Theodore Roosevelt: They Don’t Come Any Tougher

A recording of a speech by that force of nature otherwise known as Theodore, he hated being called Teddy, Roosevelt during his “Bull Moose” campaign for president in 1912.  Note the clear delivery and diction.  Note also his references to French history:   politicians did not assume that they had to talk down to the average voter in those days.  By splitting the Republican vote, Roosevelt getting the larger share, Roosevelt’s third party campaign ensured the election of Woodrow Wilson.  Although he failed to win, during the campaign Roosevelt established beyond doubt that he was one of the toughest men ever to be president.

On October 14, 1912, Roosevelt was giving a speech in Milwaukee.  A deranged saloonkeeper, John Schrank, shot him in the chest.  Roosevelt refused to cancel a scheduled speech.  His opening is perhaps one of the most memorable for any speech: 

Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet – there is where the bullet went through – and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.

Only after he completed his speech, he spoke for 90 minutes with blood running down his shirt, did he consent to go to a hospital.  The bullet could not be removed from his chest and he carried it in him for the rest of his life.  He was off the campaign trail for a scant one week, a week in which his opponents, sportsmanlike, also left the campaign trail out of respect for him.  What a man!  No matter one’s political views, and Roosevelt held a diverse group of views certain to both offend and inspire virtually all portions of the American political spectrum today, it is hard not to admire him.  As one of his enemies once said about him, “A man would have to hate him a lot, not to like him a little!”

Of course, after his heroics in the Spanish-American War, such behavior was only to be expected.  In 2001 Roosevelt was finally awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the battle of San Juan Hill.  Here is the citation:

Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt distinguished himself by acts of bravery on 1 July 1898, near Santiago de Cuba, Republic of Cuba, while leading a daring charge up San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, in total disregard for his personal safety, and accompanied by only four or five men, led a desperate and gallant charge up San Juan Hill, encouraging his troops to continue the assault through withering enemy fire over open countryside. Facing the enemy’s heavy fire, he displayed extraordinary bravery throughout the charge, and was the first to reach the enemy trenches, where he quickly killed one of the enemy with his pistol, allowing his men to continue the assault. His leadership and valor turned the tide in the Battle for San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.”

                  Theodore Roosevelt

7 Responses to Theodore Roosevelt: They Don’t Come Any Tougher

  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris is a good read although more hagiography than biography. Morris goes out of his way to turn Teddy into a near-saint, downplaying his flaws, which included shooting just about anything on four legs and bragging about it. Roosevelt’s imposing presence was enough to cause one foreign visitor to exclaim: “Do you know the two most wonderful things I have seen in your country? Niagara Falls and the President of the United States, both great wonders of nature!”

    As Teddy would react: “Dee-lighted!”

    Perhaps lost in history is the “nature fakers” controversy in the early 20th century in which Roosevelt was a key participant. It was an intense debate at the time, highlighting the conflict between science and sentiment in popular nature. There were those who ascribed anthropomorphic features to animals and those who didn’t; Roosevelt being in the latter camp by publicly siding with the latter by publishing his article “Nature Fakers” in the September 1907 issue of Everybody’s Magazine. (some of this can be found on Wikipedia, not the best source but certainly valid).

    Roosevelt popularized the negative colloquialism by which the controversy would later be known to describe one who purposefully fabricates details about the natural world. The definition of the term later expanded to include those who depicted nature with excessive sentimentality.

    Jack London, for one, famed for Call of the Wild and White Fang in which dogs and wolves took on almost human qualities, and Roosevelt publicly feuded for awhile over this and then the whole issue died down, although now and then it comes up with a Disney movie comes out and turns animals into human models.

    Just a footnote, of course, to the larger theme put forth by Don, which spoke of Roosevelt’s tremendous courage and, hence, leadership. Taken as a whole, he was arguably the best President after Lincoln and certaintly the greatest of the 20th century. When contrasted to the current officeholder, one can only cringe as to how far we have descended into mediocrity.

  • I’ve always admired TR, but lately I’ve grown weary of him. I want to like him- there is so much one cannot help but admire- but one of the main things that concerns me is his elitist Drawinian trend toward eugenics. Any thoughts on this?

  • Roosevelt’s views on many issues are hard to translate into simple terms. Often quotes by him that float around the internet are taken out of context from fairly lengthy articles he wrote. Eugenics is a prime example. Go to the link below to read an article entitled Twisted Eugenics that he wrote in 1914 in response to the idea that war lowers the racial stock of a nation:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=z0wAAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA30&lpg=PA30&dq=theodore+roosevelt+twisted+eugenics&source=bl&ots=0tH3HQm42j&sig=7VQ_XlhGxjbWJ3c4-G6T__wHEbg&hl=en&ei=aWGQTfCJNKOx0QGWvty2Cw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&sqi=2&ved=0CB8Q6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=theodore%20roosevelt%20twisted%20eugenics&f=false

    Roosevelt attacked that notion in the article. In that article he also makes statements in favor of eugenics, large families and against birth control. He notes that immigrants in New England will inherit, and should inherit, New England because the old Puritan stock were not having children. Roosevelt’s main concern in this area was that too many people were, as he would have phrased it, “shirking their duty” of having offspring.

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