Political positions of Theodore Roosevelt

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Theodore Roosevelt, painting by John Singer Sargent

Theodore Roosevelt served as president from 1901 to 1909, becoming president after the assassination of William McKinley. During his time as the 26th president, Roosevelt oversaw a marked expansion in the size of the national government at the expense of the states. A leader of the Progressive Era, Roosevelt was the first Progressive president in American presidential lineage.

Some authors have argued that Roosevelt was actually a conservative in a Hamiltonian mold, despite most conservatives not holding Hamilton as a conservative model.[1]


Perhaps Roosevelt's most recognizable political position is his view on conservation. Roosevelt spent his entire career advancing his conservationist agenda, many times without congressional approval.[2] If land needed to be conserved and brought into control of the national government, Roosevelt acted alone.[3] Some historians have referred to this as "conservation-by-executive-order".[4]

Trust busting and regulation

Another of Roosevelt's most well known positions is his view that the national government should be in charge of regulating corporations. Roosevelt believed strongly that monopoly position among corporate entities was a detriment to society and he was not going to stand by and let citizens be overcharged by "Robber Barons", a popular term amongst progressives of his era.[5]

As stated in his final State of the Union address (1908), Roosevelt firmly believed that the Commerce Clause was the best way to prosecute the trusts.[6]

Some of the major pieces of legislation passed during the Roosevelt Presidency include the Hepburn Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, the Federal Meat Inspection Act of 1906, and the Elkins Act.

After his term as President concluded, Roosevelt worked to publish an autobiography. In his autobiography, Roosevelt explained his belief on the issue. He wrote:[7]

I have always believed that it would also be necessary to give the National Government complete power over the organization and capitalization of all business concerns engaged in inter-State commerce.

Square Deal

The Square Deal, the first of the "Deals" which would be offered to the people(Followed by the New Deal, the Fair Deal, and finally the Better Deal). In many ways, the Square Deal, along with the Platform of the 1912 Bull Moose (Progressive) Party platform, were pre-cursors to the New Deal by roughly 20 years.[8]

Views on taxation

Roosevelt believed that in his day, many of the corporate magnates and powerful trust titans amassed their wealth in ill-gotten ways. As such, he viewed the inheritance tax[9] as well as income tax initiatives as an important part of his progressive views.

Estate tax

For a more detailed treatment, see Estate tax.

In his well known work The Man with the Muck Rake, he declared:

As a matter of personal conviction, and without pretending to discuss the details or formulate the system, I feel that we shall ultimately have to consider the adoption of some such scheme as that of a progressive tax on all fortunes, beyond a certain amount, either given in life or devised or bequeathed upon death to any individual-a tax so framed as to put it out of the power of the owner of one of these enormous fortunes to hand on more than a certain amount to any one individual; the tax of course, to be imposed by the national and not the state government. Such taxation should, of course, be aimed merely at the inheritance or transmission in their entirety of those fortunes swollen beyond all healthy limits.

Income tax

For a more detailed treatment, see Sixteenth Amendment.

Roosevelt supported gradual income taxation on citizens instead of a system of tariffs. In his 1907 State of the Union speech,[10] he said:

A graduated income tax of the proper type would be a desirable feature of Federal taxation, and it is to be hoped that one may be devised which the Supreme Court will declare constitutional. The inheritance tax, however, is both a far better method of taxation, and far more important for the purpose of having the fortunes of the country bear in proportion to their increase in size a corresponding increase and burden of taxation.

He spent years calling for income taxation, including during his run for the presidency in 1912 in his New Nationalism speech.[11]

Executive Orders

Use of Executive orders skyrocketed during the presidency of Roosevelt.

Roosevelt was the first President to make extensive use of Executive Orders,[12] issuing over 1000 in total. According to Dr. Graham G. Dodds, a professor of political science at Concordia University,[13] Roosevelt issued almost as many executive orders as all of his predecessors combined.[14]

Prior to Roosevelt, only one President issued over 200 executive orders, Grover Cleveland.(Cleveland issued a total of 253)[15] Of the first 25 Presidents in total, 1262 executive orders were issued. Roosevelt issued 1081.[15]

Members of congress eventually got tired of Roosevelt's excesses in using executive orders to create policy. On February 25, 1907, Senator Charles W. Fulton, a Republican from Oregon, added an amendment to the 1907 Agricultural Appropriations Bill[16] declaring these activities as falling under the authority of congressional power, not executive power. Congressional leaders concluded that the president was out of control.[17]

Direct Election of Senators

The direct election of senators(which later became the 17th amendment) was an important initiative for progressives of the era, with Roosevelt being among the supporters of the idea. He spoke frequently[18] on the campaign trail[19]about the issue, and it is included in the platform of the Progressive Party.[20].

Race relations

Roosevelt believed in an equality among the races, and took time to invite Booker T. Washington to the White House for an evening.[21] After the event, Democrat Senator Benjamin Tillman remarked that: "The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that nigger will necessitate our killing a thousand niggers in the South before they learn their place again."[22]

William McGill, a black preacher in Tennessee wrote: "The administration of President Roosevelt is to the Negro what the heart is to the body. It has pumped life blood into every artery of the Negro in this country."[23]

As a result of the Brownsville Affair, Roosevelt ordered the dishonorable discharge of 167 soldiers from the 25th regiment. This incident is viewed by many as the lowest point of his presidency.[24]

Loyalty to the nation

Roosevelt was a strong believer that immigrants should leave their former homelands behind. In 1894, he wrote: "We must Americanize in every way, in speech, in political ideas and principles, and in their way of looking at relations between church and state. We welcome the German and the Irishman who becomes an American. We have no use for the German or Irishman who remains such... He must revere only our flag, not only must it come first, but no other flag should even come second."[25]

State government and national government

During his campaign to become president in 1912, Roosevelt struck a distinct and clear stance against state governments, in favor of the national government. In his speech primarily known for his assassination attempt, Roosevelt made a part of his speech closing a ripping against the states. He said:

Now, the Democratic Party in its platform and through the utterances of Mr. Wilson has distinctly committed itself to the old flintlock, muzzle-loaded doctrine of States' rights, and I have said distinctly that we are for the people's rights. We are for the rights of the people. If they can be obtained best through the National Government, then we are for National rights. We are for the people's rights however it is necessary to secure them.

In his last major well known speech, The New Nationalism, Roosevelt also made his disdain for the states known. He said:

It is because of what you and your comrades did in the dark years that we of to-day walk, each of us, head erect, and proud that we belong, not to one of a dozen little squabbling contemptible commonwealths, but to the mightiest nation upon which the sun shines.


  1. Theodore the Great: Conservative Crusader, p. 32
  2. The Debate Over Executive Orders Began With Teddy Roosevelt’s Mad Passion for Conservation
  3. Theodore Roosevelt, Conservation, and the 1908 Governors' Conference
  4. Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness
  5. [1]
  6. Eighth Annual Message, December 8, 1908
  7. Theodore Roosevelt, an Autobiography, p. 560
  8. [Theodore Roosevelt: An American Mind], pp. 141-142
  9. Teddy Roosevelt on the Estate Tax, 100 Years Ago
  10. State of the Union 1907 - 3 December 1907
  11. Theodore Roosevelt for Kids: His Life and Times, 21 Activities
  12. With the Stroke of a Pen: Executive Orders and Presidential Power
  13. Graham Dodds, PhD
  14. (2006) Executing the Constitution: Putting the President Back Into the Constitution. State University of New York Press, 53. ISBN 9780791481905. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Executive Orders: Washington - Obama
  16. Siuslaw National Forest, PDF
  17. (2008) Theodore Roosevelt: Preacher of Righteousness. Yale University Press, 178. ISBN 9780300145144. 
  18. (April 3, 1912) Who is a Progressive?, 8–9, 15. 
  19. (1912) A Charter of Democracy: Address by Hon. Theodore Roosevelt, Ex-president of the United States, Before the Ohio Constitutional Convention on February 21, 1912. U.S. Government Printing Office, 9. 
  20. (1913) Progressive Principles: Selections from Addresses Made During the Presidential Campaign of 1912. Progressive national service, 315. 
  21. Booker T. Washington's Dinner with President Theodore Roosevelt
  22. The Peacemaker and Court of Arbitration, Volume 20
  23. Theodore Rex
  24. Brownsville Incident
  25. The Conquest of a Continent

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