image of Teddy Roosevelt, coutesy of Library of Congress
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"We won a great triumph"While ever confident in nearly everything in his life, Teddy Roosevelt fretted over the 1904 presidential election. He had been in the job for more than three years but he was not elected to it – and none who assumed the office upon the death of a president had ever been elected on his own. Though with little support in the South and having angered big business, no one in the Republican party challenged him for the nomination. Facing Alton Parker from his home state of New York, TR had little to worry about – he won the popular vote by the widest margin in history. An ecstatic Roosevelt proclaimed, “We won a great triumph.”
The sweeping victory energized TR – “Tomorrow I shall come into my office in my own right. Then watch out for me!” In one month, he announced his Roosevelt Corollary, expanding the Monroe Doctrine by declaring America’s intent on becoming the “police power” of the Western Hemisphere. Combined with his Big Stick diplomacy, TR was determined to ensure America moved boldly onto the world stage.
Business trusts also felt Roosevelt’s determination. In what he called the Square Deal, TR meant to ensure that workers received fair wages. Government no longer would work in tandem with big business – TR was fixed upon policing corporations, making sure that anti-trust laws were obeyed and unions were treated fairly.
Two notable instances that best illustrate his determination to regulate were passage of the Hepburn bill and the Meat Inspection Act. The Hepburn bill, regulated the railroad industry’s pricing on transport rates. TR felt that railroads had too much control over customers’ lives if they could demand any price for their services. Upton Sinclair’s scathing novel The Jungle caused a national sensation by exposing the abuses and sanitation problems of the meat packing industry. Roosevelt demanded and got the Meat Inspection Act, giving the federal government oversight of the meat packing industry.
For all his bluster, Roosevelt acted as the mediator between rival nations and negotiated the end of a war. In 1904, at the invitation of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, TR arranged for a settlement between Germany, France and Great Britain over the division of Morocco, averting a European war.
However, it was Roosevelt’s mediation in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 that earned him the most respect in foreign affairs. With control of the Far East at stake, Japan had defeated Russia’s navy, yet Russia refused to surrender. TR admired Japan’s success but worried such an overwhelming victory might encourage them to seize China and the Philippines. “I am perfectly well aware that if they [the Japanese] win out, it may possibly mean a struggle between them and us in the future.” Roosevelt stepped in as a mediator and in Portsmouth, New Hampshire convinced the two powers to sign a peace treaty. For his efforts, Roosevelt was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize for Peace.
Japan’s growing presence in the Pacific was one reason TR launched the Great White Fleet in 1907. Initially limited to the Pacific Ocean, Roosevelt asserted “…that the only thing that will prevent war is the … feeling that we shall not be beaten.” He then ordered the fleet to circumnavigate the world, something that no other world power had done.
Few issues escaped Roosevelt’s
eyes. He was determined to make football safer by devising rule changes
for a game that saw dozens of fatalities a year. He tried to reform the
nation’s spelling [He believed words like “through”
were archaic] to the ridicule of newspapers and others. Congress passed
a law ordering everyone to follow the “generally accepted dictionaries
of the English language.” He intervened in a racial incident in
Brownsville, Texas. He tripled the size of national forests and hosted
a conference on conservation.