Roosevelt the Reformer: Theodore Roosevelt as Civil Service Commissioner, 1889-1895

By Richard D. White Jr. | Go to book overview

Introduction

"AT TIMES I FEEL an almost Greek horror of extremes," Theodore Roosevelt once confessed to an English friend. Roosevelt could not decide whether he was a conservative radical or a radical conservative. 1 The twenty-sixth president of the United States was a complex, often contradictory, and almost always controversial man. Revealing stark contrasts, Roosevelt seemed at times altruistic, idealistic, and driven by a high-minded progressive desire to improve the fate of mankind. He demonstrated boundless energy, moral intensity, and in many ways perpetual adolescence. Often he could be quite childlike, a friend once remarking that one had to remember that Theodore's age was "about six." In the blink of an eye, however, Roosevelt could be politically ruthless, blindly ambitious, xenophobic, and to some, even racist. There are no lukewarm descriptions of Roosevelt. His supporters adored him as a champion of reform, while his enemies branded him either a traitor to progressivism or a traitor to conservatism. Henry Adams, one of the more discerning chroniclers of his time, quipped that Theodore possessed "the quality that medieval theology assigned to God—he was pure act."2

As the memory of Roosevelt fades over time, leaving mostly a toothsome and bespectacled caricature of the man, history has a more dif¤cult time grasping Roosevelt's life and career. Roosevelt's interests were many and varied. He held strong views on almost every conceivable subject, including international relations, national defense, immigration, conservation of the wilderness, bird collecting, marriage and chil

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