A nation happy to be a world power without having to do much fighting overwhelmingly reelected William McKinley for a second term. In this election, plump and popular McKinley was almost overshadowed by his rambunctious running mate, Theodore Roosevelt, hero of the Spanish-American War. Neither man could know that Roosevelt would ascend to the highest office in the land just a few short months after McKinley's victory.
Theodore Roosevelt was a whirlwind. One of the greatest and toughest presidents in American history, Roosevelt was so sickly as a child that he had to sleep sitting up to keep from dying of asthma. His father insisted that he exercise and take up boxing to keep from being beaten up by bullies. When a doctor told him that his heart condition would keep him at a desk job, Roosevelt just exercised more.
Roosevelt was brilliant, graduating from Harvard magna cum laude. He wrote books about U.S. Navy battles in the War of 1812 and a four-volume history of the West, both of which scholars still cite today. Roosevelt's first presidency was as leader of the American Historical Association.
When his mother and his young wife both happened to die on the same day, Roosevelt headed west. He built a ranch in the Dakota Territory and learned shooting, riding, and roping. Elected deputy sheriff, he single handedly brought in three desperados, guarding them without sleeping for almost two days by reading Tolstoy to keep awake. He later married his childhood sweetheart and took her on a honeymoon to Europe, where he climbed Mont Blanc, the highest peak in the Alps.
Appointments and positions
Appointed to the Civil Service Commission, he served with such fairness that even after the Democrats won the White House, they kept Progressive Republican Roosevelt at his post. As the police commissioner of New York, he cleaned up the police department, often calling officers in the middle of the night to make sure they were sober and awake.
Roosevelt had always loved the ocean, so Republican president William McKinley appointed him Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Assistant was enough power for Roosevelt; he pretty much ran things over the head of his boss and modernized the U.S. Navy.
When the Spanish-American War broke out, Roosevelt quit his desk job and organized a regiment of volunteers called the Rough Riders, whose members included cowboys, American Indians, polo players, and policemen. Fighting alongside a black regiment, they did well in the key battles of the fight for Cuba. See Chapter 14 for more on the Spanish-American War. Later in that year of 1898, war hero Roosevelt was elected governor of New York state.