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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: America’s ‘Rough-Riding’ President

By: Tom Morrow

Theodore Roosevelt, often referred to as Teddy or TR, was an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, reformer and 26th President of the United States, (1901 to 1909).

Born a sickly child with debilitating asthma, Roosevelt embraced a strenuous lifestyle and successfully regained his health. He integrated his exuberant personality, vast range of interests, and world-famous achievements into a “cowboy” persona defined by robust masculinity. Home-schooled, he became a lifelong naturalist before attending Harvard College.rough_rider

Following the deaths of his wife and mother, he escaped to the wilderness and operated a cattle ranch in the Dakotas. He returned to run unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City in 1886. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William McKinley, resigning after one year to serve with the “Rough Riders,” gaining national fame for courage during the War in Cuba. Returning a war hero, he was elected Governor of New York in 1898. Frustrated leaders of the GOP party establishment, who were at odds with Roosevelt’s policies, wanted to get rid of him, so they made Roosevelt McKinley’s running mate for vice president in the election of 1900. Roosevelt campaigned vigorously across the country, helping McKinley win.

The assassination of President McKinley in September 1901 brought Roosevelt, then 42, to the White House making him the youngest President in history. President, Roosevelt championed his “Square Deal” domestic policies, promising the average citizen fairness, breaking of the giant corporate trusts, tighter regulation of railroads, and government ensured pure food and drugs.

Making conservation a top priority, he established myriad new national parks, forests, and monuments in order to preserve the nation’s natural resources. In foreign policy, he concentrated on Central America, where he began construction of the Panama Canal. He also greatly expanded the United States Navy and sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour to project the United States’ naval power, promoting his “Big Stick” policy (“Walk softly, but carry a big stick”). His successful efforts to end the Russo-Japanese War won Roosevelt the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize.

Elected in 1904 to a full term, he continued pursuit of progressive policies, eventually culminating in blockage of his legislative agenda in Congress. Roosevelt successfully groomed his close friend, William Howard Taft, for the presidency. But Taft turned against many of the Roosevelt policies, causing the former President to regret not running for reelection. He threw his hat back in the ring, but was disappointed.

Frustrated for not winning the 1912 GOP nomination, Roosevelt founded his own party, the Progressive “Bull Moose” Party, and called for wide-ranging progressive reforms. The third-party split allowed Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win the White House and control of the Congress.

Roosevelt has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. presidents. His likeness is on Mount Rushmore alongside those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.

On the night of Jan. 5, 1919, Roosevelt experienced breathing problems. He felt better after treatment from his physician and went to bed. Roosevelt died in his sleep at Sagamore Hill as a result of a blood clot detaching from a vein and traveling to his lungs. Upon receiving word of his death, his son Archibald telegraphed his siblings simply, “The old lion is dead.” Woodrow Wilson’s vice president, Thomas R. Marshall, summed up the situation succinctly: “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”

Many of Roosevelt’s accomplishments, from the National Park Service, to the building of the Panama Canal, as well as a host of business and banking controls continue to the present, making him one of America’s most important figures in history.


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