How Great Were Our Great Presidents? (5 of 6) Theodore Roosevelt

I have written several articles on our Presidents and Vice-Presidents. A list of the links have been provided at the bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional Presidents and their places in history.

Theodore Roosevelt is considered to be not just a good president, but a great president. By the time he assumed the presidency in 1901, he already had a reputation as a renaissance man who was also tough as nails. TR is widely regarded as the first modern President of the United States. The presidency began to amass more power during the 1880s, Roosevelt completed the transition to a strong, effective executive. He made the President, rather than the political parties or Congress, the center of American politics.

In 1900, when Republican President William McKinley decided to run for a second term, Roosevelt was picked as his running mate. Vice President Roosevelt became president when McKinley was assassinated in 1901. Roosevelt was just 42 at the time, making him the youngest person in history to assume the office of President of the United States.

During his seven years on office (he was reelected in 1904), Roosevelt embraced the era of reform that was dawning in the United States. He took on the corporate trusts, challenging them in the courts and breaking up many monopolies that held sway over the U.S. economy, including the banking trusts, the oil trusts, the railroad trusts, even the sugar trusts.

There were many more accomplishments. Roosevelt’s appreciation of nature inspired him to establish America’s national park system, protecting millions of acres of land from development. To this day, America’s parks are revered throughout the world as a landmark of conservation. Roosevelt initiated the building of the Panama Canal, and he negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

Roosevelt also helped transform the United States in to a major naval power, ushering in what became known as the American Century.

These accomplishments earned Roosevelt a spot on Mount Rushmore representing the development of the United States.

Why was Theodore Roosevelt considered a great President?

  1. The economy grew by steadily through most of his Presidency.

2. TR was the first President to get serious about enforcing legislation protecting the common worker.

3. His love of the out doors happened at a time when Americans were fascinated with wilderness. Before they had feared it.

4. TR was the first President in our history who truly understood the power of the press.

Roosevelt made the Executive Branch of government the focus through the force of his personality and through aggressive executive action. He thought the President had the right to use any and all powers unless they were specifically denied to him. He believed that as President, he had a unique relationship with and responsibility to the people, and therefore wanted to challenge prevailing notions of limited government and individualism; government, he maintained, should serve as an agent of reform for the people.

His presidency endowed the progressive movement with credibility, lending the prestige of the White House to welfare legislation, government regulation, and the conservation movement. The desire to make society more fair and equitable, with economic possibilities for all Americans, lay behind much of Roosevelt’s program. The President also changed the government’s relationship to big business. Prior to his presidency, the government had generally given the titans of industry carte blanche to accomplish their goals. Roosevelt believed that the government had the right and the responsibility to regulate big business so that its actions did not negatively affect the general public. However, he never fundamentally challenged the status of big business, believing that its existence marked a naturally occurring phase of the country’s economic evolution

Under TR there were “recessions” every other year, but they did not last. There were no “panics” as had been common since 1870. The growth rate of the economy had one big dip in the middle of his administration (from 1906 into 1908), but it recovered by in his final year and was back by the time he left office in 1909. Americans love any president when the economy does well.

Ahmed Borazon – author

Below Chart – Overall Economic Activity from 1900 to 1930 by Gerald Jackson

Roosevelt also revolutionized foreign affairs, believing that the United States had a global responsibility and that a strong foreign policy served the country’s national interest. He became involved in Latin America with little hesitation: he oversaw the Panama Canal negotiations to advocate for U.S. interests and intervened in Venezuela and Santo Domingo to preserve stability in the region. He also worked with Congress to strengthen the U.S. Navy, which he believed would deter potential enemies from targeting the country, and he applied his energies to negotiating peace agreements, working to balance power throughout the world.

Of all Roosevelt’s achievements, he was proudest of his work in conservation of natural resources and extending federal protection to land and wildlife. Roosevelt worked closely with Interior Secretary James Rudolph Garfield and Chief of the United States Forest Service Gifford Pinchot to enact a series of conservation programs that often met with resistance from Western members of Congress, such as Charles William Fulton. Nonetheless, Roosevelt established the United States Forest Service, signed into law the creation of five National Parks, and signed the 1906 Antiquities Act, under which he proclaimed 18 new U.S. National Monuments. He also established the first 51 bird reserves, four game preserves, and 150 National Forests. Roosevelt extensively used executive orders on a number of occasions to protect forest and wildlife lands during his tenure as president. By the end of his second term in office, Roosevelt used executive orders to establish 150 million acres (600,000 square kilometers) of reserved forestry land. Roosevelt was unapologetic about his extensive use of executive orders to protect the environment, despite the perception in Congress that he was encroaching on too many lands. Eventually, Senator Charles Fulton (R-OR) attached an amendment to an agricultural appropriations bill that effectively prevented the president from reserving any further land. Before signing that bill into law, Roosevelt used executive orders to establish an additional 21 forest reserves, waiting until the last minute to sign the bill into law. In total, Roosevelt used executive orders to establish 121 forest reserves in 31 states. As a result Environmentalists celebrate Roosevelt as the founding father of conservation and a wilderness warrior.

Even after he left office, Roosevelt continued to work for his ideals. The Progressive Party’s New Nationalism in 1912 launched a drive for protective federal regulation that looked forward to the progressive movements of the 1930s and the 1960s. Indeed, Roosevelt’s progressive platform encompassed nearly every progressive ideal later enshrined in the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Fair Deal of Harry S. Truman, the New Frontier of John F. Kennedy, and the Great Society of Lyndon B. Johnson.

In terms of presidential style, Roosevelt introduced “charisma” into the political equation. He had a strong rapport with the public and he understood how to use the media to shape public opinion. He was the first President whose election was based more on the individual than the political party. When people voted Republican in 1904, they were generally casting their vote for Roosevelt the man instead of for him as the standard-bearer of the Republican Party. The most popular President up to his time, Roosevelt used his enthusiasm to win votes, to shape issues, and to mold opinions. In the process, he changed the executive office forever.

Theodore Roosevelt was known for his quotable quotes, so I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few of them before I concluded this article:

On virtue and success in life: “There are many qualities which we need in order to gain success, but the three above all—for the lack of which no brilliancy and no genius can atone—are Courage, Honesty and Common Sense.”

On character: “Bodily vigor is good, and vigor of intellect is even better, but far above both is character.”

On effort: “A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fiber of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage. . .For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”

On perseverance: “Sometimes in life, both at school and afterwards, fortune will go against anyone, but if he just keeps pegging away and don’t lose his courage things always take a turn for the better in the end.”

On everyday virtue: “No nation deserves to exist if it permits itself to lose the stern and virile virtues; and this without regard to whether the loss is due to the growth of a heartless and all-absorbing commercialism, to prolonged indulgence in luxury and soft, effortless ease, or to the deification of a warped and twisted sentimentality.”

On self-mastery: “Unless a man is master of his soul, all other kinds of mastery amount to little.”

On inaction: “To sit home, read one’s favorite paper, and scoff at the misdeeds of the men who do things is easy, but it is markedly ineffective. It is what evil men count upon the good men’s doing.”

On courage: “A soft, easy life is not worth living, if it impairs the fibre of brain and heart and muscle. We must dare to be great; and we must realize that greatness is the fruit of toil and sacrifice and high courage… For us is the life of action, of strenuous performance of duty; let us live in the harness, striving mightily; let us rather run the risk of wearing out than rusting out.”

On work: “I don’t pity any man who does hard work worth doing. I admire him. I pity the creature who does not work, at whichever end of the social scale he may regard himself as being.”

On diversity: “I cannot consent to take the position that the door of hope — the door of opportunity — is to be shut upon any man, no matter how worthy, purely upon the grounds of race or color. Such an attitude would, according to my convictions, be fundamentally wrong.”

On being American: “Much has been given us, and much will rightfully be expected from us. We have duties to others and duties to ourselves; and we can shirk neither. We have become a great nation, forced by the fact of its greatness into relations with the other nations of the earth, and we must behave as be seen as a people with such responsibilities.”

On corporations: “Our aim is not to do away with corporations; on the contrary, these big aggregations are an inevitable development of modern industrialism. … We are not hostile to them; we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to subserve the public good. We draw the line against misconduct, not against wealth.”

On striving: “You often hear people speaking as if life was like striving upward toward a mountain peak. That is not so. Life is as if you were traveling a ridge crest. You have the gulf of inefficiency on one side and the gulf of wickedness on the other, and it helps not to have avoided one gulf if you fall into the other.”

On success: “It is a bad thing for a nation to raise and to admire a false standard of success; and there can be no falser standard than that set by the deification of material well-being in and for itself.”

On conflict: “The unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.”

On history: “It is of little use for us to pay lip-loyalty to the mighty men of the past unless we sincerely endeavor to apply to the problems of the present precisely the qualities which in other crises enabled the men of that day to meet those crises.”

On critics: “It is not the critic who counts. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly … who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Sources:, “Theodore Roosevelt: Impact and Legacy,” By Sidney Milkis;, “Why was Theodore Roosevelt considered a good President?” by Doug Gilmore;, “Why Teddy Roosevelt Is Popular on Bith Sides of the Political Aisle,” By Michael Patrick Cullinane;, “6 Quotes by Teddy Roosevelt on virtue and character,” By Joe Carter

Presidential Series