On Their Heads

As this speech suggested, Roosevelt was identifying with the nation to a greater degree than ever. His whole life, since his father's challenge at the age of eleven at any rate, had been a continuing effort to demonstrate that he wasn't a weakling. The war with Spain had given him the opportunity to put to rest whatever doubts he still harbored on the subject--or at least as fully to rest as he was ever likely to do. The war simultaneously afforded America as a country the opportunity to demonstrate that it wasn't a weakling among nations. Roosevelt had passed his personal test; America had passed the test of nations--so far as combat itself was concerned. Now Americans must demonstrate that they could win the peace as convincingly as they had won the war. Roosevelt was determined that they should do so, for their own self-respect and his.

Even as governor, Roosevelt could never identify with the state of New York the way he identified with the nation. States had no historic destiny--certainly not since the Civil War--and took no distinctive part in the struggle among nations. For Roosevelt the struggle was the thing; without the struggle, life wasn't worth living, for the individual or for the nation.

By contrast, old-line party bosses like Tom Plattdid identify with their states. (City bosses like Richard Croker were more geographically particular still.) Platt had national connections and a national presence, but on the repeatedly proven premise that politics is overwhelmingly local, he paid primary heed to the concerns and affairs of New York and the Republican Party there.


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T.R.: The Last Romantic
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