Born into the age of manifest destiny, Theodore Roosevelt, the twenty-sixth President of the United States, was probably the most domineering politician of the first half of the twentieth century. He was a hunter, a soldier, a cowboy, and a Statesman, his likeness forever carved into Mount Rushmore. He started the National Park Department, and collected specimens for the museum of Natural History. The Teddy Bear was named after him; he even won the Nobel peace prize. His political doctrine shaped not only our own country, but even affects international affairs today. Throughout his political career Roosevelt worked to build an American Empire. Roosevelt got what he wanted with little or no regard for other countries. From the Spanish American War to the Panama Canal, Roosevelt promoted America as a world power, and often times this was done at the expense of others.
At the turn of the nineteenth century the United States had come into its own, while the reminisce of a crumbling Spanish Empire had sunk to a dismal low. The time was right for nation and politician, to take over the reins by exploiting their neighbor to the south. In one fell swoop Theodore Roosevelt rushed into a war to further both his own career and elevate the position of his country. Using the guise of liberty America usurped an empire, and abused it to become a world power. The reminisce of his international endeavor turned one country to a powerhouse, while sucking dry all others.
Since the beginning of recorded history European powers fought each other to control their continent. From the Romans to the Saxons, Kings, Dukes and Princes battled for territory, like jackals over a carcass. For hundreds of years Europe was carved and re-carved into sovereignties, states and kingdoms. Rarely were campaigns mounted to conquer lands east of the Ural Mountains or south of Egypt. Europe was well aware of the riches of Asia, and had long been engaging in trade with her for silk and spices. Europe was too entangled with its own affairs to impose on the rest of the world.
But in the year 1492 it all changed, Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain and headed west into the unknown. In an attempt to find a shorter course to the Indies he stumbled on to a land never before known. Christopher Columbus had discovered America for the Europeans, and Europe was no longer content to stay with in its own continent. In a thirst for wealth, Europe exploded on to America. Spain, Portugal, England and Holland reached out and extended their kingdoms across the Atlantic. They colonized America, much to the dismay of the native inhabitants. Through the subjugation and slavery, the colonies of both North and South America where raped of their resources. Europe gained prosperity and power at the expense of the Americas. This pattern of exploitation would forever leave its mark on the Americas.
In the year 1776, thirteen former British colonies declared their independence and became the United States of America. This new country soon followed in the steps of Columbus and headed west. At first it purchased land from France, and then stole more form Mexico. By the mid-nineteenth century it stretched from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Although it was not as wealthy and powerful as its European counterparts, The United States Of America soon became a dominant force in the Western Hemisphere, and engaged in international affairs. Ever fearful of the European empires at her doorstep, The United States of America started to interfere with Europe’s American possessions. On December second 1823 President Monroe instated the Monroe Doctrine, witch demanded that Europe respect the western hemisphere as the United States’ sphere of interest. At that time America, with a relatively small naval force, had no way of enforcing their new decree. For the mean time the U.S. would have to sit by and play second fiddle to England and Spain, who by that time dominated the region.
The Spanish where the first to colonize and explore the Americas, thus since the time of Columbus The Spanish Crown controlled most of South and Central America during, its hay day Spain’s rule extended from Florida to Argentina, with the exception of Portuguese owned Brazil, Spain also had colonies outside of the Western Hemisphere such as Guam, the Philippines and the Canary Islands. At first, the Spanish used the native population as slave labor to work on plantations and extract precious materials to send back to Spain. Soon they imported African slaves to there colonies. Through this exploitation Spain became exceedingly prosperous. By the early nineteenth century Spain’s cruelty to her colonial subjects caused her to lose a good number of their colonies, Mexico declared its independence and South America revolted under Simon Bolivar. Spain had managed to hold onto a few islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. With this loss of its colonies, Spain’s economical and world status dissipated.
In the north The United States of America had transformed into a world player. After the American Civil War, the U.S. set about restoring her nation and embarked onto a new political arena. Known as the gilded age of American politics, the American reconstruction was ripe with political corruption. Into this stepped a young New York politician by the name of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt known for his honesty and righteousness quickly rose thru the ranks of the Republican Party. the more prominent of the two parties of that time since it associated with Lincoln, he was to police Commissioner of New York, and then was Elected Mayor of New York City. Roosevelt earned a name for himself as a reformer. He gained a reputation as a great orator and when he himself wasn’t campaigning he would campaign for other republicans. In the eighteen nineties, Roosevelt campaigned on behalf of William McKinley. When McKinley was elected President he repaid Roosevelt by appointing him Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Theodore Roosevelt might have never risen above this post, if it wasn’t for political unrest on the island of Cuba.
Cuba, part of the Spanish Empire, had been in a state of constant uprising since the eighteen twenties. These revolts came to a fevered pitch in 1896 when a Spanish General massacred civilians, so they could no longer give aid to the rebels. Cuban refugees often entered American harbors with stories of Spanish atrocities. In a shameless attempt to sell more copies, American newspapers exaggerated these stories of Spanish brutality. William R. Hearst and John Pulitzer, the two most famous newspapers owners of the time, had a running competition to out sell each other’s papers; their rivalry caused the stories from Cuba to become more and more sensationalized5. This yellow journalism outraged the American people, who were demanding something be done to help the Cuban people. When riots broke out Havana President McKinley, at the advise of Roosevelt, sent the battle ship U.S.S. Maine into Havana Harbor in order to protect U.S. interests.
Roosevelt was itching for a war; at various times he urged attacking England, Germany, Spain and Mexico, he often spoke about annexing Hawaii or seizing Canada. He even advocated going to war with Chile after an American sailor was arrested there in a bar room brawl. Roosevelt wrote to his friend “in strict confidence I should welcome any war. The country needs one.” But there was no need for strict confidence. He had already made a name for him self in Washington as a warmonger, after he fervently called for military and territorial expansion. A Congressman later wrote “Roosevelt came down here in 1897 looking for war. He did not care whom we fought as long as there was a scrap”. In Cuba, Roosevelt saw Americas chance to enforce the seventy five year old Monroe Doctrine.
President McKinley tried to maintain strict neutrality in regards to the problems in Cuba. But Roosevelt preached war from every pulpit. Calling for war with Spain Roosevelt proclaimed, “I cannot understand how the bulk of the people can tolerate the hideous infamy that has attended the last two years in Cuba.” His speeches appealed to Americans who had become very sympathetic to the Cuban people, For McKinley’s neutral stance on Spain Roosevelt said of him “he has no more back bone then a chocolate йclair.” Roosevelt wanted desperately to cry havoc and unleash the dogs of war. McKinley might never have given any thought to Roosevelt’s tirades if it was not for the disaster to come.
At eight p.m. on February 15th, Havana, Cuba was racked with a giant blast, the U.S.S. Maine, which had been stationed in Havana harbor for the last twenty-one days, inexplicably exploded killing two hundred and sixty six American sailors. The Spanish government expressed it sympathy, but many Americans were suspicious of how an American battle ship just happened to mysteriously sink in a Spanish port. Roosevelt immediately called for war, certain that the Spanish had something to do with the sinking of the Maine.
Roosevelt’s superior, Secretary of the Navy John D. Long sided with the President; he did not wish to become involved in Cuba’s guerilla war. While the American Government was still carrying out a joint investigation into the sinking of the Maine, Theodore Roosevelt decided to take matters in to his own hands. On the twenty fifth of February 1896, while the Secretary of the Navy was away from Washington, Roosevelt audaciously sent a cable on his behalf to the commander of the U.S. Asiatic fleet, Commodore George Dewey. The cable read “Dewey, Hong Kong, secret and confidential, order the squadron except Monocacy to Hong Kong. Keep full coal. In the event of declaration of war Spain, your duty will be to see that the Spanish squadron dose not leave the Asiatic coast and then offence operation in the Philippine islands. Keep Olympia until further orders. Roosevelt”. Acting on his own, Theodore Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Navy to prepare an attack on the Philippine Islands, a Spanish colony that housed Spain’s pacific fleet.
When Secretary of the Navy John D. Long returned to Washington some days later and learned of what Roosevelt had done, he was outraged. Before Long could countermand the order, the government’s joint investigation gave its verdict on the sinking of the Maine. They found, that the Maine was sunk by a mine (it was later discovered that the Mane exploded due to a coal fire near the magazine). With that news President McKinley declared war on Spain. Because of Roosevelt’s premature order, Commodore Dewey was outside of Manila Bay in the Philippines, and was ready to launch a surprise attack on the Spanish fleet.
Commodore Dewey, from the bridge of his flagship The U.S.S. Olympia, led the attack on Manila Bay. With the battle cry “ Remember The Maine! Down With Spain!” Dewey out gunned ten to six, engaged the Spanish fleet, within range of the guns over looking the harbor. Within only a few hours every Spanish ship was destroyed, with out one American casualty, this gave America control of the Pacific Ocean, and opened the way for the invasion of Guam and the Philippines.
Theodore Roosevelt was not content to spend the war behind a desk in Washington. Against the wishes of the President and the Navy Department, and in spite of the fact that he had a wife and six children at home, Theodore Roosevelt resigned as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. He then formed a volunteer Calvary group, called the Rough Riders. Roosevelt saw action in the invasion of Cuba. In an act of self-promotion he brought along a reporter and a photographer in order to record his acts of bravery. This proved to be a smart political maneuver. When he led a charge up San Juan Hill it became front-page news, and Teddy Roosevelt became a household name.
The Spanish American war lasted only four months. Less then one thousand died in combat, and it cost less then three million dollars. Roosevelt called it “a splendid little war.” As soon as he returned home from Cuba, Roosevelt ran for Governor of New York, and won, solely on his military fame. As governor, he was no longer involved in international politics. However the aftermath of Theodore Roosevelt’s splendid little war was left unfinished. America had gained control of Guam, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.
Even before the war ended, America had already begun to talk about what to do with these new territories, especially the Philippines. A number of Americans believed that the Philippines should be a free nation. Some worried that if the Philippines where allowed to govern them selves, Germany or Japan would come along and make it a colony. There where also a number of social Darwinists who felt that who believed that Caucasian Americans were the superior to the Filipino people, and were then obligated to Christianize and enlighten the less advanced races. It was reported that President McKinley got down on his hands and knees and asked for God’s guidance on what to do with the Philippines. An inner voice told him the Philippines should be Christianized and civilized. While making his address on the outcome of the Philippines, McKinley read an excerpt from a poem by the British Author Rudyard Kipling entitled The White Mans Burden.
“Take up the white man’s burden-
Ye dare not stoop to less-
Nor call to loud to freedom
To cloak your weariness.“
The Filipinos expected that like Cubans they too would be granted their freedom after the war was over. Congress had previously made a pledge to the people of the Philippines to that effect, but by a narrow margin the Senate refused to pass such a resolution. The Filipinos were not pleased when they realized they had traded one dominating regime for another. Tension continued to mount between the Filipinos and the occupying U.S. troops. On February fourth 1899, an insurrection broke out, led by Emilio Aguinaldo. The rebels hid in the jungles and waged guerilla warfare. The American solders soon adopted the same tactics as their Filipino counterparts, leading to atrocities being carried out on both sides. A solders song from the time portrays the hatred Americans had for their enemy.
Damn, damn, damn the Filipinos!
Cross-eyed kakiak ladrones!
Underneath the starry flag
Civilize ‘em with a Krag [rifle],
And return us to our own beloved homes.
The Philippine Insurrection was a far cry from the splendid little war of Roosevelt. The confrontation lasted longer involved more savage fighting and had more casualties then the Spanish American war. This caused uproar among American anti-imperialists who found a great amount of hypocrisy having entered into war with Spain over the freedom of Cubans, and then fighting the Filipinos who too wanted freedom. The insurrection lasted two years, and became extremely unpopular, prompting a New York newspaper to write a reply to Rudyard Kipling’s poem.
We’ve taken up the White mans Burden
Of ebony and brown:
Now will you kindly tell us, Rudyard,
How we may put it down?
The Philippines remained a territory of the United States for forty more years. They finally got their independence on the fourth of July in the year 1946.
During his term as governor of New York, Theodore Roosevelt, in his attempts to reform the New York political machine, made some political enemies, mainly State Senator Thomas C. Platt. Because of Roosevelt’s popularity they knew he would not be voted out of office. In order to get Roosevelt out of New York Platt arranged for him to be nominated for Vice-President. Once regarded by John Adams (Americas first Vice-President) as “the most useless position ever conceived by man,” it was thought after serving one term his career would cease to exist.
In 1900 William McKinley was elected to his second term in office, and Theodore Roosevelt was his new Vice-President. Roosevelt did not desire to waste his career rotting in the Vice-Presidency. He had already decided that he would push for the republican nomination for the next election. But Teddy wouldn’t have to wait four years.
At the Pan-American Exposition, in Buffalo New York a twenty eight year old anarchist named Leon Czolgosz, waited on line to shake hands with the President, his right arm wrapped in a bandage concealed a gun. While the President stood before him, he put forth his left in order to shake hands with McKinley. Seeing his bandaged arm the President put out his left hand as well, Czolgosz grabbed a hold of president’s hand and would not let go, Leon Czolgosz then shook the bandage his right arm from producing a thirty-two Johnson revolver. He then very calmly forced the gun under the President’s left arm and shot him the twice and in abdomen. Eight days later William McKinley lying on his bed, held his wife’s Ida hand and said to her “Nearer my God to thee, God’s will not ours be done.” At two fifteen in the morning of September fourteenth 1902, President McKinley expired, leaving his country without a leader. While on a train, in the Adirondacks, at the age of forty-two, Theodore Roosevelt, Unknowingly became the twenty-sixth President.
The country was uncertain about Theodore Roosevelt as their President, he had the reputation of being impulsive and radical. Mark Hanna, a close friend of McKinley, expressed his grief and anxiety in a letter when he wrote, “That damned cowboy is the President of the United States.
…I never take a step in a foreign policy unless I am assured
That I shall eventually carry out my will by force.
Roosevelt slowly eased into the Presidency over the first few months. But a man with his personality couldn’t stay idle for long. America was now a world power, and Roosevelt had big plans. Roosevelt exploded in to world politics, He based his new plan for foreign diplomacy on a West African proverb “speak softly and carry a big stick, you will go far.” During his days in the Naval Department, Roosevelt believed and depended on having a powerful navy with full control of the waters surrounding the country to guarantee safety, and to intimidate your neighbor. Roosevelt wanted two things, Europe far away from the Americas, and a canal thru Central America. To achieve these two goals Roosevelt embarked on what was know as The Banana Wars, a series of small occupations and meddling in the affairs of Central America.
Roosevelt was tremendously mistrusting of Europeans interacting with Central and South America, he feared that Europe might take advantage and exploit the smaller countries, jeopardizing American control of its domain. If any of the European powers exercised their strength in the America region Roosevelt would use the Monroe Doctrine. In 1902 Venezuela failed to repay its European creditors. Britain, Germany and Italy, in an attempt to bully Venezuela into repaying, stationed warships on it coast. They blockaded Venezuela and shelled a costal fort. Roosevelt sent Admiral George Dewey, the hero of Manila Bay, with fifty ships, to practice war maneuvers in the area, thoroughly intimidating the European ships into leaving.
In 1903 the Dominican Republic, announced that it too would not pay back its debts, Roosevelt feared that European creditors would once again resort to imposing their military power. In order to keep them out of our back yard, Roosevelt arranged for a New York bank, which would later become Citi Bank, to cover the debit owed by the Dominican Republic. Roosevelt guaranteed their investment by sending the U.S. Marines to occupy and run the Dominican Customs House in Santo Domingo. Fifty five percent of the profits were confected to pay bay their debit. Roosevelt denied any American interest in this endeavor; he said, “I have about the same desire to annex it as a gorged boa constrictor might have to sallow a porcupine wrong-end-to.”
Despite Roosevelt’s claim, these where not humanitarian acts. Roosevelt did not want to keep European influence out for the benefit of South and Central America. He kept them away because they challenged American authority in this area. This acted as a standard mold of how Americana, in the future would use monetary methods to solve military problems.
The Roosevelt administration had a policy that encouraged American companies to take monetary advantage of the Caribbean. Companies, such as United Fruit (forerunner to Chiquita) that where bent on exploiting Latin America until it ran dry. Theodore Roosevelt and The United States treated South America as if it were a resource. Such degradation over the century has helped hold back many of these countries’ economy to this day.
Theodore Roosevelt had long dreamed of a canal across Central America. A canal between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would dramatically decrease travel time for shipping, increasing America’s revenue from trade. It would also quicken the response time for the United States Navy putting America at the status of England, who controlled the Suez Canal. Such a canal would increase America’s political strength ten fold. Building a canal across the American isthmus would not be an easy task. A Panamanian canal was attempted once before. A French company called Canal Interoceanique de Panama started works on a canal in 1880 the project was stopped after twenty years, it cost the French two hundred and eighty seven million dollars, and the lives of twenty thousand men who died from tropical diseases. It proved to be one of the greatest business failures of the 19th century. Nevertheless, Roosevelt was determined to have his canal.
At that time the country of Panama was owned by Columbia. Roosevelt knew that if England could stop America from controlling canal thru Panama it would. According to The Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 1850, an agreement between the two nations, that stipulated, America cannot secure an exclusive control over such a route. When England was fighting the Boer War in South Africa, Roosevelt found it the perfect time to tear up their treaty, knowing that England would be too busy to stop him.
The biggest problem facing the canal was the Columbian government. Roosevelt wanted to buy the rights to the canal from France, who had purchased them from Columbia, Columbia refused to allow France to sell the rights. So the Roosevelt made an offer to Columbia for the rights to the canal, but Columbia rejected all of his offers and denied him the land to build a canal. Theodore Roosevelt described his failed attempt at negotiations with Columbia, by saying “You could no more make an agreement with them than you could nail currant jelly to a wall — and the failure to nail currant jelly to a wall is not due to the nail; it is due to the currant jelly.” Roosevelt wasn’t going to turn back now. If Columbia wouldn’t give him a canal he would just create an independent Panama and do business with them. Panama was already trying to gain its independence from Columbia. Roosevelt took advantage of this. On November third 1903, the Panamanians revolted. When the Columbian troops came to quell the uprising, American naval forces blocked the isthmus preventing the troops from entering Panama, The only casualties where a civilian bystander, and a donkey. Theodore Roosevelt started a revolution and created a puppet government, in order to build the Panama Canal.
After Roosevelt left the presidency he had little to do with global affairs, with exception of the peace treaty of the Russo Japanese War. He tried to reenter the political ring in 1912, but he lost the election to Woodrow Wilson. And faded into the pages of history. Others politicians followed in his wake. President William H. Taft promoted U.S. banks to invest in companies that took advantage of the South American market, thus diverting income away from Latin America and putting it in American banks. President Woodrow Wilson also embraced American imperialism, and carried out a personal moral crusade he described it as, “I am going to teach South American republics to elect good men” but instead he sold arms to South American Rebels.
Theodore Roosevelt exploited Latin America. His foreign policies were aimed at the expansion of American power through our neighbor to the south. He called out for war against Spain, and usurped their empire. He started a pattern that still remains today.
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