Roosevelt and Churchill: Parallel Lives

“I dislike the father and dislike the son, so I may be prejudiced.  Still, I feel that, while the biographer and his subject possess some real farsightedness…both possess or possessed such levity, lack of sobriety, lack of permanent principle, and an inordinate thirst for that cheap form of admiration which is given to notoriety, as to make them poor public servants.”

Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 commenting privately on Winston Churchill’s biography of his father Lord Randolph Churchill.

 

 

 

 

Gary Oldman has just received a well-earned Oscar as best actor for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour (2017):

 

I wish we had a modern day Plutarch to write parallel lives of Churchill and his closest American analogue, Theodore Roosevelt.

Both Churchill and Roosevelt came from families of great wealth and influence, and idolized their fathers, although in the case of Winston Churchill that idolatry was misplaced due to the fact that in many ways his father was a self-absorbed cad who had almost no time for his son.  Both fathers died relatively young.

Churchill and Roosevelt both enjoyed political success at early ages and both were national figures for most of their adult lives.

Both would break with the political parties that they started with, and both would return to their early political allegiances.  Both were looked at askance by the establishments of their political parties.

Both men were champions of the development of the early welfare states, while also ferocious opponents of socialism.

Churchill and Roosevelt both fought in wars for their countries and achieved fame as a result.

Both were serious historians, wrote many volumes on various subjects and also wrote for the newspapers and journals of their day.

Larger than life figures, they both had huge public images that hid the private men within the images.

Both had large families and dearly loved their wives and children.

Orators of the first rank, both Roosevelt and Churchill were masters of the spoken and written English tongue.

Both were essentially conservative reformers.

Of course there are also important differences.  Two come to mind immediately.  Roosevelt never confronted the great challenge of war as a statesman as Churchill did.  He was President at a time of peace.  The second is that Churchill lived for 90 years to Roosevelt’s 60.  If Churchill had lived to Roosevelt’s age, he would never have been Prime Minister of England and lesser men might well have led the British to make a squalid temporary peace with Hitler.  If Roosevelt had lived to Churchill’s age he would almost certainly have been elected President in 1920 and would have died in 1948.

The essential similarity of Roosevelt and Churchill is that they viewed life as a wonderful adventure and history as a great heroic epic in which their nations were destined to play great roles.  Statesman like them are rare indeed and happy the nations which have them.

 

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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.