26th president of the United States (1901-09) and writer, explorer,
and soldier, who expanded the powers of the presidency and of the federal
government on the side of public interest in conflicts between big business
and big labour. He also engaged the nation in affairs of Asia and Europe.
He won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1906 for mediating the end of the
Russo-Japanese War, and he promoted the construction of the Panama Canal
The early years.
Roosevelt was born into a moderately wealthy family of Dutch ancestry;
his mother, Martha Bulloch of Georgia, was of Scots-Irish and Huguenot
descent. He received an excellent education from private tutors and
at Harvard College; he was one of the few presidents endowed with an
encompassing intellectual curiosity. In 1880 he entered Columbia University
Law School. But historical writing and politics soon lured him away
from a legal career. During the same year he married Alice Hathaway
Lee of Boston and after her death, in 1884, married Edith Kermit Carow,
with whom he lived for the rest of his life at "Sagamore Hill,"
a mansion near Oyster Bay, Long Island, N.Y.
Though a physical weakling during his youth, Roosevelt developed a rugged
physique by persistent exercise and became a lifelong advocate of strenuous
activity. He was a born competitor against both nature and his fellow
man, and he used the same enormous energy in public life. At the age
of 23 he successfully ran for the New York State Assembly, in which
he soon became one of the Republican leaders, known for his opposition
to corrupt, party-machine politics. Misfortune then struck in the form
of three successive political defeats. But after two years spent ranching
in the Dakota Territory he reentered public life and continued his reform
activities as a member of the U.S. Civil Service Commission (1889-95)
and as the president of the New York City Board of Police Commissioners
(1895-97). As assistant secretary of the Navy under President William
McKinley he vociferously advocated war with Spain. When war was declared
in 1898, he abruptly resigned, organized the 1st Volunteer Cavalry,
known as the Rough Riders, and took them to Cuba that year. Roosevelt's
leadership was spectacular. Disdaining army red tape and even orders,
his colourful exploits, especially in the Battle of Santiago, made him
something of a national hero.
Roosevelt returned home just when Thomas C. Platt, the Republican boss
of New York, was looking for a respectable candidate for governor. Platt
distrusted him, but, upon Roosevelt's promise that he would not attack
the machine, he was easily elected. An excellent governor, he removed
several corrupt politicians from office and over Platt's opposition
secured a corporation franchise tax and a civil service system. Enraged,
Platt maneuvered Roosevelt into the 1900 nomination for vice president
on the McKinley ticket and thus secured his elimination from state politics.
McKinley and Roosevelt won, but Roosevelt was completely bored by his
powerless office until Sept. 14, 1901, when McKinley died after being
shot by an assassin, and he himself became president. Although Roosevelt
announced that there would be no change in policy, it soon became apparent
that a new lifestyle had been introduced at the White House. Guest lists
were expanded to include cowboys, prizefighters, explorers, and distinguished
artists. Young, college-educated men were appointed to administrative
positions. Presidential speeches overflowed with indignation and moral
righteousness. It soon became apparent that Teddy--as he was known nationwide--was
enjoying himself immensely. But for all the office's satisfactions,
Roosevelt also had reasons for subdued reflection. He was always conscious
that he had become president by accident, and his chief ambition was
to be elected in 1904. A highly sensitive politician, he was aware that
William Jennings Bryan's defeat for the presidency in 1896 had not quieted
the popular demands that he represented for control of the trusts, regulation
of railroads, and a reduction of import duties. But he also knew that
both houses of Congress were controlled by conservative Republicans
bitterly opposed to all reforms. He met this perplexing situation by
asking for little legislation and by using executive power in appeasing
the rising popular discontent.
The Square Deal.
In 1902 Roosevelt took three steps that virtually assured his reelection.
From Congress he asked for the establishment of a Bureau of Corporations
with powers to inspect the books of all businesses engaged in interstate
commerce. Even this limited measure was resisted by leading Republican
conservatives; the President secured its passage only by promising not
to ask for any further regulatory measures. But this bargain did not
keep Roosevelt from further executive actions, and on February 18, in
one brilliant stroke, he revived the all-but-forgotten Sherman Anti-Trust
Act by bringing successful suit against the Northern Securities Company.
Roosevelt pursued his policy of "trust-busting" by bringing
suit against 43 other major corporations during the following seven
In the fall of 1902 Roosevelt again set an important precedent by intervening
in the anthracite coal strike. When the strike threatened to result
in cold homes, schools, and hospitals, he requested that representatives
of capital and labour meet in the White House and accept mediation.
By threatening to use the army to operate the mines he won an arbitration
agreement that included a modest pay increase for the miners. Never
before had the federal government intervened in a labour struggle except
to assure the operation of a governmental service or to protect property.
Roosevelt promptly labeled his actions against industry and indirectly
for labour a manifestation of a "Square Deal" between labour
and capital. In the long run, however, the most significant aspects
of his actions were the precedents that they set for governmental intervention
in the affairs of business and labour for the public interest.
Once overwhelmingly elected in 1904 as president in his own right,
Roosevelt immediately asked Congress for substantial powers to regulate
interstate railroad rates. The Hepburn Act of 1906, giving the Interstate
Commerce Commission authority to set maximum rates, created the first
of the government's regulatory commissions and thus was a milestone
on the long road to the modern social-service state.
Roosevelt's pressure on Congress also led to the passage of the Pure
Food and Drug and the Meat Inspection acts (1906) which laid the basis
for the modern concept of consumer protection. Responding to the rapid
disappearance of the federal domain, Congress had empowered the president
15 years before to convert portions of the remaining land to national
forests. Under Roosevelt's three predecessors only about 40,000,000
acres (16,000,000 hectares) had been transferred. Roosevelt not only
rapidly accelerated the pace but also broadened the powers of the act
to reserve for future generations parks and mineral, oil, and coal lands,
as well as waterpower sites. In seven years, 194,000,000 additional
acres of the federal domain were closed to commercial development.
In international affairs Roosevelt believed that strong countries survived
while weak ones perished. He also sensed that the relatively peaceful
period that had preceded his administration was being replaced by one
in which force was the principal arbiter. Every year he asked for larger
naval appropriations, and to induce Congress to grant him new ships
he occasionally exaggerated the seriousness of international incidents.
By the end of his term Roosevelt had built the U.S. Navy into a major
Twice during Roosevelt's years in office European powers threatened
intervention in Venezuela and once in the Dominican Republic, presumably
to collect debts owed to their nationals. To meet a threat of possible
permanent intervention the secretary of war, Elihu Root, and Roosevelt
framed a policy statement in 1904 that eventually became known as the
Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. It stated that not only
would the United States prohibit non-American intervention in Latin-American
affairs but it would also police the area and guarantee that these countries
met their international obligations. The corollary sanctioning U.S.
intervention was to be applied in 1905 when, without Congressional approval,
Roosevelt forced the Dominican Republic to accept the appointment of
a U.S. "economic advisor," who quickly became the financial
director of the small state.
Quoting an African proverb, Roosevelt once said that the proper way
to conduct foreign affairs was to "speak softly and carry a big
stick." Roosevelt was to use big-stick diplomacy again in the acquisition
of the Canal Zone from Colombia in 1903, in the formation of a provisional
government in Cuba in 1906, and to some extent in the quarrel with Canada
over the Alaskan and Canadian border. He also played a notable part
in inspiring the subsequent Panamanian revolution that assured U.S.
control of the zone and enabled the United States to start construction
of the canal before the presidential election of 1904.
If Roosevelt's dealings with small countries were often brusque, his
negotiations with major powers were characterized by far more caution.
The U.S. Pacific position, he said in 1903, "is such as to insure
our peaceful domination of its waters." But the steadily rising
power of Japan caused him to revise that estimate. His efforts to resolve
the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 included bringing both countries to
the Portsmouth Peace Conference and mediating between them. His direct
motive, however, was to construct a balance of power in East Asia that
might peacefully aid U.S. interests. He helped to allay the friction
caused by anti-Japanese sentiment in California by introducing the so-called
"Gentlemen's Agreement" of 1907, restricting Japanese immigration
to the United States. By another informal executive agreement, Japan
accepted the U.S. position in the Philippines while the United States
recognized the Japanese conquest and occupation of Korea. Later, in
1910, Roosevelt became convinced that the Philippines were indefensible
against a Japanese thrust and that there was no hope of American "dominance"
in East Asian waters.
During his last years as president, Roosevelt was worried by the possibility
of a general European war. Because he saw British and U.S. interests
generally coinciding, he was strongly inclined to support Great Britain
whenever it would not jeopardize official neutrality, violation of which
would have brought strong protest from Congress and the country. The
secret instructions given to the U.S. representatives to the Algeciras
Conference of 1906, called to prevent a European war over Morocco, were
therefore ambiguous. The envoys were told to maintain American neutrality
but also to do nothing that would imperil the existing Franco-British
understanding, the continuation of which was "to the best interest
of the United States." But, for all the talk of neutrality, Roosevelt
had in effect deviated from the traditional position of neutrality in
non-American affairs. U.S. representatives had attended a strictly European
political conference; their actions favoured Great Britain and France
as against Germany; and by signing the agreement the United States presumably
undertook to sustain it. Algeciras pointed unerringly toward U.S. entry
into World War I on the side of the Allied powers.
Last years as president.
The end of Roosevelt's presidency was anything but calm. His crusade
against "race suicide," prompted by his alarm at the decreasing
birth rate, his public indictment of amateur naturalists, and his order
to the government printers to use a simplified system of spelling all
developed into national arguments. Especially after the financial panic
of 1907, his quarrels with Congress became more vehement. His rather
high-handed disciplining of a black regiment involved in a riot at Brownsville,
Texas, and his suggestion that members of Congress who were opposed
to increasing the secret-service funds had something to hide produced
bitter controversy. But most of the trouble with Congress came from
the split that had developed in his party between the Roosevelt progressives
and the party's conservatives, who blamed the financial panic of 1907
on Roosevelt's attacks on big industry.
After leaving the White House in March 1909, Roosevelt took a 10-month
hunting trip through Africa and made a grand tour of Europe. On his
return he was reluctantly drawn into politics. Though he attempted to
support both his old progressive friends and President William Howard
Taft, the two men soon were violently opposed over policy matters. The
conflict became personal in October 1910 when Taft authorized an antitrust
suit against the U.S. Steel Corporation regarding a merger to which
Roosevelt as president had tacitly agreed. Personal animosity and the
developing split in the Republican Party finally prompted Roosevelt
to contest Taft's 1912 renomination. The resulting bitter campaign and
convention practically ensured a Democratic victory. Roosevelt himself
made that outcome inevitable by founding the Progressive Party and running
for president as an independent after he had lost the Republican nomination.
In seeking votes, the former president, through both logic and necessity,
was forced to radical proposals. Both the Progressive platform and its
candidates' campaign for a "New Nationalism" looked forward
to a powerful regulatory and social-service state. The results of the
campaign were as expected, with Woodrow Wilson, the Democratic candidate,
winning by a large electoral vote.
Because the Progressive Party had managed to elect only a handful of
candidates to minor offices, Roosevelt knew immediately that it was
doomed. He kept it alive for bargaining purposes and, in the meantime,
occupied himself with an expedition into the Brazilian jungles and with
writing. After World War I broke out, he became a strong partisan of
the Allied cause. Although ambitious for the 1916 Republican nomination,
he was ready to support almost any candidate who opposed Wilson and
who was not personally involved in his own defeat in 1912. Amid much
bitterness he abandoned the Progressive Party and vigorously supported
the Republican candidate, Charles Evans Hughes, but again his efforts
ended in failure. His anger against Wilson increased when his offer
to lead a volunteer division to France was rejected. Although he had
previously supported an international peace-keeping organization, he
was adamantly opposed to Wilson's League. By 1918 he felt that the Republicans
might nominate him for president in the next election, but the years
of inordinate activity had taken their toll, and he died suddenly in
his sleep in 1919.
Roosevelt's 2,000 published works include several books and hundreds
of articles on history, politics, travel, and natural history; many
of them are collected in The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, memorial ed.
24 vol., (1923-26), which also includes the most comprehensive collection
of his more than 150,000 personal letters. A superb collection of his
more important letters appears in Elting E. Morison (compiler and ed.),
The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, 8 vol. (1951-54). A Bully Father:
Theodore Roosevelt's Letters to His Children (1995), shows his affection
for his offspring.
Biographies include Edmund Morris, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979);
William H. Harbaugh, The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt, new rev.
ed. (1975); John Milton Cooper, The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow
Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt (1983); and Nathan Miller, Theodore Roosevelt:
A Life (1992). Henry F. Pringle, Theodore Roosevelt, rev. ed. (1956),
although brilliantly written, is perhaps prejudiced against its subject.
Comprehensive works on his early life include Carleton Putnam, Theodore
Roosevelt (1958), covering the years 1858 to 1886; and David McCullough,
Mornings on Horseback (1981).
Particularly brilliant short interpretations are G. Wallace Chessman,
Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of Power (1969); and John Morton
Blum, The Republican Roosevelt, 2nd ed. (1977). David H. Burton, The
Learned Presidency: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow
Wilson (1988), advances the concept that the philosophies of these three
presidents helped transform the passive presidencies of the 19th century
into the dynamic presidencies of the 20th century. Other special studies
of value are George E. Mowry, Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive
Movement (1946); Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of
America to World Power (1956); G. Wallace Chessman, Governor Theodore
Roosevelt (1965); Frederick W. Marks III, Velvet on Iron: The Diplomacy
of Theodore Roosevelt (1979); Lewis L. Gould, The Presidency of Theodore
Roosevelt (1991); and H. Paul Jeffers, Commissioner Roosevelt: The Story
of Theodore Roosevelt and the New York City Police, 1895-1897 (1994),
and Colonel Roosevelt: Theodore Roosevelt Goes to War, 1897-1898 (1996),
covering Roosevelt's participation in the Spanish-American War.
General histories of Roosevelt's times are Harold Underwood Faulkner,
The Quest for Social Justice, 1898-1914 (1931); George E. Mowry, The
Era of Theodore Roosevelt, 1900-1912 (1958); and Richard H. Collin,
Theodore Roosevelt: Culture, Diplomacy, and Expansion: A New View of
American Imperialism (1985).