The turn of the century has always been a big deal for modern civilizations. One hundred
years of life is quite large compared with the average 70 or so given to most. Because of
that, people tend to look in trends of decades, rather than centuries or millennia. When it
does come time for a new century, when that second digit rotates, as it does so seldom,
people tend to look for change. Events tend to fall before or after the century, not on top
of it, and United States history, particularly, has had a tendency for sudden change at the
century marks. Columbus' accidental discovery of the West Indies in 1492 brought on the
exploration age in the 1500s. Jamestown colony, founded in 1607, was England's first
foothold on the New World. A massive population surge, brought on in part by the import of
Africans, marks entry into the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson's presidency, beginning in
1800, changed the face of American politics. 1900 was a ripe year for change, but needed
someone to help the change arrives. That someone was Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt's
political presence altered the course of the United States, transforming it into a
superpower fully ready to handle the challenges of any opposition, and changed the role of
the president and executive branch of US government, making it a force with which to be
reckoned.
As the first president with progressive views, Roosevelt enacted the first
regulatory laws and prosecuted big businesses who had been violating them and others for
years. Roosevelt also initiated the United States' active interests in other countries, and
began to spread the benefits of democracy throughout the world. Before Roosevelt, the
United States was an inward-looking country, largely xenophobic to the calls of the rest of
the world, and chiefly concerned with bettering itself. As one critic put it, "Roosevelt
was the first modern president"(Knoll CD). After Roosevelt, the United States would remain a
superpower, chiefly interested in all the world's affairs for at least a century (Barck 1).
It would be foolish to assume that Roosevelt was a fantastically powerful individual who
was able to change the course of the United States as easily as Superman might change the
course of a river. It would be more accurate to say Roosevelt was the right person in the
right place at the right time. It is necessary, though, to show how the United States was
progressing, and how Roosevelt's presence merely helped to catalyze the progression. It
has been said that when John Wilkes Booth murdered Abraham Lincoln, he "extinguished the
light of the republic" (Cashman 1). While this is a small hyperbole, it serves as an
example of the general mood that pervaded the period from 1865 to 1901.
The early dominating factor was, of course, Reconstruction. Reconstruction was a dirty game, and nobody liked it. Johnson fought with congress and the end result proved very little had changed. The South was still largely agrarian, and the North was commercial. Most
importantly, the Southerners and the Northerners still felt they had as little to do with
each other as a fish does with a bicycle. To the young "Teedie" Roosevelt, this must have
made itself apparent. He was born in a mixed household, where "Theodore Roosevelt (Sr.) was
as profoundly...for the North as Martha Roosevelt was for the south" (Hagedorn 10). The
fact that the family was able to live, from all accounts, very harmoniously, is quite
astonishing and gives credit to the fine parents who raised young Theodore.
Reconstruction's greatest (and perhaps only) accomplishment was the establishment of a basis for industrialization. The basic destruction of the southern agrarian process combined with the greater need for items in the North caused the economy of the post-war United States to shift toward the cities (Nash 576). The general aim of the Untied States had turned toward the big cities, but was still focused on building the nation's power from within. And along with their improvement of industry in the United States came the spark of ingenuity that found itself in the minds of great inventors like Edison and Bell. Once again maintaining the goal of "hastening and securing settlement," both men concentrated on improvements in communications, improving the transmission of light and