Theodore Roosevelt was 42 years of age when he was sworn in which gave him the title belt for youngest US President, a belt he still holds. Ignoring his personal history, which is mighty interesting and might warrant its own blog post delving into greater detail, let us focus on his administration.
Shortly after becoming president, Roosevelt gave a speech to Congress asking them to regulate the power of trusts, or corporations, which had become quite powerful during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. This was the era of the ‘Robber Baron’, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Charles M. Schwab among others who held monopolies which dominated the American economy. Roosevelt got federal government into regulating these monopolies and busting up ‘trusts’ or ‘corporations’ that held an unfair advantage by utilizing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which had become law in 1890 but had yet to be enforced. Examples of enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act include; American Tobacco Company, which controlled 90% of the tobacco market before forced dissolution, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, which controlled 80% of the oil market before forced dissolution and Northern Securities Company, which controlled all major railways in the northwest before it was broken up. Roosevelt was a champion of the little guy, taking the fight to big business that had flourished and rose to incredible heights of wealth and opulence. (One of his first moves as President was to negotiate a settlement of a major coal industry strike, a deal that was more favorable for labor, not management) It did not happen overnight, Northern Securities Company was sued first under the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and it took several years before the Supreme Court sided with the government, which set the precedent to dismantle other monopolizing corporations. (This is evidence for my own belief that capitalism must be strictly regulated, but that’s another post) The trust/corporation dismantling was continued by William Howard Taft after Roosevelt left office in 1909. One of the better acts by a President in peace time, if only our current President had such fortitude with regards with the rampant misconduct of the banking industry.
Theodore Roosevelt was an outdoorsman in the way Hugh Hefner appreciates female company. He aggressively pursued conservation efforts by establishing national parks, natural preserves, national forests and the United States Forest Service. Also, the Antiquities Act was passed in 1906 during his presidency, allowing the President of the United States to restrict the use of public land for the federal government. It has preserved some of the United States greatest natural treasures; an example of its implementation would be the Grand Canyon, designated in 1908. I do not want to think about what could have happened if Roosevelt’s administration did not put an emphasis on protecting the environment, about what could have been lost or destroyed. The national treasures of the United States have been preserved. (unless there is oil/natural gas beneath them, all bets are off)
Protecting the environment and preventing monopolies from dominating the economy were two tenets of what Roosevelt called ‘the Square Deal’, his domestic governing philosophy. The other significant accomplishment was establishing the FDA with the Pure Food and Drug Act, requiring safety/sanitation standards that protected Americans from shady/unethical/dangerous sources of food and drugs. Seems completely logical now, but with the rise of industrial meat packers, specifically in Chicago as documented in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, there were lax sanitation standards. It was a dearly necessary law and federal regulation, protecting America’s food source. I should have mentioned the ‘Square Deal’ earlier as it was the guiding vision Roosevelt had, the basic tenets were conservation, consumer protection and curbing the power of corporations. He was a president with the best interests of the people, not the best interests of his own party.
Real quick: Roosevelt had Booker T. Washington over to the White House for dinner, a potential enormous step for Civil rights but the public outcry was so fierce that Roosevelt did not press strongly for such reform. I find that a significant mistake of his presidency. Civil Rights would have to wait.
Foreign Policy: The Panama Canal. Roosevelt initiated a revolution so Panama could split from Colombia, then made a deal to build the canal, one of the most important engineering feats and waterways in modern history. Roosevelt’s actions were an example of the ‘Roosevelt Corollary’, an addendum to the Monroe Doctrine. (US would militarily intervene within the hemisphere, not the Europeans) Roosevelt also played peace maker between Russia and Japan with the Treaty of Portsmouth, which got him a Nobel Peace Prize. (Actually did something for his unlike Obama) This treaty was an example of Roosevelt’s ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick’ foreign policy, there was a significant US Naval presence at Portsmouth, a show of power to impress upon the Russians and Japanese the need to end hostilities unless they wanted US military intervention. (Roosevelt had built up the Navy, expanding on the foundation that our boy Chester A. Arthur had laid)
But the greatest achievement of Theodore Roosevelt’s administration was not the trust-busting or the conservation efforts, not the world-wide peace keeping role the United States began to take while he was in office or founding the FDA. It was forcing football to adopt safer rules and cleaning up the ‘murder on a field’ image it had gained by the turn of the 20th century. Professional football was not in the picture yet, it was the universities across the nation that were thinking of banning football because of the toll it took on its players. Roosevelt gathered influential collegiate coaches at the White House and it was because of this meeting that rule changes were implemented and football was saved. If not for Roosevelt’s intervention, we might not have Super Bowl Sunday or more importantly SEC Football! This is reason enough for Teddy Roosevelt to claim the top prize as best president ever. Move over Lincoln with your silly Civil War administration, don’t even bother us George Washington with your steady leadership of a fledgling country, you are just not good enough FDR with your guiding the country through a depression and a World War, none of you saved football. There should be a golden statue of Theodore Roosevelt outside every major football stadium, that would be just the start of thanking him for saving the greatest sport of all, college football. Someone should tell Alabama he coached them to one of their 23 or so national championships and he’ll get a statue ASAP.
Theodore Roosevelt curbed corporate power, regulated the food industry, enhanced America’s image abroad, protected natural beauty, SAVED FOOTBALL and looked out for the little guy. I believe he was a remarkable president, absolutely worthy of his place on Mount Rushmore.