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Theodore Roosevelt Essay, Research Paper


Thesis: Theodore Roosevelt’s political presence altered the course of the

United States,

transforming it into a superpower fully ready to handle the challenges of

any opposition,

and changed the role of the president and executive branch of US

government, making it a

force to be reckoned with.

I. Introduction

II. Before Roosevelt

A. Post-Reconstructionist Views

B. The Industrial Revolution

C. The Gilded Age

1. Railroads

2. Robber Barons

3. Immigration

4. Standard Question

D. McKinley

III. The Roosevelt Era

A. Early Life

1. Influence of Parents

2. Invalidism

B. Early Political Career

1. Ending Corruption/Enforcing Laws

2. Political Bosses

3. Governorship

C. Presidential Era

1. Vice Presidential Race

2. Manipulation of the Press

3. Federal Regulatory Laws

4. Foreign Policy

5. Strong Executive Branch

D. Post-Presidential Era

1. Taft

2. The Progressive Party

IV. Post-Rooseveltian America

A. Wilson

1. Continued Progressivism

2. World War I

a. Inactivity

b. Activity

B. Life After Wilson

1. Implementation of Roosevelt’s Reforms

2. Roosevelt’s Influence Today

3. Influences in the Future

V. Conclusion

Theodore Roosevelt:

The Founder of an Era

The turn of the century has always been a big deal for modern

civilizations. One hundred

years of life is quite large compared with the average 70 or so given to

most. Because of

that, people tend to look in trends of decades, rather than centuries or

millennia. When it

does come time for a new century, when that second digit rotates, as it

does so seldom,

people tend to look for change. Events tend to fall before or after the

century, not on top

of it, and United States history, particularly, has had a tendency for

sudden change at the

century marks. Columbus’ accidental discovery of the West Indies in 1492

brought on the

exploration age in the 1500s. Jamestown colony, founded in 1607, was

England’s first

foothold on the New World. A massive population surge, brought on in part

by the import of

Africans, marks entry into the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson’s

presidency, beginning in

1800, changed the face of American politics. 1900 was a ripe year for

change, but needed

someone to help the change arrive. That someone was Theodore Roosevelt.


political presence altered the course of the United States, transforming

it into a

superpower fully ready to handle the challenges of any opposition, and

changed the role of

the president and executive branch of US government, making it a force

with which to be

reckoned. As the first president with progressive views, Roosevelt enacted

the first

regulatory laws and prosecuted big businesses who had been violating them

and others for

years. Roosevelt also initiated the United States’ active interests in

other countries, and

began to spread the benefits of democracy throughout the world. Before

Roosevelt, the

United States was an inward-looking country, largely xenophobic to the

calls of the rest of

the world, and chiefly concerned with bettering itself. As one critic put

it, “Roosevelt

was the first modern president”(Knoll). After Roosevelt, the United States

would remain a

superpower, chiefly interested in all the world’s affairs for at least a

century (Barck 1).

It would be foolish to assume that Roosevelt was a fantastically powerful

individual who

was able to change the course of the United States as easily as Superman

might change the

course of a river. It would be more accurate to say Roosevelt was the

right person in the

right place at the right time. It is necessary, though, to show how the

United States was

progressing, and how Roosevelt’s presence merely helped to catalyze the

progression. It

has been said that when John Wilkes Booth murdered Abraham Lincoln, he

“extinguished the

light of the republic” (Cashman 1). While this is a small hyperbole, it

serves as an

example of the general mood that pervaded the period from 1865 to 1901.

The early

dominating factor was, of course, Reconstruction. Reconstruction was a

dirty game, and

nobody liked it. Johnson fought with congress and the end result proved

very little had

changed. The South was still largely agrarian, and the North was

commercial. Most

importantly, the Southerners and the Northerners still felt they had as

little to do with

each other as a fish does with a bicycle. To the young “Teedie” Roosevelt,

this must have

made itself apparent. He was born in a mixed household, where “Theodore

Roosevelt (Sr.) was

as profoundly…for the North as Martha Roosevelt was for the south”

(Hagedorn 10). The

fact that the family was able to live, from all accounts, very

harmoniously, is quite

astonishing and gives credit to the fine parents who raised young


Reconstruction’s greatest (and perhaps only) accomplishment was the

establishment of a

basis for industrialization. The basic destruction of the southern

agrarian process

combined with the greater need for items in the North caused the economy

of the post-war

United States to shift toward the cities (Nash 576). The general aim of

the Untied States

had turned toward the big cities, but was still focused on building the

nation’s power from

within. And along with the improvement of industry in the United States

came the spark of

ingenuity that found itself in the minds of great inventors like Edison

and Bell. Once

again maintaining the goal of “hasten[ing] and secur[ing] settlement,”

both men

concentrated on improvements in communications, improving the transmission

of light and

sound (Cashman 14). The presence of these two, who are representative of

so many others,

shows the interest the citizens of the United States had at this time in

improving their

infrastructure. It is interesting to note here that Roosevelt, as the

first president to

make use of the popular press to his advantage, grew up at the same time

as these men,

eleven years their junior. The period of the United States directly before

Roosevelt’s was

known as the Gilded Age, due to a book of the same name by Mark Twain that

made use of

references to “gild[ing] refined gold,” and “guilt” from Shakespeare

combined with the

“guilty, gilden guilds” that had sprung up in the forms of interest

groups, labor unions,

and monopolies (Cashman 3-4). Indeed, the most dominant figures in this

age (for the

presidents were certainly beneath mention) were the robber barons. These

individuals came

to power in two generations. The first, peppered by those such as Jay

Gould, Jim Fisk, and

Daniel Drew, rose to the top quickly by acquiring the nation’s railroads

through not always

legitimate means (Cashman 34). The railroads were power, as can be seen by

the significant

rise in miles of rail, nearly a 500% increase from 1865 to 1900. Those who

controlled the

railroads controlled the country, and were able to maintain a lock on the

industry. Later

robber barons, such as Rockefeller, Carnegie, and, of course, J. P.

Morgan, operated much

the same way, eliminating the competition by one way or another until they

could control

their industry (Cashman 38). As the three or four thousand tycoons made

their fortunes,

defying government, and basically creating a plutocracy of businessmen,

another large group

was entering the American melting pot in larger numbers than before. Ten

million people

came to the United States between 1860 and 1890, and the great majority of

them had little

more worth to their name save the clothes on their back and the boat

ticket that had

brought them to America (Cashman 86). Having nowhere to turn, the large

majority settled in

the port cities into which they came. These immigrations were largely

unrestricted; the

United States not yet having installed a quota system. The

Chinese-Exclusion act and the

subsequent “gentlemen’s agreement” with Japan slowed the influx of Asian

immigration after

1880, but these did not impact the numbers of immigrants as much as one

would think.

Americans could not flee, as there was no frontier left to speak of, and


increasingly failed to be effective. The result was nativism, “a defensive

type of

nationalism” (Cashman 106). The need to impose the will of the American

civilization onto

other nations can be seen here, in its early stages. The main difference

between this era

and the next, in that respect, is that the jingoism had not yet left the

country. The

Gilded Age’s strongest presidential race would end up to be its last, and

the resulting

president, McKinley, can not be classified as a Gilded Age president.

However, the issue of

the Gold and Silver standards shows the United States for the last time as

a totally

inward-looking nation. Although a metal standard would not disappear from

United States

currency until well into the mid-twentieth century, and the question of

the purchase of

silver would again be raised by President Franklin Roosevelt, the Free

Silver campaign of

William Jennings Bryan versus the Gold Standard enforced by McKinley shows

the last

internal economic agitation until the great depression. The National

Grange died upon

McKinley’s election, and “after the excitement of Bryan’s Free Silver

campaign died down,

the agrarian ferment largely subsided” (Barck 21). The end of the old era

could now begin.

It is ironic that McKinley’s presidency ended in assassination, for

without the sudden

change of leadership in the White House in 1901, the transformation

undergone by the United

States may have appeared as gradual as it was intended to be. McKinley was

president over

the “closing years of the nineteenth century, mark[ing] the end of

comparative isolation

and the beginning of an epoch during which the United States emerged as a

world power”

(Barck 77). Indeed, McKinley fits this description of the end of the

nineteenth century

well. He was a very transitionary character; not as bland or powerless as

the three who had

come before him, yet still figurehead enough to be led by Mark Hanna, the


republican boss. McKinley’s stare typifies his character: “His stare was

intimidating in

its blackness and steadiness…Only very perceptive observers were aware

that there was no

real power behind the gaze: McKinley stared in order to concentrate a

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