Theodore Roosevelt, for better or worse, embodied the early American Dream: he was a self-made man; a gun-slinging cowboy; a big-game hunter; a statesman largely untainted with corruption. He was what all Americans secretly strived to be, and he did it all with flair and relish. It comes as no surprise, then, that when this idealized character comes into contact with the civilized realities he must compromise his policies and values.
Roosevelt's youth and early adulthood are part of the American myth: he was a scrawny uncertain boy, son of an imposing banker whom he loved dearly. It was in an effort to please this father, and to prove himself to the world, that Roosevelt first embarked on his obsession with manliness: he took up boxing, big game hunting, and brawling. This pugilist spirit poured over into his politics as well: he was as jingoistic as any, and always willing to be the first to enter any war for whatever cause. After becoming governor of New York, he happily used State troopers and the militia to put down strikes when he deemed it expedient. Yet he also gained sympathy for the laborer in this position, fighting for industrial safety and better working hours for women and children.
Early on in his presidential career, however, Roosevelt was indeed 'most conservative': he relied on the big corporations for much of his political power and the great business minds of the day for advice. The 'course' to which he was committed was generally conservative as well: to stop the worst excesses of monopolies and to protect 'the big propertied men' 'from the dreadful punishment their own folly would have brought upon them'. Regulation, not corporate dissolution, was his policy. Social betterment wasn't exactly high on his priorities, and he didn't see himself as a crusader for moral right: 'I have let up in every anti-trust case where I have had any possible excuse for doing so.'
However, at heart Roosevelt was a fighter, and he soon relished the spotlight that moral crusades gave him, believing he fought 'the fundamental fight for morality'. His 'conservative progressivism' is possibly best evinced through the Northern Securities Case. The railroad conglomerate had grown out of control and was a sore in the public eye. However, to the movers and shakers such as J. P. Morgan, it was a minor, acceptable loss - as long as trust-busting didn't become an everyday affair (Roosevelt made sure it didn't). By attacking the visible offenders and leaving the more entrenched private interests alone, Roosevelt won support on all sides, alienating a few but gaining more.
Northern Securities isn't the only example of Roosevelt's showy, yet relatively ineffectual, moral crusades. The United Mine Worker"s strike also brought Teddy favorably into the public eye: the egotistical management was an easy, politically correct target. Roosevelt held conferences and worked out a 'square deal' for all involved—in theory. In actuality, the UMW still didn't have official recognition as a union and the mining company more than made up for the higher wages in higher coal prices. Roosevelt's great victories, in the end, were mostly talk rather than results, but it was talk that rallied the public behind him.
Despite the less-than-spectacular results of his efforts, Roosevelt still saw himself as a reformer, a fighter for the 'honest man', a moral hero. From the beginning he felt pitted against the 'criminal rich', and later he saw himself allied with labor, 'the superior of capital'. Many, if not most, of the cases that Roosevelt prosecuted were done with the public's interest in mind, rather than cynical self-glorification and personal gain as his end motive. To himself, and the majority of the population, Roosevelt was the American Dream: fervently patriotic, unswervingly steadfast, scrupulous till the end.
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