The son of a New York City merchant and philanthropist and a descendant of the original Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, Theodore Roosevelt was graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1879. He studied law for one year at Columbia University, but never completed law school or practiced law. When he was twenty-three years old he published his first book (the influential Naval War of 1812) and was elected to the New York state legislature on the Republican ticket. In his second term, having successfully campaigned for a LEGISLATIVE INVESTIGATION of statewide corruption, he was chosen minority leader of the state Assembly, and from that position he engineered passage of the state civil service reform measures proposed by Democratic Governor GROVER CLEVELAND.
In 1886, after two years of ranching in the Dakota badlands, Roosevelt returned to New York City and attempted to resume his political career, but he was defeated in his race for mayor. He held no political office until 1889, when President BENJAMIN HARRISON appointed him to the United States Civil Service Commission, a post in which he was retained when Cleveland returned to the presidency. In 1895, Roosevelt became president of the New York City Police Commission; for more than two years he did public battle with police corruption and demon rum.
When WILLIAM MCKINLEY was elected President, Roosevelt went back to Washington as the vigorous assistant secretary of the Navy. At the beginning of the Spanish American War in 1898, Roosevelt resigned his office in the Navy Department and raised a regiment of volunteer cavalry, which he subsequently led in combat in Cuba. Riding the crest of fame from his wartime exploits, Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in 1898 and vice-president of the United States in 1900.
Roosevelt succeeded to the presidency when McKinley was assassinated in September 1901. He immediately pledged that his aim was "to continue, absolutely unbroken, the policy of President McKinley." But neither his love of fame nor his reformist impulses would permit him to redeem that pledge. Having reached the highest office in the land at a younger age than anyone before or since, he displayed a degree of vigor and impatience far greater than his predecessors had done. He also had a more expansive view of the powers and duties of the President than any of his predecessors since ABRAHAM LINCOLN. Not only did he think of the presidency as a...