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Yesterday was the 100th Anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's Death. Here's How His Legacy Still Shapes the United States Today.

Historians/History
tags: Theodore Roosevelt, presidential history, anniversary



Ronald L. Feinman is the author of “Assassinations, Threats, and the American Presidency: From Andrew Jackson to Barack Obama” (Rowman Littlefield Publishers, August 2015). A paperback edition is now available.

The beginning of the year 2019 marks the centennial of the death of the 26thPresident of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, who passed away at age 60 on January 6, 1919. The impact of Roosevelt was massive, and continues to be so on America a century later. Here are five ways that Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy still shapes the United States today. 

 

The first and most significant contribution of Theodore Roosevelt to his country was his commitment to and advocacy of conservation of the environment, including promotion of national parks and national monuments, protection of our natural resources for the long term, and emphasizing the need for government and the people to show respect and awe for the great natural wonders of the North American continent.  Roosevelt is regarded as the premier figure who inspired the environmental movement, which fortunately was encouraged and accelerated by many of his White House successors including Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

 

Second, Roosevelt emphasized the need for social justice and encouraged “progressivism” from the White House. He was committed to the cause of workers and consumers both in and out of office.  The need for responsible government regulation of corporations was a driving force in his life.  He sincerely believed that many problems in American society could not be resolved just on the state and local level, but needed a national voice for all of the American people—not just the wealthy and privileged.

 

Roosevelt also shaped the modern presidency as he revived the Presidential office after its decline in power and influence after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. In doing so, he became the model for many future presidents including Wilson, FDR, Harry Truman,  Kennedy. Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Clinton and Obama. Presidential scholars in History and Political Science would regularly rate Theodore Roosevelt as a “Near Great” President, ranked only behind Lincoln, George Washington, and FDR. This is quite a feat to hold such scholarly admiration and public renown for an entire century.

 

Fourthly, Roosevelt saw the absolute need to build the defenses of the United States against any future foreign threat. In particular, he loved and was fascinated with the US Navy. He believed war was at times necessary to protect the great experiment in democracy and the constitutional framework set up by the Founding Fathers.  As part of his perception of world affairs, Roosevelt saw the need for the building of the Panama Canal, and for assertion of American authority over the Western Hemisphere, going past the wording of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 with his Roosevelt Corollary in 1904, and his assertion of the Big Stick policy toward Latin America.  Unfortunately, this created a long-term image of the United States as a imperialist power, not well regarded or appreciated by the independent nations of the hemisphere.

 

Finally, Roosevelt, while promoting military and naval buildup for protection of the nation, was also a great diplomat. His expansion of American diplomacy and relations with foreign nations helped expand American power in the early 20thcentury. He became very close to nations that would later become our allies—particularly Great Britain and France—and set a new standard for presidential engagement by negotiating the Treaty of Portsmouth which ended the Russo Japanese War of 1904-1905, winning him the honor of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.  He also took a moral stand toward any sign of aggression in the world as he came to warn of the danger of German aggression at the time of the Morocco Crisis of 1905-1906. He spoke out against the pogroms going on in Czarist Russia during his Presidency, and worked to promote a peaceful co-existence between Japan and the United States in the Far East, due to his concerns over our territories of Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippine Islands. 

 

These five positive contributions of Theodore Roosevelt have lasted and will continue to have an impact on the American Presidency and the future of the American nation.

 


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