Wednesday, December 3, 2008

TR's First Annual Message - December 3, 1901

On December 3, 1901, America’s youngest president, brought to office by assassination less than three months before, sent his first State of the Union Address to Congress. Known as T.R.’s First Annual Message, the message sets the nation and the world on notice. A new kind of president was in the White House.

In this First Annual Message, T.R. makes the case for increased and renewed federal legislation to reign in trusts, railroads, financial speculators and despoilers of natural resources while reiterating the importance of individuals, their abilities and their efforts:

“Fundamentally, the welfare of each citizen, and therefore the welfare of the aggregate of citizens which makes the nation, must rest upon individual thrift and energy, resolution and intelligence. Nothing can take the place of this individual capacity; but wise legislation and honest and intelligent administration can give it the fullest scope, the largest opportunity to work to good effect.”

The speech, in the format I have, is over twenty pages long, single-spaced. It is full of new, thoughtful ideas. TR makes the case for a unified Bureau of Forestry under the Department of Agriculture, taking over the protection duties borne by the General Land Office and the mapping and cataloguing activities of the Geological Survey. By 1905, TR won these reforms and the modern Forest Service was established. TR presages the Newlands Reclamation Act, calling for the wild and wasted waters of the West to be tamed for agriculture and settlement. This didn't take as long, Congress hopping aboard in 1902.

TR advocates for the Smithsonian Institution and the National Zoo to have sufficient resources for their important work. He reiterates the importance of an Isthmian Canal, the authority of the Monroe Doctrine and the need for a stronger Navy. Half a dozen other historic issues play out in his message. It's inspiring to see what TR had in mind as he served the ball to Congress.

These December days are full of important TR dates. This anniversary of his First Annual Message reminds us of TR’s first winter in the White House.

The anniversary celebrated on December 2, the anniversary of his 1880 wedding to Edith Carow at St. George’s Hanover Square, England, should be remembered here, too. Throughout my studies of TR and his family, I continue to be struck by the personage and character of Edith Carow Roosevelt. As a wife, mother and First Lady, Mrs. Roosevelt set the bar and certainly assisted a great deal in supporting the man America loved.

A happy and belated anniversary to TR and Edith. A timely acknowledgement of the anniversary of TR’s First Annual Message, and an early New Years Resolution by this blogger to feed the keyboards with a bit more regularity in the days and weeks ahead.

All the best.

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