When some people today look back on the life of Theodore Roosevelt, they can't get passed the fact that he was a Republican; they immediately affiliate him with the contemporary GOP, and that is sadly all they see in him. But in truth, the 26th President of the United States is considered by many to be the father of modern liberalism and a forefront leader of the progressive movement. he was a figure of machismo, with an astounding military record, and views on hunting that would make some modern liberals cringe. He was once shot in an assassination attempt and proceeded to deliver a campaign speech with a bullet lodged inside of him... make no mistake, Roosevelt was history's toughest President. But there's quite a bit more to his story than that, and in a number of these elements of his life, we'll uncover how and why Theodore Roosevelt was one of history's greatest liberals.
The Progressive Era ranged from the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. It was a period during which the government fought corruption within its own ranks. Education was viewed as a keystone for democracy, as smart voters equate to a stronger Republic. Views on regulation, thanks in part to Upton Sinclair's novel "The Jungle," became a major facet of government as well as liberal political philosophy. The progressive income tax was enacted during this era as well. And when it comes to major improvements in this country, none hold a candle to the importance of women's suffrage, which was born through progressive ideals and enacted during the Progressive Era. Theodore Roosevelt, whose Presidency ran from 1901 to 1909, is without question the most famous historical progressive figure, and his administration stands as one of the greatest periods of liberal ideology in the history of the United States.
Theodore Roosevelt was a staunch advocate of regulating the free market, introducing the phrase "square deal" into our vernacular. This was a domestic policy program of Roosevelt's which was based on three core principals which are still advocated by liberals today: regulating corporations, protecting consumers from the free market, and safeguarding natural resources from overuse. The square deal led to the birth of our Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the inherent ideals of the square deal eventually led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) several decades later, showing that Roosevelt's legacy made a lasting impact on our government. Roosevelt fancied himself an explorer (his death coming at the hands of these adventures), and this probably influenced his position as one of the biggest advocates of conservationism and naturalism to ever hang his hat in the Oval Office. Had climate change been an issue in his day, Roosevelt would have probably done everything in his power to reverse it.
Like all great figures in history, Theodore Roosevelt was a mortal man, and as such, he suffered from numerous flaws. His views on race and immigration weren't radical in his own time, but today, he'd be considered a firebrand racist. He believed that Native Americans should be wiped out, that persons of color and minorities were a scourge, and his unwarranted fear of Islam could easily rival that of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh today. Some historians applaud Roosevelt for stating that equality for African Americans would come in due time, while others feel that his racial views and lack of championing equality in his own time stand as the biggest stain on his Presidency.
All told, Theodore Roosevelt not only contributed heavily and directly toward modern liberal philosophies of both the social and political persuasions, but his policies paved the road for contemporary progressivism and countless measures of governance that are revered and upheld by liberals today. He was the last true liberal Republican, with his successor, William Howard Taft, seeing about the ideological shift that led to Woodrow Wilson's standing as our first liberal Democrat President. Contemporary liberals most likely would not exist with their present beliefs had it not been for Theodore Roosevelt and his policies.
In closing, I leave you with the brief story of how I came to know who Theodore Roosevelt was. In Binghamton, New York, there is a large stone arch on Main Street which marks the border into Johnson City, a small neighboring town. The sign reads "Home of the Square Deal," and as an elementary school student, I didn't yet know what the Square Deal was. When I asked my parents, their response was too complicated for me to wrap my brain around, so I looked up "Square Deal" in our encyclopedia. Not long after working it out, my teacher had decided, rather ironically, to teach us a bit about Theodore Roosevelt. She announced that he was a "conservative," probably by accident, and continued with her lesson, probably assuming no one in the classroom understood the word. Imagine her surprise when my tiny hand shot into the air, and her embarassment when I rather callously corrected her. It wasn't everyday that a student was presented with an opportunity to correct their teacher, though my excitement was short-lived... the other students in the class didn't find my excessively nerdy tendencies to be even remotely as entertaining as I did!