Theodore Roosevelt, that force of nature that was once President of these United States, was a deeply religious man. He attended church faithfully his entire life. (He was Dutch Reformed, but he often attended Episcopal services with his wife.) He opposed putting the national motto “In God We Trust” on currency, for fear it would cheapen the noble sentiment, as would be the case, in his view, if it were used on postage stamps or in advertisements. He was opposed to all religious bigotry as he would state immediately after the campaign of 1908 when the Unitarian Willam Howard Taft came under fire for his religion:
“I did not answer any of these letters during the campaign, because I regarded it as an outrage even to agitate such a question. … To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular Church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any Church, is an outrage against the liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life. … I do not for one moment believe that the mass of our fellow-citizens, or that any considerable number of our fellow citizens, can be influenced by such narrow bigotry as to refuse to vote for any thoroughly upright and fit man because he happens to have a particular religious creed. … I believe that this Republic will endure for many centuries. If so, there will doubtless be among its Presidents Protestants and Catholics, and very probably at some time, Jews. … In my Cabinet at the present moment there sit side by side Catholic and Protestant, Christian and Jew, each man chosen because in my belief he is peculiarly fit to exercise on behalf of all our people the duties of the office. … In no case does a man’s religious belief in any way influence his discharge of his duties, save as it makes him more eager to act justly and uprightly in his relations to all men.”
A frequent reader of the Bible, Roosevelt once opined that a thorough knowledge of it was more valuable to a person than a college education.
His Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1908 rejoices in the material well being of the country, but notes that there is far more to life than piling up material possessions. He would have vigorously dissented from the idiotic bumper sticker: “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Here is the text of the Proclamation: Continue reading
Ah, if only “talkies” had existed during Theodore Roosevelt’s life. Here we see a silent film of the Fourth of July speech in 1903 given by Roosevelt in Huntington, New York, during the 250th anniversary year of that town. We cannot hear him speak, but the energy and passion which he poured into every speech he gave is clear from the film.
A few weeks later, Colonel Roosevelt (That is the title by which he liked to be addressed, being proud of his service with the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. He despised being called Teddy.) addressed the Holy Name Society on August 16, 1903. Note his appeal to men and boys to lead good and moral lives and to give full expression to the masculine virtues of courage and fortitude. Today of course the speech would be denounced as sexist, moralistic, Christianist and you can write the remainder of the list for yourself. Such complaints would be the sheerest rubbish. Men and boys need precisely this type of message if they are going to be a positive force in society and to be good husbands, fathers and sons. Too many churches, and the Church, tend to ignore giving this type of message and society has suffered greatly as a result. Here is the text of the speech: Continue reading
A video clip from the film The Wind and the Lion (1975) where Brian Keith gave a superb performance as Theodore Roosevelt and John Huston gave an unforgettable portrayal of Secretary of State John Hay. John Milius’ film was first rate entertainment, but poor history. In the film Perdicaris is Edith Perdicaris, portrayed by Candice Bergen, who is taken captive by Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli, played with considerable panache by Sean Connery, the leader of a band of Berber insurgents in Morocco in 1904. Perdicaris comes to respect, perhaps even to love, her captor, who, after many adventures, ultimately frees her. As is usually the case, reality was more prosaic than fiction.
Perdicaris the captive was not an attractive female, but a 64 year old man, Ion Pericaris. Perdicaris did grow to respect his captor, who treated him well, regarding him as a patriot fighting against a corrupt regime. Perdicaris was captured on May 18, 1904. Raisuli sent to the Sultan a list of demands in exchange for the release of Perdicaris and his stepson who was also a captive. The demands included $70,000 in gold, safe-conduct for his tribesmen, and being named governor of two districts near Tangier.
Theodore Roosevelt was outraged by this kidnapping of an American citizen, and had ships of the Navy stationed off Morocco. His first instinct was to have the US Marines go in and rescue Perdicaris, but Secretary Hay convinced him that such a course was unwise. Morocco was a state of first importance to many European powers, and American intervention might have set off a powderkeg similar to the events that ultimately led to World War I. The administration faced an additional quandry when it learned that during the Civil War in 1862 Perdicaris had renounced his American citizenship in Greece, apparently to prevent the Confederate government from confiscating his holdings in the Confederacy. The Roosevelt Administration made certain that no one outside of the administration became aware of this. Continue reading
During the Civil War, the flags carried by military units had intense emotional significance for the men who fought and died under them. The flags not only symbolized the nation or state, but also stood for the units that carried them and the men who bled in their defense. At the end of the War hundreds of captured Confederate battle flags were held by the Federal government and the victorious Union states. Objects of pride for the men who had fought for the Union, their treatment as war trophies by the victorious North was a sore point in the vanquished South.
In 1887 Grover Cleveland was President. The first Democrat elected to hold the office since the Civil War, Cleveland was also the only non-Civil War veteran to hold the office since the end of the War. During the War he had hired a substitute to fight in his stead, a perfectly legal, albeit unheroic, method of not having to fight one’s self in the conflict.
In 1887 the Secretary of War mentioned to Cleveland that the Adjutant General of the Army had suggested that the return of the battle flags to the Southern states would be a graceful gesture that would be appreciated in the South. No doubt thinking that after more than two decades wartime passions had subsided, Cleveland ordered the return of the captured flags to the Southern governors. This was a major blunder. Continue reading
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. Continue reading