Biography for Theodore Roosevelt
Although largely opposed by the political establishment, Theodore Roosevelt fought to give the common citizen "a square deal." Many of his ideas for reform, considered radical in their day, have become accepted by both political parties. An avowed nationalist with imperialist leanings, he also transformed the United States into a major international and military power. He brought both the presidency and the nation into the 20th century. Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858 into a prosperous family in New York City. His early education came from private tutors. Because he suffered from asthma and poor eyesight, he tried to build himself up physically through exercise and sport and practiced hard at horseback riding, boxing, and shooting. He also developed an early interest in nature and in military affairs. Later he attended Harvard University and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. While at Harvard, he began writing The Naval War of 1812, which was published two years after he graduated in 1880. In 1881, at the age of 23, he was elected to the New York State legislature, where he served three one-year terms and supported the Progressive reform wing of the Republican Party. Following the tragic death of his young wife, Roosevelt spent two years in the Dakota Territory, ranching and writing history. In 1886, he ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York City. He did not return to public office until President Benjamin Harrison appointed him to the Civil Service Commission in 1889. Opposed to the spoils system, Roosevelt worked hard to revise civil service examinations and search out fraud. In 1895, he became president of the police commission of New York City. His reforms brought opposition from both Democrats and Republicans in the city government. President William McKinley appointed Roosevelt assistant secretary of the navy in 1897. Roosevelt used this post to ready the navy for war with Spain; he wanted to end Spanish rule of Cuba and the Philippines and expand U.S. influence in the Caribbean and the Pacific. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Roosevelt joined the First Regiment of U.S. Cavalry Volunteers, the "Rough Riders," as a colonel. He led the now famous charge up San Juan Hill near Santiago, returned to the United States a national hero, and was elected governor of New York in November 1898. An active and popular governor, Roosevelt supported civil service reform, social reform, and the labor movement. He also passed a tax on corporate franchises, outlawed racial discrimination in the public schools, and urged the conservation of New York's natural resources. Although a moderate reformer, his stand on many issues made him unpopular with business leaders and the Republican Party bosses in the state. To remove him from state politics, the bosses nominated him as President McKinley's running mate in 1900, a post considered largely ceremonial. The McKinley-Roosevelt ticket won easily. When McKinley was assassinated in September 1901, the 42-year-old Roosevelt became the youngest person ever to be president. Although he promised to continue McKinley's policies, including retaining a number of his Cabinet members, Roosevelt made it clear that he would be his own president. He would certainly be one of the most vigorous and well-liked presidents. He considered himself a man of all the people, and while he embraced the new reform movement that was sweeping the country (one that would become known as "Progressivism") and constantly preached morality and social change, he was not a radical in economics or in politics. In 1902, Roosevelt ordered the Justice Department to bring suit against the Northern Securities Company under the provisions of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The suit was successful, and the railroad monopoly, owned by some of the country's wealthiest businessmen, was dissolved. This action earned Roosevelt a reputation as a "trust buster"; however, he believed that, in general, trusts should be regulated rather than dissolved. During his first term, Roosevelt intervened in the prolonged national coal strike to force a settlement, a move considered a victory for labor; he created the Bureau of Corporations to investigate the practices of any interstate corporation; and he supported the conservation of American forests, lakes, rivers, and coal reserves. In foreign policy, Roosevelt confronted problems that involved the United States in world diplomacy. Since the United States had acquired an overseas empire, he set out to protect it by strengthening the navy and the army. By his bullying methods of obtaining the land in Panama to build a canal and of threatening the rest of the world from interfering in Latin American and Western Hemisphere affairs—the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine—Roosevelt put the other nations on notice that the United States was becoming a world power. Roosevelt was reelected by a landslide in 1904. During his second term, he continued to press for reforms at home—his so-called Square Deal—though Congress would eventually defy his stand against the abuses of the rich and powerful business community. He approved the Hepburn Act giving the Interstate Commerce Commission the power to regulate railroad rates and services, the Pure Food and Drug Act, and the Meat Inspection Act. He began construction of the Panama Canal and mediated the end of the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. He worked for the development of natural resources and assigned millions of acres of land to national parks and reserves. He was responsible for the "Gentlemen's Agreement" curbing Japanese immigration to the United States and sent an American fleet around in the world to give meaning to his expression "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Roosevelt supported the candidacy of his secretary of war, William Howard Taft, in 1908. By 1912, however, he felt Taft had been won over by reactionary elements. When Taft won the Republican nomination, Roosevelt ran against him on the Progressive, or Bull Moose, Party ticket. This caused the votes to be split, and Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the election. Though this defeat ended Roosevelt's career in national politics, many of the Progressive ideas he had championed lived on in the Wilson administration. Historians have not been able to reach consensus on a simple definition of Progressivism. The Progressive movement, however, had been gaining momentum since about 1900. It favored many of the reforms backed by the earlier agrarian Populists and struck out at the domination of the "Interests"—big business and the wealthy few. Many Progressives were middle-class and college-educated people who wanted to fight corruption and help the disadvantaged poor, as well as better their own condition. Often centered in large cities, they wrote exposés of poor working conditions in industry and of corruption in government, brought new ideas to education, and fostered reform in all areas of city life and administration. Progressivism also drew on the support of groups, such as workers and consumers, who either were interested in such specific issues as worker's compensation and child labor or felt a more general commitment to tame the power of the "Interests." Roosevelt backed Charles Evans Hughes for the presidency in 1916 and was an ardent supporter of the military effort in World War I. Although he opposed Wilson's Fourteen Points, he was, with reservations, in favor of the League of Nations. On January 6, 1919, he died of malaria, contracted a few years earlier on an expedition to Brazil.