26. THEODORE ROOSEVELT
With the assassination of President McKinley,
Theodore Roosevelt, not quite 43, became the youngest President
in the Nation's history. He brought new excitement and power to
the Presidency, as he vigorously led Congress and the American
public toward progressive reforms and a strong foreign policy.
He took the view that the President as a "steward of the
people" should take whatever action necessary for the public
good unless expressly forbidden by law or the Constitution." I
did not usurp power," he wrote, "but I did greatly broaden the
use of executive power."
Roosevelt's youth differed sharply from that of the log cabin
Presidents. He was born in New York City in 1858 into a wealthy
family, but he too struggled--against ill health--and in his
triumph became an advocate of the strenuous life.
In 1884 his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, and his mother
died on the same day. Roosevelt spent much of the next two years
on his ranch in the Badlands of Dakota Territory. There he
mastered his sorrow as he lived in the saddle, driving cattle,
hunting big game--he even captured an outlaw. On a visit to
London, he married Edith Carow in December 1886.
During the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt was lieutenant
colonel of the Rough Rider Regiment, which he led on a charge at
the battle of San Juan. He was one of the most conspicuous
heroes of the war.
Boss Tom Platt, needing a hero to draw attention away from
scandals in New York State, accepted Roosevelt as the Republican
candidate for Governor in 1898. Roosevelt won and served with
As President, Roosevelt held the ideal that the Government
should be the great arbiter of the conflicting economic forces
in the Nation, especially between capital and labor,
guaranteeing justice to each and dispensing favors to none.
Roosevelt emerged spectacularly as a "trust buster" by
forcing the dissolution of a great railroad combination in the
Northwest. Other antitrust suits under the Sherman Act followed.
Roosevelt steered the United States more actively into world
politics. He liked to quote a favorite proverb, "Speak softly
and carry a big stick. . . . "
Aware of the strategic need for a shortcut between the
Atlantic and Pacific, Roosevelt ensured the construction of the
Panama Canal. His corollary to the Monroe Doctrine prevented the
establishment of foreign bases in the Caribbean and arrogated
the sole right of intervention in Latin America to the United
He won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the Russo-Japanese
War, reached a Gentleman's Agreement on immigration with Japan,
and sent the Great White Fleet on a goodwill tour of the world.
Some of Theodore Roosevelt's most effective achievements were
in conservation. He added enormously to the national forests in
the West, reserved lands for public use, and fostered great
He crusaded endlessly on matters big and small, exciting
audiences with his high-pitched voice, jutting jaw, and pounding
fist. "The life of strenuous endeavor" was a must for those
around him, as he romped with his five younger children and led
ambassadors on hikes through Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C.
Leaving the Presidency in 1909, Roosevelt went on an African
safari, then jumped back into politics. In 1912 he ran for
President on a Progressive ticket. To reporters he once remarked
that he felt as fit as a bull moose, the name of his new party.
While campaigning in Milwaukee, he was shot in the chest by a
fanatic. Roosevelt soon recovered, but his words at that time
would have been applicable at the time of his death in 1919: "No
man has had a happier life than I have led; a happier life in