President Theodore Roosevelt
THE STUNCHEST FRIEND OF THE
UNITED STATES NAVY
In a speech before Congress on December 3, 1901, Theodore Roosevel outlined the importance of a strong Navy. "No one point of our policy, foreign or domestic, is more important than this to the honor and material welfare, and above all to the peace, of our Nation in the future." A copy of this speech, that appeared in the Vermonter, December 1905, and can be read by selecting the image to the left.
a fleet of battleships around the world was an idea
Theodore Roosevelt thought would advance the interests
of the United States. In a rapidly changing world
political climate, Roosevelt choice of the fleet as
a form of diplomacy, the "big stick" was a
way to address national security concerns on the west
coast and demonstrate our ability to project our sea
power to protect our interests around the world. To
read his own words from his autobiography, select "His
Own Words" at left.
A patriotic postcard with photograph of Theodore
Roosevelt against a backdrop of the American flag.
As the fleet departed on their historic journey, President Roosevelt was the on his yacht, the Mayflower. This Underwood and Underwood card taken on the deck of the Mayflower with Roosevelt surrounded by the Admirals of the Fleet. Evans at right, Thomas at right with Sperry next to him. The three officers who would command for fleet during the journey.
Underwood & Underwood Roosevelt on the Mayflower
Roosevelt was one of the most knowledgeable, if not the
most knowledgeable, president on the use of naval power.
His education started when he was just a boy hearing
tales of his two Uncles that had served as naval officers
in the Confederate Navy. He loved military history
and, as a young student at Harvard, was upset by the
fact that the only good book written about the naval
battles in the War of 1812 was written by a British
author. Roosevelt, while still a student, set
to work to learn everything he could about ships and
the battles, writing a technically accurate account. His
book, "The Naval War of 1812" was published
while he was in study at Columbia Law School. It
was immediately recognized as an excellent work of historic
New York Times review provided this review, "A
young politician like Mr. Roosevelt has a wider scope
for his mind than wire-pulling and has made at least
one period of American history the object of serious
study." Further stating, "The volume
is an excellent one in every respect, and shows in so
young an author the best promise for a good historian
- fearlessness of statement, caution, endeavor to be
impartial, and a brisk and interesting way of telling
Cover of Souvenir of the Fleet's visit to Australia
At 22 years old
he had established his credentials as an expert on Naval
affairs. The Naval War of 1812 sold out in it's
first and second prints and was hailed by naval experts
in the United States and Britain as an authoritative work
and adopted as a textbook at several colleges. In
1886 the U.S. Navy put a copy on every warship. It
is still regarded as the definitive work in its field.
On May 10th and
11th 1890, Theodore Roosevelt read a newly published
book that would change our Navy and the view of our
relations with the world forever. It was Alfred
Thayer Mahan's "The Influence of Sea Power upon
History, 1660-1783" and Roosevelt finished it as
a 'weekend read' and never forgot what he learned from
If it is possible
to summarize the content as it relates to the influence
it had on national policy for building a strong navy,
it stated the United States would need to protect its
sea lanes of interest around the world to become a
RIGHT: A medallion for the departure of the fleet from Hampton Roads
the book Roosevelt wrote a note to Mahan,"During
the last two days I have spent half my time, busy as
I am, in readying your book. That I found it interesting
is shown by the fact that having taken it up, I have
gone straight through and finished it . . . It is a
very good book - admirable; I am greatly in error if
it does not become a naval classic."
Mahan was an active
duty naval officer and served as President of the newly
established Naval War College. In his desires to
stay at the War College and continue writing he wrote
Roosevelt for support. Roosevelt was still a young
politician and could do nothing to prevent Mahan's transfer
back to sea.
Auckland Weekly News
In 1896 Roosevelt
worked to get William McKinley elected president while
he was a young New York politician. He was rewarded
with an appointment as Assistant Secretary of the navy.
Within weeks he was involved with all aspects
of running the Navy. Mahan, now retired, wrote
to him shortly after taking office, "You will,
I hope, allow me at times to write to you on service
matters, without thinking that I am doing more than throw
out ideas for consideration." It was in these
discussions that the annexing of Hawaii was discussed
as necessary to prevent the Japanese from taking
control. Roosevelt continued to exchange letters
till the start of the War against Spain in 1898. He
was integral to appointing key people to positions of
importance, such as Dewey Evans, and Sampson, the key
leaders of the fleet battles of the War. But soon
he felt he had done what he could for the Navy and that
Secretary Long could handle things if he left. He
resigned his position to form a regiment in the Army.
Secretary Long noted in his journal, "My Assistant Secretary, Roosevelt, has determined upon resigning in order to go into the army and take part in the war. He has been of great use; a man of unbounded energy and force, and thoroughly honest, which is the main thing. He has lost his head in this unutterable folly of deserting the post where he is of most service and running off to ride a horse and, probably, brush mosquitoes from his neck on the Florida sands. His heart is right, and he means well, but it is one of those cases of aberration - desertion - vain glory; of which he is utterly unaware. He thinks he is following his highest ideal, whereas, in fact, as without exception, he is acting like a fool. And yet, how absurd all this will sound if, by some turn of fortune, he should accomplish some great thing and strike a very high mark."
His return from
Cuba following the success of his "rough riders"
led to his election as governor of New York in November
1898. It followed that he became his party's nomination
for Vice-President two years later and in September 1901
assembled the office of the President upon the assignation
of William McKinley.
cartoon postcard showing the fleet chasing the Japanese
actions regarding the Navy involved improving the fleet's
gunnery skills. Working with William Sims, a young
naval officer as the Inspector of Target Practice. By
1903 they had improved the fleet's performance to the
best in the world. In 1902 Roosevelt supported
the first two Connecticut class battleships and later
in his administration four more. As the navy grew
to the goal of President Roosevelt, he watched and studied
the growth of other navies and the war between Russia
and Japan. Through this whole period he kept his
two close advisors, Mahan and Sims.
It was Mahan who
continually sounded the alarm regarding Japanese expansionism
in the Pacific to Roosevelt, who, with each passing
year, he started to take more seriously. Immigration
of Japanese to the westcoast exceeded limits that had
been established and the fleet on the west coast, as
well as the naval facilities were substandard. Sometime
around June 1907 Roosevelt decided to move the fleet
from the east to the west coast. It was clear
he felt our fleet in the pacific could not defend the
possessions of the Philippines and Hawaii and the situation
in California including riots over allowing Japanese
children into public schools and limiting immigration
reviews the fleet from the Mayflower
In a sense, Roosevelt
was negotiating with the Japanese over these issues
but did not feel he was dealing from a position of strength.
Two years after leaving office he wrote: "I
had been doing my best to be polite to the Japanese
and had finally become uncomfortably conscious of a
very slight undertone of veiled truculence in
their communications in connection with things that
happened on the Pacific Slope; and I finally made up
my mind that they thought I was afraid of them . . .It
was time for a show down . . . I had great confidence
in the fleet."
President Roosevelt and Emperor Mutsuhito
It seems clear
that at the time of the fleet's departure there was
not intent for war with Japan, but it was also clear
Roosevelt wanted to show that America had every intent
to protect our interests. Impressing the Japanese
was an interest and possibly a key reason to send the
fleet around the world instead of stopping in California.
To an American Diplomat Roosevelt wrote, "I
am exceedingly anxious to impress upon the Japanese
that I have nothing but the friendliest possible intentions
toward them, but I am none the less anxious that they
should realize that I am not afraid of them and that
the United States will no more submit to bullying than
it will bully."
At left is a page from the journal of Midshipman Loftquist who sailed with the fleet onboard the USS Connecticut. His entry for July 8, 1908 describes his duties on the bridge and a transcribed copy of a letter from Theodore Roosevelt sending the Fleet off from San Francisco. Following he transcribed the response written by Rear Admiral Sperry. Below is the content or select the image to the left to read. This message was read to all crewmembers as the ships were in San Francisco before their departure around the world. An inspiring message, that only Roosevelt could have written.
Rear Admiral Charles S. Sperry
Battleship Fleet, San
I send to you and the officers and enlisted men under you my
heartiest good wishes on the eve of your departure that the American people can trust that the skilled efficiency and devotion to duty of its
representatives in the fleet has been abundantly shown by its trip around South
America, and will be made equally manifest on the return trip across the
Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans. You have in a peculiar sense, the honor of
the United States
in your keeping and therefore no body of men in the world enjoy at this moment
a greater privilege or carry a heavier responsibility.
For the President,
The Commander-in-Chief, and officers and men highly
appreciate the President's good wishes and all fully recognize the honor,
privilege, and responsibility of their charge.
HIS FLEET RETURNS
On February 22nd, 1909 President Roosevelt was again at anchor awaiting the Fleet as they arrived. This Underwood & Underwood card shows Roosevelt with Admiral Sperry to his right on deck to the Mayflower. In front the gentlemen in the top hat is possibly incoming-President Taft.
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