Teddy Roosevelt was an avid believer of the West African proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” In fact, his foreign and domestic policies were founded on this proverb. At home, he employed this strategy when dealing with developing and implementing government regulations regarding monopolies and food safety.
Abroad, there can be little doubt about his policy. In 1903, his policy enabled Panama to secede from Columbia. He also used this policy to police Caribbean states to prevent European intervention so close to American shores.
As a former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Teddy understood the vital role of sea power to protect American interests and to avert conflict. As such, he embarked upon an aggressive shipbuilding campaign during his presidency, building eleven new battleships between 1904 and 1907, alone. The US Navy was Teddy’s “big stick.”
In December 1907, he put American sea power to work!From the deck of the presidential yacht Mayflower, he watched the might of the Atlantic Fleet leave port in Hampton, Virginia on a 14-month journey to circumnavigate the globe! Click To Tweet
Sixteen battleships, painted in a crisp white, set sail on a 20-port journey. The display of this impressive sea power could not be more timely.
In 1906, the relationship between the United States and Japan had worsened. The US Navy presence in the Western Pacific was very modest. It was also believed that it would be pulled back to the US West Coast should conflict occur. Teddy decided to demonstrate that the United States was willing to send Atlantic Fleet ships to aid in a Pacific conflict.
In October 1908, the Great White Fleet approached Japan. Although the “big stick” was obvious, they entered Tokyo “speaking softly” to improve diplomatic relations.They were respectfully escorted into port by three Japanese destroyers and were met at the pier by Japanese children singing the Star-Spangled Banner. Click To Tweet
Nearly 50,000 Japanese citizens welcomed the Great White Fleet with a parade. Admiral Togo of the Imperial Japanese Navy hosted a garden party, and Admiral Sperry was invited to stay at the Emperor’s Palace. Both great nations chose to speak softly.
Too often, Teddy’s foreign policy to “speak softly and carry a big stick” is shortened to “big stick policy,” forgetting the importance to “speak softly.”
Teddy knew that speaking softly was not a sign of weakness. It was a desire to maintain peace.
Just days before he left office, he welcomed his mighty fleet home from one of the US Navy’s most impressive peace-time missions.
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