Roosevelt's inexhaustible vitality and enthusiasm, aided by his ability to dramatize himself and to coin vivid phrases, made him a popular president. His intellectual interests did much to elevate the tone of American politics. On the other hand, he drew considerable criticism for his glorification of military strength and his patriotic fervor.
He recognized, from the outset of his first administration, the growing demand for reform that was expressed in the writings of the muckrakers. From 1902 he set about "trust busting" under terms of the moribund Sherman Antitrust Act, ordered the successful antitrust suit against the Northern Securities Company, and led the attack on a number of other large trusts. Altogether, his administration began some 40 suits against trusts. Roosevelt's threat to intervene in the anthracite coal strike of 1902 induced the operators to accept arbitration.
In his first term he also fathered important legislation, including the Reclamation Act of 1902 (the Newlands Act), which made possible federal irrigation projects; the bill (1903) establishing the U.S. Department of Commerce and Labor; and the Elkins Act of 1903, which put an end to freight rebates by railroads. Roosevelt's vigorous championship of the rights of the "little man" captured the American imagination, and when he ran for reelection in 1904 he defeated Alton B. Parker, the Democratic presidential candidate, by 196 electoral votes.
In his second administration Roosevelt directed the passage (1906) of the Hepburn Act, which revitalized the Interstate Commerce Commission and authorized greater governmental authority over railroads. In 1906 he backed the passage of the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act. A firm believer in conservation of national resources, he sought to halt exhaustion of timber and mineral supplies by private interests and added many millions of acres of land to public ownership. His progressive reforms were directed not at the abolition of big business but at its regulation—an attitude shown by his tacit approval of the absorption of the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company by United States Steel in the panic of 1907. By his aggressive domestic policy, Roosevelt decisively increased the power of the President.
Roosevelt's forcefulness was equally manifest in his foreign policy. Ably backed by John Hay and Elihu Root, he set out to solidify the world position won by the United States in the Spanish-American War. His efforts to enhance U.S. prestige and influence won him the hatred of anti-imperialist groups. Most notable, perhaps, was his Caribbean policy. In the Venezuela Claims dispute, Roosevelt, fearing German intervention in Venezuela, worked for a peaceful settlement that would maintain Venezuela's territorial integrity.
Later (1904), when the Dominican Republic—which was deeply in debt to European bond holders—was threatened with intervention by European powers, the President enunciated a new U.S. policy that would forestall such action. In what came to be known as the Roosevelt corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, the President claimed that the United States had direct interest and the obligation to impose order in the affairs of Latin American countries. The Dominican Republic was forced to accept the appointment of a U.S. customs receiver. This policy aroused great indignation in Latin America.
Even more drastic was Roosevelt's action regarding the Panama Canal. After the Colombian senate refused to ratify the proposed Hay-Herrán Treaty, a U.S. navy warship, the Nashville, prevented the landing of additional Colombian troops in Panama, thus contributing to the success of the Panamanian revolution (1903). Roosevelt immediately recognized the new republic of Panama, and the Panama Canal was begun. Roosevelt's policy in Latin America prepared the way for "dollar diplomacy" in that area.
Roosevelt was also active generally in world affairs. With Hay, he endeavored to maintain the Open Door in China. In 1904, as mediator, he brought about the peace conference at Portsmouth, N.H., to end the Russo-Japanese War; and he was awarded the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. He was an ardent advocate of the Hague Tribunal, and it was through his offices that the Algeciras Conference was called in 1906 to settle the Morocco question. In 1907 his gentleman's agreement with Japan to discourage emigration of Japanese laborers to the United States eased the tensions caused by California's anti-Japanese legislation.