Theodore Roosevelt suffered as a child because of his physical weakness, and learned to strengthen his body and fight back. This is the explanation given for his extremely powerful, unremitting personality. In fact, “manly” and “masterful” are two of the most common words in his writings, which reflects his desire to impose his views on others. This helped carry him through a strong presidency that, not surprisingly, had a clear imperial impulse.
Roosevelt stated in his Autobiography that he “did and caused to be done many things not previously done by the president and the heads of the department. I did not usurp power, but I did greatly broaden the use of executive power.” Roosevelt stood as the transition between the old presidency and the modern presidency. It was he who began to mold and expand the president’s role in an international arena, as well as the president’s role in the new world of big business and potent organized labor.
Roosevelt’s dynamic personality allowed him to utilize many prerogative powers, and get away with it. He was very successful in appealing to the American voters, and getting them to pressure their Congressmen to do what he wanted. Whenever he committed a questionable action, he escaped harmful criticism by making enthusiastic speeches filled with reasons of why his actions were morally and legally correct.
Roosevelt believed that a good executive must take an active interest in getting the right kind of legislation passed - a belief that went hand in hand with his Stewardship Theory. He believed that a President should act for the public welfare in any way possible, for a president is a servant of the people. He argued that a president could take any action not expressly prohibited by the Constitution or legislation passed by Congress - a very expansive interpretation of the Constitution.
Roosevelt used his presidency as a “bully pulpit.” He recognized the importance of reporters and was very successful in utilizing newspapers to arouse the public and to get the people to fight for his views. He stated that “the leading newspaper correspondents at Washington were . . . the most useful of all agents in the fight for efficient and decent government.”
When Roosevelt couldn’t get the members of Congress to agree with him, he appealed over their heads to the people. In fact, he was the president that began the practice of holding press conferences to keep the public up to date on domestic and world affairs and to convince the people to concur with his views. When Congress wouldn’t approve of executive appointments, he aroused public attention and tried to get the people to rally around their Congressmen. In some cases, he was able to force through an appointment despite the initial opposition of the Senators.
An example of Roosevelt’s use of prerogative powers is his withdrawal of land from the private market. During his time, the President was authorized to withdraw from private entry all lands in which mineral deposits had been found - and only such lands. When the American public began to worry about the environment and its natural resource, Roosevelt jumped in and, by executive order, withdrew land from the public market to create national parks, bird reserves, to establish national monuments, as well as irrigation and water power projects. He was later vindicated when Congress passed a law during Taft’s presidency which gave the president the power to do exactly what Roosevelt had always done - withdrawn land from private entry to use for public purposes. Roosevelt exploited the public’s fear to directly increase the federal government’s power to regulate resources and to promote conservation.