Theodore Roosevelt, the nation’s 26th president, died 100 years ago this week, and his effect on the office he held and the nation he served remains intact.
As a young governor of New York, having won the office in 1898, TR as he was affectionately called, was a maverick and even went so far as favoring taxing public utility companies who were large donors to political parties. Political bosses in New York were outraged and thought the best way to get Roosevelt off the stage was to convince President William McKinley to pick him as a running mate for the 1900 election. Roosevelt reluctantly accepted and the nation responded with a resounding victory for the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket.
Six months after taking office, the nation and world came apart when an anarchist shot McKinley while he was attending an exposition in Buffalo, New York. The president survived for a week before dying Sept. 14, 1901.
Roosevelt became president at age 42 and remains the youngest man in American history to hold the job. He hit the ground running and created phrases that defined his presidency including “seize the bully pulpit,” “speak softly and carry a big stick” and the “Square Deal.”
America was already an industrial power and Roosevelt set his sights on establishing the country as the world’s most influential nation.
After assisting in the formation of a new country named Panama by way of a military blockade, plans were announced to build a canal across the tiny nation that would forever shorten the shipping route between Europe and the Americas.
In 1902, Roosevelt declared war on monopolies and took action to enforce the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The Detroit Free Press, commenting on the president’s action, said: “Wall Street is paralyzed at the thought that a president of the United States should sink so low as to enforce the law.”
A lifelong supporter of conservation, Roosevelt signed an executive order creating five national parks, another unpopular move by placing thousands of acres of lands under federal protection which had the effect of removing land from exploration for natural resources.
The 1906 San Francisco earthquake was a national disaster and tragedy, which prompted Roosevelt to sign legislation approving $2.5 million in federal aid, stipulated it be distributed though the American Red Cross in lieu of city’s governing agencies that he deemed to be corrupt.
When, in 1905, a coal strike threatened the nation’s heating supplies, Roosevelt invited all sides to the White House where he threatened to send federal troops to operate the mines. Arbitration followed and an agreement was signed.
That same year, a war was raging between Russia and Japan and Roosevelt decided to try his luck as an international diplomat. He invited both sides to a peace conference in New Hampshire, which not only resulted in a peace treaty ending the conflict, but also the Nobel Peace Prize for the American president. It was the first time that a non-European had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1907, Roosevelt traveled to Oklahoma to welcome the “sooner” state as the 46th state in the Union.
His policies won Roosevelt a landslide election in 1904, and four years later with his popularity high, a few pundits thought he could be president for life if he continued running for the nation’s highest office, but he chose not to run again. At 50, he was the youngest former president, another record that stands to this day. The public was in awe of his non-stop energy, which was fueled in part by his 40 cups of more consumption of coffee per day.
To some, it seemed that Roosevelt was ready to leave the presidency but soon couldn’t resist the opportunity to return. In 1912, he stepped back into the arena as the presidential candidate for what he called the “Bull Moose” party and his supporters included Emporia Gazette Editor William Allen White who, during the campaign, hosted the former president at a campaign stop in Kansas. Although the campaign was a losing effort, Roosevelt remained a wildly popular spokesman for everything on the world stage. On Jan. 5, 1919, Roosevelt was on the phone lining up support to run for the presidency in 1920, a campaign that many thought he would win. Fate intervened and that night, Roosevelt died in his sleep at his estate 20 miles east of New York City.
Upon his death, most agreed that Roosevelt had forever changed the American presidency.
Over 14 years starting in 1927, Gutzon Borglum carved the faces of four American presidents on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota including Roosevelt, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Jefferson, perhaps, signifying these former chief executives as the four greatest among the nation’s first 26 presidents. Roosevelt was deserving inclusion on Mount Rushmore and history continues to reaffirm his greatness.
Richard Shank is a retired AT&T manager, is employed in the healthcare industry and has farming interests in Saline County. Email him at email@example.com.