Saturday, October 27, 2012

Happy Birthday Theodore Roosevelt!

Jake's blog informs me that today is the birthday of Theodore Roosevelt, the most interesting president in the world.

Born this day, 1858, in New York City.

Who WOULDN'T vote for this guy?
Rather than sum up the man and his achievements I shall start by recommending some light reading:

  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
  • Theodore Rex
  • Colonel Roosevelt all by Edmund Morris.

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard
The Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt by a former professor I had at UT, Lewis L. Gould (he was awesome.)

Roosevelt probably actually somewhat broke the Presidency.  While the President had always held tremendous power, Roosevelt decided that the office meant he could do whatever he thought was right and that included using the United States as a blunt instrument.  This was about as far from, say, a Coolidge presidency as was philosophically possible.  You're free to debate this in the comments, but as a peacetime President, Roosevelt truly pushed the fragile balance of power in the US from the congress to the executive branch in new and, truthfully, interesting ways.

As a person, Roosevelt was endlessly fascinating and endlessly faceted.  Brilliant, iron-willed, a thirst for adventure and justice - he was the Batman of presidents.  In fact, he was the son of a wealthy, well-heeled family in New York and his father instilled in him both a love for justice of all kinds as well as a belief that he must build himself to be the man he wanted to be (and then promptly died).

This Guy

Roosevelt came into the Presidency after being elected Vice-President to poor, doomed William McKinley, who was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Buffalo, NY Pan-American Exposition.  Roosevelt was, of course, sitting on top of a mountain far from humanity when the news broke and he was called into action (unshockingly like the opening of a Rambo movie).

at Harvard, Roosevelt was a boxer.  Also, he was listening to Broken Bells before they sold out.

Once in place, Roosevelt built the Panama Canal (and was the first sitting president to leave the US during his Presidency), established our national parks, brokered peace in Asia, and kept wild animals in the White House.  That's not to mention what he did as the Colonel of the Rough Riders, head of police in New York City, as a Rep in the New York Assembly, Secretary of the Navy, ranch owner/ vigilante lawman, big game hunter, naturalist, cartographer, boxer, prolific author, nude swimmer of The Potomac...  The man kept busy.

And, yes, the story that he was shot and still gave an hour-long speech is absolutely true (it didn't hurt that his speech was thick enough to slow the bullet).  He also successfully sued a small paper in the smaller town of Ishpeming, Michigan for libel when the owner/ editor of the paper suggested he drank.  I mention this as (a) my cousin is from Ishpeming and its about 3000 people on a good day, or a rounding error in a Michigan election, and (b) because it'll give The Admiral and KareBear a chuckle to know Roosevelt actually spent time in Ishpeming hanging out so he could mess with this guy (and probably go fishing).  His victory in the suit awarded him $0.06.

a painting of Roosevelt at rest

There's a reason his mug is up there with Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson at Mount Rushmore.

I don't actually agree with all of Roosevelt's policies and ideas, as fascinating as I find him as a person.  And I am uncertain that the precedent set in Roosevelt's use of executive power has been responsibly followed by his successors (we'll give Taft the benefit of the doubt).

What is of no question to me is that we're electing the wrong kind of person president or we've set up a system that rewards the wrong kind of nonsense to get people lined up for the presidency.  Roosevelt was a career politician.  This is fact.  He was also a scholar who wrote book after book, understood everything he read (even if he drew his own conclusions), traveled the world, wrangled cattle with his bare hands, wrangled New York Assemblymen with his bare hands, loved and lost and learned to love again...

Bully for you!

That the name Roosevelt usually sets Americans to thinking of FDR, the one who won The Big One and guided the US through the Depression, is not a mistake.  But there's a whole other Roosevelt who looms just as large and says something else just as amazing about the American character and the possibilities for the individual.

Also, sidenote, Roosevelt's friends never called him "Teddy".  That was a fabrication of the press, and the proper, Victorian-era-New Yorker Roosevelt bristled at the familiarity.  He was "The Colonel" to the Rough Riders, "Mr. President" to the public, or "Mr. Roosevelt".  And to those close to him, he was "T.R.".  Little bonus trivia for you.

But, yes, the invention of the "Teddy Bear" is named in his honor.


Jake Shore said...

I sat here for at least ten minutes trying to think of anyone in the same realm as TR today. All I could come up with is some amalgam of David Petraeus, Bear Grylls and Ron Paul.

The League said...

I can't imagine anyone with TR's background wanting to work in politics then or now - but I can't imagine the world could deal with anyone or possibly produce anyone like TR at this time.

picky said...

My students are actually reading some TR this week, so this is apropos. Also, I'm keen to get my hands on that Millard book, as I recently read her newest, and it was fantastic.

Fascinating man, and as you mention, I'm not quite sure why he wanted to be in politics.

The League said...

Oddly, I have only read excerpts from Roosevelt and none of his actual books. That may be a good project for the winter. What are your students reading?

The League said...

On the politics, I think Morris and Pringle had pretty good takes on it. It seemed that, he being the Batman of American Presidents, was a wealthy young man with a sense of community responsibility and politics seemed like a means to an end to "get things done". Given his roles as Police Commissioner of New York and other roles at such a young age, he was obviously deeply politically minded. How this jives with how we think of modern day politicians may fit better with Mr. Smith going to Washington than the path from politico to politician to high dollar K-Street lobbyist.