.. r, but failed to receive senate nomination due to Conkling’s ire (Miller 76-8). Theodore Roosevelt, Junior, “inspired by his father’s humiliation at the hands of the politicians..was determined to become part of..the governing class” (Miller 110). This inspiration was coupled in Roosevelt with a strong desire for power. Unlike many men who had gotten into the political game, Roosevelt boldly admitted that he desired power, and his desire served him well, allowing him to become a genuine career politician (Miller 111). The political game had not changed so much since Theodore, Senior had tried to run it, and Theodore, Junior had an uphill battle.
He had to fight from the beginning, but fortunately was adequate in that respect. At first plagued by strict-line party voting, Roosevelt managed to finally secure political office, but it was there that his true troubles would begin. An important and revealing part of TR’s early political career occurs during his stint as a civil service commissioner in Washington. One memorable incident occurred in 1889 when Roosevelt faced some difficult political maneuvering. In Milwaukee, Postmaster George Paul was accused of making appointments to friends and altering records to hide it.
Hamilton Shidy, a Post Office superintendent, provided most of the damaging evidence. The commission was to recommend Paul’s firing, when Paul announced his term of office was up regardless. The commission returned to Washington, where they learned Paul had lied about his length of service. Roosevelt immediately drafted a call for Paul’s removal to the White House and the Associated Press. This publicity irked numerous republicans who were no strangers to corruption themselves.
Postmaster General Wanamaker, who was not particularly fond of Roosevelt to begin with, was quite angry. He allowed Paul, who had not been removed, to dismiss Shidy, who had been promised protection by Roosevelt, for insubordination. Now Roosevelt was stuck between a rock and a hard place. He was bound both to Shidy as a protector and to uphold his post, which would warrant Shidy’s removal. Wanamaker was trying to force Roosevelt to resign. Luckily, president Harrison intervened and agreed to find a place for Shidy, but the battle was not over. As he waited for Paul’s removal orders from the White House, which were not forthcoming, Frank Hatton, the editor of the Washington Post decided to launch an attack, lying blatantly about Roosevelt’s misappropriation of funds or other egregious acts.
The Post fired back with more attacks, causing Roosevelt to angrily point to Wanamaker’s misdeeds. Rather than continue the battle, Harrison managed to have Paul resign, and Roosevelt accepted half of a victory. He had successfully stopped the wheels of the political machine once. It was not to be the last time (Morris 403-8). Roosevelt spent several years as a commissioner of police in New York City, eventually rising to become president of the board of commissioners.
In these years, the true signs of the presidency that was to come shone through. Two of Roosevelt’s closest acquaintances were Lincoln Steffens, and Jacob Riis (Morris 482), both reporters of New York newspapers. It was through them that Roosevelt communicated to the people, and he found it good practice to have the relayers of his messages be his friends. Through Riis’ book How The Other Half Lives, Roosevelt had learned of the plight of the poor. Roosevelt saw the awful living conditions present in police lodging houses, and had them done away with (Cashman 123). He battled police corruption, trying hundreds of officers and finding corruption and graft in every corner of the department (Morris 491).
When McKinley’s first vice-president, Hobart, died, Roosevelt found himself in the capacity of Governor of New York. He had already fought in a war and been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, where he helped to orchestrate the United States’ roles in Cuba and Panama. Roosevelt’s expansionist views were here seen. As governor, he continued to defy the old political tactics, including bossism. Platt, the political boss of New York, had gotten Roosevelt elected governor, yet constantly ran up against Roosevelt, who would not follow any of his orders. Roosevelt spent a good time of his governorship attempting to outmaneuver Platt and his agents who were heavily present in the state legislature (Morris 708). Hobart’s death, in 1899, forced the search for a new vice-presidential candidate, especially due to the upcoming election.
Roosevelt emerged as the leading candidate, to the dismay of the Republican National Party’s boss, Senator Mark Hanna. Hanna considered Roosevelt quite dangerous; in the previous term Hanna had done a great deal of controlling the president, and he feared what would happen if Roosevelt became vice-president. McKinley did not show any special preference. Hanna chose his own candidate, John D. Long, but was convinced through some slightly shady political maneuvering to vote for Roosevelt against his own better judgment (Morris 727). Hanna’s personal dislike of Roosevelt did not diminish in the slightest, however. Shortly after the 1900 elections, Hanna sent McKinley a note saying “Your duty to the Country is to live for four years from next March (Miller 342). McKinley was re-nominated unanimously, receiving all 926 votes.
Roosevelt received 925, the single vote against him cast by himself (Morris 729). Roosevelt served four days as Vice President before Congress adjourned until December. And when the news of McKinley’s sudden death on September 14 came to him he said, in a very un-Roosevelt-like manner, that he would “continue, absolutely unbroken, the policy of President McKinley for the peace, the prosperity, and the honor of our beloved country” (Barck 45). This was tradition for replacement presidents, although it certainly seemed odd coming from such a strong-willed man as Roosevelt. Roosevelt had already made himself extremely well known in the public eye, so his transition to president was not as awkward as it might have been. Roosevelt campaigned furiously during 1900, traveling a total of 21,209 miles and making 673 speeches in 567 towns in 24 states (Morris 730).
Only Bryan had campaigned more in the 19th century. For this reason, Roosevelt was able to manipulate, to a certain degree, the popular press. Although he disliked those “Muckrakers,” as he called them, who looked for wrongdoing everywhere and served mostly to stir sensationalistic ideas, Roosevelt had a certain penchant for those like Steffens and Riis, who wrote copiously on the need for social reform. To do his part, Roosevelt attempted reforms that would benefit the working class. Unlike previous presidents, Roosevelt refused to use national force to break strikes. He also instituted the Interstate Commerce Act, which, with the Hepburn Act, allowed government regulation of transportation systems, preventing the railroad monopolies from instituting unfairly high prices (Barck 52).
Taking a cue from Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, which detailed in vivid description the atrocious handling of meat at sausage factories, Roosevelt had the Pure Foods and Drugs Act and the Meat Inspection Act passed, preventing the manufacture of harmful foods and requiring inspection of meat facilities. A unique aspect of Roosevelt’s presidency was his foreign policy. Although McKinley had been involved in Cuba and the Philippines, he had never expressed a wish to dominate as a world power. Roosevelt had, indeed, operated a large part of the United States’ aggressive role towards Cuba, and in his presidency went even further to secure the United States as a dominating power. In 1904 he declared what would become the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in a letter to Secretary of War Elihu Root (Miller 394).
Roosevelt argued that it was a civilized nation’s right to intervene if its neighbors are engaged in wrongdoing. To that end, Roosevelt began to use force to preserve peace and order in the Western Hemisphere. The Dominican Republic needed Roosevelt’s help first, as it was being harassed by Italy and France, to whom it owed large sums of money. To alleviate the problem, a loan was set up from the United States. Although the Dominicans eventually settled on the loan, anti-imperialists felt the United States was preparing to annex the Dominican Republic. It has been said that “The Roosevelt Corollary[‘s]..promulgation was proof that the United States realized its position as a world power” (Barck 100).
Of course, this was all contingent on Roosevelt’s enforcement of his doctrine. Roosevelt confirmed the role of the U. S. further by providing a strong military presence to wrest the boundary line of Alaska from Canada in 1902 and most importantly, by determination and perhaps a little impropriety in the annexation of the Panama Canal zone. Colombia had been a friendly country to the U. S., and when Panama revolted it seemed suspect that the United States should allow such an operation.
But, as tends to be the case, Roosevelt wanted Panama free for other means. In his words, he wanted to “take Panama,” for a canal and he did, demanding independence from a contract with England and grumbling when the deal ended up to be a 100 year lease of the canal zone, rather than an outright purchase. The Panama canal was, in Roosevelt’s mind, to be as great a feat as the Louisiana purchase or Texas annexation. It was a controversial measure, and showed Roosevelt’s beliefs in the superiority and rights of civilization (Miller 399). In 1907 Roosevelt finally decided he had had enough and, rather than run for a third term, which he could have easily done, virtually appointed William Howard Taft as his successor and went off to enjoy retirement. Taft was a good friend of Roosevelt and shared many of his views.
Under Taft, Congress expanded the Conservation Laws, keeping alive TR’s national parks service. In addition, 80 suits were initiated by Taft’s attorney general on companies violating the Sherman Anti-Trust act. Unfortunately, Taft’s presidency was not nearly as successful as Roosevelt’s, for while the country became more and more progressive, Taft stood pat, remaining mostly conservative (Barck 68). In response to Taft’s conservative stance, progressives united to form the National Progressive League. Meanwhile, Roosevelt returned to politics. Bored with the quiet life, he desired the presidency once again, and naturally went for the Republican ticket.
However, Taft decided to give Roosevelt a little taste of his own medicine, and refused to accede to Roosevelt, who was now playing the political boss. The friendship that had existed between these two was splintered, and Roosevelt, in a rage, formed the Progressive party and ran as a third candidate. Although he feared he would be defeated if the Democrats nominated a progressive candidate (which they found in Wilson), Roosevelt ran with his soul, as he did everything in life. At the Progressive party convention, Roosevelt read aloud his “Confession of Faith,” a sweeping charter for reform that outlined the agenda for the twentieth century (Miller 528). The confession advocated direct senate elections, preferential primaries, women’s suffrage, corruption laws, referendum and recall, a federal securities commission, trust regulation, reduced tariffs, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, anti-child-labor laws, and food purity laws (Miller 528).
Roosevelt lost the 1912 election, but he certainly did not lose power. Over the next century, he would have every single part of his agenda made national law. The turn towards progressivism was only beginning, and continued with Wilson. Although a democrat, his views were remarkably progressive. They were also remarkably Rooseveltian. Like Roosevelt, Wilson had a strong will and did not take kindly to dissent, as can be seen by his appointment of Louis Brandeis to the supreme court over the objections of at least six former presidents of the American Bar Association (Barck 110).
Wilson also formally reinvented the role of a strong executive demonstrated so heartily by Roosevelt by delivering speeches directly before Congress, rather than having them read by a clerk. Wilson kept alive Roosevelt’s ideals with tariff reductions, the Federal Reserve System. Wilson even advocated the democratization of the Philippines, even though he was strongly anti-imperialist (Barck 121). Until the war in Europe distracted America long enough to lead it eventually back into a post-war depression, Wilson carried on the traditions of his political opponent, in the redefined presidency of the newly powerful United States. Although the United States was moving ever forward in its effort to “policing the world” it was not as progressive as all that in 1914.
Even TR himself did not advocate joining in on World War I, seeing no reason to take part in an affair that did not concern the United States in the slightest. However, once German U-boats began sinking ships carrying American passengers, Roosevelt changed his tune, along with a percentage of the American people. Eventually, enough popular sentiment urged Congress to declare war, and it was done. It seems here as if Wilson was dragging his feet, but in another generation, the mere consideration of war in Europe would have been ludicrous. Having gotten its feet wet, the United States became a first-class country with first-class responsibilities.
The United States advocated by TR continued after the war and beyond. After a brief interlude in which everything seemed to revert back to the old ways and Americans looked again toward the individual, another Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, used the ideas of his cousin to reinvigorate the economy and rebuild the nation. Today, the reforms advocated by TR exist and are in full use, while other more progressive reforms, like national health care, are being considered. Although our civilization may not end abruptly in 1999, as predicted by numerous psychics and fortune-tellers, it is probable that some large revolutionary act will change the way our country works in four years or so, just as it has before. While our Roosevelt may not have the immense popularity or wonderful charm as the original, it is not doubtful that whoever it is will have to have will, strength, brains, and fortitude equal to or above that of the original.
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New York: New York University Press, 1984. Hagedorn, Hermann. The Boys’ Life of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1918. Knoll, Erwin.
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