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The McKinley-Roosevelt election of 1900

When McKinley campaigned for a second term as President, he chose Theodore Roosevelt as his running mate. The political bosses in New York State were so happy to see their reform-minded, high-energy governor leave the state to run for vice president that they would have bought him the office if they could have, just to get rid of him.

During the campaign, Teddy toured with cowboys and cut into the rural and Western support for the Democratic nominee, well-known "Cross of Gold" speaker William Jennings Bryan. In the end, the election wasn't even close. McKinley and Roosevelt won because, although a lot of people didn't like imperialism, they were more afraid of Bryan's unconventional economic theories.

The U.S. didn't get much time with newly reelected President William McKinley; a crazy anarchist gunned him down at the 1901 World's Fair in Buffalo. Although the fair displayed an early X-ray machine, doctors didn't know how to use it, so they never removed the bullet, which could have saved McKinley's life. Worse, they had to operate in a room without electric lights. Electricity was relatively new, and although the outside of the building had beautiful lights all over it, no one had thought to put one in the medical department on the inside. At 42, Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt became the youngest president ever.

The Roosevelt presidency

Teddy Roosevelt's policies and personality guided the United States into the 20th century realities of a more active national government and a bigger role in world affairs.

Roosevelt's Big-Stick philosophy

Even before becoming president, Roosevelt talked in favor of speaking softly but carrying a big stick. He set an example as an activist president that influenced both national and local politics for years to come.

Roosevelt worked to carry out McKinley's careful policies, but he began to use his famous Big Stick to support progressive laws. Like the Teddy bear named for him at this time, Roosevelt's policies combined inherited power with humanizing grace. Progressives believed that it was their job as the elite to remake social rules for the benefit of ordinary people. Roosevelt charmed his opponents with talk and threatened them with the Big Stick (1903) of power. Roosevelt began the practice of busting up trusts (1904) (corporations that controlled whole industries so they could fix prices) to encourage competition and lower prices for customers. See Chapter 14 for more on trusts.


Don't get mesmerized by Theodore Roosevelt's Big-Stick philosophy and think that he made all the progress in the 1900s. Roosevelt's successor, William Taft, actually busted more trusts. Roosevelt set the tone, but he was balanced and opportunistic in his politics.

Building the Panama Canal

One place Theodore Roosevelt didn't settle for incremental progress was in dealing with other nations. When the nation of Colombia wouldn't let the United States build a canal through its Panama district, Roosevelt helped set up a revolution in which the Panama part of Colombia became an independent country. The new country was — no surprise — quite willing to have a U.S.-owned canal run through the middle of it.

Roosevelt became the first president to leave U.S. soil when he dashed down to Panama to help with the digging. Health workers figured out how to protect people from yellow fever and malaria as the result of America's interest in both the canal and in Cuba. The Panama Canal (1914) was a big success, cutting sailing time between the Atlantic and Pacific by more than half. The U.S. finally turned the canal over to Panama in 1999 after owning it for almost 100 years.

The Roosevelt Corollary

Roosevelt also created the aggressive Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (1905), also known as preventive intervention. The original Monroe Doctrine (1823) said that the United States would defend the New World from any further attempts at Old World colonization.

The Roosevelt Corollary said that to keep the little countries of South America from being taken over by Europeans or local despots, the U.S. would step in with American troops, but only to help them. Usually in the process some big U.S. businessmen were helped as well. U.S. troops intervened in six Latin American countries but kept none of them as colonies.


Question: What was the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine?

Answer: The U.S. would prevent the intervention of Old World powers in Latin America by intervening itself as necessary.

Nativism and the Great White Fleet

Still squabbling over the China situation, Japan and Russia fought a war in 1904. Roosevelt got them to a conference table in the U.S. and hammered out a peace agreement for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Roosevelt sent the entire U.S. Navy, painted white, on an around-the-world cruise as The Great White Fleet (1908), symbolizing both American purity and strength.

In 1906, he made a secret deal with the Japanese to limit immigration, thus reassuring California, which was beginning to work up an Asian paranoia again after having previously excluded the Chinese. The movement to limit immigration, called nativism, grew in the early 1900s due to increases in the foreign-born population, competition for jobs, paranoia about imported radicals, and economic racism toward Asians.


Question: What influenced the rise of nativism in the early 1900s?

Answer: Increases in the foreign-born population, competition for jobs, and paranoia about imported radicals. California was a center of anti-Asian feeling.

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