Theodore Roosevelt, our 36th president, was not only an extremely popular president, but is consistently rated as one the 5 greatest ones as well. There is no doubt that “Teddy” revolutionized the presidency by effectively bypassing the U.S. Congress in order to gain public support for his own relatively progressive political agenda.
The question is his grave egregious acts might also make him be one of our worst presidents.
Most of us are aware that Roosevelt is generally considered by both Republican and Democratically leaning historians to be the first modern president who used the “bully pulpit” to end an era of limited government.
Prior to his presidency, the government had generally given the giant figures of industry carte blanche to accomplish their goals. He was the first president to begin reigning in these towering figures of capitalism.
Roosevelt believed that the government had the right and the responsibility to regulate big business as long as it did not negatively affect the general welfare . In the area of conservation he used executive orders to accomplish his progressive goals.
However, there was a dark side to his use of the bully pulpit that had a profoundly negative affect on public opinion. These damaging parts of Roosevelt’s legacy warrant our sober attention and raise the question of whether or not he might be considered one of our worst presidents.
In 1902, when Senator Lodge made public a report quoting a soldier who stated that of 160 Fillipinos subjected to water torture only 26 survived, Roosevelt privately assured that the water cure was a mild form of torture. He did go on to state at a later time that “torture is not a thing that we can tolerate", but he never mentioned the waterboarding incident.
As the single most important voice of our country’s ideals, Roosevelt influenced the views of millions of people. The damage he caused by his views on civil rights and race relations can’t be measured.
For example, In a message to Congress he stated, “Every colored man should realize that the worst enemy of his race is the negro criminal, and above all the negro criminal who commits the dreadful crime of rape; and it should be felt as in the highest degree an offense against the whole country, and against the colored race in particular.”
And there can be little doubt that Roosevelt’s views on immigration still linger today. In a message to Congress he stated, “There should be an increase in the stringency of the laws to keep out insane, idiotic, epileptic, and pauper immigrants.” Imagine the affect upon the attitudes of future generations had he expressed a humane view.
Roosevelt once said that, “I do as I believe Lincoln would have done.” If only he had acted much more consistently in such a manner.