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Teddy Roosevelt appears on Mount Rushmore, and Wikipedia's Historical rankings of Presidents of the United States page reveals almost unanimous love for Teddy. But why? From what I know about his time in office:

  • He was perhaps the presidency's most colorful figure of all time
  • He was a great conservationist
  • He won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace between Japan and Russia
  • He invested in the navy and emphasized the growing perception of the USA as a global naval power by, among other things, sending the Great White Fleet around the world
  • Outlined an ambitious, progressive domestic policy but was blocked by congress on much of it

Is there other, major stuff that I'm missing?

Mount Rushmore

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    National Forestry Service & National Parks; "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama!"; Anti-trust legislation. for starters. – Pieter Geerkens May 16 '16 at 0:07
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Teddy Roosevelt offered a one-two punch of "good government" at home, and a robust foreign policy. Not all Presidents are good at either domestic or foreign policy; few are good at both.

Though from a rich family, he authored the "Square Deal", domestically for the common man. Roosevelt was a great conservationist and arguably the father of the environmental movement ("Teddy" bears are named after him). He was characterized as a "trust buster", preventing large corporations from establishing a stranglehold on the American economy. He was also a consumer protectionist who established the Food and Drug Administration after the publication of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" about unsafe meat packing practices.

In foreign policy, Roosevelt was noted for his quote "speak softly, and carry a big stick". The "naturalist" started the building of the Panama Canal, after acquiring the Canal Zone from Panama, whose independence he won from Colombia, in effect, "connecting" the east and west coasts of the United States.

If George Washington made America a "power," Roosevelt was the first to transform the country into a "Great Power." He put America on the map by negotiating a peace between Russia and Japan in 1905 (and becoming the first American President to win the Nobel Peace Prize). He prevented a war between Germany and France over Morocco in 1906, delaying World War I by almost a decade. (If he had been President in 1914, he would have greatly shortened World War I by immediately intervening on the Allied side, sparing the world part of a great tragedy). He also sent the Great White Fleet around the world, starting in Asia, then Europe, thereby discouraging Japanese aggression against America for a generation.

Teddy Roosevelt's accomplishments aren't as dramatic as those of Washington, Lincoln, Wilson, or the other Roosevelt because there was no war to win during his tenure. But that's just the point; Teddy Roosevelt deserves credit for delaying a whole bunch of wars. Certainly, Roosevelt was a standout compared to most of the Presidents, Republican or otherwise, in the 50 years or so immediately following Lincoln.

  • Actually, the big stick shtick was FDR's, not Teddy's. – Felix Goldberg May 18 '16 at 4:43
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    @FelixGoldberg No, "speak softly, and carry a big stick" was definitely Teddy. – Schwern May 18 '16 at 8:34
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    If he had been President in 1914, he would have greatly shortened World War I by immediately intervening on the Allied side, sparing the world part of a great tragedy — that sounds like speculation. How would you know? – gerrit Nov 28 '16 at 16:57
  • @gerrit: He was one of the greatest advocates of America entering the war. Only if you believe that he was "posturing" (and he was a "straight shooter") would you believe that his actions wouldn't match his words, if he still had the power. neh.gov/humanities/2014/septemberoctober/feature/… – Tom Au Nov 28 '16 at 18:41
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Kept the USA out of War with Imperial Germany over Venezuela, stupendous economic growth, trust busting "malefactors of great wealth", set up the National Park System, built the first of what would become massive Dams out West, signed off on " Plan Orange"...the only case for American military action outside of its territory...which created a War Plan should Japan attack the United States, negotiated the end of the Russo-Japanese War, completed the Panama Canal, etc etc etc

Cemented the North Eastern USA as "the Power" in the America's until the 1960's.

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None of them really. There was probably no real objective merit-based test for who got sculpted onto Mount Rushmore.

The monument was designed in the early 1920's. At the time, the Republicans controlled Congress and the White House. President Coolidge is said to have specified that the monument would contain Washington, two Republicans1, and one Democrat.

This was only a decade and a half after Teddy Roosevelt had left office, and less than one after his death. So he wasn't a historical figure at that point, but rather a popular ex-President. After Lincoln, there was no other Republican who would really fit the bill.

I've heard a suggestion that a lot of TR's current estimation goes back to that decision to put him on Mt. Rushmore. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, but then I was named after the guy.

FiveThirtyEight had a good discussion of this issue, which is a lot more pro-TR. But that's based on recent popular polling, which again may be tainted by the fact that most respondents aren't experts, and grew up with TR on Mount Rushmore (thus perhaps being inclined to think he has to be at least #4). Polls of scholars2 don't tend to put him in the top 4, but they do tend to make him the #2 Republican (after Lincoln). This means he belongs on Mount Rushmore, if two of its subjects have to be Republicans.

1 - Note that if you were trying to be objective you'd only have 10 choices at this point. One of those died days into his term, and most of the rest were forgettable enough that few modern Americans could name them. There were only 2 two-termers in that period, and the other (Grant) had become a byword for corruption while in office.

2 - A case could be made that history "scholars" tend to skew more Democratic, so such polls may be consistently underrating Republicans. However, TR was a very anti-corporate president, so even if this were the case, the effect on him is debatable (perhaps skewing his relative rankings among other Republicans, but less so among all presidents)

  • My vague memory from numerous trips to the monument as a child (I used to live near there) was that Roosevelt's inclusion had a lot to do with the political opinions of Gutson Borglum who was the advocate for and builder of the monument. – Steven Burnap May 18 '16 at 16:23
  • @StevenBurnap - I'd agree with that. However, he had to operate within the parameters I outlined above, and within those restrictions I don't think he really had another feasible choice over TR. If he'd been a big Rutherford B. Hayes fan, I'm not sure the general public and his patrons in Congress would have accepted that choice. – T.E.D. May 18 '16 at 16:31
  • I'm not downvoting this answer, but I do feel that you are underestimating TR's accomplishments by referring to "none of them, really." Speaking only for myself, it's clear to me that TR is well above the "average" U.S. President, and the only question is whether he is "up there" with Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson and FDR. Perhaps we may agree to disagree on this. – Tom Au May 20 '16 at 13:48
  • @TomAu - Not "underestimating", as much as taking a data-driven approach to the question. The point here isn't that he's somehow undeserving, but that who ended up on MR didn't have a lot to do with who was most "deserving". Most polls of presidents don't have him in the top 4, but they do have him as the #2 Republican. So what may seem like an odd choice with no restrictions makes perfect sense when you understand the political restrictions the sculptor was operating under. – T.E.D. May 20 '16 at 14:30
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    Not top four, but most of those polls have him in the top five, and that's with FDR in the mix (who was not an option for Rushmore.) But that's a quibble, nothing wrong with the answer. – Steven Burnap May 20 '16 at 16:59

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