Teddy Roosevelt on Presidential Duty

We had an opportunity to revisit one of the most prominent and influential family in American politics by watching Ken Burn’s “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” was shown on PBS this week. (The final episode will be on tonight. The whole series can still be seen on computers, tablets and other devices by going to the PBS website.) Centering around Teddy, his niece Eleanor, and his fifth cousin Franklin, it starts in 1858 when Teddy was born and follows the trio to 1962 with Eleanor’s death.

The series is more that learning about a unique family; we also see the evolution of the of the Presidency. Teddy Roosevelt reshaped the role of the President by his hands-on personality and personal progressive standards. Becoming President in 1901, he welcomed the new century by being the first President to have a bath-tub in the White House, the first President to ride in an automobile, and the first President to leave the country while in office. More importantly there were other politically firsts. For example he was the first President to invite an African-American (Booker T. Washington) to the White House for a private dinner. He also was the first President to get involved in a labor strike.

The Second Episode, “In the Arena (1901-1910)” told of Theodore Roosevelt’s life as our President.  In May, 1092, 150,000 Anthracite Coal Miners went on strike. Since Anthracite Coal was a harder, more efficient coal that produced less smoke, and it was produced only in central Pennsylvania, it was the coal of choice to use in the northeast portion of the country.

The miners were asking for higher wages (which hadn’t changed for 20 years),  shorter work week (Burns’ film reported the miners worked six 16 hour days a week., Wikipedia reported 10 hour days), and to have their Union recognized by the mine owners. The miners, often experiencing cave-ins and explosives, were concern with mining safety. Boys as young as 10 were employed to break large pieces of coal into smaller ones.

Management refused to negotiate with the workers. During the strike the price of coal went from $5/ton to $30/ton.  President Roosevelt was concerned that there wouldn’t be coal for the coming winter, and feared that would cause riots.  He told Senator Mark Hanna “A coal famine in the winter is an ugly thing and I fear we shall see terrible suffering and grave disaster.”

coalstriketoon2In early October Roosevelt called a meeting with the mining management. He told them and the union to meet with a group of arbitrators and accept their decision. Management refused.  They told the President that he had no constitutional authority to be involved with industrial matters. Roosevelt knew that. The founding fathers did not envision the 20th Century industrial system when they created the constitution. Roosevelt felt he had to intervene for the good of the country. He said, The President has a moral  duty  to the American People that is higher than his constitutional duty.”

The President threatened to nationalize the coal mines, and use the U.S. Army to mine the coal.   J.P. Morgan, connected to the coal industry through his railroad empire, and other coal industrial leaders, gave in.  The strike ended October 23. The Anthracite Coal Strike Commission was created to review the coal mines physical conditions and arbitrated the workers ‘benefits’.

The miners originally wanted a 20% raise, but received 10%. The miners wanted an 8 hour day, but agreed to 9 hours. The miners’ union was not recognized, but a six-man arbitration board was organized with the power to settle labor disputes.

In today’s gridlocked congress, President Obama has taken similar bold stances on many issues. The most recent issue that House has failed to even discuss is Immigration and the President has threatened a Roosevelt-esque, but  constitutional, response. President Obama may not have said the bold words that Roosevelt used, but he certainly feels that he has the duty to intervene for the good of our country.

Theodore Roosevelt was proud to be a Republican. Today’s Republican Party would have  no place for a present day Theodore Roosevelt. Perhaps the elections in November will move the GOP away from its extreme right-wing doctrines to a more moderate position.


About pystew

Retired Teacher, political science geek, village trustee. I lean a little left, but like a good political discussion. My blog, the New NY 23rd (http://newny23rd) is about discussing the issues facing the people of our new congressional district. Let's hear all sides of the issues, not just what the candidates want us to hear.
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20 Responses to Teddy Roosevelt on Presidential Duty

  1. Deb Meeker says:

    It is an interesting documentary. Teddy Roosevelt is also portrayed as the first president to consider the inequality between the working class poor and the elite – treating coal miner’s legitimate grievances by forcing arbitration on that industry’s owners (as opposed to the “Reagan-esque” union busting of the US airline traffic controller’s strike in 1981).
    T.R. also set aside large swaths of wilderness as an inheritance for all future American generations. Would he find it possible today in our ecologically troubled times, to still preserve such areas against land devouring energy corporations?
    At the same time, T.R. was said to have been a believer in American imperialism, an ideal which has proven to be devastating to many cultures and people, (and in present day – that includes our own). Would T.R. have continued the devastation of the entire Middle East with an imperialistic view ( go and conquer, claiming the “spoils”)?
    How would President Roosevelt have dealt with a Congress whose racism and lack of respect, sought to prevent any and all implementation of the ideals he brought to his job? He fought the “1%” and succeeded to a degree – is that even possible now?
    I don’t believe President Roosevelt’s Republican ideology would find today’s Tea Party and Conservative views ” De-Lightful!”.


  2. whungerford says:

    In Studs Terkel’s “Hard Times” I read:
    “We got up at five in the mornin’, start at six. We got out at ten that night. We’d work about sixteen hours a day, seventeen hours.” — Buddy Blankenship.

    Blankenship goes on to explain that when they were done for the day, summer and winter, they walked two and a half miles to get out of the mine, a mile more to their horses, then eight miles to home.

    “Of course we had to go to work. We didn’t eat if we didn’t go.”


  3. whungerford says:

    TR became President after McKinley was assassinated. Bad luck for McKinley but fortunate for TR.


  4. BOB McGILL says:

    going back 100 years to make your point is deceptive. None of the comments you have made fit in todays modern world. Coal miners make as much as most college graduates.
    Coal Mining. All industries 2/. Top States. (average). (average). Alabama.
    $89,262. $41,399 … Average wage for all U.S. coal miners: $82,058. Average
    wage for …
    Coal Mining All industries 2/
    Top States (average) (average)
    Alabama $89,262 $41,399
    Alaska e/ $85,000 $50,624
    Colorado $84,036 $51,124
    Illinois $85,399 $52,625
    Indiana $82,827 $41,792
    Kansas $113,602 $42,294
    Kentucky $72,779 $40,584
    Maryland $62,139 $51,928
    Montana $87,748 $36,499
    New Mexico $92,551 $39,660
    North Dakota $93,905 $48,740
    Ohio $75,613 $44,059
    Pennsylvania $80,021 $48,785
    Tennessee $64,207 $44,273
    Texas $81,588 $52,146
    Utah $75,430 $41,702
    Virginia $76,664 $51,665
    West Virginia $84,959 $39,519
    Wyoming $82,654 $44,699
    1/ Excludes oil & gas extraction. 2/ Private Industry. e/ Estimated. Data are preliminary.
    Updated: July 2014
    Annual Coal Mining Wages vs. All Industries, 20131/
    SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, QCEW.
    Average wage for all U.S. coal miners: $82,058
    Average wage for all U.S. workers : $49,700
    National Mining Association – 101 Constitution Ave. NW Suite 500 East – Washington, DC 20001 – Phone (202) 463-2600 – Fax (202) 463-2666


  5. BOB McGILL says:


    Roosevelt received a large amount of money for the campaign from wealthy capitalists, such as Edward H. Harriman (the railroad tycoon), Henry C. Frick (the steel baron), and J.P. Morgan (the financial potentate of Wall Street). The wealthy capitalists and their friends contributed more than $2 million to Roosevelt’s campaign. They supported Roosevelt because they preferred an “unpredictable head of a predictable party” in power than the “predictable head of an unpredictable party.” They might have favored Parker as a person, but the Democrats were simply too populist in their constituency and potentially too radical in their ideas for the conservative business leaders ever to trust.


  6. BOB McGILL says:

    On Race and Civil Rights
    ” Theodore Roosevelt reflected the racial attitudes of his time, and his domestic record on race and civil rights was a mixed bag. He did little to preserve black suffrage in the South as those states increasingly disenfranchised blacks. He believed that African Americans as a race were inferior to whites, but he thought many black individuals were superior to white individuals and should be able to prove their merit. He caused a major controversy early in his presidency when he invited Booker T. Washington to dine with him at the White House in October 1901. Roosevelt wanted to talk to Washington about patronage appointments in the South, and he was surprised by the vilification he received in the Southern press; he did not apologize for his actions. Although he appointed blacks to some patronage positions in the South, he was generally unwilling to fight the political battles necessary to win their appointment.

    One incident in particular taints Roosevelt’s reputation on racial issues. In 1906, a small group of black soldiers was accused of going on a shooting spree in Brownsville, Texas, killing one white man and wounding another. Despite conflicting accounts and the lack of physical evidence, the Army assumed the guilt of the black soldiers. When not one of them admitted responsibility, an irritated Roosevelt ordered the dishonorable discharge of three companies of black soldiers (160 men) without a trial. Roosevelt and the white establishment had assumed the soldiers were guilty without affording them the opportunity for a trial to confront their accusers or prove their innocence. ”

    Seems he did anything that made him popular, legal or not.

    ” Theodore Roosevelt, who came into office in 1901 and served until 1909, is considered the first modern President because he significantly expanded the influence and power of the executive office. From the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century, the seat of power in the national government resided in the U.S. Congress. Beginning in the 1880s, the executive branch gradually increased its power. Roosevelt seized on this trend, believing that the President had the right to use all powers except those that were specifically denied him to accomplish his goals. As a result, the President, rather than Congress or the political parties, became the center of the American political arena.

    As President, Roosevelt challenged the ideas of limited government and individualism. In their stead, he advocated government regulation to achieve social and economic justice. He used executive orders to accomplish his goals, especially in conservation, and waged an aggressive foreign policy. He was also an extremely popular President and the first to use the media to appeal directly to the people, bypassing the political parties and career politicians.”

    George Washington wouldn’t have liked this very much.


  7. solodm says:

    George Washington held slaves and procreated with some of them.


  8. solodm says:

    Bob, the link above doesn’t work. Are these supposedly actual worker’s incomes, or are they supposedly salaries for the management? had the unions been busted, as the GOP is striving to do now, miners would still ” owe their souls to the company store”.


  9. josephurban says:

    TR was an outdoorsman and loved the idea that ALL citizens, not just the wealthy few, could have access to the great outdoors. For that reason he established a national park system. A system that would allow ALL Americans to enjoy the wilderness and recreation areas.Today, some GOP leaders (like Ted Cruz) want to sell the national parks and other federal lands to private business interests. It goes to show you how far today’s GOP is from the roots of Republicanism. (Another example is the Nixon creation of the EPA, which the current GOP leadership is trying to destroy). As times change, the attitudes of political party leadership changes. Which is why it makes little difference what “party” TR belonged to in terms of today’s standards. He certainly would not be welcomed by today’s GOP.


  10. BOB McGILL says:

    the link doesn’t have to work because it is all right on your screen–SOURCE:
    U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, QCEW.
    Average wage for all U.S. coal miners: $82,058
    Average wage for all U.S. workers : $49,700


  11. BOB McGILL says:

    Washington was against BIG GOVERNMENT


  12. BOB McGILL says:

    🙂 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is just playing around and trying to fool you.


  13. josephurban says:

    That’s fine if the only thing a person is concerned about is short term wages. A study covering 25 years published in 2009 using data from the CDC and the EIA and published by the National Center for Biotechnical Information concluded this: The highest areas of coal mining in Appalachia were the most economically depressed (despite the claim of high wages) and had the highest mortality levels, not just of miners, but of the general population. In fact, while the benefits from the coal mining were over $ 8 billion, the study found that the COST to society in increased deaths, welfare, increased medical care, environmental destruction, etc were a whopping $ 50 billion per year. Bottom line: Coal mining is good for mine owners, not so good for the taxpayer (who ends up picking up that $ 50 billion one way or another). (Public Health Report, Volume 124, July-August, 2009, 54-550)
    If your only objective is short term profits and short term salary, then by all means I agree that coal mining is a bonanza. If you think about society, the future and the economy of the US, it is a disaster.


  14. josephurban says:

    Actually Washington SUPPORTED the Constitution, which took away state rights under the old Articles of Confederation, and strengthened the national government and monetary system. He understood that the experiment of the 13 independent states had been a miserable failure and choose a more logical and workable central government as the primary authority. As did the other “founding fathers”.


  15. BOB McGILL says:

    the same can be said for the automobile, building wood houses, mining other minerals, building dams and highways, agriculture, and on and on. Being a democtat I’m surprised you don’t condem working for a living for causeing premature death, because it actually does.


  16. josephurban says:

    Actually , NO. the same thing cannot be said for those activities.Maybe you can refer us to the appropriate studies ?


  17. BOB McGILL says:

    http://www.mailman.columbia.edu/…/blue-collar-workers-can-look-forward- working-longer-and-worse-health-their-white-collar-bosses‎CachedSimilar
    Jul 22, 2011 … The researchers found that blue collar workers are much more likely to … of
    arthritis and a shorter life expectancy than wealthier Americans, Dr.
    For blue-collar workers, higher retirement age is absurd
    By Connie Schultz
    Posted: 11/12/10, 12:00 AM EST |
    # Comments
    DARWIN Cooper looked out at a crowd of several hundred fellow retired autoworkers Nov. 1 in Youngstown, Ohio, and started shooting questions.

    “How many of you have had surgery for carpal tunnel?” he shouted into the microphone.

    More than 50 men and women stood up.

    “How many of you have had knee replacements?”

    Another 60 or so rose from their seats.

    “How many of you have had back surgery?”

    More than 150 people were now standing.

    Cooper was just getting started.

    In interviews during lunch, many of the former autoworkers — some not yet 60 — described their hip replacements, foot surgeries, heart bypasses and ripped rotator cuffs. Some ailments evolved through the normal wear and tear of aging, but most were the result of repetitive jobs performed on General Motors’ assembly lines.

    I asked to meet with the former autoworkers because the White House is considering changes in Social Security.

    Currently, the normal retirement age to qualify for full benefits is 66, but that will rise to 67 by 2022.

    Soon-to-be Speaker of the House John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, has advocated raising the age as high as 70. A few Democrats have proposed similar changes.

    The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported in August that proponents of raising the retirement age are eager to argue that Americans live longer and healthier lives than previous generations — but they fail to acknowledge that this statistic is primarily traced to the decline in infant and teen mortality.

    They also don’t address the physical punishment of blue-collar labor. Most such workers are unable to stay on the job longer. For too many of them, the only option would be to retire with reduced benefits.

    Cheerleaders for older retirement tend to be people whose idea of a hard day’s work is to loosen their ties for a late-night call to a campaign donor. Or, as retired autoworker Ella Johnson put it to me, “They’ve never worked on an assembly line or in a coal mine, but sit behind desks and write laws for those of us who do.”

    Johnson is 59. She worked on GM’s assembly line for 25 years. She has had surgery on both knees, has carpel tunnel syndrome in her wrists and has an injured right rotator cuff.

    During our interview, she sat with fellow retiree Gwendolyn Windom, who is 67 and started working at the factory in 1970 as a single mother with three children. Windom suffered an on-the-job concussion so severe she had to stay in a darkened room for six months while her mother moved in to care for the children. She later had surgery to rebuild the arch of her left foot and had two disks removed from her back.

    “You’re standing on a concrete floor all day, every day,” Windom said. “It wears a body completely down.”

    Jim Tripp, who used to represent injured workers at hearings, said assembly line workers bear unique hardships compared with other types of manual laborers.

    “Let me put it this way,” said Tripp, 73. “Think of another job where you have to raise your hand to go to the bathroom. You can’t leave your spot on the line until there is another worker to take your place.”

    Many spouses attended a lunch for United Auto Workers Local 1112 retirees, including 82-year-old Dorothy Snovak. She wanted me to know about her 87-year-old husband, Michael, who worked as a pipe fitter for 23 years at the plant.

    “He worked so hard, and he’d come home so tired,” she said, smiling softly as she held my hand. “Sometimes he’d talk about how the bosses would hide behind something and try to catch him making a mistake.”

    She shook her head, and her smile faded.

    “You know, you tell someone like my husband what you need done, he’s going to do it. So much stress in that job. Sometimes, he’d come home and he’d have to get it off his chest. He’d usually talk about it at dinnertime. That wasn’t always the best time for digestion.”

    She did what she could.

    “I’d massage his back at night,” she said.

    But only after their children were tucked in bed.

    “He didn’t want to ask for that in front of the kids, you know,” she said. “He never wanted them to know how much he hurt.”

    Connie Schultz is a columnist for The Plain Dealer, 1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 44114. E-mail: cschultz@plaind.com.


  18. BOB McGILL says:

    Jul 25, 2011 … The researchers found that blue collar workers are much more likely to work …
    rates to illustrate the challenges that lower income workers face in the … of
    arthritis and a shorter life expectancy than wealthier Americans, Dr.


  19. BOB McGILL says:

    Oct 5, 2011 … For a man of the same age life expectancy is up by 5 years. … “One blue collar
    worker in two will not reach 80, compared to one professional … type of worker,
    with even the most disadvantaged women outliving, on average, …


  20. josephurban says:

    Bob…I find it rather arrogant and distasteful that you suggest I, as a “demotact” (sic) should “condem(sic) working for a living….”. For the record, I started working at 16 and am now retired. Worked my entire life at a number of jobs, including factory work, maintenance, teaching and others. I KNOW what hard work is. I KNOW who really creates wealth and supplies the needs of society. Just because a person understands that workers deserve better does not mean they condemn HONEST work. Workers are the real “creators of wealth”. Try building a car, growing crops or constructing a house without them. See how far you get.


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