Tuesday, July 1, 2008

#26 - Theodore Roosevelt, 1901-1909

I like to keep my pulse on the finger of what is happening on Long Island. Growing up there, I often found the opportunity to take visitors to Sagamore Hill, the home of Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States. It got to the point where I knew the descriptions of the rooms so well that one day they changed the cards in the rooms. As I was leaving, I said to the ranger at the door, "when did you change the cards?" He looked at me incredulously that someone had actually noticed.

Recently, there has been a brouhaha developing in Oyster Bay, the town that TR called home. The Theodore Roosevelt Foundation has proposed a $100 million Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Museum and Research Center to be built in Fireman's Field, in the center of the village. Local opposition has been so fierce that the Foundation has been forced to scale back plans for its museum and research center. People have questioned why the museum will not be built on the grounds of Sagamore Hill. Fine, but there are two issues with that: one, it's a federal (National Park Service) site and you can't just build there; two, the National Park Service is hoping to return Sagamore Hill to the more rural setting that it once was, so a museum on its grounds won't do. The President of the TRA also pointed out that Sagamore Hill only has 1500 square feet of exhibit space (less than a tenth of what can be found at the Rutherford B. Hayes Museum in Ohio!) and certainly not fitting to a president like Teddy.

But to the man himself. Born into a prominent New York family, Teddy was a sickly child and was educated by tutors through his childhood. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard University, Roosevelt tried law at Columbia University, but dropped out. In 1880, he married his first wife, Alice. Tragically, Alice died just four years later, shortly after giving birth to their daughter, also named Alice. Roosevelt's mother also died on the same day as his first wife. Two years later he married his second wife, Edith. Together they had five children.

Roosevelt entered politics at the age of 23, when he was elected to the New York State Legislature. He quickly became a foe of corrupt machine politics, something of which there was plenty in New York State. In 1888, Roosevelt supported Benjamin Harrison, who appointed Roosevelt to the Civil Service Commission, where he served until 1895. That same year, Roosevelt became Police Commissioner in New York City, serving for two years.

Devastated by the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day, Roosevelt went into his "wilderness years," moving to the Badlands of the Dakota territory. While there, Roosevelt developed his passion for environmental causes. He returned to politics, trying unsuccessfully to become mayor of New York in 1886. He was tapped by President William McKinley to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy and prodded McKinley to declare war on Spain. His heroics in leading the Rough Riders in Cuba made him a national figure and in 1898, he was elected Governor of New York. His progressive reforms and brash style prompted Republican leaders to try and squash Roosevelt by offering him the vice presidential slot with William McKinley in the election of 1900. They figured that Roosevelt would be quieted by the largely ceremonial post. But Roosevelt was thrust into the presidency with the assassination of William McKinley in 1901. Upon hearing the news, McKinley's closest advisor, Mark Hanna, is reported to have said, "Now that damn cowboy is President."

At the outset, Roosevelt continued most of McKinley's policies. After being elected in 1904 in his own right, he moved the Presidency to the left and far from the conservative wing of the Republican party. He was labeled as a "Trust-buster," attacking monopolies with great zeal. He set aside huge parcels of land for public parks, more than all of his predecessors combined. By the end of his administration, 194 million acres were designated for national parks. Roosevelt's most famous foreign policy success was the building of the Panama Canal.

Roosevelt became the first US President to win the Nobel Peace Prize, awarded in 1906 for his successful negotiation to end the Russo-Japanese War. Roosevelt is usually ranked in the top five presidents and is credited with changing the way the presidency was perceived by the American public, placing it at the center of government and making character as important as the issues themselves (imagine that!).

After leaving the Presidency in 1909, he went off on an African safari, thinking he had left the country in the good hands of his successor, William Howard Taft (come back next week!). Upon returning to the US, Roosevelt publicly broke with Taft and campaigned as the Progressive Party's candidate under the banner of the Bull Moose party. It was during the campaign that Roosevelt was shot at while on his way to make a speech. The bullet pierced his eyeglass case and the 50 page speech that he had folded in his breast pocket. Roosevelt determined that he was not in grave danger (he wasn't coughing up blood) and gave the speech, speaking for ninety minutes, before getting medical attention. The bullet remained in his chest for the remainder of his life. Roosevelt's hope of getting elected dwindled away and on election day in 1912, he was only successful in splitting the Republican vote, and thereby electing the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson (come back in two weeks!).

After the election, Roosevelt again left the US, this time for South America. While there he contracted malaria and was severely weakened by the trip. He returned to the US once again and frequently spoke out against President Wilson and the looming world war on the horizon. Roosevelt died in his sleep in January 1919. His son, Archie, telegraphed his siblings saying simply, "The old lion is dead." Wilson's Vice President, Thomas Marshall was quoted as saying, "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."

The Facts:
  • born October 27, 1858 in New York, New York
  • died January 6, 1919 in Oyster Bay, New York (at Sagamore Hill) (age 60)
  • Party: Republican / Progressive (Bull Moose)
The Election of 1904
The Election of 1912
  • Woodrow Wilson / Thomas Marshall (D) - 6,296,284 (41.8%) / 435 EVs
  • Theodore Roosevelt / Hiram Johnson (Bull Moose / Progressive) - 4,122,721 (27.4%) / 88 EVs
  • William Howard Taft / Nicholas Butler (R) - 3,486,242 (23.2%) - 8 EVs
  • After the assassination of William McKinley, Roosevelt, at 42, became the youngest man to become President.
  • While Roosevelt is the fifth vice president to rise to the presidency following the death of the president, he is the first to be elected to a term of his own. (Hanna, his main opponent had died in 1904.) Upon his election he pledged to serve only the one term, which left him out of a job at fifty, at the height of his popularity.
  • Roosevelt is credited with changing the name of the Executive Mansion to its current name, the White House.
  • The Teddy Bear is named for Roosevelt, based on a story from when Roosevelt refused to shoot a bear cub while on a hunting trip.
  • Roosevelt's oldest daughter, Alice, married Congressman Nicholas Longworth in a White House ceremony in 1905, which was considered the social event of the decade.
  • Roosevelt put Lincoln on the penny, replacing the Indian Head cent.
  • Roosevelt was awarded the Medal of Honor for his charge up San Juan Hill during the Spanish-American War. The medal was awarded posthumously by President Clinton in 2001. Roosevelt had been nominated for the medal by his company, but his griping to the War Department cost him the award at that time. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. also received the Medal of Honor for his service in the Normandy invasion in 1944, during World War II. They are one of only two father and son to win the Medal of Honor.
  • Roosevelt is the only 20th Century President to be included on Mt. Rushmore (alongside George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln). Mt. Rushmore was dedicated in 1927, eight years after Roosevelt's death.
  • Along with Jefferson, Roosevelt is considered to be one of the most well read American Presidents.
  • Among the many talented individuals in Roosevelt's "brain trust cabinet" was James R. Garfield, son of the assassinated president. When he died in 1950, he was the last surviving member of Roosevelt's administration.
  • In August 1905, Roosevelt became the first president to ride submerged in a submarine, aboard the USS Plunger, for 55 minutes.
  • Roosevelt is credited with coining the trademarked phrase, "Good to the last drop," while enjoying coffee at the Maxwell House Hotel in Tennessee.
  • He is the only president (to date) from Long Island, New York (does anyone wonder why I like TR so much?)


Lana Gramlich said...

Thomas Marshall's quote is brilliant. Thanks for sharing!
This post reminds me of lemon ices & good times. Thanks for that. :)

Daryl said...

Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving your comment on my blog post about my sister's late cat Minnie .. I am sorry to hear you lost your's Minnie as well ...


Brave Astronaut said...

Lana - That may be one of the best comments I have ever received. God, I miss those lemon ices.

Daryl - You have a great blog, I have enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

Lana Gramlich said...

Anytime, hon. I mean what I say. :) Those were some darned GOOOOD lemon ices! Gads...my mouth is watering for them again even now!

benP said...

Does anybody know of any good medical assistant Roosevelt Park positions??