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... They were accustomed to living in the open, to enduring great fatigue and hardship, and to encountering all kinds of danger."
The war against Spain and for the liberation of Cuba was one that would prove the superiority of America and its ideals. The United States, too, could join the nations of Europe as a major world power, with interests in every corner of the globe. Roosevelt became a hero as a result of his exploits in the Spanish-American War - a modern day crusader. He used his standing to vault to the governorship of the State of New York. As Governor he now headed the wealthiest most populous state in the nation, enjoying a position of influence and power unparalleled in his career. New York was the great melting pot, the entry point for the vast waves of immigrants that were arriving from Europe. Immigration in this era had changed dramatically from the earliest days of the Republic. Not only the numbers were different, but the people who came were different. To many, the teeming masses were a European version of the benighted peoples of the distant areas of the globe. Interestingly, it was after his election as Governor of New York in 1898 that Rudyard Kipling sent a copy of his poem "The White Man's Burden" to Roosevelt. His aim was simple, to convince Theodore to throw his weight behind the full American occupation and colonization of the Philippines, Spain's former colony in the Far East, - "Now go in and put all the weight of your influence into hanging on permanently to the whole Philippines. America has gone and stuck a pickaxe into the foundations of a rotten house and she is morally bound to build the house over again from the foundations or have it fall about her ears."
Roosevelt was a kindred spirit. His views also appealed to the general public. Added to McKinley's ticket as candidate for Vice president, Roosevelt carried the day with his expansionist rhetoric and support of the gold standard against William Jennings Bryan. Theodore appeared to have the pulse of the nation as he pronounced, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
Roosevelt's tenure as Vice President was brief. McKinley's assassination in September 1901 propelled him into the nation's highest office. At only 42, he was the youngest president then or now. Seizing the opportunity, he quickly set about implementing his own ideas. Success in the Spanish-American War had placed the United States in a position of unique power in the Western Hemisphere. Theodore quickly used this leverage to formulate the Roosevelt Corollary - a new interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine that gave America the right to interfere in nations that were, from the American perspective, not being properly governed. Specifically, the Roosevelt Corollary applied the idea that a nation's inability to manage its debt would be an excuse for U.S. intervention, this intervention to be conducted as means of preventing one or other of the European powers form fulfilling the same role and so expanding its influence in the Americas. Oliver Wendell Holmes saw Roosevelt's new doctrine as a legitimate response to renewed European interest in Latin America, and as a fulfillment of America's role of protecting its fellow republics and ensuring their territorial integrity.
In foreign affairs, the new president's "big stick" was turning out to be a way to keep other nations in line. Successive presidents would use similar ideas, again and again, to enforce supposed American values; values that, like Theodore Roosevelt, they increasingly presented as universal concepts.
Universal ideas about how nations should behave were easily translated into notions of what the citizens of those nations might want. In this area, Theodore began at home. His "Square Deal" couched in trademark plain, no-nonsense terms the belief that ordinary Americans deserved the protection of government. They deserved equal standing in their dealings with the industrial behemoths that were in the process of taking over the American economy and, with it, running the day-to-day lives of average men and women. The Square Deal applied initially to the anti-trust measures that were gaining strength at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Roosevelt insisted on equality between the corporations and the workers. In essence, he sought to preserve order by preventing either side from gaining too much power, while recognizing the fact that rampant industrial growth was adversely affecting basic American notions of personal liberty.
The Hepburn Act of 1906 represented the very first time in American history that a president had gone directly to the people in his attempt to achieve legislation.
Congress had opposed the legislation as it took control over shipping rates away from the powerful railroads and placed it under control of the Interstate Communications Commission. Railroads were a fact of modern life, and Roosevelt was endeavoring to make their management fairer to the population at large and to those other businesses that made use of their services. It was an important step in direct Federal Government involvement in U.S. business.
1904 saw Theodore's Roosevelt's election to a second time - another validation of his policies and attitudes as he had never actually been elected to the office. The second term saw the beginning of the actual construction of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt had negotiated the treaty in 1903, overseeing the creation of an independent Republic of Panama. The treaty was forced on Colombia. In keeping with his firmly-held belief that he was only bringing inevitable progress, he had denounced Colombia's leaders as the "cutthroats and blackmailers of Bogota," and that nation's president as "Pithecanthropoid" - the last an aptly scientific-sounding insult from a man who did so much to urge America onto the path of conservation.
Social Darwinism was evidently the prelude to direct management of nature. The Panama Canal gave the United States control of a strategic sea route that linked the Atlantic (through the Caribbean Sea) and Pacific Oceans. Roosevelt's second term saw a continued push to project American power and influence. The Great White Fleet made its world tour from December 1907 to February 1909. This awesome show of American naval strength was quintessential Theodore. The nation showed off its very real military prowess while allowing other lands to observe America's industrial and technological skill. The entire voyage was also, in effect, a grand global pageant. The sight of so many large and modern warships flying the American colors was a spectacle that attracted the attention of the common people of the world along with their leaders. Still, this show of American Power could also backfire. The Latin American public was annoyed by the incessant moralizing that accompanied the ships, and they saw Roosevelt as all too willingly brandishing his "Big Stick" over much of Central and South America.
With the "wild "regions of the world suitable impressed or even cowed, President Roosevelt could attend also to the needs of biological nature. Theodore Roosevelt's presidency was instrumental in laying the foundations for today's conservationist movement. In 1903 he created the nation's first bird preserve and soon followed that up with the American Bison Society - an attempt to save the last of the nearly-extinct bison and preserve them for future generations. The United States Forest Service, which Roosevelt established in 1905, quickly came to head a network of national parks. Much as he strove to give the oppressed peoples of the world a place to call their won, and a chance to thrive, so too was he given animals and birds a chance to live as they were meant to live, free from human industrial and economic interference. Still, Roosevelt did not neglect the human aspect. He established the principle of managing these wild lands according to the principles of practical forestry. This meant that they would be open to logging under the right, "managed" conditions, an arrangement which presented few problems in the first half of the Twentieth Century as there was sufficient timber areas not actually within the national parks.
Once more Roosevelt was setting a precedent - Nature would be preserved but within the framework of human needs.
A final image of Roosevelt's legacy can be seen in his continued pursuit of the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions as a Rough Rider at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Theodore always believed that the Medal of Honor was his due. In total disregard for his own safety, Theodore led four or five men up San Juan Hill under heavy enemy fire, all the while encouraging the remainder of the regiment to continue the attack. Roosevelt's fellow Rough Riders, both officers and men, always felt he deserved the Medal of Honor, and had, form the beginning commended his bravery. The circumstances of his feat were a statement of his values, a real-life embodiment of his commitment to physical heroism, personal resolve and initiative. The attack also showed his commitment to country and willingness to fight for…[continue]
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