here was no doubt that Roosevelt would run for a second term as Governor. But that all changed on November 21, 1899 when Vice President, Garret A. Hobart died of a heart attack. Friends urged Roosevelt to make himself available for Vice President when McKinley ran for re-election the following year.
At first he was against the idea. He wanted to become President one day and no Vice President had ever gone to be elected President since Martin Van Buren in 1836. In those days, the vice presidency was where political careers went to die. After leaving office Vice Presidents were never heard of again. Some politicians in New York wanted to see that happen to Roosevelt. When he was nominated for the position, the only person that voted against Theodore Roosevelt gaining the Vice President nomination was Theodore Roosevelt.
After months of working on McKinley’s re-election, Roosevelt waited for the returns at Sagamore Hill. When it was clear that he and McKinley had won, a newspaperman congratulated him. Roosevelt said “Don’t. This election tonight means my political death” he then paused and said, “Of course, this is not for publication.”
On the September 7, 1901, President McKinley was shot but was certain to make a recovery and Roosevelt was told to go ahead with the vacation he had been planning. But 6 days later, as Roosevelt was in the woods a messenger approached him with a telegram. The President was dying of gangrene. The telegram said:
“His condition is grave. Oxygen is being given. Absolutely no hope. Members of the cabinet think you should lose no time coming. ”
Roosevelt wore out two teams of horses racing down the mountains. Then climbed aboard a special train headed for Buffalo. It took him a total of 12 hours to get there. By the time Roosevelt had arrived, McKinley was dead.
Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office in the parlor of a friend’s house at half-past 3 in the afternoon on September 14, 1901. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his diary the following:
It is a terrible thing to come to the Presidency this way, but it would be a far worse thing to be morbid about it. Here is the task and I have got to do it to the best of ability and that is all there is about it.
- Theodore Roosevelt
He was the youngest President in U.S. History, just 42. He was the first President to have been born in a city, the first to be known by his initials, the first to go down in a submarine, the first to leave the country during the course of his time in office. He was the first President to send a transatlantic cable for the purposes of diplomacy, the first to own an automobile but most importantly, he was the first President to win the Nobel Peace Prize and more important than that, the first President to invite an African-American to dine with him at the White House.
Booker Washington was to dine with Roosevelt at the White House on October 17, 1901. Booker Washington was the most powerful black man in America. Each man wanted something from the other. African American’s had been mistreated throughout the South and Booker Washington wanted Roosevelt’s assurance that he would continue to appoint African-Americans to federal jobs. Roosevelt wanted to make sure that he and he alone controlled all the black delegates to the Republican convention in 1904.
He tackled a lot while in office, including the coal miner strike and building the Panama Canal and challenged many other politicians. But it was not all serious. He would play all different kinds of wild games in the White House. One game was called single stick, in which he and Leonard Wood would wrap themselves up in cushions and then beat the living daylights out of each other with sticks. He would also like to box with a young aide until one blow to the head caused him to lose vision in his left eye. It was after this he quit boxing and took up Jiu-Jitsu for a year.
During his tour of New England, he was on his way to speak at the Pittsfield Massachusetts Country Club on September 3 when a trolley car slammed into his carriage, only his bodyguard was killed. Roosevelt was hurled 30 feet, landed on his face and badly injured his left shin. He was forced to spend several weeks in a wheelchair.
As Roosevelt’s re-election came closer in 1904, the executive mansion, was rebuilt, refurbished and officially renamed The White House mirrored Roosevelt’s enthusiasms.
Roosevelt was worried he would not be re-elected as President, but he could not have been more wrong. He won the election by a land slide. He took nearly every state outside the old democratic confederacy.
But during this time of celebration, he made the worst mistake of his political career. The constitution said nothing about how many terms a President might serve. But because George Washington had refused to stand for a third term, none of his successors dared to try to break that precedent. Roosevelt announced that under no circumstances would he accept another nomination. He would not run for another term in 1908. It was something he deeply regretted an and told a friend that he would cut his hand off, if it meant he could recall that statement.
But one of he most notable things Roosevelt done in his second term was sign the Antiquities Actin June 1906. This empowered him to provide protection for prehistoric ruins as well as “objects of scientific interest” on federal lands without having to ask permission of the congress. The act would also save national monuments and more than 800,000 acres of the grandest canyon on earth. He would also create 51 bird sanctuaries, 4 national game refuges and 18 national monuments. He doubled the number of national parks from 5 to 10, saving western landscapes. He also helped save the Buffalo from extinction, the animal he had once loved to shoot. He set aside more than 280,000 square miles of federal land under one kind of conservation protection or another, an area larger than the state of Texas. He created the United States Forest Service to see that the development of natural resources be done in a responsible and sustainable way.
Although he had accomplished many great things in the 7 years he was president, Roosevelt could not class himself as a great President because he had faced no great crisis while in office. But Roosevelt proved that you didn’t have to face a big crisis or a war to be immortalised as a great president.