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Theodore Roosevelt

"Government jobs belong to the American people, not politicians and shall be filled only with regard to public service."

Theodore Roosevelt


The second of four children of Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt (hereafter TR), was nicknamed "Teedie". Theodore, who hated to be called Teddy, suffered from asthma and terrible near sightedness, conditions which his father urged him to overcome by saying, "You have the mind, but not the body; you must make your body." To help his son, Theodore Sr. built a gym at their home where "Teedie" developed a constitution which would later be referred to as "strong as a Bull Moose".

A quick learner and avid reader, TR was admitted into Harvard College in 1876. At Harvard, TR majored in science, yet received the bulk of his education in history and literature. TR was an attentive and somewhat enthusiastic student who participated energetically during lectures. In one instance, a professor of his is quoted as saying: "See here, Roosevelt; I am the one teaching this course!"

In 1878, TR met Alice Hathaway Lee, the daughter of a prominent Boston family. After a lengthy courtship, Alice and TR were married on October 27, 1880. TR graduated from Harvard in 1880 and was promptly admitted to Columbia University's School of Law. Also in 1880, TR joined the Republican Party Club of New York.

At the age of 23, TR became the youngest State Representative and eventually the youngest Speaker of the Assembly in the history of New York. TR made his mark in State politics by exposing corrupt practices and being instrumental in the passage of New York State's Civil Service Law in 1883.

Tragedy struck the Roosevelt family in 1884 when both his wife, Alice and his mother, Martha, died within hours of each other. After the joyful birth of Alice Roosevelt Lee on February 12, his wife was diagnosed with Bright's disease and died two days later, on Valentine's Day. TR's mother, Martha, was also very ill; having caught typhoid fever, she too died later that same evening of February 14, 1884. Heartbroken, TR wrote in his journal "the light has gone out of my life."

Two years later, he married Ethel Kermit Carow, his dear childhood friend, on December 2, 1886, in London, England. The couple would eventually have six children: Alice (TR's first child), Theodore, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin.

In 1888 his enthusiastic and tireless campaigning for Republican Presidential candidate Benjamin Harrison was rewarded with an appointment to the U.S. Civil Service Commission, an office in which he served for six years (1889-1995). TR's efforts in reforming the U.S. Civil Service are still felt today.

As Commissioner he led efforts to investigate fraud and political abuse in government and expose corrupt government officials. One week into his new job, he recommended the removal of examination board members in New York for selling test questions to the public for $50. Later, he had the police arrest Baltimore postal employees who were buying votes for the re-election of President Harrison, who had appointed him four years earlier. His actions demonstrated that civil service laws were going to be enforced regardless of political affiliation.

"I have made the Commission a living force, and in consequence the outcry among the spoilsmen has become furious. But I answered militantly that as long as I was responsible, the law should be enforced up to the handle everywhere, fearlessly and honestly."

In 1895, TR received an invitation from New York City Mayor William Strong to become a Commissioner of the New York City Police Board. Resigning his position as U.S. Civil Service Commissioner in Washington, D.C., TR returned to New York and set out to reform the police force. Amongst his many reforms still felt today are the establishment of the first Police Academy in the U.S., the use of bicycle patrols, and the establishment of civil service reforms for recruitment and promotion of officers.

Two years later President William McKinley appointed TR Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Shortly after taking his appointment, the U.S.S. Maine, anchored off Havana, Cuba, (at that time a Spanish possession) blew up killing 234 U.S. sailors. TR ordered Admiral Dewey to load coal and sail for the Philippines immediately; and added that should war be declared, then Dewey must, at all costs, prevent the large yet aged Spanish fleet from leaving Manila Harbor. On April 20, 1898, the US declared war on Spain. Admiral Dewey followed TR's instructions and sank the entire Spanish Fleet in less than 4 hours, starting the conflict with his infamous cry, "You may fire when ready, Gridley". On May 6, TR resigned his post and began assemblying the U.S. First Volunteer Cavalry, more famously known as the Rough Riders.

In what would later became a legendary tale of valor and patriotism, the Rough Riders marched towards the hills of San Juan, where on July 1, 1898, they charged victoriously up Kettle Hill in the face of severe enemy fire, losing one fourth of its contingent. Theodore Roosevelt would eventually be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery on that day.

With complete victory over Spain, the Rough Riders returned to the United States in 1898. TR was offered and accepted his party's nomination for the Governorship of New York. TR's approach to politics inevitably clashed with the State's political bosses, particularly Mark Hanna and Thomas Platt. These two bosses decided that the best way to be rid of TR would be to "bump him up" into a position of political neutrality: The Vice Presidency. Hence, at the Republican National Convention of 1900, his name was put forth by the State machine bosses for nomination as William McKinley's running mate. Unhappy, but always loyal to the party, TR accepted the nomination and campaigned successfully for the McKinley-Roosevelt ticket of 1900.

In a tragic turn of events, President McKinley was shot by Leo Colgosz on September 13, 1901. Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the nation's 26th President at the Wilcox Mansion near Buffalo, New York, on September 14, 1901.

Upon assuming the presidency, Theodore Roosevelt sought to turn the Presidency into a "bully pulpit" from where the nation's chief executive could proactively influenced national policy. In 1902 TR instructed Philander Knox to invoke the Sherman Anti-Trust Act against the Northern Securities Company, a railroad trust illegally offering freight rebates to "special" customers. In 1902, TR also initiated the Forest, Land, and River Reclamation Policy, the Isthmian Canal Act, settled a crippling Coal Strike, and enforced the Monroe Doctrine in Venezuela; ushering an era of U.S. foreign policy described as gunboat diplomacy.

In 1903, the U.S. Congress supported Panama's demand of independence from Colombia, culminating in the recognition of the Republic of Panama and subsequent construction of the Panama Canal. The Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Corporations were also created in this same year.

In 1905 TR campaigned and was elected to the Presidency. This same year, TR successfully negotiated the Portsmouth Treaty effectively ending the Russo-Japanese War and created the U.S. Forest Service. TR also expanded his "big stick" concept of diplomacy. TR's actions are generally viewed as a strong and unequivocal affirmation of the principles outlined in the Monroe Doctrine and its Roosevelt Corollary.

The following year, 1906, was a monumental year for TR. He won the Nobel Peace Prize, established the Roosevelt Foundation for Industrial Peace, coined the phrase "muckrake" , created the Forest Homestead Act, signed the Hepburn Rate Act, created the Food and Drugs Act, travelled to Panama to view progress on the Isthmian Canal project, and signed the charter admitting Oklahoma into the Union as the 46th State.

In 1909, TR's presidential term expired. He set off for an African safari with his son, Kermit. He then traveled to Europe, delivering speeches and attending the funeral of England's King Edward. In 1911 he returned to the U.S. and set out to campaign for the Republic presidential nomination.

After failing to gain the presidential nomination at the 1912 Republican National Convention in Chicago, TR joined the Progressive Party. Despite his popularity and tireless campaigning, he nevertheless lost the election to the Democratic candidate, Woodrow Wilson.

Theodore Roosevelt returned to his home in Oyster Bay, NY and died in his sleep on January 6, 1919. The official cause of death was listed as a pulmonary embolism brought on by the combined effects of inflammatory rheumatism and recurrent malaria. When the news reached Washington, D.C., the Vice President, Thomas R. Marshall, was reputed to have said, "Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight."