If there ever was a man and a president that loved power and would yield it to accomplish whatever his heart and mind was set on, it was Roosevelt. Having a long history of accomplishing feat after feat, whether it be becoming the youngest assemblyman ever elected to the New York State government or serving as New York City's Police Commissioner, resigning from his post as Secretary of the Navy to command an army to defeat the Spanish at San Juan Hill in Cuba or becoming sheriff in the sleepy western towns of the Dakotas, Roosevelt had a resume' that would fill a three ring binder of accomplishments sweeping several landscapes of life. As he entered the presidency, the tenacity he embodied and the vision he trusted was about to come down hard on the USA and those Old Guard Republicans who reveled in political corruption, payoffs, favors, and discrimination.
The list of accomplishments by Roosevelt in his almost 8 full years of being president are too numerous to list, but it is safe to say that the government grew in monstrous proportions. Many in Roosevelt's day claimed Teddy was a closet socialist and wanted to be king due to his big sweeping reforms and his self proclaimed "Square Deal" for every American regardless of race, creed, status, or class. Looking back on history, his Constitutional reaches have been almost all vindicated and justified. Depending on one's opinion of the man and one's own interpretation of the Constitution, one might justify all of Roosevelt's reaches. I, myself, am almost there.
The presidency almost never happened however as Roosevelt was almost run over by a train when his carriage driver became lackadaisical in where he was driving the cart. The accident resulted in two dying and Roosevelt having a nearly mortal wound on his shin. Cut to the bone, Roosevelt had to be restrained by Secretary of State John Hay, Abraham Lincoln's old Secretary of State which Teddy just had to have as an ardent admirer of Lincoln, as he reminded Teddy that as president he could no longer beat people up. Hay very likely saved the carriage driver's life that day and Roosevelt almost lost his. His injury would bother him the rest of his life as he had multiple surgeries on it often times with no anesthesia at all. On a side note, having just read the book on President James Garfield's death, it would not be too far out of reach to say that had Garfield's own death not served as a wake up call to American medicine, Roosevelt would have easily died due to the accident that took place that fateful day.
Roosevelt was as powerful at home in his domestic policy as he was abroad. His administration saw the expansion of government in many reaches that made many uncomfortable. It made the Republicans so uncomfortable towards the end of his second term, that they were ready to throw him out of the party. The end result of his presidency resulted in a divide in the Republican party between conservative Republicans and progressive Republicans. Teddy was a Progressive and would show that more than ever later after his terms were finished (spoiler alert). There was talk of Roosevelt running for president for a third term on the Democratic ticket with one William Jennings Bryan as his Vice President. Had Roosevelt wanted a third term, he would have won it hands down regardless of party affiliation. He chose to stop at two in the likes of Washington and with the knowledge that Lincoln had planned to step down after two as well. Roosevelt issued over 1000 executive orders to accomplish his vision as Congress refused to work with him in many areas. Roosevelt became known as the Trust Buster as he helped push legislation that empowered the Sherman Act to fight against monopolies and the wealthy take over of American free enterprise. His law angered so many that it ended up in the Supreme Court: Northern Securities v. United States. Roosevelt won his victory much to the chagrin to many Old Guard Republicans. Roosevelt intervened in a massive coal strike that was threatening the livelihood of Americans everywhere as a harsh winter was settling in on the nation. Roosevelt's involvement in a labor strike marked the first time a president had ever inserted himself into the free enterprise market. He helped push through legislation and executive orders which would be the precursor to today's FDA after researching the unsanitary conditions of slaughterhouses and more. He established the Department of Commerce which was charged with overseeing the free enterprise system and regulating commerce.
He single-handedly saved millions of acres of forests, lakes, rivers, and resources due to his National Conservation Coalition and Society. Many of his executive orders were issued in terms of conservation. He was responsible for protecting Niagara Falls, the Redwoods of California, and the Grand Canyon. All of these national landmarks were set to be destroyed by state governments seeking industry. He also registered many historic landmarks for posterity's sake. No doubt, if you have enjoyed visiting a historic American site, Roosevelt's push in this area is very much a reason for your being able to visit. He pushed through railroad legislation which almost found its way to the Supreme Court. He became the first president to ever invite a black man to dine with him in the White House, one Booker T. Washington. He threatened southern states over the practice of lynching which at the outset of his presidency constituted about four a day. Of course almost all lynchings were done by whites and were perpetrated on minorities. He appointed black men and women to national and state posts much to the ire of politicians and southerners. He eventually pushed for immigration reform in particular after California began outlawing Japanese immigrants from living in San Francisco. The school system of San Francisco outlawed Japanese and other immigrants from even letting their children go to school. This Roosevelt couldn't stand and he intervened on behalf of the immigrants and to help relations with those countries from which the immigrants came. One of Roosevelt's regular defenses to those who claimed he overreached was that in his mind, the Constitution prioritized human rights above property rights. He trumpeted equality and allowing people the opportunity to build something themselves from the ground up.
Roosevelt's foreign policy was just as reaching. His number one goal was to build up the Navy. At the time of his ascension to the presidency, the US was ranked in the teens behind many of the world powers in terms of naval power. History will show that Roosevelt's commitment to build up our Navy would actually be the key behind our victories in World War I and World War II. Roosevelt left office with the second most powerful navy in the world behind Great Britain. He mused that had he had a third term, America's military would be so lethal that America would never have to worry about a country thinking it could attack and prevail against her. Many saw him as imperialistic and while Roosevelt did have an eye for land and a belief in American Exceptionalism, his actions proved time and time again that he had no desire of an American takeover of any land for long term gain. His Navy build up was his plan to build up America's defense and to be number one in the world in military might. Here his famous saying came into play, "Walk softly and carry a big stick."
Roosevelt's Navy was the big stick that he used to free an American hostage in Morocco and to persuade Turkey to stop discriminating against and threatening American Christian missionaries and teachers who had come to evangelize and spread democratic ideals. America's military presence helped Cuba not only win, but maintain her independence and Roosevelt was successful at obtaining the Cuban Reciprocity Act to aid the nation and make it a partner with American interest. America's military was used again when Roosevelt achieved the crown jewel of achievements with the Panama Canal.
Having negotiated an agreement to build the canal through the Panamanian isthmus with Colombia, which controlled Panama, Roosevelt ended up having to flash America's military might when Colombia negated its treaty with the US and demanded bribe money. In addition, the Colombian government began ramping up its torture and mistreatment of the Panamanian people. The people of Panama had tried to revolt and declare independence on a few previous occasions only to be stomped by the Colombian military. But with negotiations broken down over Colombia's "treason," Panamanians sensed an opportunity to get their independence with the help of the US. Representatives from Panama's rebel forces let Roosevelt know that should the US help Panama get its independence, the new nation would immediately allow for the Panama Canal to be built upon the agreed terms of Colombian treaty that had been reneged upon. With careful planning, Roosevelt ordered Navy gunships to position themselves between Cuba and Panama as the Panamanian revolt for independence began. Colombia not realizing the predicament, was quickly caught off guard by the revolt. Before they could launch a counter attack, Colombia's head official was made aware that US Navy gunboats and battleships were at their coast and were prepared to protect the Panamanian people. What resulted was one of the quickest independence declarations ever made and enjoyed. The Panama Canal would be built and American would be given jurisdiction of the canal zone for a period of 99 years and then a new lease could be negotiated.
Roosevelt's military might also subverted a war with Germany who according to Roosevelt had infringed upon the Monroe Doctrine in sending its war ships to the coast of Venezuela to demand debt payments. What appeared like a financial squabble quickly revealed a little known plan by the German Kaiser to invade American territory. Yet again, Roosevelt's beefed up military gave him the ability to successfully pressure the German government to abandon its ideas of conquest in the Western hemisphere. Roosevelt helped the Philippines move forward in what would eventually become their own nation. And he was the instrumental figure in negotiating a peace treaty to end the Russo-Japanese War that had threatened to pull other countries and theaters into play. He would receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the negotiations. And so the war lover became the peace maker.
His crowning achievement militarily had to be his push of the Great White Fleet. Roosevelt commissioned 16 battleships to sail around the world to show the American military's dominance and to put on notice the growing military and nations of Japan and Germany. Of course Congress refused to fund the sailing of Naval battleships around the world, so in an action of what one might call dictatorial greatness, Roosevelt having the budget power to spend so much on Naval action without Congressional approval, sent them on their way and informed Congress should they not approve the money to pay for the feat, it would be their indecision that left the battleships stranded halfway around the world. The exercise was a big success and American pride swelled. Roosevelt wouldn't be stopped and it is said that he got more accomplished in his almost 8 years in the White House than many other presidencies combined. He was known to make Congress stay in session until they voted on his measures. He would not allow for the long recesses Congress had become known to employ to keep from dealing with an issue.
Roosevelt was loved and adored by Americans. His electoral win for his second term was one of the strongest in American history. Affectionately called "Teddy" by so many, F.A.O. Schwartz would begin making the famous "teddy bear" coined after the president whose existence was larger than life. The teddy bear came to life after a report came out that Roosevelt had refused to shoot a bear that his friends had tied to a tree for him to shoot after not seeing anything for days and days during one expedition. Roosevelt saw the bear was already wounded and considered it cruel and inhumane to shoot the bear in this way. He ordered the bear let go and followed and should he be about to die from the earlier wounds or look to not recover, the others were to put him out of his misery. Roosevelt was angered so much by the actions of his friends that newspapers seized the moment to herald the man who loved nature and conservation and who now had spared a bear's cruel demise. The hunter in Roosevelt certainly didn't mind tracking and killing as his blood lust was second to none. However, his appreciation for nature and all things from God, caused him to respect nature, resources, and animals alike. Part of his conservation efforts was to put in place wildlife refuges across the country. His actions on this alone no doubt saved then and has continued to save now many species of animals that would undoubtedly be extinct.
Towards the end of his term, Roosevelt was exhausted. He had worked tirelessly for almost 8 years in the White House and had handled numerous foreign and domestic conflicts. He expanded government and oversaw the admission of Oklahoma as a state. He still would get off on his hunting trips and would retire to Sagamore Hill each summer to re-energize himself. But his constant working and pushing had many believing the "machine" wouldn't last long at all. Not only would his leg continue to give him problems, but he would continue to suffer from bouts of yellow fever from having contracted it in Cuba when leading the famed Rough Riders. On one hunting trip, Roosevelt was found outside in blizzard conditions walking barefoot and hugging his dog, Skip. To say he worked himself to death would be an understatement. Knowing the end of the story long before I read the third book of the trilogy, it's no wonder to me why this great man died young at the age of 60. When asked about his work ethic, Roosevelt could rattle off many of the accomplishments he had seen that he was proud of, but he could also rattle off a long list of others that he desired to tackle. He stated upon leaving the White House that his mission had always been social justice and morals, but many only wanted to focus on the financial system. He opined that he had learned to have sympathy for Oliver Cromwell, the British liberty fighter turned dictator. Roosevelt dangerously stated that Cromwell had no choice but to become dictator because the people he lead were too ignorant to understand real needs and vision. Asked if he himself should be a dictator, Roosevelt would laugh and suggest that many already thought him to be one.
This book was amazing. As a Theodore Roosevelt fan before reading this book, that admiration has only grown by leaps and bounds. Morris does a masterful job at detailing Roosevelt's life to the point that as a reader, you feel you knew the man up close and personal. Morris dedicated over 600 pages in his first book dealing with the life of Roosevelt up to the presidency. In this book, Morris dedicates some 550 pages of fine print to the White House years of Theodore Roosevelt. I would recommend this and any of Morris' books any day of the week. Roosevelt had a tenacity and a courage unlike any before him or after. It's definitely safe to say that we will never see another man like him, but how I wish we could find another one to lead our country.