Theodore Roosevelt's Contributions to American Political Thought

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Theodore Roosevelt's Contributions to American Political Thought

Throughout his tenure as a civil servant, Theodore Roosevelt perpetually involved himself in matters of reform. Well read and well traveled, Roosevelt expressed his wide array of political thought out of experience as well as an underlying desire to see the United States establish itself as a world power under the ideals of a democratic republic—a wolf amongst sheep on the world scene. The nation's twenty-sixth president laid the framework for foreign policy as we know it. He pressed reform amongst big business, and rallied for the rights of the laborer. Conservationism as well as environmental protection and preservation became issues at the forefront of Teddy's agenda. Another vital contribution to American political thought was Roosevelt's idea of the "New Nationalism," an analysis of American society and the roles which government and individuals ought to play. Theodore Roosevelt's progressive attitude, adherence to a strong moral basis, and genuine concern for his fellow countrymen all define him as a quintessential American political thinker.

Teddy Roosevelt always believed that in order to be appointed to a public office, that appointment should be based on merit rather than patronage. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison appointed Roosevelt to the four-man Civil Service Commission. This was to be the beginning of the execution of Roosevelt's ideas of reform. He wanted to ensure that all government appointments were made on the merit system. "Against nothing is fearless and specific criticism more urgently needed than against the ‘spoils system,' which is the degradation of American politics" (TR "Duties"). Roosevelt, himself a man of lofty credentials, merely desired to see the government operate based on a man's democratic thoughts and virtue, not based on the spoils system.

The true level of Roosevelt's reform-mindedness was unbeknownst to most Americans until he became the twenty-sixth President on September 14, 1901, following the assassination of President William McKinley. Teddy ventured into territory that most presidents had done their best to stay away from: big business. He introduced the idea into American political thought that, to an extent, government regulation of industry and commerce is necessary. While Roosevelt supported the fact that business conglomerates increased productivity and raised the standard of living, he was against the dissipation of free enterprise and competition. After gaining Congress' support of the fact that stronger supervision and control of big business was essential, Theodore Roosevelt became known as the "trust buster." Roosevelt also supported the rights of the laborer within business. "Big business gives the people a square deal; in return we must insist that when anyone engaged in big business endeavors to do right he shall himself be given a square deal" (TR www.nps.gov). Teddy's thoughts led to the 1903 Congressional establishment of the Department of Commerce and Labor, which would oversee the regulation of business as well as arbitration in labor-management disputes.

Another central philosophy which Theodore Roosevelt expounded upon was the idea of an aggressive foreign policy and the agenda of befriending any willing nation. "Toward all other nations, large and small, our attitude must be one of cordial and sincere friendship. We must show not only in our words, but in our deeds, that we are earnestly desirous of securing their goodwill by acting toward them in a spirit of just and generous recognition of all their rights" (TR "Inaugural"). The President's thoughts on America's foreign policy led to the creation of the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904. In his presidential edict, Roosevelt states that America simply "…desires to see the neighboring countries stable, orderly, and prosperous." Roosevelt knew that political stability within the Western...
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