KRAXFACTS are meant to be a short synopsis of the intended subject, which can also help to provide context for related discussion. See a complete list of KRAXFACTS here.
Written by: Josh Lax and Michael Kravshik.
Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt
“Let us speak courteously, deal fairly, and keep ourselves armed and ready.”
Life: October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919
Birthplace: New York
Presidential Predecessor: William McKinley
Presidential Successor: William Howard Taft
- 1858: Born to a wealthy New York family
- 1880: Graduates Harvard University and enters Colombia Law School
- 1880: Marries Alice Lee
- 1881: Elected to the New York State Assembly
- 1882: Authored The Naval War of 1812
- 1884: Mother and Wife die
- 1884: Moved to the Dakota Region and became a rancher
- 1886: Married Edith Carrow
- 1888-95: Appointed Civil Service Commissioner
- 1895: New York City Police Commissioner
- 1897: Under Secretary of the Navy (de facto Secretary)
- 1898: Governor of New York
- 1898: Goes to war against Spain in Cuba, and creates the ‘Rough Riders’
- 1901: Vice President of the United States
- 1901: President McKinley is assassinated and Roosevelt becomes the 26th President of the United States
- 1901: First President to invite an African-American to the White House
- 1904: Re-elected as President of the United States
- 1904: Acquisition of the Panama Canal
- 1905: Brokered the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War
- 1906: Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
- 1906: The Square Deal: conservation of natural resources, control of corporations and consumer protection
- 1907-09: Orders the circumnavigation of the globe by the Great White Fleet
- 1909: Left on legendary African safari
- 1912: Forms Bull Moose Party
- 1912: An assassination attempt on Roosevelt’s life is made by John Schrank
- 1913-14: Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition to South America
- 1919: Dies in his sleep
If we could meet any man in history it would be Teddy Roosevelt, after reading this we hope you agree.
Before the Presidency:
Known as “Teedie” to loved ones, Roosevelt was a very sickly and asthmatic child born to a wealthy New York family in 1858. As a young boy he grew very fond of natural history and created his own “museum” by catching and performing taxidermies on various creatures. He even attempted to create a standard method of notation for bird sounds. He overcame his physical weakness by exercising and weight lifting rigorously, even becoming a boxer. This was illustrative of the iron will he demonstrates throughout his life. Teddy accomplished so much that it is impossible to discuss his life comprehensively, so we will try to give you a sense of the man he was. Before his presidency, his annals are filled with such diverse activity that we have decided to provide you with a few anecdotes to give you an idea. Refer to the chronology for specifics.
In the political arena, Teddy can only be described as a ‘bulldog’. Very much an idealist, Roosevelt spent years pushing the idea of a merit-based system for public office. As New York’s Police Commissioner, he shook up the most corrupt police force in the nation, even walking the beat himself to catch slacking officers. After the tragedy of loosing both his wife and mother, on the same day, just two days after his daughter’s birth, Roosevelt decided to move to the Dakota Territory and become a Rancher. Buying some land and a herd in the notorious “Badlands” region, Roosevelt caused quite a stir in the community. Originally viewed as a wealthy city-slicker, Teddy quickly proved his mettle. Once, he encountered a grizzly bear while hunting and to save his own life he shot the bear right between the eyes at point blank range, not showing an ounce of fear. Shortly after, a local named Paddock threated to kill him due to a dispute. When Teddy heard of this he exclaimed that Paddock could not be as dangerous as a grizzly. He then proceeded to walk over to his house and say, “I understand you have threatened to kill me on sight. I have come over to see when you want to begin the killing.” Paddock never bothered him again. In 1886, Roosevelt found that his boat had been stolen. Intending to use the boat for a cougar hunt the next day, he was infuriated. Ice on the ground made a land pursuit impossible so Teddy built a new boat to chase the thieves downstream. After a few days of pursuit, Teddy and his two companions caught up to the four thieves and ambushed them. Faced with a march of over 150 km to the nearest town, Teddy had a choice to kill them or lug them back to civilization. Being the man of law (deputy sheriff) that he was, after eight days of treacherous marching he brought them back to face justice.
He lived by his ideals so strongly in fact that he forced his way into the Spanish-American war in 1898 by forming his own volunteer unit, who came to be known as the ‘Rough Riders.’ His only military training was that of a historian. Roosevelt only went to war because he felt that if he can argue for American boys to risk their lives, than he should as well. The Riders became legendary for charging up both San Juan and Kettle Hills. Roosevelt was infamous for screaming, “Follow Me!” while charging up the hill first, as opposed to the usual “Charge,” implying the troops go first. Being the first up the hill, Roosevelt ensured his reputation for bravery and instilled the deepest of loyalties from his troops.
The Square Deal is Roosevelt’s most substantive domestic policy achievement. It included three pieces of legislation, all passed in 1906. Its desired effect was two-fold, conservation of America’s plentiful natural resources and control of corporations run amok through enhanced consumer protections. An Act for the Protection of American Antiquities provided the President the power, through executive order, to restrict the sale of public lands. He eventually started the entire US National Parks system preserving some of America’s most beloved lands. The Hepburn Act provided the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) the power to set ceiling prices on railroad rates. The ICC’s authority was extended by the Act to include bridges, terminals, ferries, railroad sleeping cars, express companies and oil pipelines. The Pure Food and Drug Act established the federal inspection of meat products and ordered companies to include ingredient lists and expiration dates on products. These three pieces of legislation radically transformed the manner in which the government handled the economy. Many argue that it was the onset of progressive legislation in Federal politics. Teddy believed in capitalism deeply, but also felt it needed competition to work effectively, thus his trustbusting mentality. Roosevelt stated the “a man who is good enough to shed his blood for the country is good enough to be given a square deal afterwards.”
Teddy was very much against the isolationism that was fairly popular in America at the turn of the 20th century. His foreign policy followed that ideal, as these three examples will demonstrate: The Panama Canal, the Russo-Japanese War, and the Great White Fleet. The French had started building the canal in the 1880’s, realizing the value of owning the passageway between the oceans. With France not being able to finance the project, Roosevelt pushed hard for America to take over the job and the rights, citing the Monroe Doctrine as justification. At the time Panama was part of Columbia and they didn’t want to give up the rights to the canal. In response, using the pre-cursor of the CIA, Teddy aided a Panamanian Independence movement. Just in time for the rebellion, Teddy ‘coincidentally’ placed US warships on the coast surrounding Panama. Having mountains between Panama and the rest of Columbia, the Columbians could not re-enforce the region. Panama won the war and declared independence, quickly signing a deal with the US for construction of the canal and 100 years of American dominance. During the Russo-Japanese war, Roosevelt increased America’s (and his own) reputation by brokering peace between the two nations at the Portsmouth Conference, earning himself a Nobel Peace Prize in the process. Finally, one of his last great acts was sending a massive fleet of beautiful American warships, labeled “The Great White Fleet” to circumnavigate the globe. This act was meant to signify America’s entrance to the world stage as a Great Power, by the only method available at the time, a flexing of military might.
Roosevelt clearly did not let his high office change his modus operadi. By virtue of his core character, he drastically changed the office of the President, establishing what is known as the bully pulpit. This meant that since the president was elected by the entire nation, he had the unique ability to read the pulse of the nation and act upon it using force of personality. As a result, he established the modern presidency.
After the Presidency:
Roosevelt’s antics did not end with his retirement. Shortly after passing the presidency off to his handpicked successor, William Howard Taft, he went on a year-long African safari. He received worrisome news from home that Taft was not following his policies to his liking. He returned home at once to challenge Taft for the nomination of his party.
Upon loosing the convention, he and his delegates marched out to form their own party named the Progressive party, dubbed “the Bull Moose Party” after its founder. During the campaign, an assassination attempt was made, and the bullet, having been slowed by Teddy’s spectacle case did not penetrate his chest cavity. Teddy exclaimed that since he isn’t coughing up blood, he knows it did not penetrate and proceeded to give a 90-minute speech before getting medical attention. By splitting the republican vote he ensured a democratic victory putting Woodrow Wilson in the White House. Shortly after, he went on a South American expedition, bringing back multitudes of scientific specimens for American Museums.
In 1919 at the age of 60 Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep at his beloved home Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, New York. In his short 60 years, Teddy did more than most of us could ever dream of doing with twice that time.
If you’re yearning for more of Teddy’s amazing exploits, definitely pick up “The Rise of Teddy Roosevelt” by Edmund Morris, for every detail of his pre-Presidency life in Teddy’s own words from his diary. It was followed up by “Theodore Rex” and “Colonel Roosevelt” for his Presidency, and post-Presidency respectively. Its on our recommended reading list which can be viewed here.
Some extra Teddy Quotes for your enjoyment:
“A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.”
“A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.”
“Don’t hit at all if it is honorably possible to avoid hitting; but never hit soft!”
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president.”
“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life.”
“There is a homely old adage which runs: “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” If the American nation will speak softly, and yet build and keep at a pitch of the highest training a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.”
This is a short description of his life. What can you add?