Published by the New York State Legislature, February 21, 1919.
From the Collection of Howard Glaser
Roosevelt, Theodore (b New York City, 27 Oct 1858; d Oyster Bay, Nassau Co, 6 Jan 1919). Governor and US president.
The son of Theodore Roosevelt Sr, a merchant and philanthropist, and Martha Bulloch Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt was a sickly child who had asthma and was unable to attend school regularly. Through exercise and willpower he built himself into a powerful outdoorsman and leader. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1880, the same year he married Alice Hathaway Lee.
Elected as a Republican to the New York State Assembly in 1881, at 23 Roosevelt was the youngest member of that body. He served three terms, 1882–84, and was minority leader in 1883. As a reformer, Roosevelt was instrumental in enacting legislation outlawing the manufacture of cigars in tenements (later declared unconstitutional by the courts) and in creating the first state civil service law in the United States. His bill to inflict corporal punishment on wife beaters did not pass. On 14 Feb 1884 Roosevelt’s mother and his wife, who had given birth two days earlier, died in the same house in New York City. Grief-stricken, Roosevelt completed his assembly term and then went to his ranch in what is now North Dakota, where he stayed for two years.
In 1886 Roosevelt returned east because he had become engaged to childhood friend Edith Kermit Carow. In November he finished third in New York City’s mayoral race and the following month married Edith. In 1887 the couple took up residence at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay.
Edith raised Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice, and their own five children: Theodore Jr, Kermit, Ethel, Archibald, and Quentin. In 1887 and 1888. Roosevelt devoted himself to writing, publishing four books in two years and starting his four-volume history of the frontier,The Winning of the West. From 1889 to 1895 Roosevelt was a US civil service commissioner in Washington, DC. He served as president of the Board of Police Commissioners of New York City from 1895 to 1897, seeking to professionalize and modernize the New York Police Department. Roosevelt replaced political appointment with the civil service system, set physical and educational standards, employed medical and written exams, began systematic training, and encouraged the adoption of new identification, communications, transportation, and weapon technologies for police work.
Appointed assistant secretary of the navy in 1897, Roosevelt moved to prepare it for the war he foresaw with Spain over Cuban independence.
When Spain declared war on the United States in April 1898, Roosevelt resigned his post and became lieutenant colonel and later colonel of the First US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, popularly known as the Rough Riders. On 1 July 1898, they became the heroes of the battle for Kettle Hill and San Juan Heights. After the regiment was mustered out in September 1898, Roosevelt was nominated for governor of New York State by Republicans who believed that, as a popular war hero, he offered the party its only chance for victory because the incumbent Republican administration was discredited by corruption.
The Republican state machine, ruled by Sen Thomas C. Platt, mistrusted Roosevelt as a reformer but accepted his assurances that he intended to cooperate with them. Roosevelt waged a dynamic campaign and narrowly defeated Democrat Augustus Van Wyck.
In his inaugural address Roosevelt made it clear that he was both practical and partisan, but he also gave a reformer’s view of parties and the polity, declaring that the needs of the people should be put above partisan interest. During his term Roosevelt acknowledged the power of the Republican machine and consulted regularly with Platt, without whose support many of his reforms would not have passed, while using his public popularity to assert his independence from the party leadership. Roosevelt’s unprecedented twice-daily press conferences provided him a means to communicate his message.
Using tact and compromise he mixed politics and reform and, although unable to accomplish all that he wanted, frequently saw his views prevail.
He obtained legislation improving the civil service system, raising teachers’ salaries, setting wage and hour standards for state employees and those working on government contracts, outlawing racial segregation in public schools, and placing a franchise tax on corporations controlling public utilities. In conservation, he expanded the state’s Forest Preserves, reformed the fish and game service, established the Palisades Interstate Park, and outlawed the use of bird plumage in the manufacture of women’s apparel.
The reputation of the Republican Party in New York State was restored, and Sen Platt and the Republican machine, unhappy with much of Roosevelt’s legislative program and political appointments, preempted a second gubernatorial term by joining with western Republicans and others in nominating Roosevelt in 1900 as vice president to Pres William McKinley, who was running for reelection. The McKinley-Roosevelt ticket won in a landslide, and Roosevelt was sworn in as vice president on 4 Mar 1901. Following McKinley’s assassination in Buffalo, Roosevelt became president on 14 Sept 1901. At 42 he was the youngest president in US history.
Roosevelt transformed the presidency and placed it center stage in the drama of American democracy. Seeking a “Square Deal” domestically, he broke up trusts and regulated big business; started the first federal irrigation projects under the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902; protected consumers through federal meat inspection and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906; provided labor with some compensation for workplace injuries with the Federal Employers’ Liability Act of 1908; and saved over 230 million acres (93 million ha) of parks, forest reserves, national monuments, and wildlife refuges. In foreign affairs Roosevelt pushed for a vigorous American presence overseas; his policy was summed up by a West African proverb he was fond of quoting, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” His 1904 corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, defining the role of the United States as a police officer in Latin America, was highly controversial, as were his dealings with Colombia and Panama in connection with construction of the Panama Canal, which he began that same year. In 1906 Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War. His “big stick” was the US Navy, which he greatly expanded and sent on a famous world tour from 1907 to 1909. While in office Roosevelt escorted his niece, Eleanor Roosevelt, down the aisle for her marriage to the president’s fifth cousin, future president Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt announced after his electoral victory in 1904 over Alton B. Parker, chief judge of New York State Court of Appeals, that he would not run for a third term in 1908. His presidency ended on 4 Mar 1909.
After leaving office Roosevelt led an expedition to Africa sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution, followed by a triumphal tour of Europe in 1910. Upon his return to the United States he found the Republican Party, both in New York State and nationwide, bitterly split between progressives and “standpatters,” or conservatives.
His handpicked successor, Pres William H. Taft, had sided with the conservatives. Taking up the progressive cause, Roosevelt became a candidate for chairman of the Republican State Convention in 1910. After defeating Taft’s vice president, James S. Sherman of Utica, for the position, Roosevelt engineered the nomination of respected attorney Henry L. Stimson for governor, but Stimson lost the election. In 1912 Roosevelt opposed Pres Taft for the Republican presidential nomination. Although Roosevelt won the primaries, many Roosevelt delegates from nonprimary states were denied seats at the convention and the Taft forces prevailed. Charging theft of the nomination, Roosevelt and his supporters bolted the Republican Party and founded the Progressive Party, nicknamed the Bull Moose Party after its robust leader. Roosevelt was the party’s nominee for president, and Progressive Party candidates ran for office in most states. In the popular and electoral vote Roosevelt came in ahead of Taft but behind Democrat Woodrow Wilson. In New York State Roosevelt and Progressive Party gubernatorial candidate Oscar S. Straus both finished third.
After traveling to South America in 1913 and leading an expedition in the jungles of Brazil in 1914, Roosevelt led the Progressive campaign in that year’s state and congressional elections.
After unsuccessfully working for a merger with the Republicans in New York State, he campaigned for Frederick M. Davenport, the Progressive candidate for governor. Davenport was badly defeated, as were most Bull Moose candidates. During the campaign New York State Republican chairman William Barnes Jr launched a libel suit against Roosevelt for declaring that Barnes regularly made deals with corrupt Tammany Hall Democrats. The case came to trial in 1915 in Syracuse, and the jury found in favor of Roosevelt. As World War I raged in Europe Roosevelt spoke out vigorously against Pres Wilson’s neutrality policies and urged military preparedness.
In 1916 Roosevelt declined a second Bull Moose nomination for president, backing Republican Charles Evans Hughes against Wilson. The Progressive Party disbanded that same year. Roosevelt refused to run for governor in 1918 but was regarded as the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination in 1920, an event precluded by his death.
Roosevelt was a prolific writer. His historical writings include a biography of Gouverneur Morris (1888) and a history of New York City (1891), and he was the author of several well-regarded accounts of his outdoor adventures.
The state’s official memorial to Roosevelt is the entrance hall of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. A statue of Roosevelt on horseback stands in front of the museum. The National Park Service administers the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace at 28 East 20th St in Manhattan, Roosevelt’s Long Island home Sagamore Hill, and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site in Buffalo.
Chessman, G. Wallace. Governor Theodore Roosevelt: The Albany Apprenticeship, 1898–1900 (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ Press, 1965)
Hagedorn, Hermann, ed. The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, memorial ed., 24 vols (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1923–26)
Harbaugh, William H. The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt, rev ed. (New York: Oxford Univ Press, 1975)
Morison, Elting E., ed. The Letters of Theodore Roosevelt, 8 vols (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ Press, 1951–54)
Morris, Edmund. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (New York: Coward, McCann and Geoghegan, 1979) ———. Theodore Rex (New York: Random House, 2001)
Naylor, Natalie A., Douglas Brinkley, and John Allen Gable, eds. Theodore Roosevelt: Many-Sided American (Interlaken, NY: Heart of the Lakes Publishing, 1992)
John Allen Gable
Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 1335-37].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.