The turn of the century has always been a big deal for modern
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
1500s. Jamestown colony, founded in 1607, was England’s first foothold on
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
which to be reckoned.
violating them and others for years. Roosevelt also initiated the United
States’ active interests in other countries, and began to spread the
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 CD). 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
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
Lincoln, he “extinguished the light of the republic” (Cashman 1). While
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
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 Theodore.
Reconstruction’s greatest (and perhaps only) accomplishment was the
establishment of a basis for industrialization. The basic destruction of
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 their improvement of industry in the United
States came the spark of ingenuity that found itself in the minds of great
“hastening and securing settlement,” both men concentrated on improvements
14). The presence of these two, who are representative of so many others,
improving their infrastructure. It is interesting to note here that
Roosevelt, as the first president to make use of the popular press to his
The period of the United States directly before Roosevelt’s was known as
of references to “gilding refined gold,” and “guilt” from Shakespeare
combined with the “guilty, gilden guilds” that had sprung up in the forms
in two generations. The first, peppered by those such as Jay Gould, Jim
railroads through not always legitimate means (Cashman 34). The railroads
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.
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
before. Ten million people came to the United States between 1860 and 1890,
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
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 assimilation
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
president, McKinley, can not be classified as a Gilded Age president.
for the last time as a totally inward-looking nation. Although a metal
standard would not disappear from United States currency until well into
again be raised by President Franklin Roosevelt, the Free Silver campaign
National Grange died upon McKinley’s election, and “after the excitement of
Bryan’s Free Silver campaign died down, the agrarian ferment largely
that McKinley’s presidency ended in assassination, for without the sudden
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
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
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 sluggish,
wandering mind” (Morris 586). McKinley was president when the United
States’ first modern military nterventions began. However it is clear
territorial aggression”(Cashman 315). However, much of America did want war
266 soldiers, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt called for
war with Spain to free Cuba.
The subsequent defeat of the Spanish in 100 days and the capture of
increasing. During the election of 1900, Bryan ran against McKinley again.
This time, both men campaigned on the same side of the same issue,
advocating annexation of overseas territories (Cashman 329). This confused
Democrats and allowed McKinley’s re-election for the last year of the
Lincoln to the Assassination of McKinley has shown the trend away from
independent, and into one more pro-government, like that of Hamilton.
Coupled to this was a tendency to look outside United States borders into
and was sweeping upward. It needed, however, an individual to carry it to
its apex. Theodore Roosevelt was in the right place at the right time.
Whether he was the right person for the job remains a matter that must be
dealt with. His foundations and his career demonstrate that he was the
perfect person to succeed McKinley and take the United States into its
modern era. Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, one week before
Buchanan was elected president, and two and a half years before the
skills at such an early age, Roosevelt, in a sense, “slept through [the
war]” (Hagedorn 11). In another sense, he did not.
Theodore Roosevelt was born into a house of strikingly opposite
leaders. His father was a large, cheerful, powerful man, who tended to be
joyful and move quickly. It is safe to say Theodore Roosevelt, junior,
received his stature from the man bearing his name (Morris 34). If
Roosevelt’s father was a “northern burgher,” his mother was an archetypal
Southern belle, refined and elegant. By all accounts she was absolutely
lovely, and had a wonderful taste for the beautiful things in life (Morris
of decorum, and his strong wit. The even balance that existed in the
Roosevelt home fell into a disarray of sorts as war broke out. TR, Senior
his wife, her sister, and her mother, all staunchly confederates, resided
in the same house. To compromise, TR, Senior hired someone to fight for him
and served the army in a civilian sense. TR, Junior has always been known
as a staunch militaristic man. Although his father was, in his own words,
government, Roosevelt felt ashamed, and never mentioned this blemish on his
was this lack of military display that encouraged Roosevelt to be so
military and almost hysterically desire warfare (Morris 40). Theodore
Roosevelt, Senior, was always a strong individual in body and soul.
even known to take in invalid kittens, placing them in his coat-pockets
(Morris 34). The powerful mind and will of Theodore Roosevelt, Junior,
however, was born into a sickly body. Teedie suffered from bronchial asthma,
and incurred, along with it, a host of associated diseases such as frequent
colds, nervous diarrhea, and other problems (Miller 31). He was left very
weak as a young child, and was often subject to taunting. His father spoke
without the help of the body the mind cannot go as far as it should. You
must make your body. It is hard drudgery to make one’s body, but I know you
will do it (Miller 46).Accordingly, Teedie replied with fervor, “I’ll make
my body!” Indeed he did. The young Roosevelt spent hours in the gym,
working on weights to make himself better. It was this indomitable spirit
that pushed Roosevelt forward, and urged him into his form of powerful
politics. Theodore Roosevelt, Senior, had always hated politics. He had
received a particularly nasty dose when caught up in the Rutherford B.
Hayes campaign. Roosevelt, a Hayes supporter, had drawn the particular ire
attempted to put Roosevelt in as position of Collector, but failed to
receive senate nomination due to Conkling’s ire (Miller 76-8). Theodore
Roosevelt, Junior, “inspired by his father’s humiliation at the hands of
the politicians…was determined to become part of…the governing class”
(Miller 110). This inspiration was coupled in Roosevelt with a strong
desire for power. Unlike many men who had gotten into the political game,
Roosevelt boldly admitted that he desired power, and his desire served him
well, allowing him to become a genuine career politician (Miller 111). The
political game had not changed so much since Theodore, Senior had tried to
run it, and Theodore, Junior had an uphill battle. He had to fight from the
beginning, but fortunately was adequate in that respect. At first plagued
by strict-line party voting, Roosevelt managed to finally secure political
office, but it was there that his true troubles would begin. An important
and revealing part of TR’s early political career occurs during his stint
occurred in 1889 when Roosevelt faced some difficult political maneuvering.
friends and altering records to hide it. Hamilton Shidy, a Post Office
superintendent, provided most of the damaging evidence. The commission was
to recommend Paul’s firing, when Paul announced his term of office was up
regardless. The commission returned to Washington, where they learned Paul
had lied about his length of service. Roosevelt immediately drafted a call
for Paul’s removal to the White House and the Associated Press. This
themselves. Postmaster General Wanamaker, who was not particularly fond of
Roosevelt to begin with, was quite angry. He allowed Paul, who had not been
removed, to dismiss Shidy, who had been promised protection by Roosevelt,
place. He was bound both to Shidy as a protector and to uphold his post,
which would warrant Shidy’s removal. Wanamaker was trying to force
Roosevelt to resign. Luckily, president Harrison intervened and agreed to
find a place for Shidy, but the battle was not over. As he waited for
Paul’s removal orders from the White House, which were not forthcoming,
Frank Hatton, the editor of the Washington Post decided to launch an attack,
lying blatantly about Roosevelt’s misappropriation of funds or other
egregious acts. The Post fired back with more attacks, causing Roosevelt to
angrily point to Wanamaker’s misdeeds. Rather than continue the battle,
Harrison managed to have Paul resign, and Roosevelt accepted half of a
victory. He had successfully stopped the wheels of the political machine
once. It was not to be the last time (Morris 403-8).
Roosevelt spent several years as a commissioner of police in New
York City, eventually rising to become president of the board of
commissioners. In these years, the true signs of the presidency that was to
come shone through. Two of Roosevelt’s closest acquaintances were Lincoln
newspapers. It was through them that Roosevelt communicated to the people,
and he found it good practice to have the relayers of his messages be his
friends. Through Riis’ book How The Other Half Lives, Roosevelt had learned
of the plight of the poor. Roosevelt saw the awful living conditions
present in police lodging houses, and had them done away with (Cashman 123).
He battled police corruption, trying hundreds of officers and finding
corruption and graft in every corner of the department (Morris 491). When
McKinley’s first vice-president, Hobart, died, Roosevelt found himself in
the capacity of Governor of New York. He had already fought in a war and
been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, where he helped to orchestrate the
United States’ roles in Cuba and Panama. Roosevelt’s expansionist views
were here seen. As governor, he continued to defy the old political tactics,
including bossism. Platt, the political boss of New York, had gotten
Roosevelt elected governor, yet constantly ran up against Roosevelt, who
would not follow any of his orders. Roosevelt spent a good time of his
governorship attempting to outmaneuver Platt and his agents who were
1899, forced the search for a new vice-presidential candidate, especially
due to the upcoming election. Roosevelt emerged as the leading candidate,
Hanna considered Roosevelt quite dangerous; in the previous term Hanna had
happen if Roosevelt became vice-president. McKinley did not show any
special preference. Hanna chose his own candidate, John D. Long, but was
convinced through some slightly shady political maneuvering to vote for
Roosevelt against his own better judgment (Morris 727). Hanna’s personal
dislike of Roosevelt did not diminish in the slightest, however. Shortly
after the 1900 elections, Hanna sent McKinley a note saying “Your duty to
the Country is to live for four years from next March (Miller 342).
McKinley was re-nominated unanimously, receiving all 926 votes. Roosevelt
received 925, the single vote against him cast by himself (Morris 729).
until December. And when the news of McKinley’s sudden death on September
14 came to him he said, in a very un-Roosevelt-like manner, that he would
odd coming from such a strong-willed man as Roosevelt.
Roosevelt had already made himself extremely well known in the
public eye, so his transition to president was not as awkward as it might
have been. Roosevelt campaigned furiously during 1900, traveling a total of
21,209 miles and making 673 speeches in 567 towns in 24 states (Morris 730).
Only Bryan had campaigned more in the 19th century. For this reason,
Roosevelt was able to manipulate, to a certain degree, the popular press.
Although he disliked those “Muckrakers,” as he called them, who looked for
wrongdoing everywhere and served mostly to stir sensationalistic ideas,
Roosevelt had a certain penchant for those like Steffens and Riis, who
wrote copiously on the need for social reform.
To do his part, Roosevelt attempted reforms that would benefit the
working class. Unlike previous presidents, Roosevelt refused to use
national force to break strikes. He also instituted the Interstate Commerce
Act, which, with the Hepburn Act, allowed government regulation of
transportation systems, preventing the railroad monopolies from instituting
unfairly high prices (Barck 52). Taking a cue from Upton Sinclair’s The
Jungle, which detailed in vivid description the atrocious handling of meat
at sausage factories, Roosevelt had the Pure Foods and Drugs Act and the
Meat Inspection Act passed, preventing the manufacture of harmful foods and
requiring inspection of meat facilities. A unique aspect of Roosevelt’s
presidency was his foreign policy. Although McKinley had been involved in
Cuba and the Philippines, he had never expressed a wish to dominate as a
world power. Roosevelt had, indeed, operated a large part of the United
States’ aggressive role towards Cuba, and in his presidency went even
further to secure the United States as a dominating power. In 1904 he
declared what would become the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine
in a letter to Secretary of War Elihu Root (Miller 394).
After a brief interlude in which everything seemed to revert back
to the old ways and Americans looked again toward the individual, another
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, used the ideas of his cousin to reinvigorate
the economy and rebuild the nation. Today, the reforms advocated by TR
exist and are in full use, while other more progressive reforms, like
not end abruptly in 1999, as predicted by numerous psychics and fortune-
tellers, it is probable that some large revolutionary act will change the
way our country works in four years or so, just as it has before. While our
Roosevelt may not have the immense popularity or wonderful charm as the
original, it is not doubtful that whoever it is will have to have will,
strength, brains, and fortitude equal to or above that of the original.
of the United States in Our Times. New York: MacMillan, 1974.
to the Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: New York University Press,1984.
Hagedorn, Hermann. The Boys’ Life of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Harper
and Brothers, 1918.
Miller, Nathan. Theodore Roosevelt: A Life. New York: William Morrow, & Co.,
1992.Morris, Edward. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Goward, McCann,
& Geoghegan, 1979.
Nash, Gary, et. al. The American People: Creating a Nation and a Society.
New York: Harper Collins, 1990.