Since the mid-nineteenth century, American newspapers have used political cartoons to provide a unique commentary on current events. From 1884 to 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was the subject of many of these cartoons. As his political career progressed, so did his portrayal in these drawings. These changes not only show the evolution of Roosevelt, but also of the Republican (and later the Bull Moose) party.
In most of the cartoons ranging from 1884 to 1899 highlight either Roosevelt’s investigation of politics or the reforms which he brought to both the national and New York government. This makes sense, because in those years he was pretty much getting started as a politician. Once he reached a high level of the New York political scene, he began going after corruption. This is made clear in the cartoon in which Roosevelt is preparing to fight a man outside the Tammany Hall Saloon. Tammany Hall was the name of New York’s Democratic political machine, and this machine was known to be corrupt. One of Roosevelt’s first jobs was on the US Civil Service Commission, and this group was in charge of eliminating the spoils system and eliminating corruption, so this cartoon makes a lot of sense.
As Roosevelt got into his vice-presidential and early presidential years, many of the cartoons were centered around his time as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War. One of the depictions from 1900 shows Roosevelt on a horse with the caption “Vice-Presidential Possibilities: The Rough Rider.” Roosevelt is dressed in his military uniform, but is sitting next to a typewriter and a telephone (with wires in the background). Although the aim here is to remind the public of his heroic past, the office-like elements make Roosevelt look more official and a little more fit for office. In 1902, his military career is still the focus in some of the cartoons. Specifically, one depicts the battle of San Juan Hill, the one for which Roosevelt is most famous. It is significant that about a year into his presidency, the press was still reminding people of his past as a soldier rather than as a politician: “Roosevelt so mobilized public opinion with his escapades assaulting the Spaniards at San Juan Hill that he became a national hero.”
As Roosevelt’s presidency advances, the political cartoons tend to depict him as a very strong leader. A cartoon from 1903 shows Roosevelt strangling a Columbian man holding two guns. This is a reference to the United States’ involvement in Panama that led to the building of the Panama Canal. Roosevelt looks incredibly strong here, and with the caption “Held Up the Wrong Man,” the indication is that Roosevelt was not one to be pushed around. The following year, a cartoon was published that shows Roosevelt riding an elephant and chasing after a donkey being ridden by four men. This depiction is interesting because it not only tells us about Roosevelt but also about the general political scene in Washington at...