The remarkable Teddy Roosevelt, Part II

Monday, August 3, 2009

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States in 1901, when President William McKinley was assassinated.

He was 42 years of age, still the youngest person to become President of the United States. Though the presidency was unexpectedly thrust upon him, he assumed the responsibility of the office with great enthusiasm. He probably enjoyed his time in office as much or more than any man who has held that office.

Roosevelt was the leader of the Republican Party, but was hardly a typical Republican. He considered himself a Progressive, and encouraged the Progressive faction of the party. He believed in Capitalism in principle, but generally distrusted "big business". He believed in "The Square Deal" -- a fair shake for the average citizen, and small businessmen. Almost immediately he began an attack on those who engaged in corrupt and illegal practices, which led to his seeking regulation of the railroads and drug companies. Interestingly, he was the first President to call for universal health care, and affordable, national health insurance for all American citizens.

In the White House Roosevelt maintained his vigorous lifestyle. The lawn tennis court was a favorite place, with TR facing challenges from his children, members of his staff, and visitors to the White House. (A poor player was not asked back for a second challenge.) He engaged in boisterous play with his children, sons and daughters, in and around the White House. The Roosevelt children arrived with an assortment of pets, from parrots to a pony, and used every part of the White House as their playground. They regularly brought the pony up to their bedrooms, using the White House elevator.

Roosevelt enjoyed a daily horseback ride, and on weekends he frequently entertained North Dakota cowboys and former Rough Rider cronies by taking vigorous, all-day horseback tours of the countryside around Washington.

Roosevelt continued his interest in boxing while he was in the White House. He had a boxing ring installed in one of the rooms and regularly sparred a few rounds with friends and boxing professionals. On one occasion he even went a few rounds with John L. Sullivan, the great bare-knuckle heavyweight champion.

Roosevelt was perhaps the first "speed reader." From his early years, as an invalid, he had taught himself to scan pages of text, devouring a book in an incredibly short time. This, added to an almost perfect recall, enabled TR to absorb an amazing amount of written material. He was immediately familiar with the reports from staff members, and regularly corrected his Chief of Staff and his Generals on details of those official reports.

One time the Turkish Ambassador was scheduled for a visit to the White House. TR sought some subject that they might have in common. The Ambassador was especially interested in Persian Rugs, so TR felt that that would be a good topic to "break the ice." He had his staff bring in all the books they could find on Persian Rugs. That night TR read the books on that subject. Next day the Ambassador arrived and the two men spent a good deal of time in amiable conversation on Persian Rugs. When the Ambassador left their meeting he was elated. Their time together had been very productive and he remarked to TR's Chief of Staff, "I had not realized that Mr. Roosevelt was an expert on Persian Rugs. Was he in that business at some time in his past?"

In 1904 Roosevelt negotiated for the U.S. to take over the Panama Canal and its construction -- which TR felt was his most important achievement as President. In 1906, he became the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize, for negotiating a peace treaty between the combatants in the Russo-Japanese War.

After finishing his second term as President, Roosevelt passed the baton to his hand-picked successor, Wm. Howard Taft, in 1908. Almost immediately, TR broke with Taft and his policies, to the extent that for the election of 1912 TR ran for the Presidency again, as a third party candidate, on the new, "Bull Moose Party" platform.

During the campaign TR campaigned with much vigor, as might be expected. At a campaign stop in Philadelphia a disgruntled voter took a shot at Mr. Roosevelt. The bullet passed through his eyeglass case, and then through the 12 page speech, which he carried in his breast pocket, finally lodging in his chest. Doctors tended to his wounds and of course advised him to enter a hospital. TR would have none of it and insisted upon delivering his campaign speech as planned. With the blood noticeably staining his shirt and suit coat, TR addressed the crowd. "My friends," said TR. "You may have heard that I have been shot by a would-be assassin. Let me tell you that it takes more than an assassin's bullet to stop a Bull Moose candidate." With blood continuing to seep from his chest TR proceeded to deliver his speech -- for some 90 minutes.

Roosevelt did not win in 1912, but he did pull enough Republican voters from President Taft to swing the election for the Princeton professor, Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt was not entirely happy with President Wilson's foreign policy. He felt that the U.S. should have done more to support the Allies from the beginning of hostilities in 1914. When the US did enter World War I Roosevelt offered to raise and lead Regiment for service in France. (not unlike the Rough Riders, as he did for the Spanish American War). Wilson turned down his offer. Though TR was a force in US politics until his death in 1919, he never again held an official position.

Roosevelt, a "larger than life character," is honored as one of the four Presidents at the "larger-than-life sculpture" at Mt. Rushmore. A lifelong enthusiast for the outdoor life, Roosevelt's expeditions took him all over the world, and sharpened his interest in the conservation of nature. This led naturally to his championing the development of the National Park movement in the U S. The first National Park in the U.S., Yellowstone National Park, came into being in 1872, long before TR came to office, but he did his part, by signing the legislation, which established five National Parks, Crater Lake, in Oregon, Wind Cave, in South Dakota, Sullys Hill, in North Dakota, Mesa Verde, in Colorado, and Platt, in Oklahoma, as well as four National monuments, including the Grand Canyon. He also appointed his friend, McCook's Buffalo Jones, as the first Game Warden of Yellowstone National Park, in 1901.

We have yet another lasting memory of Roosevelt. On a hunting expedition in 1902, Roosevelt's camp was invaded by a black bear cub. His hunting companions urged Roosevelt to kill the bear. He refused, saying it would not be sporting to kill the bear under such circumstances and ordered it to be driven back into the woods. A cartoonist for the Washington Post sketched his version of the incident for his paper. Though no one ever dared to refer to TR as "Teddy" in his presence, toy manufacturers were intrigued by the story and soon the country was flooded with "Teddy Bears."

In January 1919, Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep, of a coronary embolism. Thomas Marshall, who was Wilson's Vice-President at the time, said of his death, "TR had to die in his sleep. If he were awake there would have been a terrible fight!"

Source: Wikipedia, "Little known facts about TR", The T. Roosevelt Association

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