention in Chicago, Illinois, as chairman of the New York delegation. There he offended Republicans favoring reform by supporting the party’s presidential choice, United States Senator James G. Blaine of Maine.
|B||Cowboy and Ranch Owner|
Roosevelt suffered a double shock on February 14, 1884, with the death of both his mother and his wife. His wife died while giving birth to their daughter, Alice. Although deeply grieved, he continued to work, leaving Alice in the care of his older sister, Anna.
In 1883 Roosevelt had visited the West, and the next year he started what became the Elkhorn Ranch on the Little Missouri River, in Dakota Territory. During much of the next several years he lived the hard life of a cowboy. At one time he took part in the capture of three thieves, whom it took six days to escort at gunpoint to the authorities. His accustomed heartiness and enthusiasm never flagged. He often traveled back and forth to the East and published such different books as Hunting Trips of a Ranch Man (1885) and the vigorous but lightly researched Thomas Hart Benton (1886). Roosevelt, mistrusted by both liberals and party leaders, remained unsure of his career in politics.
In 1885 Roosevelt fell in love with Edith Kermit Carow, a life-long friend, and that year they became secretly engaged. In 1886 he went East to be the Republican candidate for mayor of New York City. He ran a disheartening third.
Roosevelt then went abroad. On December 2, 1886, he and Edith were married in London. Roosevelt brought her back to the new home he had built on Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, Long Island. The couple had five children, Theodore Jr., Kermit, Ethel Carow, Archibald Bullock, and Quentin. They also raised Alice, Roosevelt’s daughter from his first marriage.
Discouraged with politics, Roosevelt enjoyed family life and literary pursuits. He wrote Essays on Practical Politics in 1888. The same year he also wrote an opinionated biography of Gouverneur Morris, an American statesman who helped draft the Constitution of the United States. The book revealed far more about Roosevelt’s mind than that of his subject. Roosevelt then undertook what became his most famous book, The Winning of the West, the four volumes of which appeared from 1889 to 1896.
|C1||Civil Service Commissioner|
Roosevelt was active in the presidential campaign of 1888, when Benjamin Harrison defeated incumbent Grover Cleveland. During this time, Roosevelt also spoke forcefully in favor of hiring workers for government jobs (also called civil service jobs) based on their skills. At that time many government workers were hired not because of their skills, but because they were loyal members of the winning political party. Giving out government jobs based on party loyalty was called patronage. Harrison rewarded Roosevelt’s activities by appointing him U.S. Civil Service commissioner in 1889. Roosevelt broadened his knowledge of capital politics and became an intimate of intellectuals, like historian Henry Adams, and of scholar-politicians like Massachusetts Representative Henry Cabot Lodge. Roosevelt injected new life into the battle for competence in government appointments. He exposed weaknesses in the patronage system and challenged the postmaster general, a major dispenser of federal jobs. Roosevelt made the civil service debate interesting, and, in the process, increased his own public reputation. When Cleveland defeated Harrison and won election to a second presidential term in 1892, he kept Roosevelt on as commissioner.
|C2||New York Police Commissioner|
Roosevelt’s fame as a public servant spread, and in 1895 he returned to New York City to become president of the police board. Roosevelt had long been interested in New York municipal government, and in 1895 people in New York, like those in the rest of the country, were beginning to demand reform. This period of reform was called the Progressive era, and lasted from the last decade of the 19th century into World War I (1914-1918). Reformers, or progressives as they were called, were concerned about abuses of power by government and businesses. They wanted to make the United States a better place to live, and like Roosevelt, they believed that the government had an important role to play in this transformation. The demands for reform in New York grew with the exposure of alliances between criminals and police and by Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives (1890), which exposed poverty and its effects. The book had deeply stirred Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s war on police corruption and saloonkeepers was more apparent than real, but it directed newspaper attention to the situation, enhanced Roosevelt’s public image, and broadened his experience.
|D||Assistant Secretary of the Navy|
Roosevelt was eager to be involved in national affairs and hoped for military adventures. Roosevelt believed that strong nations survived and weak ones died; thus the United States had to struggle with other powerful nations for influence and territory abroad. He admired the writings of U.S. Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose The Influence of Sea Power Upon History (1890) advocated a strong navy as a key part of national policy. Roosevelt also dreamed of a canal through Central America, which would connect the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, to be built and owned by the United States. During a boundary dispute in 1895 over the line between British Guiana and Venezuela, President Cleveland aggressively challenged Britain’s right to intervene in Latin America. Roosevelt was delighted and talked freely to the press in extremely warlike terms.
With the election of Ohio Governor William McKinley to the presidency in 1896, Roosevelt urged influential friends, including Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, to obtain for him the position of assistant secretary of the navy. McKinley reluctantly granted him the office. Roosevelt acted quickly and played a key role in building the Navy and preparing it for action. Roosevelt looked ahead to war, as differences mounted between the United States and Spain.
A Cuban struggle for independence from the Spanish Empire had become an active revolution in 1895 because Spain failed to institute reforms promised to the Cuban people in 1878. In December 1897 the U.S. battleship Maine was sent to the port of Havana, Cuba, to protect U.S. citizens and property. On the night of February 15, 1898, the ship was sunk by a tremendous explosion, and 266 lives were lost. Reports about the explosion pointed to sabotage, but in 1976 the U.S. Navy published a study, which suggested that spontaneous combustion in the ship’s coal bunkers caused the explosion.
On February 25, 1898, while the secretary of the navy was out of Washington, Roosevelt, as acting secretary, cabled Commodore George Dewey, who was commanding the U.S. Asiatic Squadron. He instructed Dewey to sail for Hong Kong. He hinted that war was at hand, in which case “offensive operations in Philippine Islands” should follow.
The next month Senator Redfield Proctor of Vermont made a speech in the Senate describing the inhumane conditions he had observed in Cuba. On April 20 President McKinley approved a congressional resolution that called for immediate Spanish withdrawal from Cuba, and on April 24 the Spanish government declared war. On April 25 the Congress of the United States announced that the United States was at war with Spain, and on April 30, 1898, United States Commodore George Dewey began his “offensive operations” by attacking the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, the Philippines (see Spanish-American War).
|IV||THE ROUGH RIDERS|
As the war fever mounted, Roosevelt became impatient with administrative duties and eager to participate in actual combat. He had served three years in the National Guard, gaining the rank of captain. He then associated himself with Leonard Wood, who had been commissioned a colonel of the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry.
Roosevelt resigned his Navy post in May 1898 to serve as lieutenant colonel under Wood. He raised volunteers from among both his cowboy and socialite companions. Cutting through government red tape, he organized what became known as the Rough Riders. Roosevelt again took the initiative to get them moved out of their training station in Tampa, Florida, and on transports to Cuba.
|A||San Juan Hill|
From June 22 to June 24, 1898, troops, including the Rough Riders, were landed in Cuba on Daiquiri Beach. In engagements at Las Guásimas, Caney, and finally San Juan Hill, outside the strategic city of Santiago de Cuba, the Rough Riders performed brilliantly under difficult conditions. The newspapers reported stories of many U.S. heroes in the Spanish-American War, and Roosevelt, who had been the subject of 15 years of newspaper fame and notoriety, became the best-known U.S. hero. Journalists reported his daring under fire and his maneuvers to avoid defeat.
Roosevelt assumed the rank of colonel and the command of his regiment on July 8, when Wood was appointed brigadier general of volunteers. Roosevelt’s determined efforts to take the soldiers home, following the Spanish surrender in Cuba, augmented his popularity. He began to be called “Teddy” in newspaper articles and cartoons.
|B||Governor of New York|
Soon after Roosevelt returned to New York City with his men on August 15, he accepted an invitation from the state Republican leader, U.S. Senator Thomas C. Platt, to run for governor. Senator Platt distrusted Roosevelt’s reform tendencies but needed a strong candidate for what looked like a difficult contest. Roosevelt entered the race and did not hesitate to emphasize his recent war service. Overcoming great political odds and campaigning tirelessly, he won by a small majority.
As governor, Roosevelt continued to be unpredictable. He had disturbed the reformers by promising to consult with Platt, but he had not promised to accept Platt’s views. He opposed Platt on several issues, as when he pressed independently for a tax on public-service businesses. On the other hand, Roosevelt failed to create a broad program of reform, and his assertive attitudes were disliked by many people. In 1900 he published his account of the Spanish-American War, The Rough Riders. Popular humorist Finley Peter Dunne, speaking through his fictitious bartender-philosopher Mr. Dooley, thought Roosevelt should have called his book “Alone in Cubia.” Roosevelt had the wit to appreciate Dunne’s criticism, and the two men became close friends.
Platt quickly tired of the governor’s energy and feared his independence, so he conceived a plot to bury Roosevelt in the vice presidency. Roosevelt didn’t want an office that would make him politically powerless, but having no political organization of his own, he decided to follow his party’s desires. He was nominated in 1900 as McKinley’s running mate and contributed his great energy to the successful campaign.
McKinley’s victory at first seemed to be a triumph for the conservative wing of the Republican Party, but on September 6, 1901, McKinley was shot by an assassin in Buffalo, New York. Eight days later, McKinley died, and the 42-year-old Roosevelt assumed the presidency.
|V||PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES|
|A||Life in the White House|
Roosevelt had become known universally, except to his associates, as “Teddy,” a name he hated, but which he endured for public purposes. He and his family quickly became institutions. The White House was run with an aristocratic smartness and distinction that had been lacking for generations. Mrs. Roosevelt also made the White House a home in which children played and in which friends were warmly received. The country became familiar with the children: “Lady Alice,” the grown child of Roosevelt’s first marriage, and Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin. Celebrities streamed into the White House in response to the president’s universal interests and were amazed by his detailed knowledge of their professional concerns. Roosevelt had strong and often debatable opinions, as in his distaste for Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist. On the other hand, he had to his honor such an achievement as an unsolicited article, published in Outlook magazine on August 12, 1905, about Edwin Arlington Robinson’s volume of poems Children of the Night. This article, written when Robinson was unknown and totally discouraged, changed the poet’s life and began his rise to fame.
Roosevelt was known for his irrepressible energy, his rapid and continuous talk and movement, and his joyous and explosive exclamation “Bully!” which he said when he particularly enjoyed something. He was also famous for his expeditions, especially to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C. There he led associates and diplomats on walking, climbing, running, and even swimming adventures, often under astonishingly difficult circumstances. These activities were accompanied by animated discussions across a wide range of subjects. Roosevelt was undoubtedly foolhardy in many of his ventures, but many Americans accepted his spirit as a true expression of their own.
Over the course of his two terms in office Roosevelt gradually developed what he called his Tennis Cabinet, an informal group of people whom he trusted in matters of state and whose company he enjoyed. They included Leonard Wood, then a major general; James R. Garfield, son of President James A. Garfield and Roosevelt’s secretary of the interior after 1907; and Gifford Pinchot, an outstanding conservationist and chief of the Forestry Service. The Tennis Cabinet also included such friends as the French historian and Ambassador to the United States Jean Jules Jusserand and Sir Cecil Arthur Spring-Rice, a member of the British embassy in the United States.
Roosevelt sought to reassure those who believed that an uncontrollable radical had seized the White House. He announced that he would retain McKinley’s Cabinet of advisors and said he would continue McKinley’s program, but he soon caused controversy. Shortly after he became president, he invited the black educator and leader Booker T. Washington to dine with him at the White House. Southern politicians were furious with Roosevelt. He held his ground, but he did not invite Washington to the White House again.
|C1||Pennsylvania Coal Strike|
Another controversy arose over Roosevelt’s handling of an anthracite coal strike in Pennsylvania. In May 1902, 150,000 coal miners went out on strike, demanding recognition of their union, the United Mine Workers; a 20-percent increase in pay; and a nine-hour workday. The mine owners refused to negotiate, and the strike dragged on for five months with no apparent hope of settlement. The nation was faced with a severe coal shortage, with winter approaching.
In October, Roosevelt summoned the owners and the miners’ representatives to Washington, D.C. When the owners still refused to negotiate, the president announced that he would appoint an investigative commission and, in effect, threatened to use U.S. Army troops to run the mines. At the same time he persuaded the financier John Pierpont Morgan to talk to the owners. Morgan got them to agree to arbitration, and they asked Roosevelt to appoint a commission. The miners then returned to work, and the following year the commission’s report led to the adoption of a nine-hour day, a 10-percent increase in pay, and a process for negotiating disputes within the industry. However, the owners refused to recognize the United Mine Workers. Although Roosevelt had made unprecedented use of his presidential powers, public opinion was solidly behind him.
|C2||Northern Securities Case|
Also unprecedented was Roosevelt’s prosecution of the Northern Securities Company, a group of several railroad companies run as though they were one company in order to reduce competition and control prices. Huge combinations like Northern Securities were called trusts. Roosevelt, through his attorney general, Philander C. Knox, sued Northern Securities for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, which outlawed such mergers. The lawsuit implied that the government would enforce the antitrust act more forcefully than it had in the past, but it also emphasized to the nation’s industrial and financial directors that their interests were subservient to national interests. However, dissolving the railroad trust was not followed by a wave of antitrust actions. It established a principle, rather than set a program in motion.
Through these and other actions, Roosevelt sought to create what he called the Square Deal. Americans were not to be given special privileges because they were rich or because they were poor. He adopted a moral approach to many social problems. For example, he distinguished between what he considered good and bad trusts and he would not respect labor organizations simply because they represented groups of workers. As he said in a speech in Syracuse, New York, on September 7, 1903, “We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. We must see that each is given a square deal, because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less.”
The new president formulated his policies in the midst of a reform movement rising out of city and farm unrest and growing to national proportions. Central to this development was the creation of a popular press, which revolutionized periodical literature as well. Newspapers headed by such powerful publishers as Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and Edward W. Scripps competed for circulation. They discovered that Americans were interested in exposures of corruption and in the ways in which they were being exploited by politicians.
|D1||The Big Stick|
During Roosevelt’s administration many politicians and intellectuals accused Roosevelt of imperialism, the practice by which powerful nations seek to control or influence weaker ones. European imperialism had been characterized by territorial acquisition. Roosevelt had no intention of acquiring colonies. He wanted treaties that would facilitate the success of U.S. businesses.
In diplomatic affairs, Roosevelt believed that it was important to “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” which implied that effective control could be exercised without the formality of colonial rule. The “big stick” often meant the threat of war, and while it was seldom used against powerful nations in Europe or Asia, Roosevelt’s administration did pressure Latin American countries. “The big stick” became one of Roosevelt’s most quoted phrases. Roosevelt was moderate in some of his decisions in diplomacy, although he acted boldly where he thought the situation required firmness or where he thought conditions could carry the weight of forceful action. He advocated a larger and more efficient army and navy, but Congress and public opinion would not permit a rapid increase of military forces. However, his secretary of the army, New York lawyer and future Nobel Prize-winner Elihu Root, made significant reforms to improve the Department of War. They involved the creation of an effective general staff under a chief of staff and the reorganization and enlargement of the army school system.
Roosevelt endorsed the policy of his governor for the Philippines, future U.S. president William Howard Taft, who approved the military subjugation of the Filipino nationalists but also advocated aid and the building of trade relations. Roosevelt later made Taft his troubleshooter and secretary of war.
|D2||Alaskan Boundary Dispute|
A major point of possible contention between the United States and the United Kingdom was the question of a proper boundary between lower Alaska and Canada. The question had been aggravated by the discovery of gold in the Canadian Klondike, as well as in Alaska. Roosevelt was first tempted to make a show of arms, but he decided to take part in a tribunal to arbitrate the dispute and appointed as United States representative his own trusted friend Henry Cabot Lodge. In 1903 the tribunal backed the U.S. claims.
Unlike other U.S. nationalists, Roosevelt opposed annexing Cuba and Santo Domingo (now the Dominican Republic), despite the weakness of their regimes. With Venezuela in debt to the United Kingdom and Germany, Roosevelt kept an eye on Venezuela’s affairs and threatened to send ships to the vicinity if any country sent in armed forces to collect the debts. He did not, however, use the fighting language he had used in 1895. A crisis was avoided when Germany agreed to submit its claims to the Hague Tribunal, which would decide how to settle the question. The tribunal scaled down the German claims from $40 million to $8 million and ruled that it was improper to use force for the collection of debts. In 1904 Roosevelt spelled out his policy in what became known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.
President James Monroe had announced what became the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, saying that Europeans were not to interfere in the affairs of the western hemisphere. Although the doctrine had no force in international law, it had been adopted by each succeeding president. Roosevelt added a new meaning to the Monroe Doctrine when he declared in a message to Congress that if any nation in the western hemisphere acted “wrongly” and in a fashion that might incite foreign intervention in its affairs, the United States would act to prevent such an occurrence. He added that the United States did not intend to take over the governing of these countries.
Roosevelt applied his corollary first to Santo Domingo, which was having trouble paying its debts to foreign countries. Roosevelt, fearing that the country might be occupied by a European power to force the repayment of debts, used negotiations and veiled threats to take control of the Santo Domingo customs house. The United States used the money collected there to pay Santo Domingo’s debts and support its government.
The most notable event in foreign affairs during Roosevelt’s first administration involved the settling of the question of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Roosevelt had long feared that another power would successfully build a canal in Central America and would thus control that vital artery. A U.S.-held canal would boost U.S. and world trade, as well as allow U.S. ships to move swiftly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in case of military emergency. The Spooner Act of 1902 settled the question of a route, giving preference to Panama (then part of Colombia). The Colombian senate refused to ratify the treaty, wanting more than the $10 million offered as an initial payment.
Roosevelt was furious. He had no respect for the Colombian politicians and little faith that Panamanians felt a strong loyalty to them. He therefore did not discourage native groups and foreign businessmen when they began a revolt against Colombia on November 3, 1903. Three days later the United States recognized the new Panamanian government. United States ships prevented Colombian troops from suppressing the uprising, and the new Panamanian government received the money by signing a treaty granting the United States building and supplementary rights to a 16-km (10-mi) strip of land. Plans to build the canal started immediately.
Roosevelt believed this achievement was historic. He followed every detail of the building of the canal, visited it in 1906, and defended his actions at all times, although the United States later paid compensation to Colombia for its loss.
|E||Election of 1904|
Roosevelt wanted to win the presidency in his own right. Republican leader Mark Hanna of Ohio, who wanted the office for himself, sought to block a resolution by the 1903 Ohio Republican convention endorsing Roosevelt’s candidacy for the following year. Roosevelt outmaneuvered Hanna, who died before the Republican National Convention. At the national convention, Roosevelt won the nomination as its presidential candidate by acclamation.
Members of the Democratic Party were disappointed with the showing of Nebraska editor and reformer William Jennings Bryan in 1900, and nominated the conservative judge Alton B. Parker of New York. Roosevelt, however, proved himself appealing to minority groups, armed services veterans, and many reformers. He also won support from major financiers who trusted his belief in law and order. His election pledge not to run for a “third” term was to embarrass him on later occasions, and he regretted having made it, nevertheless his victory in 1904 was spectacular. Roosevelt won 336 electoral votes to 140 for Parker, whose votes came entirely from the South and who fared worse than Bryan. Charles W. Fairbanks of Indiana became Roosevelt’s vice president.
|VI||SECOND TERM AS PRESIDENT|
Roosevelt’s second administration opened in an already matured atmosphere of domestic reform. The nation faced massive problems involving basic government policy on such issues as food, railroads, and the public domain. Roosevelt was eager to push for conservation of natural resources and for curbing great private fortunes through income and inheritance taxes, but he was still reluctant to increase government controls over business.
At a Senate investigation in 1899, Roosevelt had denounced the poorly processed beef that his soldiers had been given to eat during the Spanish-American War and said he would as soon have eaten his old hat. However, meat preparation, like all food and drug preparations, seemed safe from government intervention. Investigations focused on patent medicines and helped stimulate congressional action in favor of a pure food and drugs bill. The meat-packers were exposed in the Upton Sinclair novel The Jungle (1906).
The novel caused discomfort because of its vivid description of unsanitary meat handling. Roosevelt, who had earlier believed a report that meat was being safely processed, sent another commission to Chicago and released to the press a report highly critical of the meat-packers’ methods. Succeeding agitation during 1906 helped Congress to pass a bill providing for meat inspection. The controversy also greatly aided the success of the fight to pass the Pure Food and Drug Act, which prohibited the manufacture of unsafe foods or drugs.
A bill for revitalizing the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was long overdue. Unfair business practices that the commission could not control not only led to unjust rates but also threatened public safety. Roosevelt was suspicious of unbridled free enterprise, but he opposed Bryan’s demand that the railroads be taken over by the government. Roosevelt was also unsympathetic to the aggressive campaign of United States Senator Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin to discredit the railroads’ policies.
In 1905 Roosevelt urged “government supervision and regulation of charges by the railroads,” although he also warned against “radical” legislation. Representative William P. Hepburn of Idaho became his congressional spokesman for a moderate regulatory measure. Reformers and journalistic supporters helped him overcome strong conservative resistance to what was hailed as a major precedent-setting achievement. As a farsighted conservative noted, “It saved us from government ownership.”
The Hepburn Act of 1906 authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to determine and prescribe maximum rates and to order the railroads to conform to them within 30 days. It also extended the regulatory powers of the commission to sleeping car, pipeline, and express companies. Four years later it was extended to telephone and telegraph companies.
One of Roosevelt’s major interests was public land. Although he learned much about it from Chief U.S. Forester Gifford Pinchot, his own studies in natural history and his travels about the country convinced him of the need to preserve the country’s natural heritage. Forest, mineral, and water controls seemed to him basic to guarantee the nation’s resources. Giving more attention to the problem than any previous president, he set aside some 60 million hectares (150 million acres) of public lands to protect them from exploitation by private interests. He later added 34 million hectares (85 million acres) in Alaska and the Northwest to the public domain. The Reclamation Act of 1902 established irrigation and other services for Western lands. One of the many tangible monuments to his program was the Roosevelt Dam, built by the Reclamation Service, near Phoenix, Arizona. Roosevelt’s regard for natural resources and other aesthetic and practical aspects of conservation inspired him in 1908 to convene a “Congress of Governors” of all the states, plus many experts and legislators, to discuss national policy. Some members of Congress were annoyed by his free spending, which they were required to support, and sought to make political capital of the fact. Nevertheless the session was a landmark in conservation.
Roosevelt was troubled by the spirit of some reformers who had amassed both reputation and followers and whose goals, it seemed to him, could only bring the nation to socialism. Roosevelt detested socialism, a system that advocates state ownership of natural resources, basic industries, banking and credit facilities, and public utilities. His dissatisfaction reached its height with the publication in Cosmopolitan magazine of the series “The Treason of the Senate,” by David Graham Phillips. United States senators were then, under law, chosen by their state legislatures, rather than by popular vote, and often represented special conservative interests. Phillips drew powerful individual portraits of the senators and explained their deeds in terms that stirred wide resentment. It also provided information that in the future would help the campaign, initiated in 1913 by the passage of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, for popular election of senators.
In 1906, while Phillips’s series was still running, Roosevelt delivered a speech, first privately at a gathering of journalists and then publicly, on April 14, at the dedication of a government building in Washington, D.C. Roosevelt denounced the writer, who seemed to him to court sensationalism for its own sake and “... who could look no way but downward with the muckrake in his hand ... (and) continued to rake himself the filth of the floor.” Conservatives were pleased by the president’s rejection of the reformers. The reformers themselves, however, took the term “muckraker” as a badge of honor.
|A5||Panic of 1907|
Roosevelt’s grasp of economics was weak and his regard for it small. His moral approach to individuals and industries sufficed for him. He asked Congress to establish the Department of Commerce and Labor in 1903 but did not make it a major instrument of policy formulation or government action. The banking and stock-market systems were beyond his interest or experience. The so-called money panic of 1907 occurred because banks were then totally dependent on their own currency resources. They could thus be jeopardized by rumors or special financial crises, despite their good financial condition. There were no preparations, official or otherwise, for such an event.
The fall of the Knickerbocker Bank, a large, powerful bank, in New York City under such circumstances affected a large number of smaller institutions and set off a panic that threatened to throw the country into a deep depression. Roosevelt’s leadership in the crisis was minimal. He gave his secretary of the treasury, George B. Cortelyou, a free hand. Cortelyou worked with a group of financiers, headed by J. P. Morgan, to support threatened financial establishments. One result of this cooperation was the purchase of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company by the U.S. Steel Corporation—dominated by the Morgan interests—an act that some reformers looked on with great misgivings.
The government’s offer to place money in approved banks facing difficulties stopped the panic. However, it did not examine the reasons for the panic, reimburse losers, or provide machinery for making sure another panic did not occur. The fact that so powerful an institution as the Knickerbocker Bank could fail for lack of currency, even though it owned sound assets, made an impact on congressional conservatives. They perceived that no institution was secure simply by virtue of size. The Aldrich-Vreeland Currency Act of 1908 was a stopgap measure intended to support unstable banks by enabling them to issue circulating notes under particular conditions.
Roosevelt still believed that powerful nations survived and weak ones died. He had faith in the virtues of war, and continued to assume that the United States was playing a noble mediating role among fighting or lesser-developed nations.
|B1||Treaty of Portsmouth|
In an age that saw ships as the major vehicle of foreign policy, Roosevelt carefully watched naval developments in the far corners of the world. He also thought it necessary to balance the interests of powers that could challenge or curb U.S. influence abroad. Roosevelt suspected Russia’s power and designs, and he admired and respected Japan’s forceful military development. His respect was confirmed during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, when Japan soundly defeated the Russians in several battles. The Japanese, victorious but financially exhausted, agreed to Roosevelt’s offer to negotiate a peace treaty. The Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the war, was hailed as a triumph of Roosevelt’s diplomacy, and in 1906 Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Roosevelt’s policy toward Japan was a combination of courtesy and show of strength. In that same year, San Francisco ordered the segregation of all Japanese, Chinese, and Korean children in a separate school, greatly offending recently victorious Japan. Roosevelt was deeply disturbed and convinced the local school board to withdraw their decision. In exchange, he discussed with Japanese ambassadors an immigration policy that would better control the entrance of their nationals into the United States. The so-called Gentleman’s Agreement of 1907 stopped most Japanese immigration. Although it did not wholly please the Japanese government, it permitted Japan to save face by voluntarily restraining its people from seeking entry into the United States.
|B3||Mediation in European Affairs|
Roosevelt’s attitude toward European nations was modified by what he called their more “advanced” nature. Otherwise, his goal was the same: to maintain a balance among the powers and to advance U.S. interests.
Although he was not interested in disarmament, Roosevelt developed an early interest in reduction of armaments and conducted various negotiations in these connections. He also encouraged the convening of the Second Hague Conference on peace in 1907. However, he permitted the Russian tsar the satisfaction of calling the meeting.
In 1905 German Kaiser William II startled European governments by visiting Morocco and assuring its sultan of his support of Moroccan autonomy and of its right to trade on equal terms with various nations, including Germany. This action was widely interpreted as a challenge to France, which, with British support, believed Morocco to be in its sphere of influence. War seemed possible.
With German encouragement, Roosevelt took the initiative in calling a conference of nations on the Moroccan question in 1906 and sent a U.S. delegate, Henry White. This action aroused some criticism from isolationists at home because it involved the United States in foreign affairs. Roosevelt himself felt that he had prevented a general war when the conference found a solution to the conflict.
|B5||Great White Fleet|
Roosevelt thought it wise to implement diplomacy with displays of U.S. power. In 1907 he ordered a world tour by the U.S. fleet. It was intended particularly to impress the Japanese, who, however, received the Great White Fleet, as it was called, with enthusiasm.
At home, Roosevelt continued to urge a stronger and more efficient U.S. Army. When army officers protested against an order to keep fit, Roosevelt himself led a party on a 160-km (100-mi) ride in inclement weather to show how little was being asked.
|C||Election of 1908|
Roosevelt could almost certainly have won renomination and reelection to the presidency in 1908, but he honored his pledge not to run again. William Howard Taft had won his full confidence as a loyal and competent supporter of his ideas. Roosevelt was not disturbed by the criticism of labor leaders that Taft was an “injunction judge” quick to prevent effective labor action. Roosevelt believed that labor required the same curbing as capital when its leaders were “bad” or “wrong,” as, in his view, they had been in several major cases during his administration. Roosevelt, therefore, strongly and effectively backed Taft for the nomination and subsequently saw him elected to the presidency.
|A||African and European Adventures|
When Roosevelt left the White House in 1909, he went to Africa on a hunting and collecting tour, partly in pursuit of long-established interests and recreations and partly not to embarrass the new president with his vivid presence at home. The African adventure produced a unique collection of animals for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and a book, African Game Trails (1910). After the tour his family joined him and he made a triumphal tour of Europe, reviewing armies and lecturing at universities.
While in Europe, Roosevelt received letters from progressives who complained that Taft was abandoning his program. Gifford Pinchot went abroad to meet him and personally inform him that the government was moving away from the conservation strategies that he and Roosevelt had established. Pinchot accused Richard Achilles Ballinger, Taft’s secretary of the interior, of abandoning Roosevelt’s conservation policies. Ballinger was supported by President Taft, who in 1910 dismissed Pinchot for insubordination, but Roosevelt refused to take a stand in opposition to Taft.
|B||Break with Taft|
Roosevelt returned to the United States to receive a stirring and exceptional welcome. Political observers watched his movements closely for light on his attitude toward the Republican administration. The Republicans had received a severe rebuff by voters in the congressional elections. Taft had antagonized those who wanted a lower tariff by signing the Payne-Aldrich Bill, which raised taxes on many items, and compounded the injury by calling it “the best tariff bill that the Republican Party ever passed.” Taft also supported the speaker of the House of Representatives, Joseph Cannon, who was the target of discontented progressives in the House. Taft told his side of the controversy to Roosevelt but received neither support nor repudiation.
Roosevelt was much impressed by Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life (1909), a book that denounced the individualism of Thomas Jefferson and called for unity behind a national program of improvement and control. This among other influences was the basis for what became Roosevelt’s New Nationalism program. He undertook a Western tour that drew many Republicans to his side. At Osawatomie, Kansas, on August 31, 1910, he put “the national need before sectional or personal advantage.” He took a radical stand on the Supreme Court of the United States, accusing it of having restricted necessary social action. He also demanded stronger executive action.
Roosevelt continued to establish a progressive plan of action, helped by Republicans who called for his candidacy in 1912 and who rejected the progressive La Follette. Roosevelt decided to run for the presidency in 1912 when Taft’s attorney general filed a law suit to dissolve the U.S. Steel Corporation. The suit noted U.S. Steel’s acquisition of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company as one reason for the suit. The charge enraged Roosevelt, who regarded it as a personal insult because he had approved the purchase as part of J. P. Morgan’s strategy for ending the Panic of 1907. Roosevelt broke openly with Taft. On February 21, 1912, he announced,”My hat is in the ring.”
|C||Election of 1912|
Roosevelt hoped that his tactics would cause delegates to the Republican National Convention to flock to his banner and permit him to overthrow the alliance supporting Taft’s renomination. Roosevelt’s showing in the Republican direct primaries before the Chicago convention encouraged this hope; unfortunately most delegates were not chosen in direct primary elections. Taft’s managers were thus able to keep control of the convention. Roosevelt charged fraud with long-practiced forthrightness and led his followers out of the convention. His supporters reconvened in Chicago on August 5 and nominated Roosevelt as their so-called Bull Moose, or Progressive, candidate in the election (see Progressive Party).
The split in the Republican Party was inevitable in view of the basic split between conservatives and progressives. Moreover, it practically ensured the election of the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. Nevertheless, Roosevelt conducted a whirlwind campaign. The Kansas journalist William Allen White, analyzing the New Nationalism program, as distinguished from Wilson’s New Freedom program, concluded that the difference was between “Tweedledum and Tweedledee.”
On October 14, 1912, Americans were shocked by an attempt to assassinate Roosevelt while he was visiting Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The bullet fired at him just missed entering his right lung, but Roosevelt delivered his scheduled speech before entering the hospital.
In the electoral college, Wilson won by a landslide, with 435 votes. Roosevelt was still a popular hero. His 4,126,020 votes topped Taft’s 3,483,922. Both totals added up to substantially more than Wilson’s 6,286,124 votes, which constituted only 42 percent of the popular vote. Some Progressive Party members hoped Roosevelt had begun a crusade that he might fulfill in later elections. Roosevelt had promised as much in the course of the campaign. However, although Roosevelt continued to support the Progressive Party, he turned to other concerns.
Roosevelt received a proposal to explore the River of Doubt (now the Roosevelt River) in Brazil. “I had to go,” he later said. “It was my last chance to be a boy.” Roosevelt was received with acclaim in Brazil and also in Argentina and Chile, where he delivered lectures. In December 1913, with a number of scientists and explorers, Roosevelt pushed into the wilderness. Although he thought of the trip chiefly in terms of its naturalist aspects and collected specimens for the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, he also enjoyed the hunting and other adventures. The expedition’s trials and successes were recorded in one of Roosevelt’s most popular books, Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914), written in the course of travel. Although Roosevelt regained the weight and the appearance of vigor that had characterized him, he was a sick man whose jungle ordeal contributed to his premature death.
|E||Prophet of Preparedness|
Roosevelt had developed an uncompromising antipathy to President Wilson’s temperament and political approach, which he called “ridiculous and insincere.” He particularly despised Wilson’s “pacifism,” which to him was the product of fear and ineptitude, rather than of strength and the ability to control events. Roosevelt believed that Wilson’s incapacity, as he interpreted it, compounded crises at home, as well as abroad. Thus a major strike against the Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, bringing troops into bloody conflict with mine workers, seemed to him to require a kind of government action Wilson could not comprehend.
Wilson’s response to the overthrow of the Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz in 1911 and the subsequent struggles of revolutionary generals did not impress Roosevelt favorably. Wilson’s policy infuriated him. He scorned it as “grape juice diplomacy,” a reference to Wilson’s secretary of state, William Jennings Bryan, a firm pacifist who drank no alcohol.
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Roosevelt hesitated to take a stand against either the Allies or the Central Powers. He had many close friends on both sides, and each urged him to understand their causes. However, his dilemma did not make him more sympathetic to Wilson’s predicament as president. Wilson’s appeals for Americans to be neutral “in fact as well as in name” impressed Roosevelt as feeble.
Wilson’s later assertion that “there is such a thing as a man being too proud to fight” offended every principle that had governed Roosevelt’s life. As early as 1890 he called for naval preparedness. In 1897 he had proclaimed preparedness for war as the best guarantor of peace, and it became the principal tenet of his political philosophy.
Germany’s violation of Belgian neutrality won Belgium Roosevelt’s sympathy, although he restrained expression of it at that time. On May 7, 1915, a German submarine torpedoed without warning the British steamship Lusitania off the southern coast of Ireland. The ship sank in less than 20 minutes with the loss of 1198 people, including 128 Americans. Thereafter Roosevelt felt less restraint and without specifying an enemy, he distinguished between those who advocated action and those who temporized. He denounced “hyphenated Americans,” theoretically both German Americans and those overly sympathetic to the United Kingdom. However, as the United States identified more with the Allied cause and Roosevelt’s own sympathies shifted, the phrase became criticism of those opposed to the British.
Roosevelt’s insistence on preparedness made him impatient with the very word “peace.” His slogan became, “Fear God and take your own part.”
|F||Election of 1916|
Early in 1916 Wilson began to take a position in favor of national defense, he did so in roundabout ways that irritated Roosevelt. Wilson, in praising what he termed American “passion for peace,” probably better reflected the mood of a nation divided by minority sympathies. Nevertheless, Roosevelt was convinced that the American public was tired of Wilson and would not reelect him. He therefore supported Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican candidate for president in 1916. The famous Democratic Party slogan, “He kept us out of the war,” which contributed to Wilson’s victory, was evidence that Roosevelt was part of a minority.
In a letter, Roosevelt himself admitted that the country’s need of him “has probably passed.” He continued, summing up what seemed to him his achievements: “My great usefulness as President came in connection with the Anthracite Coal Strike (Pennsylvania), the voyage of the battle fleet around the world, the taking of Panama, the handling of Germany in the Venezuelan business, England in the Alaska boundary matter, the irrigation business in the West, and finally, I think, the toning up of the government service generally.”
The entry of the United States into the war in 1917 did not reconcile Roosevelt to his great antagonist, Wilson. He protested against the belief, held by many of his friends, that it was their duty to stand behind the president. It was their duty, he thought, to support Wilson when he was right and to attack him when he was in error. Nevertheless, Roosevelt made a strenuous effort to get into the war himself. His call for a voluntary division of soldiers roused a great popular response from would-be recruits but failed to gain Roosevelt a commission from Wilson’s secretary of war. Roosevelt even promised Wilson himself that, given any chance to serve overseas, he would abstain from active politics. These pleas failed, however.
As spokesman for an all-out military effort, Roosevelt took the belligerent tone in his public speeches and writings that opposition always incited in him. He expected patriotic Americans to express “intense Americanism.” He considered anyone who did less to be no American at all. He opposed tolerance on the issue. Because he then held Germany in the greatest abhorrence, he also felt free to characterize those who, in his view, interfered with the efficient prosecution of the war as among “the Huns within our own gates.”
Roosevelt took great satisfaction in the congressional elections of 1918, which, in effect, repudiated Wilson. The president had asked for a Democratic majority, thus injecting politics into pursuit of the war. Roosevelt and Taft, friends once again, declared that Republican candidates would be more dependable in ensuring the unconditional surrender of Germany. The statement was widely read and probably contributed to the Republican victory.
Republican leaders looked forward with confidence to the 1920 election, cheered by the upsurge of their party and Americans’ uneasiness with Wilson’s commitment to the League of Nations, an association of the world’s nations that was the first organization dedicated to international peace. None of the outstanding Republicans had Roosevelt’s prestige or record of principles. Many observers were confident that he would receive the Republican nomination without difficulty.
Roosevelt, however, was a sick man and complained of being old. He was ill during 1918 and late in the year was hospitalized. He lost the hearing in one ear. The death of his youngest son, Quentin, in action overseas had been a severe blow. To one correspondent he wrote that it was indeed a serious thing for a father to encourage a son to actions that might bring him death, “but I would not have cared for my boys and they would not have cared for me if our relations had not been along that line.” Roosevelt remained active to the end and died in his sleep at his Oyster Bay home on January 6, 1919.