Simply put, Teddy Roosevelt was a bad ass. His time in office was successful and many historians consider him to be the “First Modern President”. In addition to his success in office, he was also just an all-around awesome dude. This list (in no particular order) serves as your introduction to one of the most respected and beloved presidents in US history.
1. The first “Modern President”
Serving from 1901-1909, President Roosevelt is considered by most historians to be the “first modern president“, chiefly because he grew the power and influence of the presidency by taking advantage of all powers not denied to him by the Constitution. He shifted American politics out of an age of rigidly limited government and individualism and promoted using government regulation to bring about social and economic change. He was the first president to really use the executive order, especially when it came to his pet project, wildlife conservation. He brought America into the global age with an aggressive foreign policy. He was also widely beloved as president, aided by the fact he was the first to use the media to regularly charismatically communicate directly with the people.
2. A War Hero
Teddy Roosevelt’s time in the Armed Forces is highlighted by his famous Spanish-American War assault on Kettle and San Juan Hills in the Battle of San Juan Heights. One lesser known tidbit is that he achieved fame by resigning from his position in the Navy to start the First U.S. Cavalry Regiment, a.k.a. the ‘Rough Riders’. Because of his bravery and efforts, he was awarded the nation’s highest honor for military service, the Congressional Medal of Honor. To cap it all off, at the outset of World War I Teddy Roosevelt, at age 58, passionately wrote to Woodrow Wilson several times asking to be sent to France at the head of a 200,000 man expeditionary force. Wilson did not allow him to go.
3. A Square Deal
President Roosevelt’s entire platform was based upon getting the people a fair deal… from the US government and from US businesses. He truly believed it was the responsibility of the government to protect the people, so he built an administration dedicated to crushing the corrupt practices of business, which had been allowed to operate entirely unregulated for decades. He helped create the Pure Food and Drug Act, cracked down on businesses who used misleading advertising, pushed for cooperation between business and unions, AND became known as a ‘Trust Busting’ president, opening 40 antitrust cases against big corporations.
4. The Bull Moose
President Roosevelt had always been an anti-establishment ‘progressive’ guy. Prior to the Election of 1900, he was a rising star and rapidly gaining popularity. Big Business and Party bosses feared a Roosevelt presidency and, through some political manipulation, were able to position him on the Republican ticket as Vice President, serving as William McKinley’s running mate. This backfired when McKinley was assassinated just 6 months into the new term, thrusting Teddy into the spotlight. After two successful terms in office, Teddy stepped away in 1909, though many were clamoring for another term. He handed the Republican reigns over to William Taft, whom Roosevelt believed would be a progressive successor.
He was disappointed by Taft’s first term and decided to challenge him in 1912, not as a Republican… but as the leader of his own party, the Progressive Party. The same organization was also given the rather memorable nickname of the ‘Bull-Moose’ Party, a reference to Teddy’s own long-standing nickname. Though he lost to Woodrow Wilson, he received the second highest electoral vote, even beating out the incumbent president, Taft.
5. “Speak Softly…
And carry a big stick.” Teddy Roosevelt believed firmly that talk was cheap and actions were everything. He felt it was the job of a powerful nation to be willing to use force to back up its diplomatic negotiations. Teddy led with a much more aggressive tone, taking a hard stance against Europe with the ‘Roosevelt Corollary‘ to the Monroe Doctrine. Several European nations were attempting to forcibly collect debts owed to them by Latin American nations. The Roosevelt Corollary basically told the world to back the heck out of our dominion, anything North and South America related.
6. The Great White Fleet
Because of the more aggressive foreign policy path that President Roosevelt forged, he believed that the United States needed to beef up its defense. He started with the navy, transforming it into an impressive, modern fleet. He also ordered that each ship be painted completely white. Upon its completion, President Roosevelt ordered the ‘Great White Fleet‘ as it became known, to tour the world, demonstrating American naval might. And thus, Roosevelt built his own big stick.
7. The Panama Canal
In the vein of aggressive foreign policy, Teddy made a way where there was none… quite literally. It had long been the dream of the US and Europe alike to create a path through the American continents to cut down on shipping time and costs. Panama was the perfect location as it was the narrowest strip of land between the oceans. In 1903, Panama belonged to Colombia. Sooo, when Teddy’s deal with the Colombian government fell through… he helped Panama revolt against Colombia and offered the new Panamanian government the same deal in order to facilitate the construction of what would become the Panama Canal.
8. The Peacemaker
To balance his aggressive foreign policy legacy, President Roosevelt also won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth, which ended the Russo-Japanese War. At the time, he was the first American to have received the award.
9. Cultural Controversy
Teddy Roosevelt cared a great deal more for doing what was right than doing what was popular. As president, he was in favor of desegregation and the women’s right to vote. Most notably, Roosevelt was the first president to invite an African-American, Booker T. Washington, to the White House as a guest. He also appointed several African-Americans to federal posts.
10. And, of course….
He was a champion of the environment, establishing the US Forest Service, and designating 42 millions acres as national forests, wildlife refuges, and areas of special interest.
He went skinny-dipping in the Potomac River, regularly.
He got shot in the chest, and proceeded to deliver a 90 minute speech before receiving medical attention.
He knocked out a would-be assassin with two punches after he drew not one, but two guns on him.
Oh yeah, and he scaled the Matterhorn, a 15,000 foot peak in the Swiss Alps.