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Theodore Roosevelt

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Important Terms, People, and Events

Theodore Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, in New York City to parents Theodore Roosevelt, Sr., and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt. Both his parents came from wealthy families, his father's ancestors having settled on Manhattan Island in 1644. Teedie, as he was called as a child, was sickly growing up. He suffered primarily from asthma, but also from stomach pains and headaches. His inability to breathe often kept him indoors, and he turned to reading books for amusement. He came to love reading and learning. In 1876 young Roosevelt moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, and enrolled in Harvard University. During his third year at Harvard he met and fell in love with his future wife, Alice Hathaway Lee. Teddy graduated from Harvard in 1880.

Roosevelt and his love Alice married on October 27, 1880. In the fall of 1881 he was elected to the New York State Assembly and began his first term in January of 1882. He was a known reformer and opposed the power of the political machines. In 1882, Roosevelt also published his first book, A History of the Naval War of 1812, which was an instant success. Roosevelt served three year-long terms as a New York legislator. On February 12, 1884, Roosevelt's first child, baby Alice, was born. The happy news of her birth was soon shattered, however, when the elder Alice's kidneys failed from a complication of the pregnancy, causing her death just two days later. Tragically, Teddy's mother died from typhoid in the same house and on the same day, just hours before Alice. The double loss stunned Roosevelt. For the rest of his life, he never spoke of his first wife again.

To recover from his loss, Roosevelt left the New York State Assembly after his third term ended in 1884, moving to the Dakota Territory in the West, where he built Elkhorn Ranch and entered the cattle ranching business. Out West he tested his physical strength and stamina hunting buffalo, rounding up cattle, and living the exciting life of a cowboy. His book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman describes his experiences in the Dakotas.

While visiting his sister Anna in New York in 1885, Theodore became reacquainted with his childhood sweetheart, Edith Carrow. The two began seeing each other more often and eventually married in London in 1886. After vacationing in Europe for nearly a year, they returned to New York to settle in Oyster Bay where their new house Sagamore Hill awaited them. Over the years, they had five children together: Ted, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin. The number totaled six when Alice came to live with them.

Upon returning to New York, Roosevelt decided to reenter politics. As a reward for campaigning for President Benjamin Harrison in the election of 1888, Theodore was appointed as the head of the U.S. Civil Service Commissioner in 1889. As commissioner he initiated programs to reform the spoils system, which he found repugnant. After making a name for himself as a reformer in the national headlines, he stepped down from his post in 1895 to accept the appointment as New York City Police Commissioner. He served as the head of the New York Police Department for two years only to resign again and accept his new appointment as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, given to him by President McKinley.

As Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Roosevelt worked towards strengthening the U.S. Navy to prepare for any possible threat, particularly from the Spanish Empire. When war did break out between Spain and the United States in 1898, Roosevelt was ready. He ordered Admiral Dewey to attack the Spanish in the Philippine Islands. He then resigned his post as assistant secretary and helped organize and lead a volunteer regiment in the Army known as the Rough Riders. Under Roosevelt's leadership, the Rough Riders defeated the Spanish garrison in the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba in July of 1898. After the war was over, Roosevelt became famous for drafting the Round Robin letter that called for the end of the U.S. occupation of Cuba.

With his newfound fame as a war hero, Roosevelt became the obvious candidate for the gubernatorial office of New York in the fall of 1898. Senator Thomas Platt, the boss of New York's Republican political machine, engineered the election in hopes that Roosevelt would be easily under his control. His hopes quickly faded, however, when he realized that the newly elected Governor Roosevelt continued to crusade for political reform, despite the horror of the machine that had elected him. To get rid of him, Boss Platt nominated Roosevelt for the Vice Presidency at the Republican national convention of 1900. His scheme worked, and Roosevelt was nominated. With the guidance of Mark Hanna, McKinley and Roosevelt defeated opponent William Jennings Bryan in the Presidential election of 1900.

Roosevelt's Vice Presidential duties were not taxing, especially since he only served a six-month term as Vice President. On September 6, 1901, President McKinley was assassinated, instantly making Theodore Roosevelt President of the United States.

Roosevelt's tenure as President was not unlike the rest of his political career; he was a true Progressive and reformer. His domestic policy program was known as the Square Deal and involved balancing the interests of big business and organized labor. Roosevelt hated the growing plutocracy in the nation and aimed many of his programs at reducing their power. His greatest victory over the wealthy came when he successfully prosecuted Northern Securities and Standard Oil companies under the Sherman Act of 1890. The fall of these trusts encouraged the Roosevelt administrations to file a total of forty-three lawsuits against the trusts. Roosevelt was also an ardent conservationist. During his Presidency he purchased over 150 million acres of timberland to save for later use. He also created the National Forest Service and established the National Park system. Congress, during Roosevelt's Presidency, also passed the Reclamation Act of 1902, which provided money for irrigating parts of the unlivable deserts in the West.

Roosevelt was no less active in foreign policy. A strong advocate of imperialism, he supported the annexation of Puerto Rico and the Philippine Islands and the Open Door Policy in China during McKinley's Presidency. President Roosevelt was infamous for his foreign policy style of coercing other countries to act as he desired. This came to be known as Big Stick Diplomacy. In 1904 Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine which declared the United States the sole protector and policeman of the Western Hemisphere. Roosevelt also used the Big Stick when he tricked Colombia out of Panama and began building the Panama Canal in 1903. Roosevelt became an international icon when he negotiated a peace treaty between Russia and Japan after they had bitterly fought in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and 1905. For this, he won the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize. At the same time, he also helped mediate a dispute amongst France, England, and Germany over territorial rights in Morocco at the Algeciras Conference.

To uphold George Washington's precedent of serving only two terms as President (Roosevelt had been reelected in 1904), Roosevelt refused to serve a third term. Instead, he nominated his chosen favorite, William Howard Taft, at the Republican Convention in 1908. Taft received the support of the party and went on to defeat William Jennings Bryan. After leaving office, Roosevelt left to hunt big game on an African safari and to deliver speeches throughout the capitols of Europe. In 1913, Roosevelt spoke at many universities in South America and then began a scientific and exploratory expedition up an uncharted river in the Amazon basin.

Roosevelt returned from his travels to find his Progressive reformers alienated by many of Taft's policies. They turned to him for help, and soon the once-strong friendship dissolved into bitter hatred for each other. Taft and Roosevelt split the Republican Party in the 1912 elections. When Taft eventually received the official party nomination, Roosevelt and his allies deserted to form the Progressive Party, often called the Bull Moose Party. Roosevelt nearly died shortly before the election when a crazed gunman shot him in the chest during a speech. Fortunately, Roosevelt survived and continued the campaign. He and Taft ran against Democrat Woodrow Wilson who won easily against a week reform party and a shattered Republican Party.

When World War I broke out in Europe in 1914, Theodore Roosevelt advocated joining England and France immediately to fight against Germany. He attacked Wilson for his pacifism and neutrality. When war was eventually declared, the old Rough Rider colonel volunteered to ride again and create a new volunteer Army regiment to fight in Europe; however, Wilson did not accept his proposal. When Theodore's son, Quentin, died in 1918 while serving in France, he was utterly crushed and lost his fighting spirit. Within months he was in the hospital and suffering from multiple ailments. He died on January 5, 1919, at Sagamore Hill from a clot in his coronary artery.

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