Teddy Roosevelt First U.S. President to Go Abroad
On Nov. 9, 1906, Teddy Roosevelt became the first president to leave the country while holding office, when he and his wife traveled to Panama to inspect construction of the Panama Canal. It was no coincidence that Panama was chosen for the honor of this first presidential trip overseas. Roosevelt was president in November 1903 when the U.S. sent warships to prevent Colombia from putting down a rebellion in its Panama territory. The U.S. quickly recognized the legitimacy of the new nation of Panama and promptly signed a treaty giving America a swath of territory with which to build the Panama Canal. Now Roosevelt was coming to see this valuable American asset with his own eyes.
The president’s trip abroad was big news at the time, and newspapers recognized its historic significance. This article was published by the Columbus Enquirer-Sun (Columbus, Georgia) on Nov. 9, 1906:
The President’s Trip
With a shout from his own throat and a salute from the brazen throats of the guns at the navy yard, President Roosevelt sailed yesterday from Washington on the Mayflower, to be transferred later to the battleship Louisiana for his trip to Panama. The Louisiana will be convoyed by the Tennessee and the Washington. Surely it would be a proud sight to see these three great fighting ships calmly carrying the great man over the bounding billows.
It will be a second time that a president has disregarded an unwritten law and gone beyond the three-mile limit off the American coast. The first time was when President Roosevelt went from New Orleans to Washington on the battleship West Virginia. That was satisfactorily arranged, however, by great lawyers who declared that the deck of a United States warship is American territory. This time President Roosevelt will leave the warship and will go into Panama and be the guest of honor at a state dinner given by President Amador of that country. This will be the first time that a president of the United States has gone into a foreign country. The lawyers may be able to come to the rescue again since the revolution which created the Republic of Panama was plotted in New York and aided and abetted by officials at Washington.
The President goes to Panama to familiarize himself with canal conditions but in the public mind this purpose of the trip will be overshadowed by the spectacular features with which it will be surrounded.
One can detect an undercurrent of apprehension, or at least nervousness, in the following account of the president’s trip published by the Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Washington) on Nov. 9, 1906:
Today the president of the United States is bobbing about on the Atlantic, beyond the three-mile limit, on a floating fort flying the Stars and Stripes. For the time that the president shall be aboard of her the battleship Louisiana is the most valuable bit of American property extant; and the wireless bulletins from the good ship will be awaited with deep interest by the greater part of the American people. It is no ordinary thing to have our chief executive out of the country, and the route to be traversed by the Louisiana and her consort ships is a favorite one for cyclones and tropical storms of undue violence. Of course the battleship can stand all the buffeting that old Neptune can give her; but just the same, it is the prayer of every true American that as long as Mr. Roosevelt is out voyaging all storms keep below the horizon, and that the weather may be fair and calm. The president is a good sailor, and is afraid of nothing, as his recent submarine trip will show; but too much care cannot be taken of him during his tour of inspection of the American canal zone.
Even a straightforward account of the trip such as the following, emphasizing the pomp and ceremony of the presidential departure, makes careful note of the armored warships accompanying the president and the fact that his ship is equipped with wireless communication equipment. This article was published by the Aberdeen Daily American (Aberdeen, South Dakota) on Nov. 9, 1906:
Teddy and Wife Start for Panama
Will Spend Four Days Inspecting the Isthmus
Afterwards Will Go to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for One Day, Where Elaborate Preparations Have Been Made for President’s Reception—Will Be Back at Washington November 27th
Washington, D.C., Nov. 9.—“Goodbye, I am going down to see how the ditch is getting along,” shouted President Roosevelt as he stood on the after starboard deck of the yacht Mayflower at Washington navy yard, as the vessel was leaving dock with the president for his Panama trip.
Accompanying the president were Mrs. Roosevelt and her maid, Surgeon General Rixey of the navy, and M. C. Latta, one of the assistant secretaries at the White House. The Mayflower will take the party to Wolf Trap right at the mouth of the Rappahannock river in Chesapeake Bay where the transfer will be made to the battleship Louisiana, which is to convey the president to and from the Isthmus.
President and Mrs. Roosevelt arrived at the navy yard shortly before 4 o’clock where they were met by Secretary Loeb, Captain Lentz, commandant of the yard, and Captain A. T. Long of the Mayflower. A company of marines and a detachment of sailors were drawn up about the wharf and as the presidential carriage arrived a welcome was sounded from the bugler aboard ship and from a drummer in the marine ranks. For a few moments the President and Mrs. Roosevelt chatted with the naval officials on the wharf and then as the band aboard ship played the Star Spangled Banner and the bugler sounded another welcome they walked down the gangplank aboard the vessel. Here had assembled to meet them Postmaster General and Mrs. Cortelyou, Ambassador Jusserand and Madame Jusserand, who carried a large bunch of flowers for Mrs. Roosevelt, and James R. Garfield, commissioner of corporations. They remained with the president for about 15 minutes until the order was given to start. Then the United States flag was run up the vessel’s gaff, the gangplank was taken in, the ship loosened from her moorings and the trip to Panama was begun. As the vessel started President Roosevelt appeared on deck and shouted goodbye to the crowd which had assembled. He appeared to be in particularly good spirits and remained on deck until the vessel was out of sight. As the ship passed the lower end of the navy yard, the parting president’s salute of 21 guns was fired.
Will Use Wireless
The Louisiana will be conveyed to and from the Isthmus by the armored cruisers Tennessee and Washington. Aboard the Louisiana is Lieutenant Frank Evans, who will utilize the wireless telegraph apparatus with which the ship is equipped, for communicating with the White House at Washington whenever the president desires it. In this way the public will be accurately informed of the movements of the ships. Secretary Loeb will give to the press dispatches from the president which may be received from time to time.
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