26th President of the United States: Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09)

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt became a hero during the Spanish-American War. In 1901 he would be thrust into the office of President on the death of William McKinley.

Just over six months after becoming Vice President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt became President after the assassination of his predecessor William McKinley. This would be the second time in twenty years almost to the day that a president was assassinated. (President James A. Garfield having been the previous case.)

Early Life

Theodore Roosevelt, “Teddy”, was born to an affluent New York family the second of four children. His father was a businessman and his mother had grown up on a plantation in the South.

The young Roosevelt suffered from asthma and was sickly as a child. In his teenage years he decided to embark on an exercise program which included weight lifting which helped him develop physically. He would be a lifelong advocate of physical fitness programs.

He traveled extensively with his family in Europe and the Middle East before enrolling at Harvard in 1876. While in college he married Alice Lee, the daughter of a prominent New England family. Roosevelt entered Columbia University Law School in 1880 but did not receive a degree there.

In 1884, death visited the Roosevelt household twice in one day. His young wife died two days after giving birth to a daughter, and his mother died several hours later. The double loss devastated Roosevelt and he buried himself in his political life which was just beginning. Feeling that he needed a change he went West to the Dakota Badlands where he became a cattle rancher.

In 1886, he returned to New York and would remarry a woman he had known from childhood., Edith Kermit Carow. In the follow years he would write a number of books, choosing historical subjects.

Re-interest in Politics

In 1886 he made an unsuccessful bid to become the Mayor of New York City. During the Presidential election campaign of 1888 he campaigned for Benjamin Harrison, who would be elected, and in return for his loyalty he was appointed to the U.S. Civil Service Commission. Then, because of his diligence in enforcing civil service laws in opposition to the political patronage system, he was reappointed by the Democratic President Grover Cleveland in 1883.

Following this assignment he became president of the New York City Police Board and was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley.

Spanish American War

With the outbreak of the Spanish American War in 1898 Roosevelt resigned his Navy post and became commander of a volunteer cavalry force known as the “Rough Riders’. His famous charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba captured the imagination of the Nation and Roosevelt became a war hero.

Returning home at the conclusion of the conflict with a national reputation, he decided to run for Governor of New York. Although aided in his victory which he won by only a few thousand votes with the aid of the state’s Republican Party leader, Thomas Platt, he refused Platt’s recommendation to appoint party supporters to important positions in his administration simply based on favoritism.

The Campaign and Election of 1900

The popular Roosevelt was nominated to run as President William McKinley’s vice president. The election was successful and the Republicans won the election handily over the Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan

After the re-inauguration of McKinley in March 1901, Roosevelt’s role in the government was to very quickly change, when in September, McKinley was assassinated. Theodore Roosevelt at age 42 was inaugurated president.

Theodore Roosevelt used his office to break up monopolies with the rarely used Sherman Anti-Trust Act. He also was fundamentally an American imperialist wielding his weight to advance American interests and saw the beginning of the construction of the Panama Canal. His slogan was “speak softly and carry a big stick”.

The Campaign and Election of 1904

The first Roosevelt term had been marred by some labor unrest, including the breaking up of the Pennsylvania coal miners strike of 1902, but it was also a time of general prosperity. In 1903 he oversaw the creation of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor.

The Democrats nominated Alton B. Parker, a conservative judge from New York, bypassing the former party standard bearer, William Jennings Bryan and his “free silver” agenda. Roosevelt won an overwhelming victory capturing all the electoral votes except for the deep South.

He decided he would not seek reelection in 1908 and supported his hand-picked candidate William Howard Taft. He would however make another bid for the office, opposing Taft in 1912 who he felt had deserted his progressive agenda. He ran as a third party candidate as the progressive or “Bull Moose Party” candidate virtually ensuring Taft’s defeat.