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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Theodore Roosevelt is Born, October 27, 1858

Theodore Roosevelt was born today in 1858 in New York City. This man, whose life was cut short at the age of 60, would not only achieve great political power, but would forever change the power of the federal government and how the citizens of the United States viewed their President.

Roosevelt was born into wealth, something that distinguished him from most of his predecessors in the White House. These early “log cabin” Presidents were mostly men from families of modest means. This sat well with the American people because it only fortified their belief that, in the United States, anyone of good character could achieve greatness if he was willing to work hard. With this in mind, one would think that Roosevelt would have a tough time wooing the voting public. But Roosevelt was never the kind of man who was comfortable in spending his life hidden away in a fashionable mansion. His life was filled with adventure and travel, all the way to the end.

Roosevelt rose in the New York Republican ranks very early in his career. This gave him national attention for the first time and led to his appointment as assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1897. Roosevelt saw a war with Spain looming on the horizon and was a very vocal advocate for military mobilization. When the war began in 1898, he helped Colonel Leonard Wood organize and train the Rough Riders Regiment. As a newly-appointed Lieutenant Colonel, it was Roosevelt who led the Rough Rider on a charge up San Juan Hill (that wasn’t actually the hill’s name, but the newspapers of the day were insistent). He returned from the war a nationally-know hero, partly from newspaper exposure and partly from his own desire to be, as one of his daughters put it, “the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.”

Roosevelt won the governor’s race in New York in 1898 but only served for two years. This was because he was chosen to be William McKinley’s Vice Presidential running mate. When McKinley was assassinated in 1901, Roosevelt became the youngest President in the history of the nation up to that time. He was 43.

During his years in the White House, Roosevelt fought for many causes which had not been historically associated with the Republican Party. He pursued anti-trust convictions against large companies and wealthy individuals and broke up some of the multi-company trusts which had a stranglehold on the railroad industry. He fought for the rights of workers to unionize, something that was unheard of even twenty years earlier. He promised justice to each and favoritism to none. He also began the establishment of the national park system.

Roosevelt’s work in foreign policy followed along with his best-known quote, “speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” He ensured the construction of the Panama Canal and his corollary to the Monroe Doctrine prevented the establishment of foreign bases in the Caribbean and stated that the sole right of intervention in Latin America belonged to the United States.

Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize for mediating the end of the Russo-Japanese War, reached a Gentleman's Agreement on immigration with Japan, and sent the Great White Fleet of navy battleships on a goodwill tour of the world.

Roosevelt left the Presidency in 1909 after his second term, but ran again for the office in 1912 on the Progressive Party ticket, which was mostly made up of dissatisfied Republicans. Despite his “Square Deal” proposals related to sweeping social reforms, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected, partly because of the split Roosevelt caused in the Republican vote.

The former President was a proponent of America’s entry into World War One. Some historians have opined that Roosevelt’s pro-war stance was rooted in his desire to be seen as macho and manly. This may or may not be true, but he did petition President Wilson for a commission and the command of an Army division. Wilson turned him down.

Theodore Roosevelt died in January, 1919. The popular sentiment was that the many tropical diseases he had endured contributed to his death, but many who were close to TR knew that he had been in a deep depression over the loss of his son Quentin, who died during the war.

There is a quote from Roosevelt that is probably my favorite quote of all time. I hope you don’t mind if I read it:

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

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