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Theodore Roosevelt and the Bully Pulpit

50 min
  • How did Theodore Roosevelt’s use of the residency as a “bully pulpit” transform the office of resident?

Students will:

  • Understand ways Theodore Roosevelt used his office as a “bully pulpit.”
  • Analyze the constitutionality of Roosevelt’s actions as President.
  • Evaluate ways that Roosevelt transformed the Presidency.

To create a context for this lesson, students complete Constitutional Connection: The President and Federal Power.

Have students read Handout A: Theodore Roosevelt and the Bully Pulpit and answer the questions.

Have students listen to an audio recording of Roosevelt’s speech entitled “Social and Industrial Justice” found at https://www.loc.gov/item/99391604/ (A transcript is also available at this site.)

As a large group, discuss the questions:

  • What reforms does Roosevelt propose?
  • How does the tone (the mood or emotion) of his speech compare to speeches given by more recent Presidents or presidential candidates?
  • How does this speech illustrate Roosevelt’s use of the “bully pulpit”?

Working in pairs, have students re-read Handout A to identify instances where Roosevelt used the bully pulpit to urge action or reforms. They should record their ideas on Handout B: President Roosevelt and the Constitution.

Distribute copies of The United States Constitution. Have students read Article II of the Constitution, as well as Article I, Section 7. Ask students to summarize the powers of the president. Responses should include: sign or veto laws; act as Commander-in-Chief of the military; appoint Supreme Court Justices and make other appointments; enforce the laws; report to Congress on the state of the union and recommend measures for their consideration.

Have students complete Handout B by analyzing the Constitution and the powers it grants the president. See the Answer Key for suggested responses.

As a large group, discuss the questions:

  • Did Theodore Roosevelt exercise his presidential powers in a way that was consistent with the Constitution?
  • If not, what was “extra-constitutional” or even “contra-constitutional” about his actions?
  • How did Roosevelt transform the Presidency? Was this change for better or worse?

At the Constitutional Convention, the Founders debated the advantages and disadvantages of a single executive. While Edmund Randolph regarded a single executive as the “fetus of monarchy,” James Wilson countered that “unity in the Executive … would be the best safeguard against tyranny.” Have students assess each of these predictions in light of Theodore Roosevelt’s actions as President.