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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: The Bully Pulpit

When Roosevelt began his presidency in September 1901, he faced an administration he did not choose and policies with which he did not necessarily agree. He asked McKinley's Cabinet to remain in office under his administration, but within a year several of it members had resigned. Despite changes in the Cabinet, Roosevelt did not demonstrate how different his policies would be from those of his predecessor until the following year when a national crisis arose over a coal strike.

At the turn of the century, coal was America's principal source of heat and energy. Mining was dirty, dangerous, and unhealthy work characterized by low pay and long hours. Early in 1902 the United Mine Workers went on strike to try to obtain better pay, shorter hours, and recognition of their union. The strike wore on for several months, leaving families without coal to heat their homes and cook their meals. Mine owners asked President Roosevelt to send in the Army to break up the strike as the government had done in the past. Roosevelt did threaten to send in the Army--not to break up the strike, but to work the mines--if the mine owners did not agree to talk to the workers about their demands. For the first time in U.S. history a President took the side of the workers in a labor dispute. Both sides compromised and the strike finally ended peacefully. This action conveyed the message to both the owners and workers of industry that Roosevelt would not be a "status quo" President.

Roosevelt also preached the message that all Americans, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, had the right to an education and to gainful employment. Roosevelt, who had suffered health problems as a child, felt a special bond with children. As the father of six, he knew the importance of providing a healthy childhood and a good education. He was frustrated that he could not change the child labor laws himself. However, his outspoken and public stand on many issues helped initiate later efforts to change the laws concerning women's rights, African Americans' civil rights, and child labor. Unfortunately, Roosevelt did not live to see most of the changes he rallied for enacted into law.

Roosevelt not only challenged U.S. domestic policy, but also worked toward expanding the role of the United States in foreign affairs. Since his resignation as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1898 to fight in the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt desired to be at the forefront of world affairs. The presidency offered him the opportunity to see the United States become a world power. One world problem that interested Roosevelt was that naval and commercial ships had to travel around South America or Africa to get from one ocean to the other. Attempts had been made to build a canal through Central America, but nothing had been completed by the turn-of-the-20th-century. In 1903, Columbia offered to negotiate a treaty with the U.S. to build a canal through Panama (then part of Columbia). The Panamanians, who wanted independence from Columbia, offered to make their own treaty with the U.S. to build a canal for less cost. Roosevelt decided to negotiate with the Panamanians. Construction of the Panama Canal began in 1904, and it opened a decade later in 1914.

When Roosevelt won the 1904 presidential election he was "now his own right."¹ He continued to be involved in the affairs of other nations during his second term. In 1905, he helped settle a war between Japan and Russia when he invited representatives from both nations to the United States to discuss the possibility of peace. As a result of the meeting, both sides gave in to some of the demands of the other, and they agreed to end the war. In 1906, Theodore Roosevelt became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Although Roosevelt chose not to run for President in 1908, he admitted to friends that he probably enjoyed being President more than any other man. The position had allowed him to publicly say and do things he thought important for the nation and the world. His time in office truly offered him a "Bully Pulpit." He did run for President again in 1912 as a candidate for the Progressive or "Bull Moose" party but lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt died in 1919 at the age of 60.

Questions for Reading 3

1. What is meant by the phrase "status quo"? List some examples of how Roosevelt challenged the status quo.

2. Why do you think the Panama Canal was important to Theodore Roosevelt? Would you have negotiated with the Colombians or the Panamanians? Explain your answer.

3. Theodore Roosevelt called the Presidency a "Bully Pulpit." What did he mean by that? Find examples in the reading to support this phrase.

Reading 3 was adapted from Lewis Gould, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1991); and other sources housed at the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site.

¹Lewis Gould, The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt (Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1991), 146.


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