1901: A New Kind of President
The nation had never before had such a boisterous and energetic president as Theodore Roosevelt. He was a man of action, a mover and shaker unlike anything the American people had seen in Washington. At forty-two, the youngest man ever to become President, Roosevelt shook the nation, defying convention and giving new life to the office. Throughout his term, he strove to make the executive office more powerful and more in touch with the common American.
Roosevelt's ability to communicate with the people proved very useful throughout his political career, particularly during his Presidency. Few men in American politics have been so endowed with this gift–let alone men of Roosevelt's stature and social standing. Theodore could speak with almost any man, woman, or crowd and convince them that he was one of them, that he championed their causes, and that he worked with their best interests in mind. While in office, he made multiple campaign trips throughout America in order to inform the public of his domestic and foreign policies. He was a dynamic speaker who would often, without the aid of microphones, project his voice to near breaking point to speak to an audience of tens of thousands of people. His speeches were animated as well, full of motion and gestures and energy to rouse the crowd. No other president had spoken to the people this way before, and it is therefore not surprising why so many rallied to hear his addresses.
In 1902, Roosevelt campaigned through the Midwest and New England on a particularly adventurous tour. During this trip he spoke out against the growing plutocracy and powerful trusts, trade with Cuba, taxes, and the problem in the rebellion in the Philippines. While in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, however, Roosevelt's carriage was struck by an electric trolley car. Roosevelt emerged with a swollen face and injured leg, but continued the tour for the day, stopping in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to speak to a crowd of thirty thousand. Although he initially assured the American people–as well as several foreign dignitaries who expressed concern–that he was unharmed, he eventually conceded to have the fluid drained from an abscess that developed on his leg. He was confined to a wheelchair for several weeks. The abscess would give him trouble until almost the day he died.
Roosevelt also drastically transformed life in the White House, both literally and figuratively. During his terms, the east and west wings were added to the White House, increasing the house's square footage significantly. Throughout his Presidency, the First Family held several fashionable and expensive parties and social events for the Washington elite. One particularly glamorous event was young "Princess Alice's" debut ball in 1902, attended by all the young men and women of Washington, including the daughter of a Russian countess, the daughter of the British ambassador, and even Alice's distant cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Alice's marriage to Republican congressman Nicholas Longworth in 1906 was also held at the White House.
The White House was rarely a quiet place. The Roosevelt children and their friends had full reign of the house and soon attracted national attention with their charm and characteristic Roosevelt spirit of adventure. They soon became known as the "White House Gang". The American people fell in love with the children, particularly with the two younger boys, Archie and Quentin. Newspapers throughout the country printed stories of Quentin's numerous pranks. In one incident, he snuck a pony through the house, up an elevator, and eventually into his brother's bedroom. There was also the time he placed a four- foot long snake near his father's office, scaring a group of congressmen. Spitballs were once found on a portrait of Andrew Jackson, and during one of the children's pretend "attacks" on the White House, Roosevelt played along and sent a warning that they should call it off through the War Department.
Though now saddled with the gravity of the Presidential office, Roosevelt refused to abandon his love for excitement, fitness, and stretching personal boundaries. Indeed, many of his own recreational activities added to the chaos in the White House. One of his favorite pastimes was tennis, which he often played with the younger members of his staff. These young men–as opposed to the older members of his administration–subsequently came to be known as Roosevelt's "Tennis Cabinet". Roosevelt also enjoyed horseback riding, rowing, hiking, and chopping wood, and created various obstacle courses that involved traversing difficult terrain in a small amount of time. His favorite indoor sports to practice in the White House included jujitsu, wrestling, and boxing. In 1905, while boxing with a military aide, Roosevelt was punched in the left eye and permanently blinded. He never admitted this to anyone, however, until almost ten years later, in 1914, before undergoing another operation.
Within a month of assuming the office, Roosevelt caused an uproar throughout the nation when he invited Booker T. Washington to dine with him in the White House. Washington, a former Southern slave, was famous throughout the nation for becoming a learned man and distinguished educator at his school, the Tuskeegee Institute. The South was outraged that Roosevelt invited a black man to dine with him, and even many Northerners had mixed feelings. Roosevelt responded immediately that the nation's shocked response only indicated that he made the correct decision. In several letters, he further admonished the American people for basing judgments on color.
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