Theodore Roosevelt (October 27, 1858–January 6, 1919) was the twenty-fifth (1901) Vice President and the twenty-sixth (1901-1909) President of the United States, succeeding to the office upon the assassination of William McKinley. At 42, Roosevelt was the youngest person ever to serve as President of the United States.
Roosevelt's energy, skill, and sheer joy in the Presidency were remarkable. During his life he was an author, legislator, soldier, big-game hunter, diplomat, conservationist, naval-power enthusiast, and progressive reformer. For his many achievements and the larger-than-life role he played in the White House, Roosevelt is usually thought of as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
Roosevelt was born in New York City, October 27, 1858 to Theodore Roosevelt and Martha Bulloch. He graduated from Harvard University in 1880. He served as a Republican legislator in the New York State Assembly from 1882-1884, supporting a reformist agenda and working closely with then-Gov. Grover Cleveland. He wrote several books, including a well-regarded volume on the naval aspects of the War of 1812.
Sickly and asthmatic as a young man, he took up physical exercise and became a sporting and outdoor enthusiast. Roosevelt's concern for conservation grew out of his experiences in North Dakota. Roosevelt first came to the Badlands in September 1883 on a hunting trip, and became aware of the decline in numbers of the bison.
Before returning to New York, Roosevelt became interested in the cattle business and entered into a partnership to raise cattle on the Maltese Cross Ranch.
On Valentine's Day 1884, both his first wife Alice and his mother Minnie Bulloch Roosevelt died. Grief-stricken, Roosevelt decided to leave the East and increase his interests in the cattle business. He returned to North Dakota in 1884 and established the Elkhorn Ranch.
During his years in North Dakota, Roosevelt thrived on the vigorous outdoor lifestyle and actively participated in the life of a working cowboy. Of this time he said, "I do not believe there ever was any life more attractive to a vigorous young fellow than life on a cattle ranch in those days. It was a fine, healthy life, too; it taught a man self-reliance, hardihood, and the value of instant decision...I enjoyed the life to the full." This was an important time in his development, and in fact, he once remarked that, "I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota." Roosevelt actively ranched in the Badlands until 1887 but maintained ranching interest in the area until 1898.
Roosevelt became increasingly alarmed by the damage that was being done to the land in North Dakota and its wildlife, and became interested in conservation. He wrote, "We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune."
He returned to New York City in 1886, and President Benjamin Harrison appointed him to the United States Civil Service Commission 1889-1895, where he burnished his reformist credentials. In 1895 Roosevelt became president of the New York Board of Police Commissioners, making a splash as a crime-fighter, and in 1897 President William McKinley appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He loved the job, and was instrumental in preparing the Navy for the coming conflict with Spain. In 1898 he resigned this post to fight in the Spanish-American War, in which he rose to national prominence as commander of the "Rough Riders," a volunteer cavalry regiment that he personally recruited. On his return from the war he resumed his political career in New York City and State politics, and was elected governor of New York. He made such a concerted effort to root out corruption and "machine politics" that, it is said, Republican leaders in New York advanced him as a running mate for William McKinley in the 1900 election simply to get rid of him (at the time, vice presidencies tended to end careers).
On February 14, 1884 his first wife, Alice Hathaway Lee Roosevelt, died, just after giving birth to their only child, Alice Lee Roosevelt, having suffered from a previously undiagnosed kidney ailment. In December 1886, after returning from the West, he married Edith Carow. They had five children: Theodore Jr., Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin.
His eldest son, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt II was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism at Normandy during the D-Day invasion of 6 June, 1944. President Roosevelt was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President Bill Clinton in 2001, which marked the culmination of a long public campaign by Roosevelt enthusiasts and New York political leaders. This made the Roosevelts one of only two father-son pairs of recipients of the Medal of Honor. (The other was Douglas MacArthur and his father, Civil War hero Arthur MacArthur).
A Note on Nomenclature
Roosevelt's father was also named Theodore Roosevelt. Thus, the president should have been known as "Theodore Roosevelt II." However, through various accidents of history, the president is known simply as "Theodore Roosevelt" and his father is now referred to as "Theodore Roosevelt Sr." The president's eldest son, Brig. Gen. Ted Roosevelt, is now known as "Theodore Roosevelt Jr." or "Theodore Roosevelt II."
William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt won the presidential election of 1900, against William Jennings Bryan and Adlai E. Stevenson I. Roosevelt was one of the youngest U.S. vice presidents in history (John C. Breckinridge being younger than him.) Roosevelt found the vice presidency unfulfilling and thought he had little future in politics, and considered going to law school after leaving office.
However, McKinley was assassinated in September 1901, vaulting Roosevelt into the presidency. In 1904, Roosevelt ran for president in his own right, and was the first vice president to win election to a full term on his own. One of his first notable acts as President was to deliver a 20,000-word address to the House of Representatives on December 3, 1901, asking Congress to curb the power of trusts "within reasonable limits." For this and subsequent actions he has been called a "trust- buster."
Later in his presidency, he gave tacit support to rebels in Panama to form a nation independent from Colombia. This was to ensure that the United States could build the Panama Canal. Roosevelt felt that a passage through the Isthmus of Panama was vital to protect American interests and to create a strong and cohesive United States Navy.
He also worked hard on conserving environmental wonders and resources, and visited preservationist John Muir in Yosemite Valley in 1903. Roosevelt set aside more Federal land for national parks and nature preserves than all of his predecessors combined. As one story has it, he once asked his advisors, "Is there any law which prohibits me from declaring this island a bird refuge?" When they indicated there was not, Roosevelt signed the paper with a flourish and said, "Very well, then, I so declare it!"
Roosevelt relished the Presidency and seemed to be everywhere at once. He took Cabinet members and friends on long, fast-paced hikes, boxed in the state rooms of the White House, romped with his children, and read voraciously. His many enthusiasms and seemingly-limitless energy led the British ambassador to wryly explain to an acquaintance, "You must always remember that the President is about six."
Roosevelt's children were almost as popular as he was, and their pranks and hijinks in the White House made headlines. His daughter Alice Lee Roosevelt became the toast of Washington, D.C., and cut a wide swath. When friends asked if he could rein in his only daughter, Roosvelt said, "I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both." In turn, she said of him that he always wanted to be "the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral."
Roosevelt helped mediate an end to the Russo-Japanese War which, in 1906, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize. He was the first American to win a Nobel Prize in any of the categories. His prize is now on display in the White House. On November 9, 1906 he made history by becoming the first sitting U.S. President to make an official trip outside of the United States, visiting Panama to inspect the construction progress of the canal there. He was noted for other presidential "firsts," including first to sail in a submarine (aboard the USS Plunger in 1905), and first former president to fly in an airplane on October 11, 1910).
Theodore Roosevelt assumed the Presidency upon the death of President William McKinley, a beloved President who launched the trust-busting era when he appointed the U.S. Industrial Commission in 1898. This commission, which included distinguished senators and statesmen, including Andrew L. Harris of Ohio, investigated Rockefeller, Carnegie, Schwab, and other trust and corporate titans of industry. Roosevelt, once he became President, took the advice of the Industrial Commission, continuing and greatly expanding upon McKinley's trust-busting activities.
Theodore Roosevelt is considered by many to be the nation's first Conservation President. "There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred," he said. He chaired a White House conference on conservation, to which all state governors and many other national leaders were invited. It was the first conference of its kind.
During his presidency, 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 national monuments. He also established the first 51 Bird Reserves, 4 Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests. The area of the United States placed under public protection by President Roosevelt totals approximately 230,000,000 acres (930,000 km²).
Today, Roosevelt's dedication to conservation is remembered by a national park that bears his name in the North Dakota Badlands. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is home to a variety of plants and animals, including bison, prairie dogs, and elk.
Determined to give Americans what he called "a Square Deal"; i.e., a more just and equitable society, Roosevelt worked to increase the regulatory power of the federal government. He persuaded Congress to pass laws that strengthened the Interstate Commerce Commission and established a new federal Department of Labor and Commerce. Under his leadership, the federal government also brought forty-four suits against corporate monopolies. In addition, T.R. was instrumental in the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 and the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. He encouraged the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902 to promote federal construction of dams to irrigate small farms and placed 230 million acres (930,000 km²) under federal protection.
His record in race relations was less constructive and a bit contradictory. On the one hand, he invited Booker T. Washington, the most important black leader of the day, to dinner at the White House, defying many critics in the South. He spoke against racism and discrimination, and appointed many blacks to lower-level Federal offices. However, in 1906, he approved the dishonorable discharges of three companies of black soldiers allegedly involved in a riot in Brownsville, Texas. Historians now believe that the soldiers were framed by a local racist conspiracy. Roosevelt also did little to stop the virtual epidemic of lynching then troubling the nation.
Theodore Roosevelt was a naval enthusiast who urged the United States to build a strong navy. He believed that U.S could eventually be pulled into war in the Pacific Ocean with the Japanese and urged readiness. Roosevelt ordered what came to be called the Great White Fleet (due to its gleaming white paint) on an around-the-world goodwill cruise, including a prominent stop in Japan. Roosevelt hoped to ease Japanese-American tensions and to show the Japanese leadership, as well as the rest of the world, the global reach of the United States's military might. The Great White Fleet returned to the U.S. in 1909, and Roosevelt had the pleasure of reviewing the Fleet just before leaving office.
Supreme Court appointments
Roosevelt appointed the following Justices to the Supreme Court of the United States:
T.R. in U.S. culture
Teddy bears are named after him. His childhood nickname was "Teedie," but his adult nickname was "Teddy" (which he despised and considered improper, preferring "T.R."). Toy bear manufactures took to naming them after him because once, on a hunting trip in Mississippi, he refused to kill a bear cub.
On March 23, 1909, shortly after the end of his second term (but only full term) as President, Roosevelt left New York for a post-presidency safari in Africa. The trip was sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and National Geographic Society and received world-wide media attention.
Despite his immense popularity, he had decided not to run for reelection in 1908, a move that he would later regret for the rest of his life. Instead he backed his longtime friend, former judge and Secretary of War William Howard Taft, who he thought would carry on his policies. After Taft won, however, Roosevelt became increasingly annoyed as Taft proved to be his own man with his own policy agenda, more conservative and often counter to Roosevelt's.
As a result, in 1912, Roosevelt ran for president again. He sought the Republican nomination but was blocked by Taft's partisans at the Republican national convention despite having greater public support, including a smashing primary win in Taft's own home state of Ohio. Roosevelt then bolted the party and ran on the United States Progressive Party ("Bull Moose") ticket, badly undermining popular support for Taft. While campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he was shot by saloonkeeper John Schrank in a failed assassination attempt on October 14, 1912. With the bullet still lodged in his chest, Roosevelt still delivered his scheduled speech. He was not seriously wounded, although his doctors thought it too dangerous to attempt to remove the bullet, and he carried it with him until he died. In spite of this, he not only lost the race but split the Republican vote, outpolling Taft but ensuring a win by Democrat Woodrow Wilson. In the few years he had remaining, Roosevelt came to dislike Wilson even more than his former friend Taft. He considered but soon rejected another run for the White House in 1916.
Theodore Roosevelt died at Oyster Bay, Nassau County, New York on January 6, 1919, and was buried in Young's Memorial Cemetery. His son Archie sent a telegram to his siblings, stating simply, "The old lion is dead."
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