Theodore Roosevelt, 1858–1919, 26th President of the United States (1901–9), b. New York City.
Early Life and Political Posts
Of a prosperous and distinguished family, Theodore Roosevelt was educated by private tutors and traveled widely. He was a delicate youth, and his determined efforts to overcome this had a marked effect on his character. After graduating (1880) from Harvard, he studied law at Columbia.
Roosevelt's interest was drawn to politics, and while serving (1882–84) in the New York state legislature as a Republican, he strongly opposed the nomination of James G. Blaine for the U.S. presidency. After Blaine's nomination, however, Roosevelt supported him, and that lost him much of his political backing. Discouraged by this turn of events, and bereaved by the deaths (1884) of his mother and his wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, Roosevelt retired to his ranch in the Dakota Territory.
He returned (1886) to New York City and ran as the Republican candidate for mayor against Henry George and Abram S. Hewitt; he came in third. He became increasingly important in Republican party politics. Appointed (1889) by President Benjamin Harrison as a member of the Civil Service Commission, he was noted for his vigor in the post until he resigned in 1895. As head (1895–97) of the New York City police board, he attempted to clean up the notoriously vice-ridden city, accomplishing little but nevertheless gaining public notice by his advocacy of reform.
In 1897 he returned to federal office as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President McKinley. An ardent supporter of U.S. expansion, he worked toward putting the U.S. navy on a war basis for the coming war with Spain. After the outbreak of the Spanish-American war, he resigned to organize, with Leonard Wood, the volunteer regiment that won fame as the Rough Riders. Returning from Cuba a popular hero, Roosevelt ran (1898) for the governorship of New York state, winning by a small margin. Republican "boss" Thomas C. Platt had supported him in his candidacy, but after Roosevelt's inauguration the two differed when Roosevelt imposed taxes on corporation franchises. It was at least partially to shelve Roosevelt that Platt backed his nomination as Vice President in 1900. The McKinley-Roosevelt slate was elected, but Roosevelt served as Vice President only a few months. McKinley was assassinated, and Roosevelt became (Sept. 14, 1901) President shortly before his 43d birthday, making him the youngest person to hold that office. (John F. Kennedy was the youngest person to be elected President.)
Roosevelt's inexhaustible vitality and enthusiasm, aided by his ability to dramatize himself and to coin vivid phrases, made him a popular president. His intellectual interests did much to elevate the tone of American politics. On the other hand, he drew considerable criticism for his glorification of military strength and his patriotic fervor.
He recognized, from the outset of his first administration, the growing demand for reform that was expressed in the writings of the muckrakers. From 1902 he set about "trust busting" under terms of the moribund Sherman Antitrust Act, ordered the successful antitrust suit against the Northern Securities Company, and led the attack on a number of other large trusts. Altogether, his administration began some 40 suits against trusts. Roosevelt's threat to intervene in the anthracite coal strike of 1902 induced the operators to accept arbitration.
In his first term he also fathered important legislation, including the Reclamation Act of 1902 (the Newlands Act), which made possible federal irrigation projects; the bill (1903) establishing the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor; and the Elkins Act of 1903, which put an end to freight rebates by railroads. Roosevelt's vigorous championship of the rights of the "little man" captured the American imagination, and when he ran for reelection in 1904 he defeated Alton B. Parker, the Democratic presidential candidate, by 196 electoral votes.
In his second administration Roosevelt directed the passage (1906) of the Hepburn Act, which revitalized the Interstate Commerce Commission and authorized greater governmental authority over railroads. In 1906 he backed the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. A firm believer in conservation of national resources, he sought to halt exhaustion of timber and mineral supplies by private interests and added many millions of acres of land to public ownership. His progressive reforms were directed not at the abolition of big business but at its regulation—an attitude shown by his tacit approval of the absorption of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company by United States Steel in the panic of 1907. By his aggressive domestic policy, Roosevelt decisively increased the power of the President.
Roosevelt's forcefulness was equally manifest in his foreign policy. Ably backed by John Hay and Elihu Root, he set out to solidify the world position won by the United States in the Spanish-American War. His efforts to enhance U.S. prestige and influence won him the hatred of anti-imperialist groups. Most notable, perhaps, was his Caribbean policy. In the Venezuela Claims dispute, Roosevelt, fearing German intervention in Venezuela, worked for a peaceful settlement that would maintain Venezuela's territorial integrity.
Later (1904), when the Dominican Republic—which was deeply in debt to European bond holders—was threatened with intervention by European powers, the President enunciated a new U.S. policy that would forestall such action. In what came to be known as the Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, the President claimed that the United States had direct interest and the obligation to impose order in the affairs of Latin American countries. The Dominican Republic was forced to accept the appointment of a U.S. customs receiver. This policy aroused great indignation in Latin America.
Even more drastic was Roosevelt's action regarding the Panama Canal. After the Colombian senate refused to ratify the proposed Hay-Herrán Treaty, a U.S. navy warship, the Nashville, prevented the landing of additional Colombian troops in Panama, thus contributing to the success of the Panamanian revolution (1903). Roosevelt immediately recognized the new republic of Panama, and the Panama Canal was begun. Roosevelt's policy in Latin America prepared the way for "dollar diplomacy" in that area.
Roosevelt was also active generally in world affairs. With Hay, he endeavored to maintain the Open Door in China. In 1904, as mediator, he brought about the peace conference at Portsmouth, N.H., to end the Russo-Japanese War; and he was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. He was an ardent advocate of the Hague Tribunal, and it was through his offices that the Algeciras Conference was called in 1906 to settle the Morocco question. In 1907 his gentleman's agreement with Japan to discourage emigration of Japanese laborers to the United States eased the tensions caused by California's anti-Japanese legislation.
The 1912 Election and After
Roosevelt virtually dictated the nomination of his presidential successor, William Howard Taft; after an African big-game expedition and a triumphal tour of European cities, Roosevelt returned (1910) to the United States and joined the campaign for the direct primary in New York. President Taft alienated the progressive Republicans headed by Robert M. La Follette, and the Republican party in 1912 was threatened with a split over the presidential nomination. The conservatives, however, controlled the Republican convention of 1912, and Taft was nominated for reelection.
Roosevelt led his followers out of the convention, organized the Progressive party—also called the Bull Moose party—and was nominated for President on this third-party slate. In the resulting three-cornered election he ran second to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson. Forced into retirement, Roosevelt denounced the policies of Wilson—whose attempt to secure a treaty awarding Colombia damages for the loss of Panama particularly enraged him. After the outbreak of World War I he attacked Wilson's neutrality policy; and when the United States entered the war he pleaded vainly to be allowed to raise and command a volunteer force. He died soon after the end of World War I.
During his busy career he had found time not only for hunting and exploring expeditions—including exploration (1913) of the River of Doubt (now called the Roosevelt River or Rio Teodoro) in the Amazon jungle—but also for writing a great number of books. They deal with history, hunting, wildlife, and politics. Among them are The Naval War of 1812 (1882), biographies of Thomas H. Benton (1887) and Gouverneur Morris (1888), The Winning of the West (4 vol., 1889–96), African Game Trails (1910), The New Nationalism (1910), Progressive Principles (1913), Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914), and his important autobiography (1913).
Alice, his daughter by his first wife, married Nicholas Longworth in the White House; "Princess Alice" attracted much notice by her forthright personality, unconventional ways, and able tongue (see Longworth, Alice Lee Roosevelt). There were five children of his second marriage (1886) to Edith Kermit Carow—Theodore, Jr., Kermit, Archibald Bullock, Ethel Carow (Mrs. Richard Derby), and Quentin. Quentin was killed in World War I; Theodore, Jr., and Kermit both died in active service in World War II.
See The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (8 vol., 1951–54), ed. by J. M. Blum; The Selected Letters of Theodore Roosevelt (2006), ed. by H. W. Brands; biographies by H. F. Pringle (rev. ed. 1956, repr. several times), N. F. Busch (1963), D. W. Grantham, ed. (1971), H. W. Brands (1997), S. A. Cordery (2002), K. Dalton (2002), and E. Morris (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, 1979; Theodore Rex, 2001; and Colonel Roosevelt, 2010); G. E. Mowry, Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive Movement (1946, repr. 1960); J. M. Blum, The Republican Roosevelt (1954, repr. 1962); H. K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the Rise of America to World Power (1956, repr. 1989); W. H. Harbaugh, The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt (1963); G. W. Chessman, Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of Power (1969); D. McCullough, Mornings on Horseback (1980); M. L. Collins, That Damned Cowboy (1989); C. Millard, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey (2005); P. O'Toole, When Trumpets Call: Theodore Roosevelt after the White House (2005); D. Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior (2009); J. Bradley, The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (2009); E. Thomas, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 (2010); G. Jones, Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America's Imperial Dream (2012); R. Zacks, Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean Up Sin-Loving New York (2012); J. M. Yarbrough, Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition (2012).