THEODORE ROOSEVELTTheodore Roosevelt was more than just the 26th president of the United States. He was a writer, historian, explorer, big-game hunter, soldier, conservationist, ranchman and Nobel Peace Prize winner. It is not surprising that his life was known as The Strenuous Life.
Theodore was born into a wealthy and socially prominent New York family in 1858. Although with a quick mind he was not blessed with a strong body. He suffered from life-threatening asthma attacks throughout his childhood. Spurred on by his father, Theodore began to build up his body by strenuous exercise, and by adulthood he had become a model of physical courage and toughness.
Early Political Life. As a young man Roosevelt decided on a dual career; law and politics. At the time, New York politics was dominated by men involved in machine politics. Yet he persisted in getting to know and understand them, while at the same time attending Columbia Law School.
Eventually he secured the friendship of a man named Joe Murray who was able to get him nominated as a 21st District State Republican Assemblyman. Together, with Murray’s contacts and knowledge of machine politics and his own family and social connections, Roosevelt was able to easily win the election. He was 23 and in Albany. Theodore served three terms in the New York Assembly. Roosevelt was a delegate to the Republican convention, and as a matter of principle he vigorously opposed the leading candidates – James G.
Blaine and President Arthur. Roosevelt supported a reformer, Senator George F. Edmunds. In the end Blaine won the nomination, and this put Roosevelt in a difficult position. He did not believe that Blaine was honest, yet if he followed the example of other progressives and did not support him he realized he would be through in the Republican party. He supported Blaine.
When Blaine lost Theodore received no political position, and his political career was over. Ranchman Roosevelt not only suffered political defeat in 1884 but deeply personal defeats as well. On the same day both his mother and wife died. These disappointments led to a radical change in Roosevelt’s life. He decided to move to the Dakota Badlands to become a rancher. At the time many people thought that this was a good way to become rich.
The Dakotas were not like the East – life could be a little wild and woolly. Resolution of disputes was done at the end of a gun, and thieves were often hanged as soon as they were caught. Roosevelt excelled at this rough and tumble way of life and earned the respect and devotion of the men around him. Roosevelt, however, did not excel at making money. He lost about half of his entire capital in ranching. But what he gained was, in the long run, of much greater value.
The men he met there were to later join the famous Rough Riders whose exploits were the major impetus to his political success. In 1886 Roosevelt returned to New York to marry a childhood friend – Edith Carow. Together they had a very successful marriage and produced five children in addition to Alice, Roosevelt’s child by his first marriage. Politics was still the place that Roosevelt wanted to be, but there were not many opportunities since his party was out of power. In order to support his family Roosevelt spent his time writing.
This was not a new vocation for Roosevelt. Equally at home hunting for a book as hunting for a bear he wrote his first book The Naval War of 1812 while in law school and running for the New York Assembly. By the end of his life he had written and published dozens of books. Reformer In 1888 Roosevelt saw his chance to jump back into politics by campaigning for the election of Benjamin Harrison.
When Harrison won he appointed Roosevelt to be a Civil Service Commissioner. It was with this job and later as Police Commissioner that Roosevelt made his reputation as a reformer. At the time both the Civil Service and the New York Police Department had serious corruption problems. Roosevelt did his best to clean up the corruption and make things work fairly.
For example, as a Police Commissioner he took control of the police department, reorganized it, fired corrupt policemen and used to spend his nights walking through the city looking for policemen asleep on their jobs. Nationalist In the presidential election of 1896 the Republican William McKinley ran against the Democrat William Jennings Bryan. Roosevelt campaigned hard for McKinley, and he was rewarded by the job he coveted most – Assistant Secretary of the Navy. It was during this time that Roosevelt first met William Allen White, a newspaper editor from Kansas. White’s autobiography paints Roosevelt’s personality perfectly .
. and we sat there for an hour after lunch and talked our jaws loose about everything. I had never known such a man as he, and never shall again. He overcame me. And in the hour or two we spent that day at lunch, and in a walk down F Street, he poured into my heart such visions, such ideals, such hopes, such a new attitude toward life and patriotism and the meaning of things, as I had never dreamed men had. .
. . so strong was this young Roosevelt–hard-muscled, hard-voiced even when the voice cracked in falsetto, with hard, wriggling jaw muscles, and snapping teeth, even when he cackled in raucous glee, so completely did the personality of this man overcome me that I made no protest and accepted his dictum as my creed. Being Assistant Secretary of the Navy provided this powerful young man his first chance to act on his foreign policy ideas. Roosevelt was a strong nationalist.
He believed fervently that not only was the United States on the brink of becoming a world power, but that it had a responsibility and a duty to establish U. S. supremacy. For an explanation of these views in his own words see his speech The Strenuous Life. This faith in national supremacy spawned a host of related goals. In order for the U.
S. to become a world power it needed to be able to transport its military quickly between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans. At that time ships had to sail around the tip of South America to make that trip. If, instead, they could go through an isthmian canal it would cut weeks off the trip time. But having a canal meant that military control had to be established over the canal. To do this the United States would have to secure the Caribbean, and that in turn meant war with Spain.
Spain’s empire in Latin America was just a sliver of what it had once been, but it still controlled Cuba and Puerto Rico. This is why Roosevelt zealously worked to promote the Spanish-American War. All wrapped around and through these ideas was the need for a strong navy. Toward this goal Roosevelt worked very hard while Assistant Secretary.
He fought and pushed and prodded and on occasion was insubordinate in his efforts to strengthen the navy for war. His cause was helped enormously when the United States battleship Maine blew up in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898. This was just the sort of incendiary event needed to push the U. S. into war. The bombing was blamed on the Spanish even though nobody really knew who or what was responsible.
War was officially declared on April 21, 1898. It would have never done for Roosevelt to be stuck behind a desk while a war was on. He was just itching to become a soldier. He quit the Naval Department and joined the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Together he and his superior officer, Colonel Wood, were responsible for raising volunteers for the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry regiment. By the time the war was over Roosevelt was the Colonel in charge, and his regiment, popularly known as Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, was famous. For Roosevelt the war was the event that catapulted him politically. It was only three more years until he was the President of the United States. New York Governor When Roosevelt returned from Cuba he was a national hero and political gold.
Men were lining up to beg him to run for office. Tom Platt, the boss of the Republican machine in New York was no exception, except that he was not real thrilled about it. Platt’s political power base was big business, but here he was asking Roosevelt to run for governor – a man that had an annoying tendency to do what he felt was right rather than heedlessly protect powerful business interests. Unfortunately for Platt finding a man that could actually win was a bigger problem – a problem that Roosevelt could solve. When Roosevelt became governor in January of 1899 he fulfilled Platt’s worst expectations.
He would not let Platt dominate his term or his decision making. In particularly he angered and defied Platt on the biggest issue of his term – utility franchise taxes. At that time public service corporations did not pay taxes on their franchises. They did pay Platt to make sure it stayed that way. Roosevelt felt that government should not give preferential treatment to big business, and that it had an important role in its regulation. In the end Roosevelt prevailed and utility companies were forced to pay taxes.
This enraged both Platt and his supporters. In a weird twist it was this anger that helped paved the way for Roosevelt to become president. In 1899 Garret Hobart, vice-president of the United States, died and in his death Platt saw his chance. He did everything he could to encourage the nomination of Roosevelt for vice-president. Others, with less selfish motivations, also thought it was a wonderful idea and applied pressure to both President McKinley and Roosevelt.
Neither one of which was thrilled about the idea. McKinley had no particular interest in Roosevelt, and Roosevelt’s active nature revolted at the thought of having a ceremonial and impotent political position. In the end they both relented, Roosevelt accepted the vice-president nomination and their ticket went on to win the 1900 presidential election against William Jennings Bryan. Roosevelt resigned himself to being vice-president. Roosevelt’s next opportunity also came at the expense of another person’s death.
In September of 1901, less than one year into his new term, McKinley was shaking hands with the public at the Pan-American Exposition when a young man named Leon Czolgosz walked up to him and shot him twice. At first it looked like McKinley would survive the shooting, but