Civil Service Commissioner
Benjamin Harrison won the Republican nomination for President in 1888. Roosevelt went on a speaking tour for Harrison, who was elected in November. Partly as a reward for Roosevelt’s service, Harrison appointed him to the Civil Service Commission. Roosevelt brought publicity to the commission, which previously had attacked little attention. He improved the merit system by establishing examinations for some Civil Service jobs. He opposed the awarding of government jobs to political friends. Many Republicans resented his attitude. But President Grover Cleveland reappointed him in 1893.
In 1895, Roosevelt gladly accepted the post of president of the Board of Police commissioners in New York City. For the next two years, he fought to stamp out dishonesty on the police force. Sometimes he patrolled the streets at night to check on police officers suspected of illegal activities.
A National Figure
Assistant Secretary of the Navy
In 1895, Roosevelt campaigned vigorously for William McKinley to win, and Roosevelt asked him for a government appointment. McKinley didn’t want this brash young man in Washington, but Roosevelt had powerful support. The President finally made him an assistant secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt believed that sea power was the decisive factor in world history. He worked to strengthen the Navy. He also believed that war for a righteous cause brought out the finest virtues in people and nations. “No triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumphs of war”, he said soon after taking office. “The diplomat is the servant, not the master, of the soldiers”.
The Rough Riders
Since 1895, Cuban rebels had been revolting against their Spanish rulers. Many Americans demanded that the United States help the Cubans. On February 15, 1898, the US Battleship USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor.
Roosevelt tried to rush preparations for war against Spain. He became impatient with McKinley’s attempts to avoid war. In private, Roosevelt complained that the President had “no more backbone than a chocolate éclair”.
On April 25, 1898, the United States declared war on Spain. Roosevelt immediately resigned as assistant secretary of the Navy so he could fight. Even before resigning, he had started to recruit men for a cavalry regiment. This unit became the First Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. Under Roosevelt’s command it won fame as the Rough Riders. Most of the men were former college athletes and western cowboys. On July 1, 1898, American troops attacked a ring of fortified hills surrounding Santiago, Cuba. Colonel Roosevelt led his men in a charge up Kettle Hill, which flanked the Spanish blockhouse on San Juan Hill. He and the Rough Riders became nationally famous. Twenty years later he declared: “San Juan was the great day of my life.”
Governor of New York
The Republicans faced defeat in New York in 1898 because of a scandal overstate canal contracts. The state party leader Senator Thomas C. Platt didn’t like Roosevelt. But Platt knew that Roosevelt’s reputation might save the Republicans. Roosevelt agreed to ran for governor. He won, largely because of his war record.
As governor, Roosevelt didn’t break with Platt. Neither did he follow Platt’s wishes. He described this policy to a friend: “I have always been a fond of the West African proverb: ‘Speck Softly and Carry a Big Stick, you will go far”.
Roosevelt became an efficient, independent administrator.
He supported mild reform legislation, including a law affecting civil service in the state. He angered large business interests by approving a bill for the taxation of corporation franchises.
McKinley’s renomination in 1900 seemed certain. Roosevelt had to wish to oppose the President, who he knew had nationwide support. But Roosevelt wondered whether he himself might get the nomination in 1904. As the Republican National Convention drew near a movement began to nominate him for Vice President.
Roosevelt felt that being Vice President would take him out of active politics. In this way, his chances for the presidential nomination in 1904 would be weakened. Roosevelt also knew that Senator Platt wanted to rid of him as Governor of New York. Roosevelt felt he might not win a second term as governor in opposition to Platt. He finally consented to be McKinley’s running make. The Republicans nominated both men by acclamation.
In the election, McKinley and Roosevelt defeated their Democratic opponents, William Jennings Bryan and former Vice President Adlai E. Stevenson.
On September 6th, 1901, only six months after his second inaugurations, President McKinley was shot by an assassin. The tragedy occurred while McKinley was at the Pan American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Doctors told Roosevelt that McKinley would probably recover. But while vacationing in the Adirondack Mountains, Roosevelt learned McKinley was near death. He hurried to Buffalo, but McKinley died before Roosevelt arrived. That same day, on September 14th, 1901, Roosevelt took the oath of office as the 26th President of the United States.
Roosevelt’s First Administration (1901-1905)
Roosevelt became President just 6 weeks before his 43rd birthday. He kept all the members of McKinley’s Cabinet. He said he would continue McKinley’s policies “absolutely unbroken”. But Roosevelt had too much originality to follow another person’s plans.
Most business leaders feared Roosevelt because of some reforms had brought about stricken government control over industry. Early in his Administration, Roosevelt tried to convince business people that he would not interfere with them. He also tried to persuade conservative Republican leaders that he was not dangerous. But never won them over completely. They considered much of his legislation generously progressive, even socialistic. The Republicans controlled Congress throughout Roosevelt’s presidency. But because of conservative opposition, Roosevelt had increasing difficulty getting Congress to act on his recommendations.
Many Americans had become worried about the trusts, or large business monopolies. These trusts were increasing rapidly in both number and power. The trusts had increased productivity and had raised the standard of living. But prices had also risen, and the people blamed the trusts. In his first message to Congress, in December 1901, Roosevelt expressed this feeling. “Captains of industry… have on the whole done great good to our people”, he said. But he also pointed to “real and give evils”.
Roosevelt recommended that “combination and concentration should be, not prohibited, but supervised and, within reasonable limits, controller.”
In 1902, the government sued the Northern Securities Company on charges of trying to reduce competition. This firm had been formed by J.P. Morgan and other financers to control key railroads in the West. Roosevelt said he did not want to use the power of the government to ruin Morgan. Rather, he wanted to keep order among all the great economic forces in the nation. The Supreme Court upheld the government’s view in 1904. It dissolved the Northern Securities Company.
During Roosevelt’s presidency, the government filed suits against ended John D. Rockefeller’s oil trust and James B. Dukes tobacco trust. Many people called Roosevelt a “trust buster”. But the President declared that he wanted the government to regulate, not “bust” trusts.
Friend of Labor
Roosevelt wanted the government to act justly toward labor unions as well as toward business. Government intervention in labor disputes was not new. But it had usually favored management.
In May 1902, about 140,000 members of the United Mine Workers went on strike in the hard-coal fields of Pennsylvania. Public opinion favored the strikers, who demanded more pay and better working conditions. As the strike continued, coal supplies began to run low in Eastern cities.
Many hospitals and schools had no fuel. Winter was an approaching.
Roosevelt had no legal called a conference of leaders of both sides. He proposed that the strike be settled by arbitration. The miners agreed, but the mine owners refused. Roosevelt threatened to have the army seize and operate the mines. At Roosevelt’s request, J.P. Morgan helped reach a compromise with the mine owners. The miners got a pay raise the next March. Roosevelt said later that he had tried to give the miners a ‘square deal”. He often used this phrase to refer to his policy of social reform. In 1908, Congress established the Department of Commerce and Labor.
Roosevelt believed that the government needed a ‘big stick”, or threat of force, to carry out its foreign policies. He used this policy in relations with Europe and Latin America.
The Venezuela Affair
The Monroe Doctrine held that the United States should keep European powers out of the Western Hemisphere. Roosevelt upheld this doctrine in what was known as the Venezuela Affair.
Venezuela had borrowed large sums of money in Europe. In December 1902, German and British ships blockaded Venezuelan parts to force payment of the debts. Roosevelt feared that Germany planned to seize Venezuelan territory. He warned the Germans that he might have to use force it they took any part of Venezuela. The Germans with drew their warships. Later, Roosevelt helped settle the dispute peacefully.
The Roosevelt Corollary
In 1904, Santo Domingo found it could not pay its debts to several European countries. Again, Roosevelt feared European intervention. He armored that the United States might be forced “in flagrant cases of… wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power”. This was policy was called the “Roosevelt Corollary” of the Monroe Doctrine.
Roosevelt ordered American officials to take over the customs system of Santo Domingo’s finances.
The Panama Canal
Between 1902 and 1905, Roosevelt persuaded Congress to approve building 10 battleships and 4 armored cruisers for the US Navy. He believed the larger fleet would give the nation greater influence in international affairs. But the fleet would need to shift rapidly between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A canal across Central American seemed necessary.
In 1902, Roosevelt began negotiating with Columbia for the right to build a canal across Panama, a province of Colombia. The negotiators signed a treaty, but the Colombian Senate rejected it. Roosevelt then supported a revolutionary government that took control of Panama. Less than two weeks later. The United States and the Panama signed treaty granting to the United States the use and control of a strip of land on which to dig a canal than of any other accomplishment of his Administration. He visited Panama in 1906 the first President to travel in a foreign country while in office.
The Alaskan boundary disputes
No one cared about the exact boundary between Canada and Alaska until gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896. Then Canada claimed in line that gave it control of important routes to the gold fields. The United States disputed the claim. Early in 1902, Great Britain asked that the matter be settled by arbitration. At first, Roosevelt refused. But then he agreed that the dispute should be settled by a tribunal of six “impartial jurists” appointed by both countries. In 1903, the tribunal ruled in favor of the United States.
Roosevelt made notable achievements in conservation. He added about 150 million acres to the national forests and in 1905 established the United States Forest Service. He also set up five new national parks. Congress passed the Reclamation Act of 1902, which provided for the reclamation Act of 1902, which provided for the reclamation and irrigation of dry Western lands. Roosevelt then stated 25 irrigation or reclamation projects (Roosevelt Dams). He also set aside 18 sites as national monuments and worked to preserve wildlife. By executive order, he created the first 51 federal bird reservations and established the first four national game preserves.
Life in the White House was never dull during Roosevelt’s presidency. The Roosevelt children and their friends became known as the “White House Gang”. The President sometimes joined in the children’s games.
One day, he heard that the gang was preparing an “attack” on the White House. He sent a message to the children through the War Department ordering them to call off the “attack”. Once Roosevelt scolded his sons for decorating a portrait of president Andrew Jackson with spit balls. But he allowed the boys to bring their pets, including a pony and snakes into the White House.
The President often played tennis on the White House lawn with friends. These friends came to be known as the “tennis cabinet”. The group also went horseback riding and hiking. More than once, on winter hikes, Roosevelt and his friends swam across the Potomac River through chunks of floating ice.
In 1902, the White House was remodeled and enlarged. The east and west wings were built. Workers installed new plumbing, heating, and electrical systems. Edith Roosevelt was an efficient and gracious White House hostess. She carefully kept out of politics. The President’s daughter by his first marriage was called “Princess Alice” by newspaper reporter. In 1906, Alice married Representative Nicholas Longworth of Ohio, who later served as Speaker of the House f Representative. Their wedding took place at the White House.