“Do what you can, with what you have, where your are.” He was the first president to win a Nobel Peace Prize and the first president to study martial arts, which led to a detached retina after being injured in a boxing match. He was the first president to own a car, to submerge in a submarine, and to ride in an airplane (after he was out of office). He has a children’s toy named after him. He is Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States of America, serving from September 14, 1901, until March 4, 1909. Theodore, who grew to despise the nickname “Teddy,” was born October 27, 1858, in New York City, New York, to parents who owned a successful plate-glass import business. Theodore was a sickly child and, as a result, was homeschooled, which helped develop his love of the outdoors and his love for animals. Theodore went on to graduate magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1880. He then enrolled in Columbia Law School, but dropped out as he became more interested in politics and less interested in the law. Theodore married Alice Hathaway Lee on his 22nd birthday.
After dropping out of law school, Theodore became a representative for New York City in the New York State Assembly. He was the youngest person to hold that position. Theodore became devastated when Alice died on February 14, 1884, two days after the birth of their first child, and spent two years in the Dakota Territory, during which time seriously contemplating becoming a rancher. He left his infant daughter in the care of his sister. After two years, Theodore returned, regained custody of his daughter and ran for mayor of New York in 1886, however he was defeated. Later that year, on December 2, Theodore married his second wife, Edith Kermit Carow, with whom he had watched the funeral procession of Abraham Lincoln as a child.
Theodore continued his political pursuits and campaigned for Benjamin Harrison in the 1888 presidential elections, after which he was appointed to the United State Civil Service Commission. He remained in that position until 1895, and during his time he fought against the spoils system, believing political positions should not be granted in return for political support. In 1895, after refusing to run for mayor of New York and regretting that decision, Theodore became president of the New York City Police Commissioners, radically reforming the corrupt New York Police Department.
In 1897, Theodore was appointed by President William McKinley to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy. As the actual Secretary of the Navy had ill health, most major decisions were left up to Theodore. Theodore especially supported the removal of Spain from Cuba in order to foster the nation’s independence and show the United States support of the Monroe Doctrine.
Theodore took a special interest in the Spanish-American War, which began in April of 1898, and left politics to organize the Rough Riders, a volunteer calvary unit composed of individuals from varying backgrounds. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt helped train his regiment led them in the famous charge up San Juan Hill in 1898, for which he was nominated for the Medal of Honor. He posthumously received the award in 2001.
Theodore returned to New York City, where he was narrowly (by 1%!) elected governor. He once agin came into conflict with the Republican Party. President McKinley’s first Vice-President Garret Hobart died in 1899, leading to a search for a new vice-president. Supports of Theodore encouraged him to go after the position. Opponents also supported Theodore for vice-president, believing it would keep him in check, as the office was largely powerless. Like nearly everything Theodore did, he threw himself into campaigning and helped McKinley win a second term.
On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was shot in Buffalo, New York. For days, it was thought that McKinley would survive, however, he succumbed to his wound on September 14. Theodore was sworn in as President later that day. Theodore attempted to live up to McKinley’s campaign promises and kept McKinley’s staff and cabinet. Shortly thereafter, Theodore invited Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, the first African American to be invited to dinner, although this caused tension in the South. Theodore, personally, supported desegregation and woman’s rights, although his administration was not aggressive in its support.
In May of 1902, President Roosevelt had to deal with a strike by anthracite coal miners, which threaten a national energy shortage. Theodore initially threatened an intervention with federal troops, however, he was able to get the workers to agree to have the dispute arbitrated with a commission. The workers did not unionize as they would have preferred, but they did receive higher pay for fewer hours.
Theodore was re-elected president in 1904, with a landslide victory against Alton Brooks Parker. During his time in office, Theodore maintained a good relationship, mostly, with the press, providing interviews and photo opportunities nearly every day. During one particularly rainy day in which the press were huddled outside, Theodore invited them into the White House and gave them their own room, beginning the modern-day presidential press briefings.
The Panic of 1907, or the Knickerbocker Crisis, was a financial crisis that occurred for three weeks, starting in mid-October. Stock prices fell and many business declared bankruptcy, including banks. New York’s third largest trust, Knickerbocker Trust Company, collapsed, causing panic. J.P. Morgan convinced other New York bankers to pledge large sums of money to help the banking system, preventing banks from collapsing. This panic eventually led to the creation of the Federal Reserve System.
One of Theodore’s most prominent and longest lasting work was in the conservation of natural resources. Theodore established the United States Forest Service and signed into law the creation of five National Parks. Working closely with Gifford Pinchot, who has a park named after him in Pennsylvania, Theodore established 51 Bird Reserves, four Game Preserves, and 150 National Forests, greatly increasing the amount of land under federal protection.
Internationally, Theodore worked at increasing the size of the US Navy and seeing to the completion of the Panama Canal, which including military assistance to Panama. He also assisted in negotiating the end of the Russo-Japanese War, which led to his Nobel Peace Prize.
Theodore initially supported his successor, William Howard Taft, however, Theodore began to openly criticize him when William’s policies began to differ from his own. Theodore formed the Bull Moose Party and ran against William in 1912. During his campaign, Theodore was shot in the chest, an assassination attempt. He continued speaking for 90 minutes before seeking medical treatment. Theodore lost the election.
Theodore remained active for most of his life, traveling, and publishing numerous books, including the four volume series The Winning of the West. He was an outspoken supporter of the Allies during World War I, and demanded harsher policies against Germany. He also believed “hyphenated Americans” were unpatriotic because they were not wholly loyal to the United States. Roosevelt had also been given the authority to raise four divisions similar to the Rough Riders. However, much to Theodore’s furor, President Woodrow Wilson refused to send the troops to France, forcing the divisions to disband. In retaliation, Theodore published a book against the president, helping his own party gain control of the Congress.
Theodore identified with the Dutch Reformed Church, although he frequently attend Episcopalian church services with his wife, as Dutch Reformed Churches were nearly impossible to locate. Theodore believed that if you did not fear God, you must consider yourself about the laws of man.
In 1918, Theodore considered another run for President but persistent health problems from malaria, ultimately convinced him against running. On January 6, 1919, Theodore died at his Long Island estate in his sleep after a blood clot lodged in his heart. He was 60 years of age. After being informed of Theodore’s death, vice-president Thomas Marshall said, “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
Happy Birthday Mr. President!