Theodore Roosevelt


Public life

Occupation 1

26th president (1901-09)

Occupation 2

Ass't Sec'y of Navy


New York


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Age of Steam and Steel (1866-1920)








After graduating from Harvard in 1880, and deciding against a legal career while a student at the Columbia Law School, Roosevelt wrote his first book, The Naval War of 1812, which appeared in 1882. Fifteen years later, he became assistant secretary of the navy in the McKinley administration. In that position he improved morale, administration, and tactical efficiency, and pressed the case for increased naval power and technological improvement. He also argued behind the scenes for war against Spain. Acting on his own while Secretary John D. Long was away from his office one afternoon ten days after the battleship Maine sank off Havana, Roosevelt enjoined Commodore George Dewey in Hong Kong to prepare to engage the Spanish fleet in the Philippines in the event of war. The order accorded with standing policy and was not reversed´┐Ż Hardly had war come in April than Roosevelt resigned to organize the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment under the command of Colonel Leonard Wood.

Roosevelt won election [to the vice presidency] in [1900] and became president on 14 September 1901, the day after William McKinley died of an assassin's bullet.

Roosevelt agreed with A. T. Mahan (The Influence of Sea Power upon History) and others that the United States needed a first-class navy to foster and protect its commercial and political interests´┐Ż Roosevelt reinvigorated McKinley's program of two new battleships a year and maintained it to 1905. Satisfied that the buildup made the United States "a good second to France" and put it about on a par with Germany, he announced that a replacement policy would suffice. (Congress authorized two ships anyway.) Prompted by new international tensions in 1906, especially with Japan, Roosevelt returned to expansionism, including dreadnoughts.

From the beginning, Roosevelt's conviction that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans should be linked by a United States-controlled canal propelled him deep into Latin American affairs. In [1903] he took the most controversial action of his presidency. Convinced that Colombia had played fast and loose in negotiations over United States construction of a canal through the Colombian state of Panama, he abetted a revolution by the Panamanians.

[I]n 1902 he pledged the United States to silent partnership in the Japanese-British naval alliance. Three years later he fostered mediation of the Russo-Japanese War, partly to keep Japan from weighting the balance too heavily. The action earned Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize.

For Roosevelt, Germany's warning in February 1915 that neutral ships risked destruction in the war zone around the British Isles completed the metamorphosis of the war from a strategic to a moral struggle. National character and American rights now became the transcendent issue. "We owe it not only to humanity but to our national self respect" to act, the Colonel declared when the British liner Lusitania was torpedoed in the war zone with the loss of 124 Americans.

He died in his home, "Sagamore Hill," at Oyster Bay, Long Island.

Related Images

Date: 1900s
Date: 1900s