Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (/ˈroʊzəvɛlt/ ROH-zə-velt; October 27, 1858 – January 6, 1919), often referred to by his initials TR, was an American statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and historian who served as the 26th President of the United States. A leader of the Republican Party, he was the spokesman for the Progressive Era. A sickly child whose asthma was debilitating and nearly fatal, Roosevelt regained his vigor, and embraced a strenuous life. He integrated his exuberant personality, vast range of interests, and world-famous achievements into a "cowboy" persona defined by its exultant masculinity. Home-schooled, he became a lifelong naturalist at an early age. Roosevelt attended Harvard College, where he studied biology, boxed, and developed an interest in naval affairs. His first of many books, The Naval War of 1812 (1882), established his reputation as both a learned historian and a popular writer. He soon entered politics, winning election to the New York State Assembly in 1881. He became the leader of the reform faction of the Republican Party in the state. Following the deaths of his wife and mother on the same day in 1884, Roosevelt took a reprieve from politics to operate a cattle ranch in the Dakotas as a cowboy. When his herds died in a blizzard he returned to run unsuccessfully for Mayor of New York City in 1886. He became New York City Police Commissioner in 1895, where he instituted major reforms. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under William McKinley, resigning after one year to serve with the Rough Riders, gaining national fame for courage during the war in Cuba. The returning war hero was elected Governor of New York, but confronted an entrenched party establishment that distrusted him and pushed him into becoming McKinley's running mate in 1900. He stumped the nation, helping McKinley win by a landslide on a platform of peace, prosperity and conservatism.
The Assassination of William McKinley in September 1901 meant that at age forty-two he found himself President of the United States, the youngest in history. Leading his party and country into the Progressive Era, his "Square Deal" domestic policies promised the average citizen fairness, pursuit of anti-trust litigation, low railroad rates, and guaranteeing pure food and drugs. Facing Democrat Judge Alton B. Parker in 1904, he was elected in his own right, in a landslide. An avid outdoorsman, hunter and conservationist, he oversaw the expansion of the nation's wildlife policy, and established a myriad of new national parks, forests, and monuments. In foreign policy, Roosevelt concentrated on the Americas, where he began construction of the Panama Canal; while his incumbency saw no wars, a significant naval expansion sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour, projecting the Navy's dominance as a blue-water fleet, firming his policy to "speak softly and carry a big stick". His efforts in negotiations ending the Russo-Japanese War won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize, the first of four Presidents so honored to date.
By 1907, his agenda had worn thin his mandate with Congressional Republicans. Choosing against reelection in 1908, a decision he came to regret, Roosevelt groomed his close friend, William Howard Taft, for the Republican nomination. After leaving office, he went on safari in Africa and toured Europe, but upon his return in 1910, policy disputes ended his friendship with President Taft. In 1912, Roosevelt fought to block Taft's renomination, winning the first Presidential primaries in history, but losing in the national convention. He walked out and founded his own party, the Progressive Party, and called for further progressive reforms. His split allowed the Democrats to win the White House and Congress. The conservative Republicans aligned with Taft would control the Republican Party for decades.
Defeated, Roosevelt led a major two-year expedition in the Amazon rainforest, an endeavor whose hazards nearly took his life. From 1914 to 1917, he campaigned for American entry into World War I, and reconciled with Republican leadership. While the front runner for the Republican nomination in 1920, his health was collapsing and he died in early 1919. Roosevelt has consistently been ranked by scholars as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents. His face adorns Mount Rushmore alongside those of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln.
By Dean Hanley
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