Skip over navigation

Theodore Roosevelt

Study & Essay

1912–1919: Private Life and Death

Review Test

Study Questions

What type of politician was Roosevelt? Did he hold the same political views consistently throughout his career?

Although Theodore Roosevelt was a member of the Republican Party for the majority of his life, he is best described as a Progressive. Progressives were politicians and activists who sought change in government and society. Roosevelt's zeal for reform was one of his defining political traits that lasted throughout his career. When he served in the New York State Assembly in 1882–1884, he became famous for fighting against the state's powerful political machines. As head of the U.S. Civil Service Commission and as Governor of New York, he angered many conservatives while attempting to reform the spoils system. As President, he had the ability to challenge the status quo to an even greater extent. Just several weeks after his inauguration, he began prosecuting big business under the 1890 Sherman Act, a task no one had successfully accomplished before. His first success came against Northern Securities, a railroad monopoly in the West. Once Northern Securities fell, others trusts began to topple. Roosevelt's two administrations filed forty-three lawsuits against the trusts, and Teddy quickly earned the nickname "the Great Trustbuster." He further angered conservatives with his conservation plans to save millions of acres of timberland and establish preserves to save wildlife. As the Progressive Party candidate for President in 1912, Roosevelt continued to pursue reform with his Square Deal policies. Roosevelt was a true Progressive and consistently fought for reform throughout his career.

What experiences in Roosevelt's youth helped shape his personality and character?

Many experiences in Roosevelt's younger life contributed significantly to the development of his character. When he was a small child, he suffered from severe asthma. While other children played outdoors, Teddy was often confined inside, turning to books to keep him occupied. He loved to read adventure stories of far-off places, began to explore natural history and, asthma permitting, went outside as much as possible.

Theodore and his family traveled to Europe and the Middle East when he was ten and again when he was fourteen. Thrilled by the romanticism and wonders of Egypt, he retained a love of adventure throughout his life. As a young man, he lived in the rough Dakota Territory to challenge his physical stamina. During the Spanish-American War he volunteered to lead the Rough Riders and led his troops through heavy fire to take San Juan Hill. Even in his late fifties he managed to safari through Africa and lead an exploratory exploration through the Amazon, both to collect scientific specimens for the Museum of Natural History in New York and to prove he still had his strength.

Roosevelt also exhibited a strong sense of morality, a trait learned from his father. Throughout his political career he interpreted everything as morally right or wrong and acted accordingly. He crusaded for political reforms in New York because he deemed them wrong, and prosecuted the trusts because he deemed their business practices wrong. He also believed the United States should enter the Spanish-American War and World War I at least partly because he saw Spain and Germany as aggressors whose misdeeds required correction. We see, then, that early childhood experiences and influences contributed significantly to Teddy Roosevelt's robust personality.

How did Roosevelt view foreign policy? What type of role did he believe the U.S. should take in global politics?

In the arena of foreign policy, Roosevelt can be best described as an imperialist. Drawing upon ideas published in Alfred T. Mahan's book The History of Sea Power Upon History, Roosevelt believed that the United States should acquire ports and territories throughout the world to serve as naval bases to exert American influence and also as commercial outlets for American products. His first book, A History of the Naval War of 1812, advocated military preparedness at all times. As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he prepared the Navy for war with Spain and persuaded others in the government that Spanish presence should be eradicated from Latin America. As President, Roosevelt enforced this belief when he issued a statement claiming that the United States had the sole authority to interfere in the affairs of the Latin American states and that only the U.S. could punish these states if they misbehaved. This statement later came to be known as the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.

People referred to Roosevelt's forceful style of foreign policy as Big Stick Diplomacy, which primarily involved threatening others to concede to America's demands. He favored the annexation of the Philippines and Puerto Rico and supported the Open Door Policy in China. In the 1912 Presidential campaign he proposed his foreign policy program, known as New Nationalism. Later, when the Germans attacked and sank the Lusitania, Roosevelt verbally attacked President Wilson for not declaring war. On the whole, Roosevelt throughout his career strongly believed in a strong military and exerting American dominance across the globe.

Essay Topics

Do Roosevelt's seemingly scattered and unrelated domestic actions and policies as President have any common threads?

Biographer H.W. Brands branded Roosevelt as "The Last Romantic." Do Roosevelt's personality and career support this assertion? How so?

Do you believe that the success and prosperity the completion of the Panama Canal brought justify the unethical actions Roosevelt took in order to undertake the project?

In many ways Roosevelt's politic views were paradoxical: he was a member of the conservative Republican Party, yet became associated with the Progressive movement. In what ways was he a faithful Republican? In what ways was he a reformer?

How did Roosevelt feel about the eruption World War I? Was this opinion consistent with his opinion about the Spanish-American War?

What did the disagreement between Roosevelt and President Taft involve? Why did the two run against each other for the Presidency in 1912?

How did Roosevelt transform the role of President? Can the effects of these transformations still be seen today?

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us