THE ROOSEVELTS: A Triumphant Return for Ken Burns, and a New Appreciation for T.R.
by Don Rose
With "THE ROOSEVELTS," Ken Burns has done it again. His new doc series, now airing on PBS, is simply superb filmmaking that brings history alive!
And, I’m in awe of Theodore Roosevelt. I only had a rough mental sketch of T.R. before, but now that I’ve learned about his accomplishments, I realize how great he was - the first truly modern President.
Just look at these T.R. facts:
- He was the youngest President ever (just 42) when he took office after the death of President McKinley in 1901
- He wrote 150,000+ letters, the “writingest” President in American history
- read a book a day, sometimes 3 a day
- broke up the corrupt monopolistic trusts (filed 44 antitrust suits!)
- strong-armed a settlement to the great Coal Strike by threatening to nationalize the coal industry, resulting in the coal companies giving in to a 10 percent increase in wages (after no change in 20 years) and reduction in daily work hours from 16 to 9
- presided over negotiations that ended the Russo-Japanese War
- won the Nobel Peace Prize - first American to win ANY Nobel Prize
- championed the successful construction of the Panama Canal
- first President to travel outside the country while in office
- won passage of the Hepburn Act, which gave the ruling of a Federal agency the rule of law for the first time (it regulated the railroads; monopolistic oil companies were wielding power over them and the Act checked their growing power)
- championed passage of the Pure Food & Drug Act (forced product labeling)
- campaigned around the U.S. for a piece of legislation, a first for a President
- signed legislation to protect prehistoric ruins
- doubled the number of National Parks; preserved/saved many natural landscapes owned by the US Government; created 51 bird sanctuaries and 18 national monuments; preserved millions of wild acres for future generations
- created the National Forest Service
- helped save the buffalo from extinction
- first President to invite an African American to dine in the White House
- wrestled with diplomats in the White House
- boxed regularly with an aide, then later took up Jiu-Jitsu
- even though T.R. could have run again in 1908 (since his first term was shared with McKinley), he did not, since he felt it would be a third term – violating the unwritten limit of two terms started by Washington; instead, T.R. handpicked and campaigned for a successor (Taft) who won in a landslide.
In short, T.R. expanded the role of government to fight for the worker and the environment, believing government should ensure a “square deal” for all and regulate the economy for the public good; he was a Progressive, a naturalist, an enemy of corrupt business, a trust-buster, a friend to Labor, and (wait for it)………….. he was a Republican!
My, how things have changed.
Why can’t we find more Presidents like this in our modern world?
Ken Burns told Jon Stewart it’s because we’d weed out men like T.R. early in today’s political process, due to their many personal faults – yet overcoming such faults is perhaps what made T.R. a great President.
(Oh, one more thing: a line of stuffed animals was named after T.R., after a hunting trip where he refused to shoot a bear cub his aides had captured for him. The toy maker asked permission to use the President’s nickname and, even though T.R. hated that nickname, he gave his blessing - and “Teddy’s Bear” was born.)