Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States, was almost larger than life. In many ways he personified America’s transition from the 1800s into 20th century.
Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt was born on Oct 27, 1858, in New York City. His father came from a well-established family of Dutch origin that traced its lineage in the Americas back to the 1600s.
At age 18, Roosevelt entered Harvard College, where he spent the next four years diligently engaged in studying, writing, and sports. There seemed to be no task he couldn’t excel at. He graduated in 1880, magna cum laude and a member of Phi Beta Kappa (2). After completing his studies at Harvard, Roosevelt spent the next year abroad studying in Germany before returning home to begin a career in politics.
Roosevelt Enters the Political Realm
A charismatic and intelligent speaker, Roosevelt seemed destined to hold office. He joined the Republican Party in 1880, and ran for the position of New York State Assemblyman in 1881. He won the election and served three consecutive one-year terms in the New York State assembly.
Roosevelt had married Marries Lee on his birthday in 1880. Less than four years into the marriage, tragedy struck. After their daughter was born, his wife began showing symptoms of Bright’s disease, and his mother was stricken with typhoid fever. Roosevelt’s mother and wife both died on the same day, February 14th, 1884, at the family home on 57th street.
Life in the Dakota Badlands
Faced with this tremendous loss, Roosevelt gave up politics for a time and headed out west. He had always admired the romantic tales of this wide-open country populated by hardy ranchers and adventurous cowboys. He moved to a ranch he had purchased during a hunting trip in 1883, located in the Dakota Territory.
The period of 1884-1886 had a tremendous influence on Roosevelt’s outlook. Born and bred a New Yorker, he fell in love with the simplicity, vigorous lifestyle and hard work of the cattle ranch. He gained an appreciation for hiking, hunting and enjoying the splendors of nature. His experiences in the Dakotas convinced him that the natural wonders of the American wilderness should be available to everyone, and preserved for future generations.
He spent much of his time in the Dakotas writing, but also remained interested in politics and was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in June of 1884.
Service in the Federal Government
In 1886, Roosevelt married again, and in 1887 he and his wife took up residence at his newly built estate, Sagamore Hill, located in New York State.
In 1889, Roosevelt, already known as a tough-minded reformer in New York, entered the national stage when President Benjamin Harrison appointed him as Civil Service Commissioner, a position he held until 1895.
Roosevelt disliked the inefficiencies and ingrained special interests of the Federal bureaucracy. As Civil Service Commissioner he gained a reputation for speaking his mind and holding true to his principles. He sought to streamline the Civil Service and make it more accountable to the public.
From Police Commissioner to Navy Secretary
In 1895, Roosevelt left his position with the Civil Service and became Police Commissioner of New York City. Once again, he performed admirably, instituting reforms and rooting out corruption and incompetence in the force.
In 1897, Roosevelt again took a position with the Federal Government when President McKinley appointed him as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. During this time, tensions with Spain were rising, and Roosevelt had the foresight to prepare the US Navy as best he could for the looming hostilities.
Cavalry Commander in The Spanish American War
After an explosion on the USS Maine, which was blamed on a Spanish mine, events moved rapidly and the US was soon at war with Spain.
Roosevelt, always a man of action, personally raised a regiment of all volunteer cavalry made of up cowboys and cattlemen. He led this regiment, known as the “Rough Riders”, as a Lieutenant Colonel, winning fame in Cuba for his part in the successful attack on the San Juan heights.
A Triumphant Return and a Stint as Governor
With the end of the Spanish American War, Roosevelt returned to the US as a war hero. His star was clearly on the rise and he seemed more popular than ever. The Republican party of New York decided he would make an ideal candidate for governor. Thus Roosevelt was elected governor of New York State in 1898.
In 1900, President William McKinley, who was running for a second term, offered to make Teddy Roosevelt vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket.
At that time, the vice presidency was widely viewed as a ceremonial role, with little real power. Roosevelt was apprehensive, but in the end he agreed to join McKinley on the ticket. McKinley defeated the Democrat candidate, William Jennings Bryan, and won re-election.
From Tragedy Comes Great Responsibility
On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was greeting visitors to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, when he was shot by a crazed gunman with ties to the Anarchist movement. McKinley’s assassination thrust Roosevelt into the presidency.
Fortunately, Roosevelt’s wide range of personal, occupational and political experience, combined with his dedication to duty, had well prepared him for the position as head of state. He went on to serve successfully as President and was re-elected to a second term in 1904.
The Legacy of a Gifted Man
Teddy Roosevelt had already lived a full life before he became president. He never lost the idealism that led him to seek office for the betterment of the country. In many ways, Roosevelt was the right man at the right time.
He helped bring America into the 20th century as a strong nation, advanced the cause of justice for all and was instrumental in preserving America’s wilderness. His presidency set a tone for strong, principled, and honest administration that was sorely needed.
Roosevelt stepped up when history called him, and cemented his place as a great man and great American.
- Nobel Prize Biography
- Theodore Roosevelt Timeline