([b]October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919) was an American statesman, politician, conservationist, naturalist, and writer who served as the 26th president of the United States from 1901 to 1909. He served as the 25th vice president from March to September 1901 and as the 33rd governor of New York from 1899 to 1900. As a leader of the Republican Party, he became a driving force for the Progressive Era in the United States in the early 20th century. His face is depicted on Mount Rushmore alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. He is generally ranked in polls of historians and political scientists as one of the five best presidents.
Roosevelt was born a sickly child with debilitating asthma, but he overcame his health problems by embracing a strenuous lifestyle. He integrated his exuberant personality, vast range of interests, and world-famous achievements into a “cowboy” persona defined by robust masculinity. He was home-schooled, and he began a lifelong naturalist avocation before attending Harvard College. His book The Naval War of 1812 (1882) established his reputation as a learned historian and as a popular writer. Upon entering politics, he became the leader of the reform faction of Republicans in New York’s state legislature. His wife and his mother both died in rapid succession, and he escaped to a cattle ranch in the Dakotas. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley, but he resigned from that post to lead the Rough Riders during the Spanish–American War, returning a war hero. He was elected Governor of New York in 1898. Vice President Garret Hobart died, and the New York state party leadership convinced McKinley to accept Roosevelt as his running mate in the 1900 election. Roosevelt campaigned vigorously, and the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket won a landslide victory based on a platform of peace, prosperity, and conservation.
Roosevelt took office as Vice President in March 1901, and he assumed the presidency at age 42 following McKinley’s assassination that September; he remains the youngest person to become President of the United States. He was a leader of the Progressive movement, and he championed his “Square Deal” domestic policies, promising the average citizen fairness, breaking of trusts, regulation of railroads, and pure food and drugs. He made conservation a top priority and established many new national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources. In foreign policy, he focused on Central America where he began construction of the Panama Canal. He expanded the Navy and sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour to project the United States’ naval power around the globe. His successful efforts to broker the end of the Russo-Japanese War won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. He avoided controversial tariff and money issues. He was elected to a full term in 1904 and continued to promote progressive policies, many of which were passed in Congress. He groomed his close friend William Howard Taft, and Taft won the 1908 presidential election to succeed him.
Roosevelt grew frustrated with Taft’s conservatism and belatedly tried to win the 1912 Republican nomination. He failed, walked out, and founded the so-called “Bull Moose” Party which called for wide-ranging progressive reforms. He ran in the 1912 election and the split allowed the Democratic nominee Woodrow Wilson to win the election. Following the defeat, Roosevelt led a two-year expedition to the Amazon basin where he nearly died of tropical disease. During World War I, he criticized President Wilson for keeping the country out of the war with Germany, and his offer to lead volunteers to France was rejected. He considered running for president again in 1920, but his health continued to deteriorate and he died in 1919.
Early life and family
Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born on October 27, 1858, at East 20th Street in New York City. He was the second of four children born to socialite Martha Stewart “Mittie” Bulloch and businessman and philanthropist Theodore Roosevelt Sr. (brother of Robert Roosevelt and James A. Roosevelt, all sons of Cornelius Roosevelt). He had an older sister, Anna (nicknamed “Bamie”), a younger brother, Elliott, and a younger sister, Corinne. Elliott was later the father of First Lady Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of Theodore’s distant cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. His paternal grandfather was of Dutch descent; his other ancestry included primarily Scottish and Scots-Irish, English and smaller amounts of German, Welsh, and French. Theodore Sr. was the fifth son of businessman Cornelius Van Schaack “C.V.S.” Roosevelt and Margaret Barnhill. Theodore’s fourth cousin, James Roosevelt I, who was also a businessman, was the father of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Mittie was the younger daughter of Major James Stephens Bulloch and Martha P. “Patsy” Stewart. Through the Van Schaacks, Roosevelt was a descendant of the Schuyler family.
Roosevelt’s youth was largely shaped by his poor health and debilitating asthma. He repeatedly experienced sudden nighttime asthma attacks that caused the experience of being smothered to death, which terrified both Theodore and his parents. Doctors had no cure. Nevertheless, he was energetic and mischievously inquisitive. His lifelong interest in zoology began at age seven when he saw a dead seal at a local market; after obtaining the seal’s head, Roosevelt and two cousins formed what they called the “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History”. Having learned the rudiments of taxidermy, he filled his makeshift museum with animals that he killed or caught; he then studied the animals and prepared them for exhibition. At age nine, he recorded his observation of insects in a paper entitled “The Natural History of Insects”.
Roosevelt’s father significantly influenced him. His father was a prominent leader in New York’s cultural affairs; he helped to found the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and had been especially active in mobilizing support for the Union during the Civil War, even though his in-laws included Confederate leaders. Roosevelt said, “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.” Family trips abroad, including tours of Europe in 1869 and 1870, and Egypt in 1872, shaped his cosmopolitan perspective. Hiking with his family in the Alps in 1869, Roosevelt found that he could keep pace with his father. He had discovered the significant benefits of physical exertion to minimize his asthma and bolster his spirits. Roosevelt began a heavy regime of exercise. After being manhandled by two older boys on a camping trip, he found a boxing coach to teach him to fight and strengthen his body.
A 6-year-old Roosevelt witnessed the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln from his grandfather’s mansion in Union Square, New York City where he was photographed in the window along with his brother Elliot, as confirmed by wife Edith who was also present.
Roosevelt was mostly homeschooled by tutors and his parents. Biographer H. W. Brands argued that “The most obvious drawback to his home schooling was uneven coverage of the various areas of human knowledge”. He was solid in geography and bright in history, biology, French, and German; however, he struggled in mathematics and the classical languages. When he entered Harvard College on September 27, 1876, his father advised: “Take care of your morals first, your health next, and finally your studies.” His father’s sudden death on February 9, 1878, devastated Roosevelt, but he eventually recovered and doubled his activities.
He did well in science, philosophy, and rhetoric courses but continued to struggle in Latin and Greek. He studied biology intently and was already an accomplished naturalist and a published ornithologist. He read prodigiously with an almost photographic memory. While at Harvard, Roosevelt participated in rowing and boxing; he was once runner-up in a Harvard boxing tournament. Roosevelt was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi literary society (later the Fly Club), the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, and the prestigious Porcellian Club; he was also an editor of The Harvard Advocate. In 1880, Roosevelt graduated Phi Beta Kappa (22nd of 177) from Harvard with an A.B. magna cum laude. Biographer Henry Pringle states:
Roosevelt, attempting to analyze his college career and weigh the benefits he had received, felt that he had obtained little from Harvard. He had been depressed by the formalistic treatment of many subjects, by the rigidity, the attention to minutiae that were important in themselves, but which somehow were never linked up with the whole.
After his father’s death, Roosevelt had inherited $125,000 (equivalent to $3.2 million in 2018), enough to live comfortably for the rest of his life. Roosevelt gave up his earlier plan of studying natural science and instead decided to attend Columbia Law School, moving back into his family’s home in New York City. Roosevelt was an able law student, but he often found law to be irrational. He spent much of his time writing a book on the War of 1812.
Determined to enter politics, Roosevelt began attending meetings at Morton Hall, the 59th Street headquarters of New York’s 21st District Republican Association. Though Roosevelt’s father had been a prominent member of the Republican Party, the younger Roosevelt made an unorthodox career choice for someone of his class, as most of Roosevelt’s peers refrained from becoming too closely involved in politics. Roosevelt found allies in the local Republican Party, and he defeated an incumbent Republican state assemblyman closely tied to the political machine of Senator Roscoe Conkling. After his election victory, Roosevelt decided to drop out of law school, later saying, “I intended to be one of the governing class.”
While at Harvard, Roosevelt began a systematic study of the role played by the young United States Navy in the War of 1812. Assisted by two uncles, he scrutinized original source materials and official U.S. Navy records, ultimately publishing The Naval War of 1812 in 1882. The book contained drawings of individual and combined ship maneuvers, charts depicting the differences in iron throw weights of cannon shot between rival forces, and analyses of the differences between British and American leadership down to the ship-to-ship level. Upon release, The Naval War of 1812 was praised for its scholarship and style, and it remains a standard study of the war.
With the publication of The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 in 1890, Navy Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan was immediately hailed as the world’s outstanding naval theorist by the leaders of Europe. Roosevelt paid very close attention to Mahan’s emphasis that only a nation with the world’s most powerful fleet could dominate the world’s oceans, exert its diplomacy to the fullest, and defend its own borders. He incorporated Mahan’s ideas into his views on naval strategy for the remainder of his career.
First marriage and widowerhood
On his 22nd birthday in 1880, Roosevelt married socialite Alice Hathaway Lee. Their daughter, Alice Lee Roosevelt, was born on February 12, 1884. Two days after giving birth, Roosevelt’s wife died due to an undiagnosed case of kidney failure (called Bright’s disease at the time), which had been masked by the pregnancy. In his diary, Roosevelt wrote a large ‘X’ on the page and then, “The light has gone out of my life.” His mother, Mittie, had died of typhoid fever eleven hours earlier at 3:00 a.m., in the same house. Distraught, Roosevelt left baby Alice in the care of his sister Bamie in New York City while he grieved. He assumed custody of his daughter when she was three.
After the death of his wife and mother, Roosevelt focused on his work, specifically by re-energizing a legislative investigation into corruption of the New York City government, which arose from a concurrent bill proposing that power be centralized in the mayor’s office. For the rest of his life, he rarely spoke about his wife Alice and did not write about her in his autobiography. While working with Joseph Bucklin Bishop on a biography that included a collection of his letters, Roosevelt did not mention his marriage to Alice nor his second marriage to Edith Kermit Carow.
Early political career
Roosevelt was a member of the New York State Assembly (New York Co., 21st D.) in 1882, 1883 and 1884. He immediately began making his mark, specifically in corporate corruption issues. He blocked a corrupt effort by financier Jay Gould to lower his taxes. Roosevelt exposed suspected collusion in the matter by Judge Theodore Westbrook, and argued for and received approval for an investigation to proceed, aiming for the impeachment of the judge. The investigation committee rejected impeachment, but Roosevelt had exposed the potential corruption in Albany, and thus assumed a high and positive political profile in multiple New York publications.
Roosevelt’s anti-corruption efforts helped him win re-election in 1882 by a margin greater than two-to-one, an achievement made even more impressive by the fact that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Grover Cleveland won Roosevelt’s district. With Conkling’s Stalwart faction of the Republican Party in disarray following the assassination of President James Garfield, Roosevelt won election as the Republican party leader in the state assembly. He allied with Governor Cleveland to win passage of a civil service reform bill. Roosevelt won re-election a second time, and sought the office of Speaker of the New York State Assembly, but was defeated by Titus Sheard in a 41 to 29 vote of the GOP caucus. In his final term, Roosevelt served as Chairman of the Committee on Affairs of Cities; he wrote more bills than any other legislator.
Presidential election of 1884
With numerous presidential hopefuls to choose from, Roosevelt supported Senator George F. Edmunds of Vermont, a colorless reformer. The state GOP preferred the incumbent president, New York City’s Chester Arthur, who was known for passing the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act. Arthur, at the time, was suffering from Bright’s disease, unknown to the public, and out of duty he did not contest his own nomination. Roosevelt fought hard and succeeded in influencing the Manhattan delegates at the state convention in Utica. He then took control of the state convention, bargaining through the night and outmaneuvering the supporters of Arthur and James G. Blaine; he gained a national reputation as a key person in New York State.
Roosevelt attended the 1884 GOP National Convention in Chicago and gave a speech convincing delegates to nominate African American John R. Lynch, an Edmunds supporter, to be temporary chair. Roosevelt fought alongside the Mugwump reformers; however, Blaine, having gained support from Arthur’s and Edmunds’s delegates, won the nomination by 541 votes on the fourth ballot. In a crucial moment of his budding political career, Roosevelt resisted the demand of the Mugwumps that he bolt from Blaine. He bragged about his one small success: “We achieved a victory in getting up a combination to beat the Blaine nominee for temporary chairman… To do this needed a mixture of skill, boldness and energy… to get the different factions to come in… to defeat the common foe.” He was also impressed by an invitation to speak before an audience of ten thousand, the largest crowd he had addressed up to that date. Having gotten a taste of national politics, Roosevelt felt less aspiration for advocacy on the state level; he then retired to his new “Chimney Butte Ranch” on the Little Missouri River. Roosevelt refused to join other Mugwumps in supporting Grover Cleveland, the governor of New York and the Democratic nominee in the general election. He debated the pros and cons of staying loyal with his political friend, Henry Cabot Lodge. After Blaine won the nomination, Roosevelt had carelessly said that he would give “hearty support to any decent Democrat”. He distanced himself from the promise, saying that it had not been meant “for publication”. When a reporter asked if he would support Blaine, Roosevelt replied, “That question I decline to answer. It is a subject I do not care to talk about.” In the end, he realized that he had to support Blaine to maintain his role in the GOP, and he did so in a press release on July 19. Having lost the support of many reformers, Roosevelt decided to retire from politics and move to North Dakota.
Cowboy in Dakota
Roosevelt moved West following the 1884 presidential election, and he built a second ranch named Elkhorn, which was 35 mi (56 km) north of the boomtown of Medora, North Dakota. Roosevelt learned to ride western style, rope and hunt on the banks of the Little Missouri. Though he earned the respect of the authentic cowboys, they were not overly impressed. However, he identified with the herdsman of history, a man he said possesses, “few of the emasculated, milk-and-water moralities admired by the pseudo-philanthropists; but he does possess, to a very high degree, the stern, manly qualities that are invaluable to a nation”. He reoriented, and began writing about frontier life for national magazines; he also published three books – Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, Ranch Life and the Hunting-Trail, and The Wilderness Hunter.
Roosevelt brought his desire to address the common interests of citizens to the West. He successfully led efforts to organize ranchers to address problems of overgrazing and other shared concerns; his work resulted in the formation of the Little Missouri Stockmen’s Association. He felt compelled to promote conservation and was able to form the Boone and Crockett Club, whose primary goal was the conservation of large game animals and their habitats. After the uniquely severe US winter of 1886–87 wiped out his herd of cattle and those of his competitors, and with it over half of his $80,000 investment, Roosevelt returned to the East. Though his finances suffered from the experience, Roosevelt’s time in the West made it impossible to peg him as an ineffectual intellectual, a characterization that could have hampered his political career.
On December 2, 1886, Roosevelt married his childhood and family friend, Edith Kermit Carow. Roosevelt was deeply troubled that his second marriage had taken place so soon after the death of his first wife, and he faced resistance from his sisters. Nonetheless, the couple married at St George’s, Hanover Square in London, England. The couple had five children: Theodore “Ted” III in 1887, Kermit in 1889, Ethel in 1891, Archibald in 1894, and Quentin in 1897. The couple also raised Roosevelt’s daughter from his first marriage, Alice, who often clashed with her stepmother.
Reentering public life
Upon Roosevelt’s return to New York in 1886, Republican leaders quickly approached him about running for mayor of New York City. Roosevelt accepted the nomination despite having little hope of winning the race against United Labor Party candidate Henry George and Democratic candidate Abram Hewitt. Roosevelt campaigned hard for the position, but Hewitt won with 41% (90,552 votes), taking the votes of many Republicans who feared George’s radical policies. George was held to 31% (68,110 votes), and Roosevelt took third place with 27% (60,435 votes). Fearing that his political career might never recover, Roosevelt turned his attention to writing The Winning of the West, a historical work tracking the westward movement of Americans; the book was a great success for Roosevelt, earning favorable reviews and selling numerous copies.
Civil Service Commission
After Benjamin Harrison unexpectedly defeated Blaine for the presidential nomination at the 1888 Republican National Convention, Roosevelt gave stump speeches in the Midwest in support of Harrison. On the insistence of Henry Cabot Lodge, President Harrison appointed Roosevelt to the United States Civil Service Commission, where he served until 1895. While many of his predecessors had approached the office as a sinecure, Roosevelt vigorously fought the spoilsmen and demanded enforcement of civil service laws. The New York Sun then described Roosevelt as “irrepressible, belligerent, and enthusiastic”. Roosevelt frequently clashed with Postmaster General John Wanamaker, who handed out numerous patronage positions to Harrison supporters, and Roosevelt’s attempt to force out several postal workers damaged Harrison politically. Despite Roosevelt’s support for Harrison’s reelection bid in the presidential election of 1892, the eventual winner, Grover Cleveland, reappointed him to the same post. Roosevelt’s close friend and biographer, Joseph Bucklin Bishop, described his assault on the spoils system:
The very citadel of spoils politics, the hitherto impregnable fortress that had existed unshaken since it was erected on the foundation laid by Andrew Jackson, was tottering to its fall under the assaults of this audacious and irrepressible young man… Whatever may have been the feelings of the (fellow Republican party) President (Harrison)—and there is little doubt that he had no idea when he appointed Roosevelt that he would prove to be so veritable a bull in a china shop—he refused to remove him and stood by him firmly till the end of his term.
New York City Police Commissioner
In 1894, a group of reform Republicans approached Roosevelt about running for Mayor of New York again; he declined, mostly due to his wife’s resistance to being removed from the Washington social set. Soon after he declined, he realized that he had missed an opportunity to reinvigorate a dormant political career. He retreated to the Dakotas for a time; his wife Edith regretted her role in the decision and vowed that there would be no repeat of it.
William Lafayette Strong, a reform-minded Republican, won the 1894 mayoral election and offered Roosevelt a position on the board of the New York City Police Commissioners. Roosevelt became president of the board of commissioners and radically reformed the police force. Roosevelt implemented regular inspections of firearms and annual physical exams, appointed recruits based on their physical and mental qualifications rather than political affiliation, established Meritorious Service Medals, and closed corrupt police hostelries. During his tenure, a Municipal Lodging House was established by the Board of Charities, and Roosevelt required officers to register with the Board; he also had telephones installed in station houses.
In 1894, Roosevelt met Jacob Riis, the muckraking Evening Sun newspaper journalist who was opening the eyes of New Yorkers to the terrible conditions of the city’s millions of poor immigrants with such books as How the Other Half Lives. Riis described how his book affected Roosevelt:
When Roosevelt read [my] book, he came… No one ever helped as he did. For two years we were brothers in (New York City’s crime-ridden) Mulberry Street. When he left I had seen its golden age… There is very little ease where Theodore Roosevelt leads, as we all of us found out. The lawbreaker found it out who predicted scornfully that he would “knuckle down to politics the way they all did”, and lived to respect him, though he swore at him, as the one of them all who was stronger than pull… that was what made the age golden, that for the first time a moral purpose came into the street. In the light of it everything was transformed.
Roosevelt made a habit of walking officers’ beats late at night and early in the morning to make sure that they were on duty. He made a concerted effort to uniformly enforce New York’s Sunday closing law; in this, he ran up against boss Tom Platt as well as Tammany Hall—he was notified that the Police Commission was being legislated out of existence. His crackdowns led to protests and demonstrations. Invited to one large demonstration, not only did he surprisingly accept, he delighted in the insults, caricatures and lampoons directed at him, and earned some surprising good will. Roosevelt chose to defer rather than split with his party. As Governor of New York State, he would later sign an act replacing the Police Commission with a single Police Commissioner.
Emergence as a national figure
In the 1896 presidential election, Roosevelt backed Speaker of the House Thomas Brackett Reed for the Republican nomination, but William McKinley won the nomination and defeated William Jennings Bryan in the general election. Roosevelt opposed Bryan’s free silver platform, viewing many of Bryan’s followers as dangerous fanatics, and Roosevelt gave campaign speeches for McKinley. Urged by Congressman Henry Cabot Lodge, President McKinley appointed Roosevelt as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897. Secretary of the Navy John D. Long was more concerned about formalities than functions, was in poor health, and left many major decisions to Roosevelt. Influenced by Alfred Thayer Mahan, Roosevelt called for a build-up in the country’s naval strength, particularly the construction of battleships. Roosevelt also began pressing his national security views regarding the Pacific and the Caribbean on McKinley, and was particularly adamant that Spain be ejected from Cuba. He explained his priorities to one of the Navy’s planners in late 1897:
I would regard war with Spain from two viewpoints: first, the advisability on the grounds both of humanity and self-interest of interfering on behalf of the Cubans, and of taking one more step toward the complete freeing of America from European dominion; second, the benefit done our people by giving them something to think of which is not material gain, and especially the benefit done our military forces by trying both the Navy and Army in actual practice.
On February 15, 1898, USS Maine, an armored cruiser, exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba, killing hundreds of crew members. While Roosevelt and many other Americans blamed Spain for the explosion, McKinley sought a diplomatic solution. Without approval from Long or McKinley, Roosevelt sent out orders to several naval vessels, directing them to prepare for war. George Dewey, who had received an appointment to lead the Asiatic Squadron with the backing of Roosevelt, later credited his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay to Roosevelt’s orders. After finally giving up hope of a peaceful solution, McKinley asked Congress to declare war upon Spain, beginning the Spanish–American War.
War in Cuba
With the beginning of the Spanish–American War in late April 1898, Roosevelt resigned from his post as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Along with Army Colonel Leonard Wood, he formed the First US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. His wife and many of his friends begged Roosevelt to remain in his post in Washington, but Roosevelt was determined to see battle. When the newspapers reported the formation of the new regiment, Roosevelt and Wood were flooded with applications from all over the country. Referred to by the press as the “Rough Riders”, the regiment was one of many temporary units active only for the duration of the war.
The regiment trained for several weeks in San Antonio, Texas, and in his autobiography Roosevelt wrote that his prior experience with the New York National Guard had been invaluable, in that it enabled him to immediately begin teaching his men basic soldiering skills. The Rough Riders used some standard issue gear and some of their own design, purchased with gift money. Diversity characterized the regiment, which included Ivy Leaguers, professional and amateur athletes, upscale gentlemen, cowboys, frontiersmen, Native Americans, hunters, miners, prospectors, former soldiers, tradesmen, and sheriffs. The Rough Riders were part of the cavalry division commanded by former Confederate general Joseph Wheeler, which itself was one of three divisions in the V Corps under Lieutenant General William Rufus Shafter. Roosevelt and his men landed in Daiquirí, Cuba, on June 23, 1898, and marched to Siboney. Wheeler sent parts of the 1st and 10th Regular Cavalry on the lower road northwest and sent the “Rough Riders” on the parallel road running along a ridge up from the beach. To throw off his infantry rival, Wheeler left one regiment of his Cavalry Division, the 9th, at Siboney so that he could claim that his move north was only a limited reconnaissance if things went wrong. Roosevelt was promoted to colonel and took command of the regiment when Wood was put in command of the brigade. The Rough Riders had a short, minor skirmish known as the Battle of Las Guasimas; they fought their way through Spanish resistance and, together with the Regulars, forced the Spaniards to abandon their positions.
Under his leadership, the Rough Riders became famous for the charge up Kettle Hill on July 1, 1898, while supporting the regulars. Roosevelt had the only horse, and rode back and forth between rifle pits at the forefront of the advance up Kettle Hill, an advance that he urged despite the absence of any orders from superiors. He was forced to walk up the last part of Kettle Hill, because his horse had been entangled in barbed wire. The victories came at a cost of 200 killed and 1,000 wounded.
Roosevelt commented on his role in the battles: “On the day of the big fight I had to ask my men to do a deed that European military writers consider utterly impossible of performance, that is, to attack over open ground an unshaken infantry armed with the best modern repeating rifles behind a formidable system of entrenchments. The only way to get them to do it in the way it had to be done was to lead them myself.”
In August, Roosevelt and other officers demanded that the soldiers be returned home. Roosevelt always recalled the Battle of Kettle Hill (part of the San Juan Heights) as “the great day of my life” and “my crowded hour”. In 2001, Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions; he had been nominated during the war, but Army officials, annoyed at his grabbing the headlines, blocked it. After returning to civilian life, Roosevelt preferred to be known as “Colonel Roosevelt” or “The Colonel”, though “Teddy” remained much more popular with the public, even though Roosevelt openly despised that moniker. Men working closely with Roosevelt customarily called him “Colonel” or “Theodore”.
Governor of New York
After leaving Cuba in August 1898, the Rough Riders were transported to a camp at Montauk Point, Long Island, where Roosevelt and his men were briefly quarantined due to the War Department’s fear of spreading yellow fever. Shortly after Roosevelt’s return to the United States, Republican Congressman Lemuel E. Quigg, a lieutenant of party boss Tom Platt, asked Roosevelt to run in the 1898 gubernatorial election. Platt disliked Roosevelt personally, feared that Roosevelt would oppose Platt’s interests in office, and was reluctant to propel Roosevelt to the forefront of national politics. However, Platt also needed a strong candidate due to the unpopularity of the incumbent Republican governor, Frank S. Black, and Roosevelt agreed to become the nominee and to try not to “make war” with the Republican establishment once in office. Roosevelt defeated Black in the Republican caucus by a vote of 753 to 218, and faced Democrat Augustus Van Wyck, a well-respected judge, in the general election. Roosevelt campaigned vigorously on his war record, winning the election by a margin of just one percent.
As governor, Roosevelt learned much about ongoing economic issues and political techniques that later proved valuable in his presidency. He was exposed to the problems of trusts, monopolies, labor relations, and conservation. Chessman argues that Roosevelt’s program “rested firmly upon the concept of the square deal by a neutral state”. The rules for the Square Deal were “honesty in public affairs, an equitable sharing of privilege and responsibility, and subordination of party and local concerns to the interests of the state at large”.
By holding twice-daily press conferences—which was an innovation—Roosevelt remained connected with his middle-class political base. Roosevelt successfully pushed the Ford Franchise-Tax bill, which taxed public franchises granted by the state and controlled by corporations, declaring that “a corporation which derives its powers from the State, should pay to the State a just percentage of its earnings as a return for the privileges it enjoys”. He rejected “boss” Thomas C. Platt‘s worries that this approached Bryanite Socialism, explaining that without it, New York voters might get angry and adopt public ownership of streetcar lines and other franchises.
The New York state government affected many interests, and the power to make appointments to policy-making positions was a key role for the governor. Platt insisted that he be consulted on major appointments; Roosevelt appeared to comply, but then made his own decisions. Historians marvel that Roosevelt managed to appoint so many first-rate men with Platt’s approval. He even enlisted Platt’s help in securing reform, such as in the spring of 1899, when Platt pressured state senators to vote for a civil service bill that the secretary of the Civil Service Reform Association called “superior to any civil service statute heretofore secured in America”.
Chessman argues that as governor, Roosevelt developed the principles that shaped his presidency, especially insistence upon the public responsibility of large corporations, publicity as a first remedy for trusts, regulation of railroad rates, mediation of the conflict of capital and labor, conservation of natural resources and protection of the less fortunate members of society. Roosevelt sought to position himself against the excesses of large corporations on the one hand and radical movements on the other.
As the chief executive of the most populous state in the union, Roosevelt was widely considered a potential future presidential candidate, and supporters such as William Allen White encouraged him to run for president. Roosevelt had no interest in challenging McKinley for the Republican nomination in 1900, and was denied his preferred post of Secretary of War. As his term progressed, Roosevelt pondered a 1904 presidential run, but was uncertain about whether he should seek re-election as governor in 1900.
In November 1899, Vice President Garret Hobart died of heart failure, leaving an open spot on the 1900 Republican national ticket. Though Henry Cabot Lodge and others urged him to run for vice president in 1900, Roosevelt was reluctant to take the powerless position and issued a public statement saying that he would not accept the nomination. Additionally, Roosevelt was informed by President McKinley and campaign manager Mark Hanna that he was not being considered for the role of vice president due to his actions prior to the Spanish–American War. Eager to be rid of Roosevelt, Platt nonetheless began a newspaper campaign in favor of Roosevelt’s nomination for the vice presidency. Roosevelt attended the 1900 Republican National Convention as a state delegate and struck a bargain with Platt: Roosevelt would accept the nomination if the convention offered it to him, but would otherwise serve another term as governor. Platt asked Pennsylvania party boss Matthew Quay to lead the campaign for Roosevelt’s nomination, and Quay outmaneuvered Hanna at the convention to put Roosevelt on the ticket. Roosevelt won the nomination unanimously.
Roosevelt proved highly energetic and an equal match for Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan’s famous barnstorming style of campaigning. In a whirlwind campaign that displayed his energy to the public, Roosevelt made 480 stops in 23 states. He denounced the radicalism of Bryan, contrasting it with the heroism of the soldiers and sailors who fought and won the war against Spain. Bryan had strongly supported the war itself, but he denounced the annexation of the Philippines as imperialism, which would spoil America’s innocence. Roosevelt countered that it was best for the Filipinos to have stability and the Americans to have a proud place in the world. With the nation basking in peace and prosperity, the voters gave McKinley an even larger victory than that which he had achieved in 1896.
After the campaign, Roosevelt took office as vice president in March 1901. The office of Vice President was a powerless sinecure and did not suit Roosevelt’s aggressive temperament. Roosevelt’s six months as Vice President were uneventful, and Roosevelt presided over the Senate for a mere four days before it adjourned. On September 2, 1901, Roosevelt first publicized an aphorism that thrilled his supporters at the Minnesota State Fair: “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.”
On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York when he was shot by Leon Czolgosz. Roosevelt was vacationing in Vermont, and traveled to Buffalo to visit McKinley in the hospital. It appeared that McKinley would recover, so Roosevelt resumed his vacation in the Adirondacks. When McKinley’s condition worsened, Roosevelt again traveled to Buffalo. McKinley died on September 14, and Roosevelt was informed while he was in North Creek; he continued on to Buffalo and was sworn in as the nation’s 26th president at the Ansley Wilcox House.
Roosevelt’s accession to the presidency left the vice presidency vacant. As there was no constitutional provision for filling an intra-term vacancy in that office (prior to ratification of the 25th Amendment in 1967), Roosevelt served his first term without a vice president. McKinley’s supporters were nervous about the new president, and Hanna was particularly bitter that the man he had opposed so vigorously at the convention had succeeded McKinley. Roosevelt assured party leaders that he intended to adhere to McKinley’s policies, and he retained McKinley’s Cabinet. Nonetheless, Roosevelt sought to position himself as the party’s undisputed leader, seeking to bolster the role of the president and position himself for the 1904 election.
Shortly after taking office, Roosevelt invited Booker T. Washington to dinner at the White House. To his dismay, this sparked a bitter, and at times vicious, reaction across the heavily segregated South. Roosevelt reacted with astonishment and protest, saying that he looked forward to many future dinners with Washington. Upon further reflection, Roosevelt wanted to ensure that this had no effect on political support in the South, and further dinner invitations to Washington were avoided; their next meeting was scheduled as typical business at 10:00 a.m. instead.
Trust busting and regulation
For his aggressive use of the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act, compared to his predecessors, Roosevelt became mythologized as the “trust-buster”; but in reality he was more of a trust regulator. Roosevelt viewed big business as a necessary part of the American economy, and sought only to prosecute the “bad trusts” that restrained trade and charged unfair prices. He brought 44 antitrust suits, breaking up the Northern Securities Company, the largest railroad monopoly; and regulating Standard Oil, the largest oil and refinery company. Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, and William McKinley combined prosecuted only 18 anti-trust violations under the Sherman Antitrust Act.
Bolstered by his party’s success in the 1902 elections, Roosevelt proposed the creation of the United States Department of Commerce and Labor, which would include the Bureau of Corporations. While Congress was receptive to Department of Commerce and Labor, it was more skeptical of the anti-trust powers that Roosevelt sought to endow within the Bureau of Corporations. Roosevelt successfully appealed to the public to pressure Congress, and Congress overwhelmingly voted to pass Roosevelt’s version of the bill.
In a moment of frustration, House Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon commented on Roosevelt’s desire for executive branch control in domestic policy-making: “That fellow at the other end of the avenue wants everything from the birth of Christ to the death of the devil.” Biographer Brands states, “Even his friends occasionally wondered whether there wasn’t any custom or practice too minor for him to try to regulate, update or otherwise improve.” In fact, Roosevelt’s willingness to exercise his power included attempted rule changes in the game of football; at the Naval Academy, he sought to force retention of martial arts classes and to revise disciplinary rules. He even ordered changes made in the minting of a coin whose design he disliked, and ordered the Government Printing Office to adopt simplified spellings for a core list of 300 words, according to reformers on the Simplified Spelling Board. He was forced to rescind the latter after substantial ridicule from the press and a resolution of protest from the House of Representatives.
In May 1902, anthracite coal miners went on strike, threatening a national energy shortage. After threatening the coal operators with intervention by federal troops, Roosevelt won their agreement to an arbitration of the dispute by a commission, which succeeded in stopping the strike. The accord with J.P. Morgan resulted in the miners getting more pay for fewer hours, but with no union recognition. Roosevelt said, “My action on labor should always be considered in connection with my action as regards capital, and both are reducible to my favorite formula—a square deal for every man.” Roosevelt was the first president to help settle a labor dispute.
During Roosevelt’s second year in office it was discovered there was corruption in the Indian Service, the Land Office, and the Post Office Department. Roosevelt investigated and prosecuted corrupt Indian agents who had cheated the Creeks and various tribes out of land parcels. Land fraud and speculation were found involving Oregon federal timberlands. In November 1902, Roosevelt and Secretary Ethan A. Hitchcock forced Binger Hermann, the General Land Office Commissioner, to resign office. On November 6, 1903 Francis J. Heney was appointed special prosecutor, and obtained 146 indictments involving an Oregon Land Office bribery ring. U.S. Senator John H. Mitchell was indicted for bribery to expedite illegal land patents, found guilty in July 1905, and sentenced to six months in prison. More corruption was found in the Postal Department, that brought on the indictments of 44 government employees on charges of bribery and fraud. Historians generally agree that Roosevelt moved “quickly and decisively” to prosecute misconduct in his administration.
Merchants complained that some railroad rates were too high. In the 1906 Hepburn Act, Roosevelt sought to give the Interstate Commerce Commission the power to regulate rates, but the Senate, led by conservative Nelson Aldrich fought back. Roosevelt worked with the Democratic Senator Benjamin Tillman to pass the bill. Roosevelt and Aldrich ultimately reached a compromise that gave the ICC the power to replace existing rates with “just-and-reasonable” maximum rates, but allowed railroads to appeal to the federal courts on what was “reasonable.” In addition to rate-setting, the Hepburn Act also granted the ICC regulatory power over pipeline fees, storage contracts, and several other aspects of railroad operations.
Pure food and drugs
Roosevelt responded to public anger over the abuses in the food packing industry by pushing Congress to pass the Meat Inspection Act of 1906 and the Pure Food and Drug Act. Though conservatives initially opposed the bill, Upton Sinclair‘s The Jungle, published in 1906, helped galvanize support for reform. The Meat Inspection Act of 1906 banned misleading labels and preservatives that contained harmful chemicals. The Pure Food and Drug Act banned food and drugs that were impure or falsely labeled from being made, sold, and shipped. Roosevelt also served as honorary president of the American School Hygiene Association from 1907 to 1908, and in 1909 he convened the first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children.
Of all Roosevelt’s achievements, he was proudest of his work in conservation of natural resources, and extending federal protection to land and wildlife. Roosevelt worked closely with Interior Secretary James Rudolph Garfield and Chief of the United States Forest Service Gifford Pinchot to enact a series of conservation programs that often met with resistance from Western members of Congress such as Charles William Fulton. Nonetheless, Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 new U.S. National Monuments. He also established the first 51 bird reserves, four game preserves, and 150 National Forests. The area of the United States that he placed under public protection totals approximately 230,000,000 acres (930,000 km2).
Roosevelt extensively used executive orders on a number of occasions to protect forest and wildlife lands during his tenure as President. By the end of his second term in office, Roosevelt used executive orders to establish 150 million acres of reserved forestry land. Roosevelt was unapologetic about his extensive use of executive orders to protect the environment, despite the perception in Congress that he was encroaching on too many lands. Eventually, Senator Charles Fulton (R-OR) attached an amendment to an agricultural appropriations bill that effectively prevented the president from reserving any further land. Before signing that bill into law, Roosevelt used executive orders to establish an additional 21 forest reserves, waiting until the last minute to sign the bill into law. In total, Roosevelt used executive orders to establish 121 forest reserves in 31 states. Prior to Roosevelt, only one president had issued over 200 executive orders, Grover Cleveland (253). The first 25 presidents issued a total of 1,262 executive orders; Roosevelt issued 1,081.
In the 1890s, Roosevelt had been an ardent imperialist, and he vigorously defended the permanent acquisition of the Philippines in the 1900 election campaign. After the rebellion ended in 1901, he largely lost interest in the Philippines and Asian expansion in general. As president, he primarily focused the nation’s overseas ambitions on the Caribbean, especially locations that had a bearing on the defense of his pet project, the Panama Canal. Roosevelt also increased the size of the navy, and by the end of his second term the United States had more battleships than any other country besides Britain.
Following the Spanish–American War, Roosevelt believed that the United States had emerged as a world power, and he sought ways to assert America’s newly-eminent position abroad.
In 1904, the Japanese government requested the diplomat Kaneko Kentarō (who had been a fellow Harvard classmate of Theodore Roosevelt) to ask Roosevelt to assist in mediating a treaty between Japan and Russia to end the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt agreed to do so (see The 1905 Illustrated London News illustration of Roosevelt with the Russian and Japanese representatives). The parties met in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and resolved the final conflict over the division of Sakhalin– Russia took the northern half, and Japan the south; Japan also dropped its demand for an indemnity. Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful efforts in bringing about the Treaty of Portsmouth. George E. Mowry concludes that Roosevelt handled the arbitration well, doing an “excellent job of balancing Russian and Japanese power in the Orient, where the supremacy of either constituted a threat to growing America”. Roosevelt also played a major role in mediating the First Moroccan Crisis by calling the Algeciras Conference, which averted war between France and Germany.
Roosevelt’s presidency saw the strengthening of ties with Great Britain. The Great Rapprochement had begun with British support of the United States during the Spanish–American War, and it continued as Britain withdrew its fleet from the Caribbean in favor of focusing on the rising German naval threat. In 1901, Britain and the United States signed the Hay–Pauncefote Treaty, abrogating the Clayton–Bulwer Treaty, which had prevented the United States from constructing a canal connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean. The long-standing Alaska boundary dispute was settled on terms favorable to the United States, as Great Britain was unwilling to alienate the United States over what it considered to be a secondary issue. As Roosevelt later put it, the resolution of the Alaskan boundary dispute “settled the last serious trouble between the British Empire and ourselves.”
The Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1907 resolved unpleasant racial tensions with Japan. Tokyo was angered over the segregation of Japanese children in San Francisco schools. The tensions were ended, but Japan also agreed not to allow unskilled workers to emigrate to the U.S.
Latin America and Panama Canal
In December 1902, the Germans, British, and Italians sought to impose a naval blockade against Venezuela in order to force the repayment of delinquent loans. Roosevelt was particularly concerned with the motives of German Emperor Wilhelm. He succeeded in getting the aggressors to agree to arbitration by a tribunal at The Hague, and averted the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903. The latitude granted to the Europeans by the arbiters was in part responsible for the “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine, which the President issued in 1904: “Chronic wrongdoing or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere, the adherence of the United States to the Monroe doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”
The pursuit of an isthmus canal in Central America during this period focused on two possible routes—Nicaragua and Panama, which was then a rebellious district within Colombia. Roosevelt convinced Congress to approve the Panamanian alternative, and a treaty was approved, only to be rejected by the Colombian government. When the Panamanians learned of this, a rebellion followed, was supported by Roosevelt, and succeeded. A treaty with the new Panama government for construction of the canal was then reached in 1903. Roosevelt received criticism for paying the bankrupt Panama Canal Company and the New Panama Canal Company $40,000,000 (equivalent to $11.15 billion in 2018) for the rights and equipment to build the canal. Critics charged that an American investor syndicate allegedly divided the large payment among themselves. There was also controversy over whether a French company engineer influenced Roosevelt in choosing the Panama route for the canal over the Nicaragua route. Roosevelt denied charges of corruption concerning the canal in a January 8, 1906 message to Congress. In January 1909, Roosevelt, in an unprecedented move, brought criminal libel charges against the New York World and the Indianapolis News known as the “Roosevelt-Panama Libel Cases”. Both cases were dismissed by U.S. District Courts, and on January 3, 1911, the U.S. Supreme Court, upon federal appeal, upheld the lower courts’ rulings. Historians are sharply critical of Roosevelt’s criminal prosecutions of the World and the News, but are divided on whether actual corruption in acquiring and building the Panama Canal took place.
In 1906, following a disputed election, an insurrection ensued in Cuba; Roosevelt sent Taft, the Secretary of War, to monitor the situation; he was convinced that he had the authority to unilaterally authorize Taft to deploy Marines if necessary, without congressional approval.
Examining the work of numerous scholars, Ricard (2014) reports that:
The most striking evolution in the twenty-first century historiography of Theodore Roosevelt is the switch from a partial arraignment of the imperialist to a quasi-unanimous celebration of the master diplomatist…. [Regarding British relations these studies] have underlined cogently Roosevelt’s exceptional statesmanship in the construction of the nascent twentieth-century “special relationship”. …The twenty-sixth president’s reputation as a brilliant diplomatist and realpolitician has undeniably reached new heights in the twenty-first century…yet, his Philippine policy still prompts criticism.
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. After noticing the reporters huddled outside the White House in the rain one day, he gave them their own room inside, effectively inventing the presidential press briefing. The grateful press, with unprecedented access to the White House, rewarded Roosevelt with ample coverage.
Roosevelt normally enjoyed very close relationships with the press, which he used to keep in daily contact with his middle-class base. While out of office, he made a living as a writer and magazine editor. He loved talking with intellectuals, authors, and writers. He drew the line, however, at expose-oriented scandal-mongering journalists who, during his term, set magazine subscriptions soaring by their attacks on corrupt politicians, mayors, and corporations. Roosevelt himself was not usually a target, but his speech in 1906 coined the term “muckraker” for unscrupulous journalists making wild charges. “The liar”, he said, “is no whit better than the thief, and if his mendacity takes the form of slander he may be worse than most thieves.”
The press did briefly target Roosevelt in one instance. After 1904, he was periodically criticized for the manner in which he facilitated the construction of the Panama Canal. According to biographer Brands, Roosevelt, near the end of his term, demanded that the Justice Department bring charges of criminal libel against Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World. The publication had accused him of “deliberate misstatements of fact” in defense of family members who were criticized as a result of the Panama affair. Though an indictment was obtained, the case was ultimately dismissed in federal court—it was not a federal offense, but one enforceable in the state courts. The Justice Department had predicted that result, and had also advised Roosevelt accordingly.
Election of 1904
The control and management of the Republican Party lay in the hands of Ohio Senator and Republican Party chairman Mark Hanna until McKinley’s death. Roosevelt and Hanna frequently cooperated during Roosevelt’s first term, but Hanna left open the possibility of a challenge to Roosevelt for the 1904 Republican nomination. Roosevelt and Ohio’s other Senator, Joseph B. Foraker, forced Hanna’s hand by calling for Ohio’s state Republican convention to endorse Roosevelt for the 1904 nomination. Unwilling to break with the president, Hanna was forced to publicly endorse Roosevelt. Hanna and Pennsylvania Senator Matthew Quay both died in early 1904, and with the waning of Thomas Platt’s power, Roosevelt faced little effective opposition for the 1904 nomination. In deference to Hanna’s conservative loyalists, Roosevelt at first offered the party chairmanship to Cornelius Bliss, but he declined. Roosevelt turned to his own man, George B. Cortelyou of New York, the first Secretary of Commerce and Labor. To buttress his hold on the party’s nomination, Roosevelt made it clear that anyone opposing Cortelyou would be considered to be opposing the President. The President secured his own nomination, but his preferred vice-presidential running mate, Robert R. Hitt, was not nominated. Senator Charles Warren Fairbanks of Indiana, a favorite of conservatives, gained the nomination.
While Roosevelt followed the tradition of incumbents in not actively campaigning on the stump, he sought to control the campaign’s message through specific instructions to Cortelyou. He also attempted to manage the press’s release of White House statements by forming the Ananias Club. Any journalist who repeated a statement made by the president without approval was penalized by restriction of further access.
The Democratic Party’s nominee in 1904 was Alton Brooks Parker. Democratic newspapers charged that Republicans were extorting large campaign contributions from corporations, putting ultimate responsibility on Roosevelt, himself. Roosevelt denied corruption while at the same time he ordered Cortelyou to return $100,000 (equivalent to $2.8 million in 2018) of a campaign contribution from Standard Oil. Parker said that Roosevelt was accepting corporate donations to keep damaging information from the Bureau of Corporations from going public. Roosevelt strongly denied Parker’s charge and responded that he would “go into the Presidency unhampered by any pledge, promise, or understanding of any kind, sort, or description…”. Allegations from Parker and the Democrats, however, had little impact on the election, as Roosevelt promised to give every American a “square deal“. Roosevelt won 56% of the popular vote, and Parker received 38%; Roosevelt also won the Electoral College vote, 336 to 140. Before his inauguration ceremony, Roosevelt declared that he would not serve another term. Democrats afterwards would continue to charge Roosevelt and the Republicans of being influenced by corporate donations during Roosevelt’s second term.
As his second term progressed, Roosevelt moved to the left of his Republican Party base and called for a series of reforms, most of which failed to pass Congress. In his last year in office, he was assisted by his friend Archibald Butt (who later perished in the sinking of RMS Titanic). Roosevelt’s influence waned as he approached the end of his second term, as his promise to forego a third term made him a lame duck and his concentration of power provoked a backlash from many Congressmen. He sought a national incorporation law (at a time when all corporations had state charters), called for a federal income tax (despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.), and an inheritance tax. In the area of labor legislation, Roosevelt called for limits on the use of court injunctions against labor unions during strikes; injunctions were a powerful weapon that mostly helped business. He wanted an employee liability law for industrial injuries (pre-empting state laws) and an eight-hour work day for federal employees. In other areas he also sought a postal savings system (to provide competition for local banks), and he asked for campaign reform laws.
The election of 1904 continued to be a source of contention between Republicans and Democrats. A Congressional investigation in 1905 revealed that corporate executives donated tens of thousands of dollars in 1904 to the Republican National Committee. In 1908, a month before the general presidential election, Governor Charles N. Haskell of Oklahoma, former Democratic Treasurer, said that Senators beholden to Standard Oil lobbied Roosevelt, in the summer of 1904, to authorize the leasing of Indian oil lands by Standard Oil subsidiaries. He said Roosevelt overruled his Secretary of Interior Ethan A. Hitchcock and granted a pipeline franchise to run through the Osage lands to the Prairie Oil and Gas Company. The New York Sun made a similar accusation and said that Standard Oil, a refinery who financially benefited from the pipeline, had contributed $150,000 to the Republicans in 1904 (equivalent to $4.2 million in 2018) after Roosevelt’s alleged reversal allowing the pipeline franchise. Roosevelt branded Haskell’s allegation as “a lie, pure and simple” and obtained a denial from Treasury Secretary Shaw that Roosevelt had neither coerced Shaw nor overruled him.
Election of 1908
Roosevelt enjoyed being president and was still relatively youthful, but felt that a limited number of terms provided a check against dictatorship. Roosevelt ultimately decided to stick to his 1904 pledge not to run for a third term. He personally favored Secretary of State Elihu Root as his successor, but Root’s ill health made him an unsuitable candidate. New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes loomed as potentially strong candidate and shared Roosevelt’s progressivism, but Roosevelt disliked him and considered him to be too independent. Instead, Roosevelt settled on his Secretary of War, William Howard Taft, who had ably served under Presidents Harrison, McKinley, and Roosevelt in various positions. Roosevelt and Taft had been friends since 1890, and Taft had consistently supported President Roosevelt’s policies. Roosevelt was determined to install the successor of his choice, and wrote the following to Taft: “Dear Will: Do you want any action about those federal officials? I will break their necks with the utmost cheerfulness if you say the word!” Just weeks later he branded as “false and malicious”; the charge was that he was using the offices at his disposal to favor Taft. At the 1908 Republican convention, many chanted for “four years more” of a Roosevelt presidency, but Taft won the nomination after Henry Cabot Lodge made it clear that Roosevelt was not interested in a third term.
In the 1908 election, Taft easily defeated the Democratic nominee, three-time candidate William Jennings Bryan. Taft promoted a progressivism that stressed the rule of law; he preferred that judges rather than administrators or politicians make the basic decisions about fairness. Taft usually proved to be a less adroit politician than Roosevelt and lacked the energy and personal magnetism, along with 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 creating severe tensions inside the Republican Party by pitting producers (manufacturers and farmers) against merchants and consumers, he stopped talking about the issue. Taft ignored the risks and tackled the tariff boldly, 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, signed into law early in President Taft’s tenure, was too high for most reformers, and Taft’s handling of the tariff alienated all sides. While the crisis was building inside the Party, Roosevelt was touring Africa and Europe, to allow Taft to be his own man.
Africa and Europe (1909–1910)
In March 1909, shortly after the end of his presidency, Roosevelt left New York for the Smithsonian-Roosevelt African Expedition, a safari in east and central Africa. Roosevelt’s party landed in Mombasa, British East Africa (now Kenya) and traveled to the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of the Congo) before following the Nile to Khartoum in modern Sudan. Financed by Andrew Carnegie and by his own writings, Roosevelt’s party hunted for specimens for the Smithsonian Institution and for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The group, led by the hunter-tracker RJ Cunninghame, included scientists from the Smithsonian, and was joined from time to time by Frederick Selous, the famous big game hunter and explorer. Participants on the expedition included Kermit Roosevelt, Edgar Alexander Mearns, Edmund Heller, and John Alden Loring.
Roosevelt and his companions killed or trapped approximately 11,400 animals, from insects and moles to hippopotamuses and elephants. The 1,000 large animals included 512 big game animals, including six rare white rhinos. Tons of salted animals and their skins were shipped to Washington; it took years to mount them all, and the Smithsonian shared many duplicate specimens with other museums. Regarding 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”. He wrote a detailed account of the safari in the book African Game Trails, recounting the excitement of the chase, the people he met, and the flora and fauna he collected in the name of science.
After his safari, Roosevelt traveled north to embark on a tour of Europe. Stopping first in Egypt, he commented favorably on British rule of the region, giving his opinion that Egypt was not yet ready for independence, paralleling his views about the Philippines. He refused a meeting with the Pope due to a dispute over a group of Methodists active in Rome, but met with Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, King George V of Great Britain, and other European leaders. In Oslo, Norway, Roosevelt delivered a speech calling for limitations on naval armaments, a strengthening of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and the creation of a “League of Peace” among the world powers. He also delivered the Romanes Lecture at Oxford, in which he denounced those who sought parallels between the evolution of animal life and the development of society. Though Roosevelt attempted to avoid domestic politics during his time abroad, he met with Gifford Pinchot, who related his own disappointment with the Taft Administration. Pinchot had been forced to resign as head of the forest service after clashing with Taft’s Interior Secretary, Richard Ballinger, who had prioritized development over conservation. Roosevelt returned to the United States in June 1910.
Republican Party schism
Roosevelt had attempted to refashion Taft into a younger version of himself, but as soon as Taft began to display his individuality, the former president expressed his disenchantment. He was offended on election night when Taft indicated that his success had been possible not just through the efforts of Roosevelt, but also his brother Charley. Roosevelt was further alienated when Taft, intent on becoming his own man, did not consult him about cabinet appointments. Roosevelt and other progressives were ideologically dissatisfied over Taft’s conservation policies and his handling of the tariff, when he concentrated more power in the hands of conservative party leaders in Congress. Regarding radicalism and liberalism, Roosevelt wrote a British friend in 1911:
- Fundamentally it is the radical liberal with whom I sympathize. He is at least working toward the end for which I think we should all of us strive; and when he adds sanity in moderation to courage and enthusiasm for high ideals he develops into the kind of statesman whom alone I can wholeheartedly support.” 
Roosevelt urged progressives to take control of the Republican Party at the state and local level, and to avoid splitting the party in a way that would hand the presidency to the Democrats in 1912. Additionally, Roosevelt expressed optimism about the Taft Administration after meeting with the president in the White House in June 1910.
In August 1910, Roosevelt gained national attention with a speech at Osawatomie, Kansas, which was the most radical of his career and marked his public break with Taft and the conservative Republicans. Advocating a program of “New Nationalism“, Roosevelt emphasized the priority of labor over capital interests, a need to more effectively control corporate creation and combination, and proposed a ban on corporate political contributions. Returning to New York, Roosevelt began a battle to take control of the state Republican party from William Barnes Jr., Tom Platt’s successor as the state party boss, whom he would later confront in the Barnes vs. Roosevelt Libel Trial. Taft had pledged his support to Roosevelt in this endeavor, and Roosevelt was outraged when Taft’s support failed to materialize at the 1910 state convention. Roosevelt nonetheless campaigned for the Republicans in the 1910 elections, in which the Democrats gained control of the House for the first time since the 1890s. Among the newly elected Democrats was New York state senator Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who argued that he represented his distant cousin’s policies better than his Republican opponent.
The Republican progressives interpreted the 1910 defeats as compelling argument for the complete reorganization of the party in 1911. Senator Robert M. La Follette Sr. of Wisconsin joined with Pinchot, William White, and California Governor Hiram Johnson to create the National Progressive Republican League; their objectives were to defeat the power of political bossism at the state level and to replace Taft at the national level. Despite skepticism of La Follette’s new league, Roosevelt expressed general support for progressive principles. Between January and April 1911, Roosevelt wrote a series of articles for The Outlook, defending what he called “the great movement of our day, the progressive nationalist movement against special privilege, and in favor of an honest and efficient political and industrial democracy”. With Roosevelt apparently uninterested in running in 1912, La Follette declared his own candidacy in June 1911. Roosevelt continually criticized Taft after the 1910 elections, and the break between the two men became final after the Justice Department filed an anti-trust lawsuit against US Steel in September 1911; Roosevelt was humiliated by this suit because he had personally approved of an acquisition that the Justice Department was now challenging. However, Roosevelt was still unwilling to run against Taft in 1912; he instead hoped to run in 1916 against whichever Democrat beat Taft in 1912.
Dispute over arbitration treaties
Taft was a major advocate of arbitration as a major reform of the Progressive Era. In 1911 Taft and his Secretary of State Philander C. Knox negotiated major treaties with Great Britain and with France providing that differences be arbitrated. Disputes had to be submitted to the Hague Court or other tribunal. These were signed in August 1911 but had to be ratified by a two thirds vote of the Senate. Neither Taft nor Knox consulted with members of the Senate during the negotiating process. By then many Republicans were opposed to Taft, and the president felt that lobbying too hard for the treaties might cause their defeat. He made some speeches supporting the treaties in October, but the Senate added amendments Taft could not accept, killing the agreements.
The arbitration issue opens a window on a bitter philosophical dispute among American progressives. Some, led by Taft looked to legal arbitration as the best alternative to warfare. Taft was a constitutional lawyer who later became Chief Justice; he had a deep understanding of the legal issues. Taft’s political base was the conservative business community which largely supported peace movements before 1914. However, his mistake in this case was a failure to mobilize that base. The businessmen believed that economic rivalries were cause of war, and that extensive trade led to an interdependent world that would make war a very expensive and useless anachronism.
However, an opposing faction of progressives, led by Roosevelt, ridiculed arbitration as foolhardy idealism, and insisted on the realism of warfare as the only solution to serious international disputes. Roosevelt worked with his close friend Senator Henry Cabot Lodge to impose those amendments that ruined the goals of the treaties. Lodge thought the treaties impinged too much on senatorial prerogatives. Roosevelt, however, was acting to sabotage Taft’s campaign promises. At a deeper level, Roosevelt’s truly believed that arbitration was a naïve solution and the great issues had to be decided by warfare. The Rooseveltian approach incorporated a near-mystical faith of the ennobling nature of war. It endorsed jingoistic nationalism as opposed to the businessmen’s calculation of profit and national interest.
Election of 1912
Republican primaries and convention
In November 1911, a group of Ohio Republicans endorsed Roosevelt for the party’s nomination for president; the endorsers included James R. Garfield and Dan Hanna. This endorsement was made by leaders of President Taft’s home state. Roosevelt conspicuously declined to make a statement—requested by Garfield—that he would flatly refuse a nomination. Soon thereafter, Roosevelt said, “I am really sorry for Taft… I am sure he means well, but he means well feebly, and he does not know how! He is utterly unfit for leadership and this is a time when we need leadership.” In January 1912, Roosevelt declared “if the people make a draft on me I shall not decline to serve”. Later that year, Roosevelt spoke before the Constitutional Convention in Ohio, openly identifying as a progressive and endorsing progressive reforms—even endorsing popular review of state judicial decisions. In reaction to Roosevelt’s proposals for popular overrule of court decisions, Taft said, “Such extremists are not progressives—they are political emotionalists or neurotics”.
Roosevelt began to envision himself as the savior of the Republican Party from defeat in the upcoming presidential election. In February 1912, Roosevelt announced in Boston, “I will accept the nomination for president if it is tendered to me. I hope that so far as possible the people may be given the chance through direct primaries to express who shall be the nominee. Elihu Root and Henry Cabot Lodge thought that division of the party would lead to its defeat in the next election, while Taft believed that he would be defeated either in the Republican primary or in the general election.
The 1912 primaries represented the first extensive use of the presidential primary, a reform achievement of the progressive movement. The Republican primaries in the South, where party regulars dominated, went for Taft, as did results in New York, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and Massachusetts. Meanwhile, Roosevelt won in Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, California, Maryland and Pennsylvania; Roosevelt also won Taft’s home state of Ohio. These primary elections, while demonstrating Roosevelt’s continuing popularity with the electorate, were not pivotal. The final credentials of the state delegates at the national convention were determined by the national committee, which was controlled by the party leaders, headed by the incumbent president.
Prior to the 1912 Republican National Convention in Chicago, Roosevelt expressed doubt about his prospects for victory, noting that Taft had more delegates and control of the credentials committee. His only hope was to convince party leaders that the nomination of Taft would hand the election to the Democrats, but party leaders were determined not to cede their leadership to Roosevelt. The credentials committee awarded almost all contested delegates to Taft, and Taft won the nomination on the first ballot. Black delegates from the South played a key role: they voted heavily for Taft and put him over the top. La Follette also helped Taft’s candidacy; he hoped that a deadlocked convention would result in his own nomination, and refused to release his delegates to support Roosevelt.
The Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party
Once his defeat at the Republican convention appeared probable, Roosevelt announced that he would “accept the progressive nomination on a progressive platform and I shall fight to the end, win or lose”. At the same time, Roosevelt prophetically said, “My feeling is that the Democrats will probably win if they nominate a progressive”. Bolting from the Republican Party, Roosevelt and 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”, after Roosevelt told reporters, “I’m as fit as a bull moose”. At the 1912 Progressive National Convention, Roosevelt cried out, “We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord.” California Governor Hiram Johnson was nominated as Roosevelt’s running mate. Roosevelt’s platform echoed his 1907–1908 proposals, calling for vigorous government intervention to protect the people from the selfish interests:
To destroy this invisible Government, to dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day. This country belongs to the people. Its resources, its business, its laws, its institutions, should be utilized, maintained, or altered in whatever manner will best promote the general interest. This assertion is explicit… Mr. Wilson must know that every monopoly in the United States opposes the Progressive party… I challenge him… to name the monopoly that did support the Progressive party, whether… the Sugar Trust, the US Steel Trust, the Harvester Trust, the Standard Oil Trust, the Tobacco Trust, or any other… Ours was the only program to which they objected, and they supported either Mr. Wilson or Mr. Taft
Though many Progressive party supporters in the North were supporters of civil rights for blacks, Roosevelt did not give strong support to civil rights and ran a “lily-white” campaign in the South. Rival all-white and all-black delegations from four southern states arrived at the Progressive national convention, and Roosevelt decided to seat the all-white delegations. Nevertheless, he won little support outside mountain Republican strongholds. Out of nearly 1100 counties in the South, Roosevelt won two counties in Alabama, one in Arkansas, seven in North Carolina, three in Georgia, 17 in Tennessee, two in Texas, one in Virginia, and none in Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, or South Carolina.
On October 14, 1912, while campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Roosevelt was shot by a saloonkeeper named John Flammang Schrank. The bullet lodged in his chest after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and passing through a thick (50 pages) single-folded copy of the speech titled “Progressive Cause Greater Than Any Individual“, which he was carrying in his jacket. Schrank was immediately disarmed, captured and might have been lynched had Roosevelt not shouted for Schrank to remain unharmed. Roosevelt assured the crowd he was all right, then ordered police to take charge of Schrank and to make sure no violence was done to him. As an experienced hunter and anatomist, Roosevelt correctly concluded that since he was not coughing blood, the bullet had not reached his lung, and he declined suggestions to go to the hospital immediately. Instead, he delivered his scheduled speech with blood seeping into his shirt. He spoke for 90 minutes before completing his speech and accepting medical attention. His opening comments to the gathered crowd were, “Ladies and gentlemen, 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, probes and an x-ray showed that the bullet had lodged in Roosevelt’s chest muscle, but did not penetrate the pleura. Doctors concluded that it would be less dangerous to leave it in place than to attempt to remove it, and Roosevelt carried the bullet with him for the rest of his life.
After the Democrats nominated Governor Woodrow Wilson of New Jersey, Roosevelt did not expect to win the general election, as Wilson had compiled a record attractive to many progressive Democrats who might have otherwise considered voting for Roosevelt. Roosevelt still campaigned vigorously, and the election developed into a two-person contest between Wilson and Roosevelt despite Taft’s presence in the race. Roosevelt respected Wilson, but the two differed on various issues; Wilson opposed any federal intervention regarding women’s suffrage or child labor (he viewed these as state issues), and attacked Roosevelt’s tolerance of large businesses.
Roosevelt won 4.1 million votes (27%), compared to Taft’s 3.5 million (23%). Wilson gained 6.3 million votes (42% of the total) and a massive landslide in the Electoral College, with 435 electoral votes; Roosevelt won 88 electoral votes, while Taft won 8. Pennsylvania was the only eastern state won by Roosevelt; in the Midwest, he carried Michigan, Minnesota, and South Dakota; in the West, California, and Washington. Wilson’s victory represented the first Democratic presidential election victory since Cleveland’s 1892 campaign, and it was the party’s best performance in the Electoral College since 1852. Roosevelt, meanwhile, garnered a higher share of the popular vote than any other third party presidential candidate in history.
1913–1914 South American Expedition
A friend of Roosevelt’s, Father John Augustine Zahm, persuaded Roosevelt to participate in an expedition to South America. To finance the expedition, Roosevelt received support from the American Museum of Natural History in return for promising to bring back many new animal specimens. Roosevelt’s 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.
Once in South America, a new, far more ambitious goal was added: to find the headwaters of the Rio da Duvida, and trace it north to the Madeira and thence to the Amazon River. It was later renamed Roosevelt River in honor of the former President. Roosevelt’s crew consisted of his son Kermit, naturalist Colonel Rondon, George K. Cherrie, sent by the American Museum of Natural History, Brazilian Lieutenant João Lira, team physician Dr. José Antonio Cajazeira, and 16 skilled paddlers and porters. The initial expedition started somewhat tenuously on December 9, 1913, at the height of the rainy season. The trip down the River of Doubt started on February 27, 1914.
During the trip down the river, Roosevelt suffered a minor leg wound after he jumped into the river to try to prevent two canoes from smashing against the rocks. The flesh wound he received, however, soon gave him tropical fever that resembled the malaria he had contracted while in Cuba fifteen years before. Because the bullet lodged in his chest from the assassination attempt in 1912 was never removed, his health worsened from the infection. This weakened Roosevelt so greatly that six weeks into the adventure, he had to be attended to day and night by the expedition’s physician and his son Kermit. By then, he could not walk because of the infection in his injured leg and an infirmity in the other, which was due to a traffic accident a decade earlier. Roosevelt was riddled with chest pains, fighting a fever that soared to 103 °F (39 °C) and at times made him delirious, at one point constantly reciting the first two lines of Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s poem “Kubla Khan“: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree”. Regarding his condition as a threat to the survival of the others, Roosevelt insisted he be left behind to allow the poorly provisioned expedition to proceed as rapidly as it could, preparing to commit suicide with an overdose of morphine. Only an appeal by his son persuaded him to continue.
Despite Roosevelt’s continued decline and loss of over 50 pounds (23 kg), Colonel Rondon reduced the pace of the expedition to allow for his commission’s mapmaking and other geographical tasks, which required regular stops to fix the expedition’s position by sun-based survey. Upon Roosevelt’s return to New York, friends and family were startled by his physical appearance and fatigue. Roosevelt wrote, perhaps prophetically, to a friend that the trip had cut his life short by ten years. For the rest of his few remaining years, he would be plagued by flare-ups of malaria and leg inflammations so severe as to require surgery. Before Roosevelt had even completed his sea voyage home, critics raised doubts over his claims of exploring and navigating a completely uncharted river over 625 miles (1,006 km) long. When he had recovered sufficiently, he addressed a standing-room-only convention organized in Washington, D.C., by the National Geographic Society and satisfactorily defended his claims.
Roosevelt returned to the United States in May 1914. Though he was outraged by the Wilson Administration‘s conclusion of a treaty that expressed “sincere regret” for the way in which the United States had acquired the Panama Canal Zone, he was impressed by many of the reforms passed under Wilson. Roosevelt made several campaign appearances for the Progressives, but the 1914 elections were a disaster for the fledgling third party. Roosevelt began to envision another campaign for president, this time with himself at the head of the Republican Party, but conservative party leaders remained opposed to Roosevelt. In hopes of engineering a joint nomination, the Progressives scheduled the 1916 Progressive National Convention at the same time as the 1916 Republican National Convention. When the Republicans nominated Charles Evans Hughes, Roosevelt declined the Progressive nomination and urged his Progressive followers to support the Republican candidate. Though Roosevelt had long disliked Hughes, he disliked Wilson even more, and he campaigned energetically for the Republican nominee. However, Wilson won the 1916 election by a narrow margin. The Progressives disappeared as a party following the 1916 election, and Roosevelt and many of his followers permanently re-joined the Republican Party.
League of Nations
Roosevelt, usually in coordination with Henry Cabot Lodge and William Howard Taft, began offering proposals for a league of nations to guarantee the world peace, starting in 1905. In his 1905 annual message to Congress he identified the need for “some method” of control of “offending nations” which would someday become the responsibility of “an international peace power.” In his Nobel prize address of 1910, he said, “it would be a master stroke if those great Powers honestly bent on peace would form a League of Peace, not only to keep the peace among themselves, but to prevent, by force if necessary, its being broken by others.” It would have executive power such as the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 lacked. He called for American participation.
When World War I broke out, Roosevelt proposed “a World League for the Peace of Righteousness,” in September 1914, which would preserve sovereignty but limit armaments and require arbitration. He added that it should be “solemnly covenanted that if any nations refused to abide by the decisions of such a court, then others draw the sword in behalf of peace and justice.” In 1915 he outlined this plan more specifically, urging that nations guarantee their entire military force, if necessary, against any nation that refused to carry out arbitration decrees or violated rights of other nations. He insisted upon the participation of the United States as one of the “joint guarantors.” Roosevelt referred to this plan in a 1918 speech as “the most feasible for…a league of nations.” By this time Wilson was strongly hostile to Roosevelt and Lodge, and developed his own plans for a rather different League of Nations. It became reality along Wilson’s lines at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Roosevelt denounced Wilson’s approach but died before it was adopted at Paris. However, Lodge was willing to accept it with serious reservations. In the end, on March 19, 1920, Wilson had Democratic Senators vote against the League with the Lodge Reservations and the United States never joined the League of Nations.
When the First World War began in 1914, Roosevelt strongly supported the Allies and demanded a harsher policy against Germany, especially regarding submarine warfare. Roosevelt angrily denounced the foreign policy of President Wilson, calling it a failure regarding the atrocities in Belgium and the violations of American rights. In 1916, while campaigning for Hughes, Roosevelt repeatedly denounced Irish-Americans and German-Americans whom he described as unpatriotic, saying they put the interests of Ireland and Germany ahead of America’s by supporting neutrality. He insisted that one had to be 100% American, not a “hyphenated American” who juggled multiple loyalties. In March 1917, Congress gave Roosevelt the authority to raise a maximum of four divisions similar to the Rough Riders, and Major Frederick Russell Burnham was put in charge of both the general organization and recruitment. However, President Wilson announced to the press that he would not send Roosevelt and his volunteers to France, but instead would send an American Expeditionary Force under the command of General John J. Pershing. Roosevelt never forgave Wilson, and quickly published The Foes of Our Own Household, an indictment of the sitting president. Roosevelt’s youngest son, Quentin, a pilot with the American forces in France, was shot down behind German lines on July 14, 1918, at the age of 20. It is said that Quentin’s death distressed Roosevelt so much that he never recovered from his loss.
Roosevelt’s attacks on Wilson helped the Republicans win control of Congress in the off-year elections of 1918. He declined a request from New York Republicans to run for another gubernatorial term, but attacked Wilson’s Fourteen Points, calling instead for the unconditional surrender of Germany. He was cautiously optimistic about the proposed League of Nations, but had reservations about its impact on United States sovereignty.
Roosevelt was the leading contender for the 1920 Republican nomination, but insisted that, “If they take me, they’ll have to take me without a single modification of the things that I have always stood for!  He wrote William Allen White, “I wish to do everything in my power to make the Republican Party the Party of sane, constructive radicalism, just as it was under Lincoln.” Accordingly he told the 1918 state convention of the Maine Republican Party that he stood for old-age pensions, insurance for sickness and unemployment, construction of public housing for low income families, the reduction of working hours, aid to farmers, and more regulation of large corporations.
Roosevelt’s physical condition was rapidly deteriorating due to long-term effects of jungle diseases. He was hospitalized for seven weeks in late 1918, and never fully recovered.
On the night of January 5, 1919, Roosevelt suffered breathing problems. After receiving treatment from his physician, Dr. George W. Faller, he felt better and went to bed. Roosevelt’s last words were “Please put out that light, James” to his family servant James Amos. Between 4:00 and 4:15 the next morning, Roosevelt died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill after a blood clot had detached from a vein and traveled to his lungs. He was 60 years old. Upon receiving word of his death, his son Archibald telegraphed his siblings: “The old lion is dead.” Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, said that “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.” Following a private farewell service in the North Room at Sagamore Hill, a simple funeral was held at Christ Episcopal Church in Oyster Bay. Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, Charles Evans Hughes, Warren G. Harding, Henry Cabot Lodge, and William Howard Taft were among the mourners. The snow-covered procession route to Youngs Memorial Cemetery was lined with spectators and a squad of mounted policemen who had ridden from New York City. Roosevelt was buried on a hillside overlooking Oyster Bay.
Roosevelt was a prolific author, writing with passion on subjects ranging from foreign policy to the importance of the national park system. Roosevelt was also an avid reader of poetry. Poet Robert Frost said that Roosevelt “was our kind. He quoted poetry to me. He knew poetry.”
As an editor of Outlook magazine, Roosevelt had weekly access to a large, educated national audience. In all, Roosevelt wrote about 18 books (each in several editions), including his autobiography, The Rough Riders, History of the Naval War of 1812, and others on subjects such as ranching, explorations, and wildlife. His most ambitious book was the four volume narrative The Winning of the West, focused on the American frontier in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Roosevelt said that the American character – indeed a new “American race” (ethnic group) had emerged from the heroic wilderness hunters and Indian fighters, acting on the frontier with little government help. Roosevelt also published an account of his 1909–10 African expedition entitled African Game Trails.
In 1907, Roosevelt became embroiled in a widely publicized literary debate known as the nature fakers controversy. A few years earlier, naturalist John Burroughs had published an article entitled “Real and Sham Natural History” in the Atlantic Monthly, attacking popular writers of the day such as Ernest Thompson Seton, Charles G. D. Roberts, and William J. Long for their fantastical representations of wildlife. Roosevelt agreed with Burroughs’s criticisms, and published several essays of his own denouncing the booming genre of “naturalistic” animal stories as “yellow journalism of the woods”. It was the President himself who popularized the negative term “nature faker” to describe writers who depicted their animal characters with excessive anthropomorphism.
Character and beliefs
Roosevelt intensely disliked being called “Teddy”, and was quick to point out this fact to those who referred to him as such, though it would become widely used by newspapers during his political career.
Roosevelt had a lifelong interest in pursuing what he called, in an 1899 speech, “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 each week, a practice he regularly continued as President until being hit so hard in the face he became blind in his left eye (a fact not made public until many years later). Thereafter, he practiced judo, attaining a third degree brown belt; he also continued his habit of skinny-dipping in the Potomac River during the winter.
Roosevelt was an enthusiastic singlestick player and, according to Harper’s Weekly, showed up at a White House reception with his arm bandaged after a bout with General Leonard Wood in 1905. Roosevelt was an avid reader, reading tens of thousands of books, at a rate of several per day in multiple languages. Along with Thomas Jefferson, Roosevelt was the most well-read of all American presidents.
Historians have often emphasized Roosevelt’s warrior persona. He took aggressive positions regarding war with Spain in 1898, Colombia in 1903, and especially with Germany, from 1915–17. As a demonstration of American naval might, he sent the “Great White Fleet” around the world in 1907–1909. The implicit threat of the “big stick” of military power provided leverage to “speak softly” and quietly resolve conflict in numerous cases. He boasted in his autobiography:
When I left the Presidency I finished seven and a half years of administration, during which not one shot had been fired against a foreign foe. We were at absolute peace, and there was no nation in the world with whom a war cloud threatened, no nation in the world whom we had wronged, or from whom we had anything to fear. The cruise of the battle fleet was not the least of the causes which ensured so peaceful an outlook.
Richard D. White Jr states, “Roosevelt’s warrior spirit framed his views of national politics, [and] international relations.”
Historian Howard K. Beale has argued:
He and his associates came close to seeking war for its own sake. Ignorant of modern war, Roosevelt romanticized war. … Like many young men tamed by civilization into law-abiding but adventurous living, he needed an outlet for the pent-up primordial man in him and found it in fighting and killing, vicariously or directly, in hunting or in war. Indeed he had a fairly good time in war when war came. … There was something dull and effeminate about peace. … He gloried in war, was thrilled by military history, and placed were like qualities high in his scale of values. Without consciously desiring it, he thought a little war now and then stimulated admirable qualities in men. Certainly preparedness for war did.
Roosevelt attended church regularly, and was a lifelong adherent of the Reformed Church in America, an American affiliate of the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1907, concerning the motto “In God We Trust” on money, he wrote, “It seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins, just as it would be to cheapen it by use on postage stamps, or in advertisements.” He was also a member of the Freemasons and Sons of the American Revolution. Roosevelt talked a great deal about religion. Biographer Edmund Morris states:
When consoling bereaved people, he would awkwardly invoke ‘unseen and unknown powers.’ Aside from a few clichés of Protestant rhetoric, the gospel he preached had always been political and pragmatic. He was inspired less by the Passion of Christ than by the Golden Rule – that appeal to reason amounting, in his mind, to a worldly rather than heavenly law.
Roosevelt publicly encouraged church attendance, and was a conscientious churchgoer himself. When gas rationing was introduced during the First World War, he walked the three miles from his home at Sagamore Hill to the local church and back, even after a serious operation had made it difficult for him to travel by foot. It was said that Roosevelt “allowed no engagement to keep him from going to church,” and he remained a fervent advocate of the Bible throughout his adult life. According to Christian F. Reisner, writing in 1922 shortly after Roosevelt’s death, “Religion was as natural to Mr. Roosevelt as breathing,” and when the travel library for Roosevelt’s famous Smithsonian-sponsored African expedition was being assembled, the Bible was, according to his sister, “the first book selected.” In an address delivered in his home at Oyster Bay to the Long Island Bible Society in 1901, Roosevelt declared that:
Every thinking man, when he thinks, realizes what a very large number of people tend to forget, that the teachings of the Bible are so interwoven and entwined with our whole civic and social life that it would be literally—I do not mean figuratively, I mean literally—impossible for us to figure to ourselves what that life would be if these teachings were removed. We would lose almost all the standards by which we now judge both public and private morals; all the standards toward which we, with more or less of resolution, strive to raise ourselves. Almost every man who has by his lifework added to the sum of human achievement of which the race is proud, has based his lifework largely upon the teachings of the Bible … Among the greatest men a disproportionately large number have been diligent and close students of the Bible at first hand.
When he assumed the presidency, Roosevelt reassured many conservatives, stating, “the mechanism of modern business is so delicate that extreme care must be taken not to interfere with it in a spirit of rashness or ignorance.” The following year, Roosevelt asserted the president’s independence from business interests by opposing the merger which created the Northern Securities Company, and many were surprised that any president, much less an unelected one, would challenge powerful banker J.P. Morgan. In his last two years as president, Roosevelt became increasingly distrustful of big business, despite its close ties to the Republican Party. Roosevelt sought to replace the 19th-century laissez-faire economic environment with a new economic model which included a larger regulatory role for the federal government. He believed that 19th-century entrepreneurs had risked their fortunes on innovations and new businesses, and that these capitalists had been rightly rewarded. By contrast, he believed that 20th-century capitalists risked little but nonetheless reaped huge and, given the lack of risk, unjust, economic rewards. Without a redistribution of wealth away from the upper class, Roosevelt feared that the country would turn to radicals or fall to revolution. His Square Deal domestic program had three main goals: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection. The Square Deal evolved into his program of “New Nationalism“, which emphasized the priority of labor over capital interests and a need to more effectively control corporate creation and combination, and proposed a ban on corporate political contributions.
Historians credit Roosevelt for changing the nation’s political system by permanently placing the presidency at center stage and making character as important as the issues. His accomplishments include trust busting and conservationism. He is a hero to liberals for his proposals in 1907–1912 that presaged the modern welfare state of the New Deal Era, and put the environment on the national agenda. Conservatives admire his “big stick” diplomacy and commitment to military values. Dalton says, “Today he is heralded as the architect of the modern presidency, as a world leader who boldly reshaped the office to meet the needs of the new century and redefined America’s place in the world.”
However, liberals have criticized him for his interventionist and imperialist approach to nations he considered “uncivilized”. Conservatives reject his vision of the welfare state and emphasis on the superiority of government over private action. Historians typically rank Roosevelt among the top five presidents.
Persona and masculinity
Roosevelt, more than any other man… showed the singular primitive quality that belongs to ultimate matter—the quality that medieval theology assigned to God—he was pure act.
Roosevelt’s biographers have stressed his personality. Henry F. Pringle, who won the Pulitzer Prize in biography for his Theodore Roosevelt (1931) stated:
The Theodore Roosevelt of later years was the most adolescent of men… Failure to receive the Medal of Honor for his exploits [in Cuba] had been a grief as real as any of those which swamp childhood in despair. “You must always remember,” wrote Cecil Spring Rice in 1904, “that the President is about six.”
Cooper compared him with Woodrow Wilson, and argued that both of them played the roles of warrior and priest. Dalton stressed Roosevelt’s strenuous life. Sarah Watts examined the desires of the “Rough Rider in the White House”. Brands calls Roosevelt “the last romantic”, arguing that his romantic concept of life emerged from his belief that “physical bravery was the highest virtue and war the ultimate test of bravery”.
Roosevelt as the exemplar of American masculinity has become a major theme. As president, he repeatedly warned men that they were becoming too office-bound, too complacent, too comfortable with physical ease and moral laxity, and were failing in their duties to propagate the race and exhibit masculine vigor. French historian Serge Ricard says, “the ebullient apostle of the Strenuous Life offers ideal material for a detailed psycho-historical analysis of aggressive manhood in the changing socio-cultural environment of his era; McKinley, Taft, or Wilson would perhaps inadequately serve that purpose”. He promoted competitive sports and the Boy Scouts of America, founded in 1910, as the way forward. Brands shows that heroic displays of bravery were essential to Roosevelt’s image and mission:
What makes the hero a hero is the romantic notion that he stands above the tawdry give and take of everyday politics, occupying an ethereal realm where partisanship gives way to patriotism, and division to unity, and where the nation regains its lost innocence, and the people their shared sense of purpose.
Memorials and cultural depictions
Roosevelt was included with Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln at the Mount Rushmore Memorial, designed in 1927 with the approval of Republican President Calvin Coolidge.
For his gallantry at San Juan Hill, Roosevelt’s commanders recommended him for the Medal of Honor. However, the initial recommendation lacked any eyewitnesses, and the effort was eventually tainted by Roosevelt’s own lobbying of the War Department. In the late 1990s, Roosevelt’s supporters again recommended the award, which was denied by the Secretary of the Army on basis that the decorations board determined “Roosevelt’s bravery in battle did not rise to the level that would justify the Medal of Honor and, indeed, it did not rise to the level of men who fought in that engagement.” Nevertheless, politicians apparently convinced the secretary to reconsider the award a third time and reverse himself, leading to the charge that it was a “politically motivated award.” On January 16, 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded Theodore Roosevelt the Medal of Honor posthumously for his charge on San Juan Hill, Cuba, during the Spanish–American War. He is the only president to have received the Medal of Honor.
The United States Navy named two ships for Roosevelt: the USS Theodore Roosevelt (SSBN-600), a submarine that was in commission from 1961 to 1982, and the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71), an aircraft carrier that has been on active duty in the Atlantic Fleet since 1986.
On November 18, 1956, the United States Postal Service released a 6¢ Liberty Issue postage stamp honoring Roosevelt. A 32¢ stamp was issued on February 3, 1998, as part of the Celebrate the Century stamp sheet series. In 2008, Columbia Law School awarded a law degree to Roosevelt, posthumously making him a member of the class of 1882.
Roosevelt’s “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick” ideology is still quoted by politicians and columnists in different countries—not only in English, but also in translations to various other languages. Another lasting, popular legacy of Roosevelt is the stuffed toy bears—teddy bears—named after him following an incident on a hunting trip in Mississippi in 1902. Roosevelt has been portrayed in films and television series such as Brighty of the Grand Canyon, The Wind and the Lion, Rough Riders, My Friend Flicka, and Law of the Plainsman. Robin Williams portrayed Roosevelt in the form of a wax mannequin that comes to life in Night at the Museum and its sequels Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb. In 2017, it was announced that Leonardo DiCaprio will portray Roosevelt in a biopic to be directed by Martin Scorsese.
Moreover, Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the state of North Dakota is named after him. The America the Beautiful Quarters series features Roosevelt riding a horse on the national park’s quarter.
- Theodore Roosevelt was one of the first presidents whose voice was recorded for posterity. Several of his recorded speeches survive. A 4.6-minute voice recording, which preserves Roosevelt’s lower timbre ranges particularly well for its time, is among those available from the Michigan State University libraries (Click here for the 1912 recording of The Right of the People to Rule, recorded by Edison at Carnegie Hall). The audio clip sponsored by the Authentic History Center includes his defense of the Progressive Party in 1912, wherein he proclaims it the “party of the people” – in contrast with the other major parties.
Theodore Roosevelt and pilot Hoxsey at St. Louis, October 11, 1910.