REVIEW POTPOURRI: Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Theodore Roosevelt

As the 25th former President William McKinley was slowly dying in a bed chamber, in Buffalo, New York, of a gangrenous infection from Leon Czolgosz’s bullet, Vice-President Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919) was still vacationing with his family high up in the Adirondacks 400 miles due northeast in the Empire State, but felt the increasing urgency necessitated that he hurry to Buffalo.

The first seven hours of descent down the steep, slippery, curving trails to the trains were via horse and buggy, the driver instructed by his lone passenger to proceed at full speed.

This incident conveys the frequently much too brash boldness with which the first President Roosevelt proceeded through life. He was a total believer in the active strenuous life, both physically and intellectually.

Roosevelt could box, wrestle, hunt wild game and rope steers with expertise. He also mastered languages, speedred two or three books a day and wrote several highly acclaimed volumes of history.

I wrote in an earlier column of how McKinley and Roosevelt had a very wary relationship. Basically, it boiled down to McKinley having serious misgivings about Roosevelt’s much too brash boldness versus his own circumspect caution and consummate diplomacy in his career as a public servant; to the credit of both men, each believed in doing what was right.

There is a fascinating photo of President McKinley and Vice-President Roosevelt sitting together on the White House porch but neither one is smiling. Supposedly, McKinley, who had seen a lot of bloodshed as a Major in Civil War battles, was turned off by Roosevelt’s Rough Rider enthusiasm in seeing duty in the Spanish-American War while Roosevelt considered McKinley, according to biographer Edmund Morris, “a cold-blooded politician.”

President McKinley and Vice-President Roosevelt

I admit to a bias towards McKinley as a more decent human being the more I read about him, whereas Roosevelt has increasingly struck me as a combination of the bull in a china shop, personally enjoying upper class luxury and hobnobbing with his rich and famous friends while maybe pretending to have sympathy for the common man and being one himself.

But Roosevelt’s presidency did achieve much in the government trust busting and other such crusades. Health and safety standards in industry were enforced . Roosevelt fought for preservation of wilderness park lands, spearheaded the building of the Panama Canal, and mediated peace talks to end the 1905 war between Russia and Japan.

There have been hundreds of books written about Roosevelt. Years ago, I read Hermann Hagedorn’s 1954 The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill, the author having been a close friend of TR and the family, and having access to droves of letters, journals and other archived materials. The book recounted much first hand knowledge about Roosevelt’s personality with his family and friends at home – Sagamore Hill being the mansion in Oyster Bay on the northernmost end of Long Island, New York, where he resided most of his adult years.

Alice Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s first wife Alice Lee (1861-1884) died two days after giving birth to a baby girl named Alice. She also died the same night as Roose­velt’s mother, a double tragedy that traumatized Roosevelt so much that he left his daughter in the care of his sister Anna and moved out west to the Dakota badlands to be a rancher for two years.

Edith Roosevelt

In 1886, he returned East and married Edith Carow (1861-1948) who gave birth to five children. She epitomized classy poise and dignity, displayed phenomenal gifts at managing five very rambunctious children and yet would join her husband and kids on horseback rides through the woods surrounding the Sagamore Hill estate.

She and stepdaughter Alice had a contentious relationship; she had known Alice’s mother and made a hurtful comment that, if her mother had lived, she would have eventually bored her father with her insipid personality.

However, daughter Alice could hold her own with the sharp tongue; she once summed up her father’s ego-driven need to be the center of attention everywhere: “He wants to be the bride at every wedding, the corpse at every funeral and the baby at every christening.”

After leaving the White House in 1909, Roosevelt remained active in both public and private life. He hoped that his like-minded friend Howard Taft, whom he helped win the Republican nomination and presidency, would continue his policies but Taft became his own man.

In 1912, Roosevelt ran as an independent Bull Moose candidate against Taft, splitting the vote and giving the White House to Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson.

All four Roosevelt sons served in World War I, inspiring much pride in their father but tragedy struck in mid-1918 when youngest son Quentin was killed in France at the age of 21.

After that Roosevelt basically lost his own will to live and died on January 6, 1919, of a heart ailment, at the age of 60.


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