Kenneth (kensmind) wrote in potus_geeks,

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TR and Big Stick Diplomacy

On September 2, 1901 (111 years ago today) Theodore Roosevelt uttered his famous phrase "speak softly and carry a big stick." He was Vice-President at the time, but would become President twelve days later on September 14, 1901, following the death of President William McKinley. On that day Vice-President Roosevelt was giving a speech at the Minnesota State Fair.

Roosevelt had used phrase earlier in a letter of January 26, 1900 to Henry W. Sprague of the Union League Club. He attributed the expression as "a West African proverb." Scholars have questioned the authenticity of this claim.

Roosevelt would utilize this form of "big stick" diplomacy several times during his presidency. For example:

1. The Anthracite Coal Strike: In 1902, 140,000 miners went on strike, wanting higher pay, shorter work hours, and better housing. They were led by John Mitchell, who formed the United Mine Workers (UMW). The mining companies refused to give in. When the companies called for assistance, Roosevelt, fearful of the effects a coal shortage would have on the economy, decided to host a meeting in the White House involving representatives of the miners and the leaders of the mining companies. The miners decided to continue on with the strike. Roosevelt then decided to bring in the military to run the mines in the "public interest". The mining companies were upset that they were no longer directly making a profit, and decided to accept the demands of the UMW.

2. Venezuela: Venezuela received complaints from Britain and Germany about "Acts of violence against the liberty of British subjects and the capture of British ships. British and German forces took naval action with a blockade on Venezuela, Roosevelt denounced the blockade. Roosevelt requested that Britain and Germany pull out their forces from the area. He stationed naval forces in Cuba, to ensure "the respect of Monroe doctrine" to bring about compliance of the parties.

3. Pursuance of a Canal: Roosevelt used "big stick diplomacy" during the pursuit of a canal across Central America. In 1901, Secretary of State John Hay pressed the Nicaraguan Government for approval of a canal. The deal was that Nicaragua would receive $1.5 million in ratification, $100,000 annually, and the U.S. would "provide sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity". Instead of an annual $100,000, Nicaragua wanted $6 million dollars in ratification, a legal problem arose in that the U.S. did not have legal jurisdiction in the land of the future canal. After Nicaragua was ruled out, Panama was the obvious choice. Both Colombia and the French company that was to provide the construction materials raised their prices. The U.S. refused to pay the higher-than-expected fees. Roosevelt used the United States Navy to support a revolt against Colombia. Panama became a new republic, receiving $10 million from the U.S. Panama also gained an annual payment of $250,000, and guarantees of independence. The U.S. gained the rights to the canal strip "in perpetuity". Roosevelt later said that he "took the Canal, and let Congress debate".

4. Cuba: After the Spanish-American War, many expansionists in the US wanted to annex Cuba. They feared that a foreign power would control Cuba and many advocated annexation. But annexation was prevented by the Teller Amendment, in which Congress prohibited a US takeover of Cuba. In debating the issue, Congress came up with the Platt Amendment which provided that Cuba was not to permit a foreign power to secure control over the island. The United States was at liberty to intervene for the purpose of preserving order and maintaining Cuban independence. Cuba agreed to sell or lease to the United States sites for naval or coaling stations. Guantánamo became the principal base. With the Platt Amendment in place, Roosevelt pulled the troops out of Cuba. This action was met with public unrest and outcries for annexation. Roosevelt said that if "any South American country misbehaves" it should be "spanked".

Perhaps historian H. W. Brands put it best in the title of one of the chapters to his book TR: The Last Romantic: with TR it was neither war and not quite peace.
Tags: theodore roosevelt, william mckinley

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