Theodore Roosevelt
Relative of Ingeborg Brigitte Gastel

The 26th President of the United States
1901-1909

Born: October 27, 1858; New York City
Party: Republican
Vice President: Charles W. Fairbanks
Died: January 6, 1919; Oyster Bay, New York
Buried: Oyster Bay
 

Theodore Roosevelt was the second of the four children and the oldest son of Theodore and Martha Roosevelt. His father was a wealthy New York City banker and merchant. Young Theodore was educated by tutors and enjoyed several trips abroad with his family. Throughout bis boyhood, he suffered from asthma and other illnesses. When he was thirteen he began a program of vigorous physical exercise that turned him into a healthy, robust young man. Throughout the rest of his life, he would preach the virtues of a strenuous life.

Roosevelt entered Harvard in 1876. An excellent student, he graduated twenty-first in his class in 1880 and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honor society. He then enrolled in Columbia Law School but dropped out after a year of study without taking a degree or seeking admission to the bar.

Roosevelt entered politics in 1881 when he was elected to the New York state legislature at the age of twenty three. He led a group of reform Republicans who fought corruption in the state government. Roosevelt was reelected in 1882 and 1883 but declined to seek reelection after his wife, Alice, and his mother died within hours of each other on February 14, 1884.

From 1884 to 1886, Roosevelt sought refuge from his grief in the Dakota Territory, where he managed a cattle ranch and served for a period as deputy sheriff. He returned to New York City in 1886 and ran unsuccessfully for mayor. After marrying Edith Kermit Carow, he settled into his home, Sagamore Hill, in Oyster Bay, Long Island. There he wrote books on American history and life in the West. His works include Hunting Trip of a Ranchman, Life of Thomas Hart Benton, Gouverneur Morris, The Winning of the West, and Ranch Life und the Hunting Trail. During his lifetime, Roosevelt wrote more than forty books.

In 1889 Roosevelt returned to public service when President Benjamin Harrison appointed him U.S. civil Service commissioner. He was reappointed in 1893 by Democrat Grover Cleveland and served until 1895. As commissioner, Roosevelt fought against the spoils system, which he considered a source of corruption. He revised civil service exams, doubled the number of government positions subject to examination, and increased government employment opportunities for women.

From 1895 to 1897 Roosevelt served as president of the Police Commission of New York City. He moved to Washmngton, D.C., in 1897 when President William McKinley appointed him assistant secretary of the navy. In this post he fought to increase the size of the U.S. Navy and advocated war with Spain over that country's suppression of an independence movement in Cuba. On February 25, 1898, with Navy Secretary John Long absent from the capital, Roosevelt ordered the Pacific fleet to go to Hong Kong and prepare to destroy the Spanish fleet in the event of a declaration of war. In issuing the order, Roosevelt overstepped the bounds of his authority, but when Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet in the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898, Roosevelt's action was vindicated.

Soon after the United States declared war, Roosevelt resigned from the Navy Department so he could fight in Cuba. He secured the rank of lieutenant colonel and organized a regiment of cavalry that came to be known as the Rough Riders. Although the importance of the Rough Riders to the American victory over the Spanish in Cuba became exaggerated, Roosevelt demonstrated his courage in leading his regiment in a charge up one of the San Juan Hills overlooking Santiago. Despite suffering heavy casualties, the Rough Riders captured the hill.

Roosevelt's exploits in Cuba made him a celebrity in the United States. In November 1898 he received the Republican nomination for governor of New York and was narrowly elected. As governor his political independence and refusal to promote the intereste of big business disturbed the power brokers of his party, particularly New York Republican boss Thomas Platt.

In 1900 Platt hoped to get rid of Roosevelt by promoting him as a candidate for vice president. Athough Roosevelt declared he did not want the job, he was the popular choice at the Philadelphia Republican national convention, and he accepted the nomination when it was offered to him. Party leaders had mixed feelings about Roosevelt. They recognized that his popularity could win votes for the ticket, but they feared what might happen if McKinley died. Mark Hanna, the Republican national chairman who had overseen McKinley's career, warned his colleagues, "Don't any of you realize that there's only one life between this madman and the White House?"

After the inauguration, Roosevelt presided over a five day Session of the Senate held to confirm presidential appointees. When the session was completed, Congress adjourned until December. Roosevelt, with no other vice presidential duties to execute, returned to his home on Long Island. On September 6, 1901, Roosevelt was hunting and fishing in Vermont when he learned that President McKinley had been shot. He rushed to Buffalo, where doctors said McKinley would recover from his wounds. Roosevelt wanted to demonstrate to the public that the president was in no danger of death, so he resumed his vacation on September 10. Three days later, however, Roosevelt was informed that McKinley's condition had deteriorated. The vice president arrived in Buffalo on September 14, the day McKinley died. Later in the day he took the oath of office in Buffalo from U.S. District Court Judge John Hazel. At the age of forty-two, Roosevelt became the youngest person ever to serve as president.

Presidency

After McKinley's death, Roosevelt declared, "It shall be my aim to continue absolutely unbroken the policy of President McKinley for the peace, the prosperity, and the honor of our beloved country." Despite retaining McKinley's cabinet, Roosevelt promoted his own policies, which included measures to curb abuses by big business. Soon after taking office he had directed Attorney General Philander Knox to prepare an antitrust suit against Northern Securities Company, a giant railroad trust. The suit was successful in 1904 when the Supreme Court ruled that the company should be dissolved. Although the Roosevelt administration would initiate fewer antitrust suits than the Taft administration, Roosevelt became known as the trust busting president. In 1902 when a coal strike in Pennsylvania caused shortages and rising coal prices, Roosevelt threatened to take over the mines unless the mine owners submitted to arbitration. The mine owners backed down, and Roosevelt appointed a commission that gave the miners a 10 percent raise.

Roosevelt's most famous act during his first term was his acquisition of land for the Panama Canal. Colombia owned Panama, but in August 1903 the Colombian senate refused to approve a treaty giving the United States the rights to a canal zone six miles wide. Determined to build the canal, Roosevelt later that year supported a revolution in Panama, which, with the help of the U.S. Navy, overthrew Colombian rule. The new Panamanian government agreed to lease the zone to the United States and construction of the canal began.

In the 1904 presidential election, Roosevelt ran against New York judge Aton B. Parker. Roosevelt lost the South but received over 56 percent of the popular vote, swept the North and West, and easily won in the electoral college, 336-140. He became the first successor president to win the White House in his own right after serving the unfinished term of his predecessor.

During his second term Roosevelt championed many pieces of reform legislation including the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the Hepburn Act, which empowered the government to set railroad rates. Roosevelt also continued his conservationist activities begun during bis first term. Under Roosevelt the government initiated thirty major federal irrigation projects, added 125 million acres to the national forest reserves, and doubled the number of national parks.

In foreign affairs Roosevelt continued aggressively to promote U.S. interests abroad, often in a manner his critics described as imperialistic. In late 1904 he issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, which declared that the United States would intervene in Latin American affairs to prevent European nations from intervening there. The following year he put the corollary into practice by taking control of the Santo Domingo customhouses to guarantee that country's European debts. In 1905 he mediated an agreement ending the Russian-Japanese War and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. In the face of congressional opposition Roosevelt also sent the U.S. fleet on a world cruise that lasted from late 1907 to early 1909. The show of strength was intended to impress other nations, especially Japan, with U.S. resolve to defend its interests and play an active role in world affairs.

Former President

Roosevelt's friend and secretary of war, William Howard Taft, was elected president in 1908 with Roosevelt's backing. Upon leaving office Roosevelt went to Africa to hunt big game with his son Kermit, then toured Europe with his wife before returning to the United States in June 1910. During the next two years Roosevelt became increasingly alienated from Taft, who he felt had abandoned his policies.

In 1912 Roosevelt declared his interest in the Republican nomination for president. He won most of the primaries, but the Republican national convention in Chicago was controlled by supporters of President Taft, who received the nomination. Progressive Republicans organized the Progressive party and persuaded Roosevelt to run. The party was dubbed
the "Bull Moose" party, because candidate Roosevelt declared that he felt "as fit as a 
bull moose."

On October 14, 1912, while campaigning in Milwaukee, Roosevelt was shot in the chest by
an assailant. The candidate insisted on delivering a scheduled speech, which lasted almost an hour. He was then rushed from the amazed crowd to a hospital. Wilson and Taft stopped their campaigns while Roosevelt recovered, but the former president was delivering speeches again within two weeks. Roosevelt's heroic campaigning, however, could not overcome the split he had caused among Republicans. Second-place Roosevelt and third-place Taft together received over a million more popular votes than Democrat Woodrow Wilson, but with his opposition divided, Wilson won the election.

The Progressives asked Roosevelt to run for president again in 1916, but Roosevelt declined and supported Republican Charles Evans Hughes, who lost to President Wilson. In 1916 Roosevelt had begun to make plans for raising a volunteer division that he would command if the United States entered World War I. When the United States did enter the war in 1917, he went to the White House to request authority to implement his plans, but Wilson turned him down. During the war, Roosevelt was a leading Republican spokesman and likely would have been his party's candidate for president in 1920 had he lived. He was hospitalized in November 1918 with a severe attack of rheumatism, an ailment from which he suffered during the last years of his life. He returned to Sagamore Hill for Christmas but remained ill. He died in his sleep on January 6, 1919, from an arterial blood clot.

Roosevelt married Alice Hathaway Lee on October 27, 1880, his twenty-second birthday. Alice died on February 14, 1884, of Bright's disease two days after giving birth to the couple's only child, Alice. Roosevelt's mother, Martha Roosevelt, died the same day of typhoid fever. On February 17, 1906, at the White House, Alice married Rep. Nicholas Longworth, who would serve as Speaker of the House from 1925 to 1931.

Roosevelt married Edith Kermit Carow, whom he had known since childhood, on December 2, 1886. They had four sons and one daughter. Their youngest child, Quentin, was killed during World War I while flying a mission over France. Their oldest child, Theodore, Jr., served as assistant secretary of the navy, governor of Puerto Rico, and governor-general of the Plilippines during the Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover administrations.