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Teddy Roosevelt and Foreign Affairs: Carry a Big Stick

Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most active of all presidents in foreign affairs, stemming in part from the president’s interest and in part from the United States’ new role as a world power. Roosevelt sometimes cited an old African adage, “Speak softly and carry a big stick. You will go far.” He initially intended this reference to be a precaution necessary for the rough and tumble of New York politics, but later the “Big Stick” was used to describe his dealings with the nations of Latin America. In the Western hemisphere, Roosevelt dealt with potential European intervention in Venezuela (1902) and the Dominican Republic (1904), and employed heavy-handed tactics in securing rights to construct a canal in Panama (1903). Agreement was reached between the U.S. and Britain on a nettlesome Alaskan boundary dispute. In the Far East, the primary concerns were the protection of the recently acquired Philippines and maintenance of trading rights in China. Recently westernized Japan emerged from the Russo-Japanese War as a world power, setting up a long period of tension between the two nations. Roosevelt haltingly involved the United States in the settlement of a European dispute in the Algeciras Conference of 1906. McKinley’s effort at military reform and modernization continued under Roosevelt. With typical bravado, the president dispatched a dolled-up Great White Fleet on an around-the-world cruise intended to showcase American naval might.