theodore-roosevelt1.jpeg"There was no doubt that Theodore Roosevelt was peculiarly qualified to be President of all the people" of the United States (Morris, 5). Few, if any, in all of world history can match his intellectual and practical achievements. Over the course of his life, Roosevelt learned six languages, founded a hunting-conservation society, became a world authority on North American game animals, read twenty thousand books and wrote fifteen more himself, won the Nobel prize for peace, served two-terms as president, served as governor and state legislator of New York and served as that state's largest city's police chief, was a rancher, a historian, poet and civil servant (Morris 7-8). His startling success came about as a result of dedication, the imposition of high standards and sometimes, luck. Those that knew him never failed to comment on his energetic and willful personality, and it was without a doubt those characteristics that led him to achieve so much in such a short life, but he was not always the picture of health that friends and admirers remembered him to be.

Background


Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was born October 27, 1858 on the eve of the American Civil War, in New York City (Haberman). His household was a mirror for that great conflict. His mother, Martha Bulloch, was a southern belle from the slave state of Georgia and an ardent suporter of states' rights to determine whether or not to permit slavery. His father, Theodore Roosevelt, senior, was a wealthy patrician of New York state and just as fervent a supporter of the Lincoln administration and the war to end slavery in 1860. In spite of such massive political differences, the Roosevelts had a happy and harmonious home that treated their children with an enlightened progressiveness almost unheard of in young Theodore's time (Morris, 6). Theodore spent much of his youth in bed suffering from chronic health problems that included a debilitating case of asthma that would attack him off and on throughout his life. While recuperating from severe attacks, Roosevelt would entertain himself by reading books and writing about his experiences in his journal, taking special interest in zoology and animals.

Years of self-imposed study and experimentation led him to pursue a degree a degree in biology at Harvard University. While at Harvard, Roosevelt discovered the joy of political involvement and soon abandoned his first love of science to pursue a law degree. He also developed strong interests in naval affairs and history. After graduating, Roosevelt got his first experience in government serving in the New York state assembly where he pushed for reforms in state politics and for the first conservation efforts to preserve New York's natural wilderness. He supplemented his income during this time and afterward by making a career of writing histories, gaining widespread academic success with his Naval War of 1812 and the book series The Winning of the West.

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Roosevelt married twice in his life. His first wife, Alice, died shortly after giving birth to his first child (a girl, also named Alice for her mother). She died the same day, and in the same house, as his mother on Valentine's Day 1884. Entrusting his new daughter to his sister Bamie, Roosevelt set out West on a hunting expedition that turned into an attempt to make a new life on the frontier. For over a year, Roosevelt tried his hand at cattle ranching, a growing industry in the late 19th century. While the ranch never really turned a profit, Roosevelt fell in love with the lonely prairie lifestyle and developed lasting impressions upon the people in that part of the United States that would pay off well for him when he sought election for the office of President. His health also dramatically improved on this trip. Throughout his life, Roosevelt would return to the frontier when things became stressful for him back east. He married his second wife, Edith, shortly after his return and had five more children with her.

Upon his return, Roosevelt gained influence within the Republican Party, which enabled him to take a series of more and more prestigious offices from Civil Service Commissioner to Assistant Secretary of the Navy. When the Spanish American War broke out, Roosevelt immediately resigned his position to participate in the war, fighting TR_San_Juan_Hill_1898.jpegagainst Spanish forces in Cuba to liberate the country from imperialism. He was a popular war hero upon his return and continued to rise in the ranks of both state and federal government until his eventual nomination as Vice President on the same ticket as William McKinley. McKinley's assassination propelled Roosevelt into the presidency where he remained a very popular national figure. During his presidency he negotiated the end to the Russo-Japanese War (for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize) and oversaw the beginning of the construction of the Panama Canal. An ardent conservationist and naturalist, Roosevelt also sought to expand federal protections of wildlife and doubled the size of the country's national parks, preserving them for future generations. President Roosevelt also took a firm stand against monopolies and trusts and urged both unions and corporations to work together and compromise to give all Americans a "square deal."

Roosevelt won a second term to the US presidency in his own right, but, in spite of his popularity, did not seek a third term immediately after. He campaigned for his friend William Howard Taft, who eventually won the presidency after Roosevelt, then departed on a tour of Europe with speaking engagements and hunting trips abroad as diversions. Unhappy in retirement and in disagreement with Taft's leadership, Roosevelt launched a third party, the Bull Moose Party, and sought the presidency again in 1912, but lost to Democrat Woodrow Wilson. He retired permanently from politics and left for an expedition of the Amazon where he contracted numerous debilitating diseases that eventually led to his death in 1919 at the age of 60.


Personality Traits


"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing."
Theodore Roosevelt was known for having an assertive and dominating personality as well as an iron will and a strong sense of ethical behavior. His illness and weakness in youth led him to a lifelong practice of challenging himself. When doctor's told him he wouldn't live long if he didn't take it easy, Roosevelt enrolled in boxing, wrestling and started lifting weights. He treated his asthmatic condition by taking yearly trips into the northern parts of the country in the winter to chop down trees and camp out in the snow. Life was a test for Roosevelt and he lived it as fervently and fully as he could. Even as president of the United States, Roosevelt found time for aikido lessons and wrestling matches as well as long walks in nearby parks with his guests. His intellectual curiosity matched his desire for physical exertion and he constantly tested the limits of his mind and sought to expand his academic horizons. He read, on average, one to two books a day on topics that ranged from medieval German poetry to paleontology and zoology, with contemporary fiction thrown in the mix so he could have conversation starters at dinner parties and with guests. A friendly and outgoing man, Roosevelt was well known for his gripping handshake and how his teeth snapped together when he spoke excitedly, which was almost always. He had a New Year's tradition of greeting visitors to the White House, no matter the number or the weather and held the Guiness World record for most handshakes in a single day (8,513) because of it (DeAngelis). These qualities endeared him to the people and made him one of the most popular presidents in American history.

Obstacles


The biggest obstacle young Roosevelt faced to the glowing success he would eventually achieve was his incredibly poor health and failing eye sight. Before the age of modern medicine and asthma inhalers, attacks could be fatal and a less indomitable personality might well have spent his whole life closeted indoors. Encouraged by his father to confront his weaknesses, Roosevelt made overcome adversity something to be continually sought out, whether in personal health, finances, intellectual endeavor or politics. In his years in the Dakota Badlands, he was constantly underestimated because of his failing eyesight. Glasses were a sign of effeminacy, moral failing and weakness on the harsh frontier and Roosevelt constantly had to prove his ability and worth by working as hard as the most seasoned cowboy.

While Roosevelt did inherit money, he was not very good at managing it and was never in a position in his adult life where he didn't have to work to support his family. While many of the dominant politicians of his age could afford to spend lavishly on campaigning and spend most of their time devoted to political pursuits, Roosevelt had to be conscious of his income and make sure that he had a job, even if his election prospects fell through, so his family wouldn't go without. He was an accomplished writer and speaker, so there was little danger of his actual fall into poverty, and he lived quite well for his entire life, but not without fear that it could be otherwise.

Historical Significance


Roosevelt was a powerful president who set a number of precedents. He took the first steps toward making the US a world power by developing and strengthening its modern navy so that it could rival the great European powers, a step that was critical in the years following his presidency and for US entry into WWI. He also established the presidency as the office of intermediary and arbitrator by helping to end a dangerous coal strike that threatened workers with unemployment and most of the cold northeastern states with a winter without heating. By doing so, he sent the message that it is the job of the president to monitor economic situations and intervene for the public good and that government had a rightful responsibility to regulate business and labor for those purposes. By helping to resolve the Russo-Japanese War, he established the United States as a pre-eminent world power whose decisions should be respected, and as an interventionist authority figure in the Americas.

Roosevelt also had a deep love of nature and used the power of the presidency to protect as much of it as possible. During his presidency, Roosevelt created 5 national parks, 18 national monuments, and 150 National Forests. In total, 230 million acres of American soil were set aside for preservation, including Olympia National Park and the Grand Canyon. Roosevelt was an avid hunter and loved the thrill of the contest, but remained painfully aware of the delicate balance species have with the natural environment. A hunting trip for bears in the south during his presidency spawned the creation of the "Teddy Bear" industry, a term and business that remains to this day. In a speech in 1907 on the importance of conservation, Roosevelt remarked,

"In utilizing and conserving the natural resources of the Nation, the one characteristic more essential than any other is foresight.... The conservation of our natural resources and their
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proper use constitute the fundamental problem which underlies almost every other problem of our national life."
On race relations, Roosevelt was a product of his time. A believer in Social Darwinism and the superiority of white cultures, he advocated US expansion around the world so that the benefits of American style democracy could be brought to "underdeveloped" societies around the world. He was instrumental in the outbreak of the Spanish-American War and during his presidency oversaw the administrations of Cuba and the Philippines as territorial acquisitions. That said, he was also the first President to invite an African-American to the White House for dinner, Booker T. Washington. While he vigorously defended his right and the "rightness" of doing so to a hostile and racist South, he never invited Washington or any other African-American to dinner again. He also did his best to put an end to nativist anti-Japanese sentiment in California during his presidency, with some limited success.

Roosevelt's greatest contribution to American government was the idea that the President is the steward of the lands and institutions of the country for the people. He took that responsibility seriously and has inspired generations that followed to follow his example. His likeness is carved in the Mount Rushmore mountainside alongside Washington, Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.





References



Beschloss, Michael, and Hugh Sidney. "Theodore Roosevelt." Theodore Roosevelt. The White House, 15 Dec. 2011. Web. 06 May 2012. <http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/theodoreroosevelt>.

DeAngelis, Martin. "Joseph Lazarow, who led Atlantic City through start of casino era, dies at 84." The Press of Atlantic City, 04 January 2008. Web. 06 May 2012. <http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/top_three/story/7526015p-7427184c.html>.

Haberman, Frederick W. "Biography." Theodore Roosevelt. Nobel Prize Organization, 2012. Web. 06 May 2012. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1906/roosevelt-bio.html>.

Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. New York: Random House, 2001.