Theodore Roosevelt, ca. 1907 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) was the twenty-sixth president of the United States as well as a soldier and naturalist. Roosevelt started his political career in 1882 when he was elected to the New York state legislature as a Republican. Following the death of his mother and his first wife in 1884, Roosevelt retreated from public life, spending two years at his ranch in the Dakota Territory. He returned to New York to make an unsuccessful run for mayor in 1886. Three years later he was appointed to the Civil Service Commission and helped to reform federal hiring practices. In 1897, President William McKinley made Roosevelt assistant secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt advocated naval expansion and, after the sinking of the USS Maine, for war with Spain. When the Spanish-American War broke out, Roosevelt resigned his position and organized the 1st Volunteer Cavalry—or Rough Riders—to serve in the war. He led the Rough Riders in a victorious attack at the Battle of Santiago in Cuba and returned to the US as a nationally regarded war hero in 1898.

Roosevelt was soon elected governor of New York, serving one term before being elected vice president under William McKinley in 1900. In September 1901, Roosevelt unexpectedly ascended to the presidency when McKinley was assassinated. He was elected to another term in 1904. As president, he issued the Roosevelt Corollary, arranged the building of the Panama Canal, and mediated peace in the Russo-Japanese War. Domestically, Roosevelt helped push through the Hepburn Act, the Meat Inspection Act, and the Pure Food and Drug Act. He also helped to create the National Park Service and implemented conservation efforts to preserve nature and natural resources. Roosevelt left office in 1909, and in 1912 he formed the Progressive Party and ran for president again. His bid was unsuccessful, and he died in 1919.

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