Theodore Roosevelt: A Man for All Ages

By Tullai, Martin D. | The World and I, April 1998 | Go to article overview

Theodore Roosevelt: A Man for All Ages


Tullai, Martin D., The World and I


It may be that we are presently so devoid of legitimate heroes that we are hungrily looking to the past for one we can justly venerate. Or it may be just a reflection of the nostalgic temper of the times. Whatever the case, we are witnessing a revival of interest in one of the most astute and discerning leaders the United States has ever known: Theodore Roosevelt, our twenty-sixth president, who was born on October 27, 1858.

Certainly from the standpoint of raw, physical courage, he qualifies as a genuine hero.

He displayed it during his ranching days in the Dakota Badlands in numerous ways, including the pursuit and capture of three lawbreakers in his role as deputy sheriff of Billings County.

He revealed it at Kettle Hill and San Juan Heights during the Spanish-American War when he charged headlong with his Rough Riders into murderous enemy fire during his "crowded hour."

He demonstrated it in his African adventures and his exploration of the unmapped River of Doubt in Brazil in 1914.

He showed it during the presidential campaign of 1912 when John Schrank shot him in the chest from a range of six feet. Although saved from death by a metal eyeglass case and a fifty-page speech that was folded double in his breast pocket, Roosevelt's wound had him coughing up blood. Nevertheless, he went on to present his speech as he exclaimed, "It takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose."

Physical courage? In abundance! But he was more. No wonder then:

* When American sculptor Gutzon Borglum created his massive monument to four eminent U.S. statesmen at Mount Rushmore, Roosevelt was part of this distinguished quartet.

* When Time magazine presented its special issue on the American presidency in 1976, he was accorded the singular distinction of appearing on the cover.

* When Newsweek devoted much of its August 6, 1979, issue to the study "Where Have All the Heroes Gone?" he was selected for the cover for being a great and inspiring leader.

* When the New York Times reviewed Edmund Morris' compelling study The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, the book received prominent front-page coverage. (This is but one of some half dozen books recently published detailing the life and exploits of this exuberant personality.)

* When in 1981 the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame decided to name its NAIA Division II Football Championship after a distinguished American, the honor fell to Theodore Roosevelt. This is especially significant when one recalls the important role he played in helping to save this great national game shortly after the turn of the century.

* When the U.S. Navy launched a new aircraft carrier on October 27, 1984, the 126th anniversary of Roosevelt's birth, it was named in his honor. (This is the fourth notable ship to be named after him and is especially fitting since many regard him as the father of the modern U.S. Navy.)

OUR MOST PERSONABLE PRESIDENT

Over the past three decades, a series of polls dealing with presidential greatness have confirmed his lofty status. In 1962, the Schlesinger poll listed him in the seventh position. By 1977, he had jumped dramatically to the fourth spot in the U.S. Historical Society survey. In 1982, the Chicago Tribune poll also placed him in the fourth position, and the 1994 Sienna College Research Institute's Presidential Ranking Survey had him in the third position.

Unquestionably, we are now in the midst of a Theodore Roosevelt renaissance.

And why not? In an era hungry for heroes, Americans are yearning for those qualities of strength, solidity, and honesty so evident in this most lovable president.

The first man to truly enjoy the presidency--"I don't think any president ever enjoyed himself more than I did," he said--this advocate of the "Square Deal" has been characterized as the most restless and flamboyant personality ever to attain that office, a sort of elective bombshell. …

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