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Preserving the American wilderness

Before Theodore Roosevelt, the U.S. had the Forest Reserve Act (1891), which set aside some land for preservation, but most of the country was open to exploitation by loggers, miners, ranchers, or anybody else with a profitable way to use it up. When Roosevelt went camping with the famous environmentalist John Muir in Yosemite, he became committed to saving beautiful land. Because the frontier was no longer limitless, the U.S. started locking up land for the future in parks and national forests.

First Roosevelt increased the value of Western land by supporting the Newlands Reclamation Act (1902), which resulted in damming nearly every river in the West to irrigate nearby fields. Then he set aside almost 200 million acres of land for national forests and parks —much more land than all the previous presidents combined.

Working with farsighted Forest Service head Gifford Pinchot, Roosevelt created 42 million acres of national forests, 53 national wildlife refuges, and 18 areas of special interest like the Grand Canyon. Americans responded by joining new outdoor organizations like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and Sierra Club (founded by Roosevelt's friend John Muir).

The financial panic in 1907

The Banker's Panic of 1907 was caused by Wall Street financial manipulation that led to the beginning of banking regulation. Roosevelt rode out this panic by passing the Aldrich-Vreeland Act (1908), which provided for the issuance of emergency currency and paved the way for the National Reserve Act (1913) that's still responsible for dealing with national financial problems.

Roosevelt's legacy

He easily won reelection in 1904, and when his second term expired in 1908, he supported William Howard Taft as his successor. Most of the nation wanted Roosevelt to remain as president, but he went hunting in Africa instead.

Injured in a perilous exploration in South America years later, Teddy Roosevelt died in his sleep in 1919. Said then president Woodrow Wilson's vice president Thomas Marshall, "Death had to take him sleeping, for if Roosevelt had been awake, there would have been a fight." Roosevelt enlarged the presidency and the nation in three ways: He civilized capitalism so that it could survive in a world where people as well as profit mattered; he began to make the environment a concern of government; and he introduced the U.S. to its growing responsibilities on the world stage.

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