Theodore Roosevelt, American Politician: An Assessment

By David H. Burton | Go to book overview

2
Persons

T HEODORE Roosevelt was an American original. Consider this: Born of a distinguished family, he rode with cowboys as well as kings. A Harvard Phi Beta Kappa graduate, he once told an audience at Colorado Springs (the year was 1901) that he bore an indelible Western stamp. A veteran of political wars in New York City, Albany, and Washington, Roosevelt left the safety of the Navy Department to experience his "crowded hour" in Cuba. Whether as president or plain citizen, TR was a model family man, so well attested to by his letters to his children. He preached the strenuous life and wanted, among other things, "to make the dirt fly in Panama," but he was no less a man of learning. Among his many books, The Naval War of 1812 and The Winning of the West may still be read with profit. The first modern president, Roosevelt was instrumental, in both domestic and diplomatic affairs, in launching the American century. Even after his defeat in 1912, TR continued as a vital force in national life. His relentless criticism of President Wilson's policy of neutrality during the early years of World War I, it has been argued, went a long way toward establishing the principle of freedom of speech in wartime with implications not for the 1940 s but the 1960 s and 1970 s.1 Very likely the last of the presidents to grace the mountain wall of Rushmore, Theodore Roosevelt's place in the pantheon of American heroes is secure.

TR was something of a showman -- he knew how to grab a headline, how to make news. To a large extent, this is how he is remembered by the educated public, if not by historians. But what of the inner man, Roosevelt at the core of his being? This is another matter, not altogether different from the highly visible activist, because his deeds mirrored himself. It is simply that he cannot be understood fully on the basis of his outward manner and mien. Roosevelt's character must

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