Theodore Roosevelt Becomes U.S. President Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The assassination of President William McKinley required the young, exuberant vice president to assume the presidency.

Summary of Event

Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency after the death of President William McKinley. At Buffalo, New York, on September 6, 1901, Leon Czolgosz, an anarchist, had shot and seriously wounded McKinley while the president was in a receiving line at the Temple of Music at the Pan-American Exposition. Assassinations;William McKinley[Mackinley] When Vice President Roosevelt rushed to the side of the stricken chief executive, the president’s doctors informed him that, despite the severity of the bullet wound to the stomach, McKinley appeared likely to recover. In a move designed to restore public confidence, Roosevelt left shortly thereafter for a mountain-climbing expedition in New York’s Adirondacks. McKinley weakened during the next several days, however, and by September 13, Roosevelt learned from a special messenger that the president was dying. Roosevelt rushed back to Buffalo by buckboard and train, but he was unable to reach the city before McKinley’s death early on the morning of September 14. That afternoon, Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office of president of the United States. Presidency, U.S.;Theodore Roosevelt[Roosevelt, Theodore] [kw]Theodore Roosevelt Becomes U.S. President (Sept. 14, 1901) [kw]Roosevelt Becomes U.S. President, Theodore (Sept. 14, 1901) [kw]U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt Becomes (Sept. 14, 1901) [kw]President, Theodore Roosevelt Becomes U.S. (Sept. 14, 1901) Presidency, U.S.;Theodore Roosevelt[Roosevelt, Theodore] [g]United States;Sept. 14, 1901: Theodore Roosevelt Becomes U.S. President[00200] [c]Government and politics;Sept. 14, 1901: Theodore Roosevelt Becomes U.S. President[00200] [c]Terrorism;Sept. 14, 1901: Theodore Roosevelt Becomes U.S. President[00200] McKinley, William Roosevelt, Theodore [p]Roosevelt, Theodore;assumption of presidency Hanna, Marcus A. Aldrich, Nelson Wilmarth Allison, William Boyd Platt, Orville Spooner, John Coit Czolgosz, Leon

Roosevelt promised to carry forward McKinley’s policies; such a pledge was necessary because suspicions about Roosevelt’s reliability as a Republican pervaded the leadership of his party. During his rise to national stature in the 1890’s, Roosevelt had often disagreed with the party regulars over issues and tactics, and he had gained a reputation as an impetuous politician. Many party members saw him as too young and untested to succeed McKinley and win the presidency on his own in 1904. His heroism in the Spanish-American War and his record as governor of New York during 1899-1900 had brought him the nomination as vice president in 1900. Party elders had assumed that Roosevelt had been safely sidetracked for a second McKinley administration. Now he was president of the United States.

In terms of immediate political realities, the new president faced a complex situation. McKinley had been a successful president who had enjoyed good relations with Congress. The nation was at peace and prosperous. Roosevelt could build on these political assets to his own advantage if he made a successful transition to the White House. Elevated to the highest office by tragedy, he needed to establish his capacity to govern effectively. Within the Republican Party, he faced a possible challenge to his leadership from McKinley’s close friend Senator Marcus A. Hanna of Ohio. Hanna disclaimed any presidential ambitions, but Roosevelt was wary; he hoped to gain the senator’s support for his candidacy in 1904. Roosevelt knew of the power of the Republican senatorial leadership, embodied in “The Four”: Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich of Rhode Island, William Boyd Allison of Iowa, Orville Platt of Connecticut, and John Coit Spooner of Wisconsin. Roosevelt deferred to these party elders on such issues as the protective tariff and sought to work with Congress during his first years in office.

President Theodore Roosevelt delivers a speech in New Castle, Wyoming, in 1903.

(Library of Congress)

Roosevelt came to power at a time when issues of political and economic reform were growing increasingly pressing in the United States. The rise of large industrial corporations and urban centers confronted the nation with the question of whether the national government should regulate business to produce a more just and equitable society. On the city and state levels, reform mayors and governors were advancing programs to pursue social justice for those left behind by the new industrial society. Roosevelt had been a leader in this process as governor of New York. The demand for action by federal authorities gave him an attractive but perilous opportunity for leadership. He identified himself with the reform campaigns that historians have called Progressivism and became the national spokesman for the effort to purify U.S. life of the excesses of industrialization.

President Roosevelt attacked his problems with skill and energy. He believed that Washington should address economic issues, such as the rise of big business, with national power to demonstrate the authority and supremacy of the federal government. In March, 1902, he ordered the U.S. attorney general to file an antitrust suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act Sherman Antitrust Act (1890) against the Northern Securities Company, Northern Securities Company v. United States (1904) a giant and unpopular holding company for powerful railroads. The U.S. Supreme Court sustained Roosevelt’s position in 1904. The initiative established Roosevelt as an opponent of excessive corporate power. Later in 1902, he intervened personally in the Anthracite Coal Strike, Anthracite Coal Strike (1902) a dispute that threatened fuel shortages during the winter, in a way that was evenhanded toward business and labor. He was the first president to recognize organized labor as a legitimate element in making governmental decisions. Roosevelt called this approach the Square Deal.

These actions ensured that Roosevelt received his party’s presidential nomination in 1904 and defused a possible challenge from Senator Hanna. Roosevelt then secured a stunning landslide victory over his outmatched Democratic opponent, Alton B. Parker of New York, in the 1904 presidential election. He was, he said at the time, now president in his own right.

Roosevelt also acted forcefully in foreign affairs. To speed the construction of a transoceanic canal, he backed the actions of a revolutionary junta in Panama in 1903 and cleared the way for the construction of the Panama Canal during his second term. Panama Canal In the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine announced in 1904, he claimed for the United States the right to intervene elsewhere in Latin America in order to maintain the status quo. Roosevelt also acted as peacemaker during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, a mediation that succeeded and won for him the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel Prize recipients;Theodore Roosevelt[Roosevelt] He mixed energy with acumen in foreign policy and achieved a central role on the international stage. He was careful in his use of power, however, and was less warlike than his later reputation suggested. As he put it in a famous phrase, he aimed to speak softly but carry a big stick.

In his second term, Roosevelt carried forward a campaign of strengthening the authority of the national government to regulate business in the public interest. He pushed through legislation to curb the power of the railroads in the Hepburn Act of 1906, to oversee the quality of drugs offered for consumer purchase in the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) and to oversee the quality of meat sold in the Meat Inspection Act of 1906. Meat Inspection Act (1906) Because of such policies, he came into growing conflict with a conservative Congress by the time he left the White House in 1909. Presidency, U.S.;Theodore Roosevelt[Roosevelt, Theodore]


Roosevelt proved to be a charismatic, strong president. He showed how a dynamic leader can use publicity and his personal popularity to deal effectively with Congress and function as a world leader. He succeeded in persuading the American people of the need at that time for a stronger national government. Perhaps his most visionary accomplishment was the advancement of the conservation movement, which alerted Americans to the need to manage the nation’s natural resources with intelligence and foresight. In all these achievements, Roosevelt focused attention on the office of the presidency and himself, setting an example for future occupants of the White House.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blum, John Morton. The Republican Roosevelt. 2d ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004. Good brief introduction to Roosevelt’s historical importance. Includes several interesting chapters on the impact of his presidency.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brands, H. W. T. R.: The Last Romantic. New York: Basic Books, 1997. Iconoclastic biography of Theodore Roosevelt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cooper, John Milton. The Warrior and the Priest: Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. 1985. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2004. A comparative study of the two major Progressive presidents. Presents insightful commentary about the impression Roosevelt made as president.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gould, Lewis L. The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1991. Looks at the entire scope of Roosevelt’s presidential tenure. Extensive coverage of the transition from McKinley to Roosevelt.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Harbaugh, William H. Power and Responsibility: The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt. 1961. Reprint. Newtown, Conn.: American Political Biography Press, 1997. Excellent biography includes discussion of the impact of Roosevelt’s accession to the presidency in 1901.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morris, Edmund. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1979. Prizewinning account of Roosevelt’s early life ends with McKinley’s death and Roosevelt’s taking the oath of office as president.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001. Focuses on Roosevelt’s presidential years. Makes use of Roosevelt’s private and presidential papers as well as other archives to create a complete portrait of the man.

Philippines Ends Its Uprising Against the United States

Anthracite Coal Strike

Reclamation Act Promotes Western Agriculture

Creation of the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor

First U.S. National Wildlife Refuge Is Established

Roosevelt and Muir Visit Yosemite

Panama Declares Independence from Colombia

U.S. Acquisition of the Panama Canal Zone

Pinchot Becomes Head of the U.S. Forest Service

U.S. Supreme Court Upholds Prosecution of the Beef Trust

Categories: History