problem. Theodore Roosevelt is responsible for devising and putting into action
the philosophy of the presidency to which all modern presidents have subscribed.
That isn't a compliment.
With polls of historians
classifying TR among the "near great" and political aspirants in both parties
eagerly positioning themselves squarely within his model of governance, the
prima facie case that the Rough Rider must have been a villain is pretty
strong. Look closely at his record and that instinct is confirmed.
In 1896, Brooks Adams wrote
a book called The Law of Civilization and Decay. Like most
late-nineteenth-century commentators, he believed that his country was nearing a
watershed in its history. But unless America rallied around a strong leader, the
center of world power, which he thought might be about to shift from England to
the United States, would shift instead to Russia. In many ways, Theodore
Roosevelt — who read Adams's book with interest — would prove to be this leader,
invigorating the executive branch in both the domestic and the foreign arenas.
In so doing, he became the first modern president.
Roosevelt was well suited
for this role. Philosophically he was the consummate Progressive,
determined to bring efficiency and coordinated intelligence to bear against the
trusts, against despoilers of the natural environment, and against international
disorder. He was, as one historian put it, “the first great president-reformer
of the modern industrial era.”
He therefore had little patience with federalism and indeed with most of the
constitutional impediments that stood between him and the construction of a new
American state. Politically he was a committed nationalist. He thus could barely
bring himself to speak of Thomas Jefferson, whom he loathed; and as late as the
1880s he was still condemning Jefferson Davis as a traitor. The Confederate
cause, since it denied that a large... [continues]
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