Teddy Roosevelt: The 26th Retrospective
“Whatcha got ain’t nothin new. This country’s hard on people, you can’t stop what’s coming, it ain’t all waiting on you. That’s vanity.” – Ellis, No Country for Old Men (2007)
The Republican party’s worst nightmare had come to pass. Teddy Roosevelt was a conservative that fought for reform, a hunter that expanded conservation, a hawk who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. Roosevelt officially renamed the executive mansion the White House and added the West Wing. He was the first president to ride in an automobile, fly in an airplane, and dive in a submarine.
Not About Party
Though a Republican, many viewed him as a Democrat. Teddy Roosevelt never considered party politics, as much as what the right thing for the most amount of people was. He believed politics was driven by personality, and he would use the sheer force of his personality to get what he wanted, winning him avid supporters and bitter enemies. Ultimately, for Teddy Roosevelt, he believed good and evil could be largely impacted by single individuals even in the modern industrial age.
Northern Securities Company v. United States (1904)
Teddy Roosevelt thought America’s greatest evil was too much power in the hands of corporations, believing industrialists such as J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller wielded too much power. He intended to curb it immediately upon entering office.
Teddy Roosevelt sued Morgan and Rockefeller to halt monopolization of western railways. The government would prevail 5-4 in Supreme Court. This crushed their monopoly and is where Roosevelt gained his reputation as a “trust buster” though he was more like a trust regulator.
TR believed that large size in industry came with the territory of the industrial revolution. While that clock could not be turned back, it was important to remind corporate barons that the people, not trusts nor the capitalist system, controlled affairs in the country.
He also worried that corporate interests were dangerously unaware of people’s temperament. This was a time when there was no sanitation, no highways, and no social welfare. Approximately 1 out of 5 children worked in a factory, mine or sweatshop. Rightfully, TR thought the natives would get restless if the rich got richer while they starved.
Anthracite Coal Miners Strike (1902)
Conditions for laborers, particularly coal miners were miserable. This strike in 1902 left management and labor deadlocked. Without a resolution and coal distribution, the northeast would freeze. President Roosevelt personally intervened believing he was uniquely positioned to act on behalf of the people. TR believed the president could and must see things for the entire national interest.
After threatening to nationalize coal mines, he brokered a deal that favored labor over management. It marked a turning point in labor relations, paving the way for better working conditions. This was one of many domestic victories for him.
This was the name Teddy Roosevelt gave his domestic agenda enacted “with” the people. It centered around conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, and consumer protection. It aimed at helping middle class citizens and involved attacking plutocracy and bad trusts while also protecting business from the most extreme demands of organized labor.
Panama Canal (1914)
As the greatest political force behind the Spanish-American war, Theodore Roosevelt felt American emergence as a world power was our duty. Our global responsibility, as no longer a nascent country but world leader, was to civilize the rest of the world.
Many felt that we needed a canal through a central American isthmus owned by Colombia. This canal would protect both coasts for if we were attacked in the east, our west coast fleet could come to the rescue. Teddy thought the canal would be good for both the U.S. and the world, but the Colombians did not agree to his price.
Roosevelt’s response was to back a local revolution, which created the nation of Panama on November 3, 1903, in exchange for the right to build a canal there. He was criticized for fomenting revolution and underhanded diplomacy with independent American republics, but Roosevelt would not care stating, “I didn’t steal the canal. I built it”.
It was the largest engineering project ever undertaken, and became one of the wonders of the world when completed on August 15, 1914. Teddy Roosevelt thought it was his single biggest contribution to world civilization.
Europeans were also beginning to venture into Latin America at the turn of the 20th century. Roosevelt saw them as a strategic threat, and without consulting Congress or asking permission of Latin America, introduced the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in his 1904 State of the Union Address, after the Venezuela Crisis of 1902-03, declaring the United States in charge of the western hemisphere. Specifically, Roosevelt stated America held police power to enforce good behavior in countries of the western hemisphere.
Big Stick Diplomacy
TR backed up bold declarations like these with his “Big Stick”. “Speak softly and carry a big stick” were the words outlining his philosophy meaning restrained speech while always remaining militarily ready. The big stick is your arsenal and the idea was to intimidate other countries. Every perceived action against America would be known to have consequences.
TR won reelection by the largest popular margin in history. He considered this his second term and promised not to run again. This was a public statement he made he would regret for the rest of his life. Roosevelt agonized over leaving office. He wanted to do more, but honored his promise and did not run for reelection after this upcoming term, even though his first one was technically continuing President McKinley’s term.
Roosevelt was popular but Progressives thought he could do more for social and economic reform. Roughly 8 million new immigrants in the first decade of the new century turned life for the working class from bad to intolerable.
Detailing horrific conditions endured by immigrant workers in a Chicago meatpacking plant, Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”(1906) was an expose of the meat-packing industry. The highlights included no bathrooms, no toilets, no sinks, rats aplenty, and workers falling into the meat grinding machine. Roosevelt responded immediately believing the federal government should act on behalf of the consumer.
Meat Inspection Act (1906)
Signed on June 30, 1906, the legislation prohibited the sale of adulterated or misbranded livestock and derived products as food and ensured that livestock were slaughtered and processed under sanitary conditions. The law reformed the meatpacking industry, mandating that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspect all cattle, swine, sheep, goats, and horses both before and after they were slaughtered and processed for human consumption.
The law also applied to imported products, which were treated under similarly rigorous foreign inspection standards. The 1906 legislation amended prior Meat Inspection Acts of 1890 and 1891 and other laws that had provided for USDA inspection of slaughtered animals and meat products but had proven ineffective in regulating many unsafe and unsanitary practices by the meatpacking industry.
Pure Food and Drug Act (1906)
Signed June 23, 1906 applying to goods shipped in foreign or interstate commerce, the purpose of the legislation was to prevent adulteration or misbranding. Adulteration was defined in various ways.
For confectionary, adulteration would be the result of any poisonous color or flavor, or of any other ingredients harmful to human health. Food was adulterated if it contained filthy or decomposed animal matter, poisonous or deleterious ingredients, or anything that attempted to conceal inferior components.
Provisions included creation of the Food and Drug Administration, which was entrusted with the responsibility of testing all foods and drugs destined for human consumption, the requirement for prescriptions from licensed physicians before a patient could purchase certain drugs, and the requirement of label warnings on habit-forming drugs. An offending manufacturer or distributor could be prosecuted by the Federal government, except that a distributor was not liable to such action if he could show an adequate guarantee from the vendor.
Antiquities Act (1906)
Deemed necessary after two decades of looting, desecration, and destruction of Native American sites in the Southwest such as Chaco Canyon and Cliff Palace, on June 8, 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt signed the bill. The Act for the Preservation of Antiquities (also called the Lacey Act) was an intentionally broad piece of legislation to set aside “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” in order to stop their destruction. As it was worded, either the President or Congress could establish national monuments under the Antiquities Act.
This was the authorization Roosevelt needed to halt the destruction of the American landscape. There existed a growing sense as the frontier closed, the wilderness was disappearing. For example, there were plans to destroy the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt felt these pristine wilderness spots were the heirlooms of America that must be saved for children. In total, Roosevelt preserved 230 million acres of land.
Teddy Roosevelt Was Resistant To Bitching
Roosevelt had a vision, plans and made them happen regardless of what people thought. He was the first President to exercise the “moral imperative” of the presidency. He felt that he represented the people, articulated the views of the people, and influenced those views to mobilize people behind important reforms with or without Congress.
This is the heart of the Donald Trump support. People like the idea of a rich guy who will come in and make things better for the common (read white) man.
This is also the problem with sole focus on economic and social reform without a specific focus and plan on race that is present in the Bernie Sanders campaign. The argument that the labor reforms enacted in the Square Deal made things better for race relations were dubious. Booker T. Washington visiting the White House (October 16, 1901) pales in comparison to the Brownsville Affair (August 12-13, 1906). Still, clean water and healthy food is a pretty good legacy to leave.
William McKinley preceded him
William Howard Taft would follow him.
It all started with George Washington.