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Theodore Roosevelt’s Record
When President William McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet on September 14, 1901, his vice president for the six months of McKinley’s second term, Theodore Roosevelt, was sworn in as the nation’s youngest chief executive ever (42 years old).  Three months later in his first annual message to Congress, Roosevelt set forth his administration’s antitrust policy.  He acknowledged both the social benefits and problems resulting from the emergence of large business corporations.  He would soon earn the nickname, “Trustbuster,” but his preference was for the federal government to regulate, rather than prohibit or dismantle, big business.  However, on February 19, 1902, Roosevelt’s Justice Department sued in federal court under the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) to break up J. P. Morgan’s railroad trust, the Northern Securities Company.  It was the first of 45 antitrust suits filed by his administration.

When 150,000 Pennsylvania coalminers walked off the job in May 1902, Roosevelt pressured the reluctant mine owners to the negotiating table by threatening a government takeover of the mines.  In October, an arbitration panel settled the dispute largely in favor of the strikers, though stopping short of formal union recognition.  The precedent-setting executive action was the first time a president had intervened on the side of labor.  In 1903, Roosevelt signed an act establishing the Bureau of Corporations, which was charged with inspecting and publicizing corporate earnings; the Elkins Act, which outlawed freight-rebates for large shippers; and an act creating the Department of Commerce and Labor.  In March 1904, the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the Roosevelt administration’s lawsuit against Northern Securities for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Shortly after assuming the presidency in 1901, Roosevelt had dinner and a lengthy discussion with Booker T. Washington, the nation’s most prominent black leader.  It was the first time a black person had been officially entertained at the White House, and the event provoked heated criticism by white Southern and Democratic politicians and newspapers.  In a speech on Memorial Day 1902, Roosevelt forcefully condemned the lynching of blacks, and spoke out at other times against the practice.  In 1903, the president ignored objections and named a black man, Dr. William D. Crum, as Collector of the Port of Charleston, South Carolina.  Later that year, he closed a post office in Indianola, Mississippi, when white residents protested against his appointment of a black postmistress.

One of Roosevelt’s foremost legacies concerned environmental conservation, often in the face of strong opposition.  In May 1902, Crater Lake (Oregon) was the first of five national parks he established, and the Newlands (Nevada) Reclamation Act he signed the next month was the first of 21 federal irrigation projects under his watch.  The next year, Pelican Island (Florida) became the first of 51 federal bird reservations and Luquillo (Puerto Rico) the first of 150 national forests established during his presidency (and the only tropical forest to the present).  The administration’s policies concerning environmental conservation and business regulation had their roots most visibly in the presidency of Republican Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893), but Roosevelt applied federal authority far more extensively and vigorously in both areas.

In foreign policy, the most notable event of Roosevelt’s first term was the Panama Canal Treaty.  In January 1903, Secretary of State John Hay signed a treaty with Colombia in which the United States purchased a 99-year lease to a canal zone in Panama (then part of Colombia).  When the Colombian senate rejected the treaty, Roosevelt and Hay concluded that the South American nation had negotiated in bad faith.  That November, French engineer Philippe Bunau-Varilla led a successful revolt against Colombian rule in Panama.  Roosevelt had been aware of the plan and, although he gave no verbal support, had ordered the Pacific fleet to the area.  On November 18, the Panama Canal treaty gave the United States sovereignty over a canal zone in return for $10 million ($202 million in 2002 dollars) and $250,000 annual rent (which was raised over the years).  Construction began in 1904, and the Panama Canal opened in 1914. 

The Republican Nomination
Before McKinley’s assassination, four vice presidents—John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, and Chester Arthur—had assumed the nation’s highest office upon the death of a president.  Not one had then won his party’s nomination for a presidential term in his own right.  However, Theodore Roosevelt’s strong leadership and popularity made it likely that he would break historical precedence by winning the GOP presidential nomination in 1904.  In the spring of 1902, about six months after assuming the presidency, Roosevelt assembled an informal campaign committee.  Postmaster General Henry C. Payne and James S. Clarkson, surveyor of the Port of New York, distributed the federal government’s largest blocks of patronage with an eye to Roosevelt’s nomination.  Joseph B. Bishop, editor of the New York Commercial Advertiser, and Nicholas Murray Butler, president of Columbia University, oversaw the campaign in New York State.  In 1902, 13 Republican state delegations endorsed Roosevelt, giving him 286 of the 498 votes needed for nomination.  In early 1903, the president’s new personal secretary, William Loeb Jr., coordinated campaign information and advice from across the nation. 

Roosevelt’s only obstacle was a possible challenge from Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio, chairman of the Republican National Committee and a key advisor to the late McKinley.  Conservatives unhappy with Roosevelt’s vigorous antitrust policy encouraged Hanna to run, while the president sought his endorsement and promise not to run.  The Ohio senator was coy about his intentions, stating ambiguously that the nomination was Roosevelt’s to lose.  With the backing of the business community, fellow senators, and party officials, Hanna would have made a formidable opponent.  On the other hand, his influence, though still potent, had waned since McKinley’s assassination, his health was poor, and he failed to establish a presidential campaign organization.  It was, however, the intervention of Ohio’s other U.S. senator, Joseph Foraker, a fellow Republican but political foe, that precipitated the end of Hanna’s chance for the nomination. 

In early 1903, the Roosevelt campaign became concerned about “lots of Hanna talk” they heard in the Midwest and New York.  The situation culminated in a game of political one-upmanship prior to the Ohio Republican State Convention in June.  In May, Hanna’s Ohio backers announced that the upcoming gathering would focus on state issues and not endorse the president’s nomination a year early.  In response, Senator Foraker remarked that the state’s Republican rank and file would “be very much disappointed” if the convention did not express its support of Roosevelt’s nomination.  Senator Hanna, in turn, explained to the president and the press that such an action would be premature.  On May 25, Roosevelt wrote Hanna and released a public statement arguing that the question “was bound to arise” at the state convention, and “those who favor my administration and nomination will endorse them, and those who do not will oppose them.”   

Publicly forced to take a side, Hanna replied that he would not interfere with the Ohio convention endorsing the president.  The delegates complied, which virtually assured Roosevelt’s nomination.  Nevertheless, with the added incentive of an economic downturn in the second half of 1903, some Republican businessmen continued into early 1904 to offer financial support for a Hanna candidacy.  However, on February 15, the Ohio senator died of typhoid fever.  A few months later at the Republican National Convention that nominated Roosevelt, a huge portrait of the late Hanna hung on the podium.  To replace Hanna as national party chairman, Roosevelt turned to Secretary of Commerce and Labor George B. Cortelyou after Winthrop Murray Crane, Elihu Root, and Cornelius Bliss each turned down the offer.  The appointment was unpopular with party officials because Cortelyou, the former private secretary to Roosevelt and President Grover Cleveland, was considered a dutiful civil servant who would bend to the president’s will. 

The Republican National Convention was held at the Chicago Coliseum on June 21-23, 1904.  Although not present, Roosevelt controlled practically every aspect of it.  He handpicked Root, the former secretary of war, and Speaker of the House Joseph Cannon as the temporary and permanent convention chairmen, respectively.  That both men were conservatives was part of the president’s dual strategy of unifying the party and moderating his image before the general election.  Roosevelt chose all the convention speakers and edited their remarks.  In order to shore up support in New York, the president chose Frank Black, whom he had succeeded as governor, to deliver the nominating (and the only unedited) speech.  In two delegate disputes, Roosevelt backed a biracial Louisiana delegation against the state’s “lily-white” one, and Wisconsin conservatives over Governor Robert La Follette’s progressives. 

The Republican National Platform extolled the party’s history, credited Republican economic policy with restoring the nation’s prosperity, and praised Republican foreign policy for establishing Cuban independence, territorial government in Puerto Rico, stability in the Philippines, and construction of the Panama Canal.  The document upheld traditional GOP support for protective tariffs.  It deemed business corporations and labor unions a logical result of recent economic trends, but warned that neither should impinge upon “the rights and interests of the people.”  A call for reduced Congressional representation for states that unconstitutionally limited the right to vote was an oblique reference to Southern suppression of black voting rights.  Roosevelt considered it the only disingenuous plank in the platform because, although morally correct, it was politically unenforceable. 

Since presidents were not mandated to fill vacancies in the vice presidency until ratification of the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1967, Roosevelt’s first term was served without one.  He showed little interest in the vice-presidential nomination in 1904, suggesting Robert Hitt, a 70-year-old Illinois congressman, but letting delegates make the selection.  They chose Senator Charles Fairbanks of Indiana, whose conservative principles and Midwestern home balanced the president’s New York-bred progressivism.

 
 
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