An intrepid explorer, hunter, soldier, writer, historian, rancher
and conservationist, Theodore Roosevelt wore a lot of hats effortlessly and was
one of America’s most outstanding Presidents. He was born in a rich New
York family in 1858 but was hampered by a weak body. Encouraged by his father,
he began to work on his body and by the time he was an adult, he set an example
of physical and mental toughness which was to stand him in good stead later on
in life. An advocate of education, he had remarked that “a man who has
never gone to school may steal from a freight car, but, if he has a university
education he may steal the whole railroad”.
He attended Harvard University, while simultaneously pursuing a
law degree. He served three terms in the New York Assembly and was also the
Police Commissioner of New York. It was as a police commissioner that he built
up his reputation as a reformer by ordering sweeping changes in the system. He
also served as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy and it was while he was
holding these positions that he showed honesty in the office. This upset the
party people who expected him to favor party politics above the law.
The death of his first wife and mother on the same day left him so
devastated that he tried to immerse himself in ranching. But, he had poor
aptitude for making money and lost a huge amount of capital in ranching. But,
the men he met there were to subsequently become a part of his famous Rough
Riders which was a major reason behind his political success. In 1886 he married
Edith Carrow who was one of the few people to be able to manage Roosevelt.
As governor of New York, he asserted his independence which led the party bosses
to “kick him upstairs” giving him the vice-presidency so as to curb
his progressive policies. But, McKinley was assassinated in 1901 making his
vice-presidency tenure brief and Roosevelt became the President of the United
States. In 1904 he got elected to the Presidency in his own right.
As President, he strove to give a better life to American
citizens. He called for reforms in the American work place and took steps for
welfare legislation and regulation of industry by the government. His “Square
Deal” programme was a reflection of his reformist policies. Though he
never actually challenged big business, believing that it was a natural
evolution of the country’s economy, he did believe that business had to be
regulated by the government so that the general public did not suffer. Always
ahead of his time, he was the country’s first environment-conscious
President, reserving almost 200million acres of land for wildlife parks and
national forests and reserves.
Roosevelt embarked on a dynamic foreign policy, wanting to make
America a leading power in world politics. An unapologetic nationalist, he
unhesitatingly became involved in Latin America and fought hard for the creation
of the Panama Canal which was a feat of engineering marvel at that time. He
played a big hand in establishing America’s reputation as “policeman”
of the Western Hemisphere. He used his influence to settle disputes in Venezuela
and Santo Domingo.
Roosevelt had firm belief in the theory that countries should
settle disputes through diplomacy rather than wars and he used his Presidency to
that extent often. He also had the vision to work with both Congress and the US
Navy to deter potential attacks on the country. He was the first President to
win the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded to him for the role he played in
the Russo-Japanese Treaty.
Roosevelt was a dynamic leader and he increased executive powers
believing that the President, rather than the political parties or the Congress
should be at the forefront of American politics. He challenged individualism and
pushed for regulation of business, the growth of a welfare state and strongly
felt that racial discrimination was wrong.
A present of a stuffed toy bear to him in 1903 led to him
affectionately being referred as ‘Teddy’ and toy bears were
popularly called ‘Teddy’ bears. Roosevelt’s far-sighted
progressive policies left a lasting legacy and were a part of nearly every ideal
of later progressive Presidents.