Theodore Roosevelt 1858-1919
American politician, historian, naturalist, biographer, essayist, journalist, and orator.
The twenty-sixth president of the United States of America, Roosevelt is largely remembered as a politician and speech-maker, but he is also a respected man of letters who left behind a considerable literary corpus. His political record reflects the ideals of Progressivism which marked the era of his presidency in the years 1901-1908. An active domestic reformer, Roosevelt fought for social justice, especially on the side of labor, against the abuses of the wealthy and of big business, helping to forge the modem welfare state in America. A naturalist and staunch conservationist, he sought to preserve the na-tion's natural resources from exploitation by the private sector, nearly doubling the amount of land set aside for national parks during his administration. In foreign policy, Roosevelt combined an interest in military affairs and a belief in expansionism with a great degree of political acumen, particularly in his Far Eastern diplomacy. He strengthened the U.S. army and expanded the navy to protect America's presence in the Pacific and the Caribbean. In addition, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war. As a writer, Roosevelt is remembered for his historical accounts of American exploration, especially The Winning of the West; An Account of the Exploration and Settlement of Our Country from the Alleghanies to the Pacific (1889-1896).
Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City into a prestigious and wealthy family. Afflicted with asthma and weak eyesight, he actively engaged in sports such as boxing and horseback riding in order to strengthen himself. Likewise, his youthful fascination with nature led him to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Educated by private tutors until entering Harvard University, Roosevelt graduated in 1880, and while there had begun work on his first historical work, The Naval War of 1812 (1882). Beginning in 1881 he served three consecutive one-year terms as a member of the New York legislature, but left his home state for the Dakota territory soon after the deaths of his wife and mother in 1884. Two years of writing and research ended in 1886 with a return to New York City and a failed campaign for mayor. Roosevelt's return to politics came in 1889, however, with his appointment to the Civil Service Commission by then-president Benjamin Harrison. He quickly rose to the position of commission head and served for six years. His next office was that of New York City's police board president during the years 1895 to 1897. Named Assistant Secretary to the Navy by president William McKinley in 1897, Roosevelt resigned his post the following year to organize the 1st Regiment of U. S. Cavalry Volunteers, the "Rough Riders," during the Spanish-American War. As colonel of the force Roosevelt led the now famous charge up San Juan Hill and returned to New York a war hero. Elected governor in November of 1898, he launched a campaign of social reform that would later be reflected on a wider scale in his presidency. In 1900 he appeared as McKinley's vice-presidential running mate, and became president in September of 1901 when McKinley was assassinated. In his first term, Roosevelt used his powers to increase the size of the U.S. military and applied the Sherman Antitrust Act against the Northern Securities Company in February of 1902 to destroy its railroad monopoly. That year Roosevelt also interceded in the national coal strike on the behalf of labor, forcing the coal companies to arbitrate. Reelected in 1904 by an overwhelming popular majority, Roosevelt continued to implement his Progressivist ideas on social reform, and to pursue his foreign policy, expanding U. S. protective influence in Latin America by invoking the so-called Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. In the election of 1908 Roosevelt gave his support to the successful campaign of William H. Taft, and left for an extended African safari in early 1909. In the following presidential election, Roosevelt, feeling that Taft's conservatism had grown excessive, ran as a member of the independent Progressive or "Bull Moose" Party. The resulting split in the republican vote gave Woodrow Wilson, the democratic candidate, victory in 1912. For the next several years Roosevelt remained a vocal part of public life—he called for U. S. military involvement on the side of the Allies at the outbreak of World War I in 1914—and continued to travel and write until his death on January 6, 1919.
Among Roosevelt's earliest writings are several works of naturalism on highly specific subjects, such as The Summer Birds of the Adirondacks in Franklin County, N.Y. (1877). His first significant work, The Naval War of 1812, was published in 1882 and elicited modest but favorable reviews. In this essentially patriotic monograph, Roosevelt offers his esteem for the courageousness of U.S. naval officers and sailors who fought in the conflict, while criticizing the lack of military astuteness he observed in Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. As an historical biographer, Roosevelt produced works on Thomas Hart Benton (1886) and Oliver Cromwell (1900) among others. His literary representations of the American senator and the Puritan leader, however, have been observed by critics to lack depth and verve. The Winning of the West remains one of Roosevelt's most highly esteemed works. Covering the period from Daniel Boone's crossing of the Appalachian range in 1767 to Zebulon Pike's expedition to the Rocky Mountain region (1807) in its four volumes, the work's strengths are said to lie in its personality sketches, accounts of Native American culture, and socioeconomic analysis of historical events. Roosevelt's history of New York (1891) represents an early concern with the varied ethnic character of the city and the sociological dynamics of immigration and eco nomic inequality operating there. Another of his favorite topics, exploring, hunting, and general outdoor life, appeared as the subject of several works including Ranch Life and the Hunting-trail (1888), The Wilderness Hunter (1893), and Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914). Lastly, Roosevelt's essays and oratory, from fiery political speeches to literary reviews, have been published separately and in collections, among them, The Strenuous Life: Essays and Addresses (1900) and Social Justice and Popular Rule: Essays, Addresses, and Public Statements Relating to the Progressive Movement (1926).
Theodore Roosevelt's character and reputation have been the subject of much critical attention, in large part due to his long and varied political career. An immensely popular politician typically associated with the reforms of Progressivism, he is often remembered for his rugged individualism and personal integrity. His literary works, though generally well accepted in his day, have been lauded for their patriotic evocations of historical figures, but have typically been criticized for excessive moralizing. Nevertheless, Roosevelt remains a compelling subject for historians and biographers, and is widely considered an outstanding figure in twentieth-century American politics.