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Theodore Roosevelt

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Roosevelt sighs and prepares to go kick ass, 1902.
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Speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.
—Teddy, quoting an ancient African proverb
Death had to take him sleeping, for if he was awake, there'd have been a fight.
—Vice President Thomas R. Marshall, when Teddy died

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt (27 October 1858–6 January 1919)[note 1] was the 26th President of the United States (September 14, 1901–March 4, 1909), and before that a New York State Assemblyman, Governor of New York, deputy sheriff in the Dakota Territory, Police Commissioner of New York City, U.S. Civil Service Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Army, and Vice President of the United States. Whew!

He also drank a gallon of coffee a day and got in a knife fight with a cougar.[1] He had the knife, not the cougar.

Early years[edit]

Roosevelt was born in Manhattan on October 27, 1858. His father Theodore Sr. was a scion of famous old Dutch families in New York, including the Schuyler family;[note 2] his father was a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, and his mother Martha was a Southern socialite who may have been the inspiration for Scarlet O'Hara from Gone with the Wind.[2] Despite having Confederate in-laws, including two brothers-in-law literally fighting as Confederate soldiers, Theodore Sr. also was a prominent supporter of the Union cause during the Civil War, including helping raise money for food and supplies, and he helped set up and run the Allotment System, which allowed Union soldiers to send money home to support their families; Martha held strong Southern sympathies and even sent care packages to Confederate soldiers.[3] Theodore Sr.'s particular support did not include actually fighting, however, and he was able to hire someone to fill his spot in the Union military.[4]

Theodore Jr. grew up in privilege among the New York City elite. When he was six years old, he witnessed the funeral procession for Abraham Lincoln, and can even be seen in a photograph of the procession.[5] He was home schooled, and his father would occasionally take him on whirlwind trips around the world, which helped shape his perspective. Although he was a sickly child with severe asthma, Theodore came to appreciate the benefits of tough living while hiking the Alps with his father, which appeared to alleviate his asthma; he subsequently resolved himself to the "Strenuous Life" (more on that later) to defeat his physical ailments.[6] In his youth he also developed a love for nature and wildlife, and he even built his own nature museum in his house.[7] He eventually went to Harvard, and while he was very successful in pretty much anything he did there, including joining various social clubs and a fraternity, writing for the Harvard Advocate magazine, boxing, and researching his treatise on American naval tacticsWikipedia in the War of 1812, he did not fit in well at the school.[8] After graduating he got married and then decided to go to law school at Columbia, under the assumption that a law degree would help his political career. He found law school boring so he dropped out and ran for the New York state assembly in 1882, which he won.[9]

The political years[edit]

As a New York assemblyman, "TR" made a name for himself as an anti-corruption crusader. Upon assuming his seat in the state assembly, he immediately picked a fight with notorious robber baron Jay Gould and judge Theodore Westbrook;[10] while the inquiry ultimately failed to remove the judge, TR's anti-corruption cred was established. He also made waves by working with New York's Democratic governor, Grover Cleveland, to pass municipal reforms.[11] By 1884, he was an important voice in the Republican Party, and he got involved in the power brokering behind the party's presidential nomination. TR was a supporter of reformist Vermont Senator George Edmunds,Wikipedia but James Blaine,Wikipedia a moderate "Half-Breed"Wikipedia leader who had developed a bit of a reputation for corruption, wound up winning the nomination. TR's subsequent (tepid) support for Blaine damaged his reputation with reformist Republicans known as MugwumpsWikipedia who opposed Blaine; additionally, TR's mother and wife died on the same day in February 1884. In the aftermath of the Republican Convention, TR retired from politics and moved to a cattle farm in North Dakota.[12] Democrat Grover Cleveland subsequently won the Presidency with help from the Mugwumps and a critical error by Blaine.[note 3][13]

His retirement didn't last long, however. In 1886 he returned to New York City, married an old childhood friend,[14] and ran for election as mayor against Henry George and Abraham Hewitt; Roosevelt came in third (Hewitt won). Fearing his career was over, TR took a break and wrote a book about America's westward expansion. After Benjamin Harrison, who TR supported, became President in 1888, TR finally got back into a position of power when Harrison appointed him to the Civil Service Commission, where he enthusiastically worked to end the spoils system.[15] Thanks in part to their previous time working together, TR even kept his position after Cleveland won back the presidency in 1892. In 1895, Roosevelt was appointed to the police commission of New York City where he again went balls out to root out corruption, this time from the extremely corrupt NYPD.[16] He became close friends with "muckraker"Wikipedia journalist Jacob Riis,Wikipedia and they together worked to eliminate police corruption, which earned him the ire of Tammany HallWikipedia[17] as well as state Republican leader Thomas Platt.Wikipedia After McKinley became president (in spite of Roosevelt's support of his opponent during the nomination), TR was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and when the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor in February 1898, Roosevelt was instrumental in setting the stage for Commodore Dewey's victory over the Spanish in the Philippines during the subsequent Spanish-American War.

After the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt resigned his position and helped raise the 1st Volunteer "Rough Riders" regiment, a cavalry unit that, despite notably being a cavalry unit, did not have any horses (except Roosevelt's) when they participated in the American invasion of Cuba. While Colonel Roosevelt only saw action in one short battleWikipedia where his unit and John Pershing'sWikipedia 10th Cavalry "Buffalo Soldiers"Wikipedia charged up a hill while four gatling gunsWikipedia poured over 18,000 bullets into the Spanish defenders,[18] he claimed that the battle was "great fun" and "a bully fight".[note 4][19] Roosevelt returned from the brief war as a hero. He made peace with Tom Platt, and running on his war hero status, won a close election as Governor of New York later in 1898.[20] He then began working as a reformer again, once again running afoul of the corrupt old party boss Platt.[21] After McKinley's vice-president died in 1899, Governor Roosevelt found himself as a top candidate for the position in the 1900 election. Although he was not very interested in the largely powerless position, his old enemy Platt, with help from Pennsylvania party boss Matt Quay,Wikipedia encouraged the party to make him their candidate so that they wouldn't have to deal with him anymore.[22]

Despite being a prominent leader of the emerging progressive wing of the Republican Party and considered a "madman" by some conservative Republicans,[23] Roosevelt realized he had to accept the vice presidential nomination; without Platt on his side, he could not win reelection as governor.[24] TR campaigned vigorously for his conservative running mate McKinley in the 1900 election.[25] Thanks to favorable economic conditions, the recent victory against Spain, and Roosevelt's popularity, McKinley easily defeated the anti-imperialist, populist Democrat William Jennings Bryan. McKinley was shot and killed by an anarchist about six months after his inauguration in 1901, suddenly making Roosevelt the new president.[26]

Presidency years[edit]

President Roosevelt is especially famous for his "trust-busting" activities. While he did utilize the Sherman Anti-Trust ActWikipedia twice more often than all of his predecessors combined, he was not anti-business, and believed that if a business got big through fair means, that was totally okay; it was when the businesses used unfair practices that he felt the government should step in.[27] He famously broke up America's largest railroad monopoly,[28] and began the effort to break up Standard Oil.Wikipedia[29] He also created the federal departmentWikipedia that would later be broken up into the U.S. Department of Commerce,Wikipedia the U.S. Department of Labor,Wikipedia and the Federal Trade Commission.Wikipedia In 1902, Roosevelt helped negotiate an end to a coal miner strike, the first time a President had ever done so.[30] Roosevelt's anti-corruption streak continued, and he pointedly rooted out corrupt officials in the Postal Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs.[31] After 19 players' deaths and hundreds of injuries in 1905, he even threatened to abolish the game of football if changes weren't made to the rules to make it less violent (spoiler: changes were made).[32]

Roosevelt was famously a conservationist as well. He never lost his childhood love of nature, and after his experiences in the Dakotas, he determined that the nation's national resources should be protected, not from exploitation (he was still in favor of that), but from over-exploitation and destruction by wealthy industrialists. He created the Forest Service,[33] several new national parks, and passed the Antiquities Act, which set up several more national monuments.[34] When it became a fad to put certain bird feathers in men's hats and those birds started becoming endangered due to over-hunting, TR set up protected areas for them and thus created the National Wildlife Refuge System.[35]

Roosevelt was president during the height of "muckraking" journalism, a term he coined. Famous journalists like Ida TarbellWikipedia and Upton SinclairWikipedia wrote sensationalist articles and books about the horrors of industry, government, and the wealthy elite. Tarbell's 1902 history of Standard Oil played a major role in TR's decision to begin his anti-trust case against the monopoly,[36] and Sinclair's 1905 The Jungle exposed the horrors of the meatpacking industry in Chicago, ultimately leading to the creation of the Food and Drug Administration.Wikipedia[37] A series of articles in 1906 by David Graham PhillipsWikipedia detailing corruption in the U.S. Senate gave steam to the populist push to ratify the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution, which allowed for popular voting for senators.[38] Roosevelt, while a progressive and generally sympathetic to their cause (while he was police commissioner he had even worked alongside Jacob Riis), did not fully trust these "muckrakers", and urged restraint, which they ignored. In particular he distrusted the socialist Sinclair; TR wound up sending his own inspectors to verify Sinclair's claims.[39]

Roosevelt was an avowed imperialist, having personally fought in and enjoyed one of America's imperialist wars, and he strongly believed in American exceptionalism. He came to the presidency while an insurrection was on-going in the Philippines against the American administration put in place after the Spanish-American War; like McKinley, Roosevelt felt that the Filipinos were incapable of governing themselves and preferred to keep the Philippines under American control, for which he publicly feuded with the staunchly anti-imperialist Mark Twain.[40] Roosevelt negotiated an end to the war and granted amnesty to the rebels; the Philippines was given a tiny bit of autonomy, and would gradually gain more autonomy over subsequent decades until gaining full independence in 1946. TR also made a point of making nice with Japan, to include negotiating an end to Japan's war with Russia in 1905,[41] for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize,[42] and negotiating the "Gentleman's Agreement"Wikipedia with Japan. Desiring to build the Panama Canal, Roosevelt initially tried to negotiate with Colombia for the rights to do so, and when that failed, he helped engineer Panama's independence from Colombia and then had construction started on the canal, which was completed in 1914, just as World War I was starting. He modified the Monroe Doctrine with the "Roosevelt Corollary", wherein the US would intervene on a European country's behalf if a Latin American country struggled with debt, thus preventing the European power from doing so,[43] and to this end he intervened in Venezuela[44] and the Dominican Republic.Wikipedia[45] This policy would be the basis of numerous American interventions in following two decades. Lastly, he had the so-called Great White FleetWikipedia built and sent on a tour of the world; the Fleet being a large naval force intended to demonstrate to the world America's naval prowess.[46]

While Roosevelt's first term was pretty successful in pushing a somewhat progressive agenda, his second wasn't as much. Despite "radical" Roosevelt taking on conservative Charles Fairbanks as his vice president in the 1904 election and winning in a landslide, the more conservative members of his party like Senator Nelson AldrichWikipedia and Speaker Joseph Gurney CannonWikipedia nevertheless began resisting his efforts in his second term. Even Fairbanks fought against Roosevelt's agenda, and Roosevelt spent most of 1907 and 1908 fighting with Congress.[47] To try to get past the roadblocks, Roosevelt tried to speak directly to the people in order to push his agenda via his own personal charisma and popularity, which only further alienated him from Congress.[48]

After his victory in 1904, Roosevelt vowed that he would not seek another election; he felt obligated to continue with the prior precedent of serving only two terms.[49] His hand-picked successor was William Howard Taft, who was elected president in 1908, and Taft would come to make him regret that vow.

Post-presidency years[edit]

Upon Taft's election in 1908, friction almost immediately arose. Taft broke his promise to TR and fired most of Roosevelt's cabinet secretaries, and then passed a controversial tariff which reformers like TR had strongly opposed.[50] In an effort to avoid politics, TR took the opportunity to go on safari in Africa for over a year.[51] When he returned, he gave a speech where he decried the pro-business policies of the conservative Republicans, which now included Taft, thereby fully breaking ties with his former protégé and declaring himself to be a champion of progressivism (or communism/socialism, depending on who was talking about it).[52] In 1912, dissatisfaction with Taft's re-nomination led Roosevelt and his supporters to break away and form their own Progressive Party, commonly nicknamed the "Bull Moose Party"Wikipedia after Roosevelt survived being shot and compared himself with a powerful bull moose.[53]

The 1912 presidential election was another historic election with major consequences. The Bull Moose Party, which ran on a remarkably progressive platform that included universal healthcare, women's suffrage, increased welfare programs, and bank reform,[54] split the Republican party in two. Noted racist asshole Woodrow Wilson swept into the void and defeated both Taft and TR; Taft came in third, the only time that a candidate from a third party beat the candidate from one of the two major parties. Again seeking a respite from politics in the aftermath of a loss, TR went on another expedition, this time to South America.[55] During the expedition, Roosevelt suffered a leg injury and became ill, which was exacerbated by still having a bullet lodged in his chest from when he was shot in 1912. He survived, however, and returned to the U.S. just in time for the events leading up to World War I.

When World War I broke out, the staunchly pro-war Roosevelt advocated for the U.S. to prepare to enter the war and begin mobilizing the military, to which Wilson refused. Roosevelt criticized Wilson for not responding belligerently after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, and while campaigning for Wilson's Republican opponent in 1916, Roosevelt straight up called Wilson a coward.[56] When Wilson did finally bring the U.S. into the war, Roosevelt sought to build another volunteer regiment similar to his old Rough Rider cavalry regiment, but Wilson, having paid attention to war reports, knew that cavalry was practically useless in this new war that involved machine guns and barbed wire and poison gas.[57] Roosevelt's Rough Riders Part 2 never came to be; Roosevelt's children wound up serving in the war in various capacities. Roosevelt also was an early proponent of the League of Nations, although his vision differed from Wilson's. In the end, Wilson's version won, and Roosevelt's close friend Henry Cabot LodgeWikipedia was instrumental in preventing the U.S. from joining it.[58] Roosevelt's constant attacks on Wilson helped the Republican Party (which Roosevelt had rejoined by 1916, largely ending the relevance of the Bull Moose Party) regain control of Congress in the 1918 mid-terms.

Roosevelt considered running for president again in 1920, but his health began deteriorating as time went on. He still suffered from various tropical diseases that he contracted while in Cuba and South America, and this was compounded by the fact that there was still a bullet lodged in his chest. He died in his sleep in January 1919 at the age of 60; he had been the favorite for the Republican nomination in the run-up to 1920. With his passing, the nomination almost went to his former Rough Riders commander Leonard Wood,Wikipedia but eventually went to Warren G. Harding, who won by fiercely opposing Wilson's policies as well as Roosevelt's progressivism, thereby ending the progressive period of the Republican Party that TR had led, although Calvin Coolidge somehow managed to bring back dignity to the White House and supported several Progressive issues.[59]

Modern views[edit]

In modern times, especially in online circles,[note 5] TR has been transformed into a memetic badass and archetype of manliness on the scale of Chuck Norris, only minus the radical right-wing politics. One of his most famous moments was when, on his way to giving a speech, he was shot in the chest by a would-be assassin (the bullet was slowed to well-short-of-deadly velocity by his eyeglass case and the folded-up speech in his shirt pocket). Instead of looking for a doctor immediately (that he wasn't spitting blood told him he could afford to delay, and he didn't want to risk suffering the same fate James Garfield and William McKinley had[note 6]), he delivered the ninety-minute speech first, with the opening line of:

Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.

As it would have been more dangerous to remove, the bullet stayed lodged in his chest over the rest of his life. JFK was such a wimp; a real man would shove his brains back in and keep on going.

TR was a firm believer in practicing what he called the Strenuous LifeWikipedia to stay healthy, taking up boxing, tennis, hiking, rowing, polo, and horseback riding. After his presidency, he went on a questionable safari trip in Africa, and in 1913 he charted the Amazon tributary known as the River of Doubt (now known as the RIVER OF UNQUESTIONABLE CERTAINTY Roosevelt River). Roosevelt's leg became infected, which unfortunately compounded with the damage caused by the impacted bullet, ruining his health.

Teddy the evil socialist[edit]

Teddy the evil socialist exists in the same realm as Alternate Universe Woodrow Wilson, which means he doesn't actually exist unless it's in the minds of the rabidly right-wing. This version of Theodore Roosevelt wanted to destroy capitalism, establish an anti-democratic proto-fascist state, and somehow contributed to both democratic socialism and Nazism. Teddy, the evil socialist, is a prevalent character among the usual suspects Heritage Foundation,[60] Glenn Beck, and other wingnut Republicans/libertarians who demonstrate how far the Republican Party has drifted to the right in modern times.

See also[edit]

Icon fun.svg For those of you in the mood, RationalWiki has a fun article about Teddy Roosevelt.

External links[edit]


  1. The good Roosevelt. The one who shot bears—not the cripple." - P.J. O'RourkeWikipedia
  2. Yes, Hamilton fans, those Schuylers.
  3. A few days before the election, at a pro-Blaine dinner, a preacher gave a speech wherein he used an anti-Catholic slur; Blaine's campaign took no notice and did nothing about it, but Cleveland's campaign seized upon the opportunity to paint Blaine as anti-Catholic, ensuring that Catholic communities- notably the Irish in New York City- went for Cleveland.
  4. "Bully" meaning "wonderful" or "fantastic" at the time.
  5. Such as
  6. Dying from infection caused by attempts to remove a bullet that likely would've been harmless if left alone, sort of. In Garfield's case, several doctors inserted their (unwashed) fingers into the wound to try and find the bullet (as was standard practice), more or less guaranteeing a nasty infection.


  1. Theodore Roosevelt’s Letters to His Children on
  2. Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, National Park Service
  3. Mittie, Thee, and the North/South Divide, Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace on the U.S. National Park Service
  4. CORRESPONDENCE: THEODORE ROOSEVELT, SR, 1861-1862 on Oyster Bay Historical Society.
  5. Abraham Lincoln's Funeral Procession on the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University
  6. The Insane True Story of Teddy Roosevelt by
  7. Theodore Roosevelt & the American Museum of Natural History on History First
  8. The Life of Theodore Roosevelt by the National Park Service
  9. The Life of Theodore Roosevelt by the National Park Service
  10. Presidential Moral Character and Teddy Roosevelt on History News Network by The George Washington University
  11. Grover Cleveland Birthplace, U.S. National Park Service.
  12. Elkhorn Ranch, National Park Service
  13. Gaffe at GOP dinner upends presidential election: Oct. 29, 1884, Politico
  14. Edith Kermit Carow Roosevelt, The White House
  15. About Us, Office of Personnel Management
  16. Theodore Roosevelt and the New York Police Department, ThoughtCo
  17. 'Establishing the Deadline', National Park Service
  18. Teddy Roosevelt's Cowboy Cavalry the Rough Riders on True West
  19. The Rough Riders Storm San Juan Hill on Eyewitness to History
  20. Theodore Roosevelt as Governor of New York on
  22. Matthew Quay: The Political Boss Who Made Two Presidents! on Mad Politics
  23. Theodore Roosevelt on Digital History
  24. Theodore Roosevelt, 25th Vice President (1901) by the U.S. Senate
  25. Election of 1900: McKinley wins again with Teddy Roosevelt as VP on U.S. History
  26. The Assassination of President William McKinley on
  27. Roosevelt and the Trusts on eHistory by The Ohio State University
  28. The Northern Securities Case on the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University
  29. The Dragon Slain: The Breakup of the Standard Oil Trust, Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
  30. The Coal Strike of 1902: Turning Point in U.S. Policy by the U.S. Department of Labor
  31. Crooked Agent: Agent fired for “irregularities.” on Spokane Historical
  32. How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football on
  33. Our History, Forest Service
  34. Theodore Roosevelt and Conservation, National Park Service
  35. The Conservation Legacy of Theodore Roosevelt by the U.S. Department of the Interior
  36. Ida Tarbell: The Woman Who Took On Standard Oil, Connecticut History
  37. When and why was FDA formed?, Food and Drug Administration
  38. "Treason of the Senate", United States Senate
  39. Teddy Roosevelt: the man who coined the “muckraker”, The History of Journalism, George Mason University
  40. When Titans Tangled on Historynet
  41. The Treaty of Portsmouth and the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–1905 by the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
  42. Theodore Roosevelt, The Nobel Prize
  43. Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904 by the Office of the Historian, U.S. Department of State
  44. Venezuelan Crisis of 1902–1903 on Wikipedia
  45. Latin America and the Roosevelt Corollary on the Making of the Modern U.S., by Michigan State University
  46. Cruise of the Great White Fleet on Naval History and Heritage Command
  47. Charles Warren Fairbanks, 26th Vice President (1905-1909) by U.S. Senate
  48. Theodore Roosevelt's Broad Powers on American History
  49. Theodor Roosevelt on SparkNotes
  50. Payne-Aldrich Tariff Act on Britannica
  51. Smithsonian–Roosevelt African Expedition on Wikipedia
  52. Theodore Roosevelt's Osawatomie Speech on the Kansas Historical Society
  53. Teddy Roosevelt nominated as Bull Moose candidate on
  54. Overview of Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party Beliefs, ThoughtCo
  55. Roosevelt-Rondon Scientific Expedition, Wikipedia
  56. Why Teddy Roosevelt Tried to Bully His Way Onto the WWI Battlefield, Smithsonian Magazine
  57. The Bull Moose in Winter: Theodore Roosevelt and World War I, National Park Service
  58. Henry Cabot Lodge, Britannica
  59. On this day, Theodore Roosevelt dies unexpectedly, National Constitution Center
  60. Although returned to the Republican fold, Roosevelt continued until his death in January 1919 to press for Progressive reforms that would move the country closer to the social democracies of Europe. That was his goal, and it has remained the goal of Progressives ever since.