The Asthmatic Boy who Became the Unstoppable Man Part 3

I am a part of everything that I have read.
-Theodore Roosevelt

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I finally finished Edmund Morris’ three part biography of Theodore Roosevelt! Last week was a tribute to Teddy’s many accomplishments throughout his life and I have written two previous posts about his early life (Part 1) and his presidency (Part 2). The last book in Morris’ series is called Colonel Roosevelt and it profiles Roosevelt’s post presidency life until his death. Reading about Teddy in his later life made me both happy and sad because he tried to do great things but were often stopped by forces beyond his control. After his grand tour of Africa and Europe, Roosevelt came back to America with intentions of writing and staying out of politics. These plans were quickly abandoned because the sitting president, William Howard Taft, was doing little to push Roosevelt’s square deal (conservation of natural resources, control of corporations, consumer protection) and prevent political corruption. The people wanted Roosevelt to run for president in 1912 but the party wanted Taft. Roosevelt fought for primaries that were decided by the popular vote (how modern day nominations work) instead of selection of candidates by party leaders. Roosevelt and Taft were essentially tied for the nomination at the Republican National Convention but the old Republican guard disliked his progressive policies. Taft received the nomination but Roosevelt decided to form the Progressive Party and run against Taft (Republican), Woodrow Wilson (Democrat), and Eugene Debs (Socialist).

The Progressive Party ran on a platform that most of us would think were commonsense policies, but at the time they were extremely radical. Roosevelt toured the country speaking to over a million Americans about the tenets of his newly formed party:

-Complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs
-Laws prohibiting the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes
-Executives and board members of corporations should be held responsible for wrongdoings
-Promote conservation of natural resources
-Promote national security
-Graduated Income Tax
-Inheritance Taxes on big fortunes
-A judiciary accountable to changing social and economic conditions
-Comprehensive workmen’s compensation acts
-National laws to regulate the labor of children and women
-Higher safety and sanitary standards in the workplace
-Public scrutiny of all political campaign spending

Unfortunately, Roosevelt lost to Woodrow Wilson but he did beat Taft in electoral and popular votes. Roosevelt’s campaign did however alter the progressive policies of the two major parties-many of which would be enacted 25 years later by his fifth-cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the election, Roosevelt became a little disillusioned by politics and began to write for magazines and conduct speaking events. In 1914, WWI broke out and Roosevelt soon put his heart into convincing Americans that they must arm themselves for national protection. After the Lusitania sunk, Roosevelt was furious that Wilson refused to enter the war and defend the Americans who were being mercilessly killed by the German U-Boats. Eventually, Wilson would be forced to enter the war and Roosevelt essentially begged the President to allow him to lead men into battle. The administration rejected this plea, and Roosevelt was forced to write about the war while his 4 sons went off to fight. At this point in his life, Roosevelt began to lose most of his health due to all his previous injuries: rheumatism and crippling asthma as a child, leg injury from a collision with a trolley car, a gun shot wound to the chest, malaria from the Spanish-American War, a near-death injury during a river expedition in the jungles of Brazil, and countless falls off his horse list a few. He became overweight from inactivity and depressed because he couldn’t fight physically or politically. His depression worsened when he heard that his son Quentin was shot down in France; this loss was the hardest in his life-even more than when he lost his mother and first wife on the same day at the age of 26. He would never fully recover from this and soon fell ill with rheumatism and a pulmonary embolism. As he lay dying, he was unaware that the Republican Party was excitedly planning his nomination for president in 1920.

In 2016, many of the principles Teddy fought for are still with us. We are a better country because of his progressive policies which fought for the collective good of the people instead of the collective good of the elite. Unfortunately, just like the election of 1912, we are fighting corruption in politics, corporations, and the values of equality. Remembering what Teddy fought for makes me appreciate how far America has come and how much more we need to improve.

5 thoughts on “The Asthmatic Boy who Became the Unstoppable Man Part 3

  1. It’s hard to believe that a single man could accomplish and lay out future hope to so many. He left a legacy to be proud of, didn’t he? It is sad to hear about his late years, health and depression – also the loss of his loved ones. Life has a way of tearing the bark off of our soul, but we have to look at the positive and continue to pray for God’s guidance & wisdom. Hopefully this impressive man knew God and gained peace through the years of struggle.
    Thank you for sharing this information, I have gained respect for Theodore Roosevelt and all he did for our country. I would have never known – if not for your book report.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. When I taught elementary school I used to fill the little gaps in the schedule by telling my students stories, and one of their favorite topics was Theodore Roosevelt. An almost unfathomably immense figure, TR’s life was filled with indelible episodes. The children appreciated little vignettes of TR’s youth, like the image of the nearly-blind boy riding a taxi down Fifth Avenue with a loaded rifle nonchalantly resting on his knee. I remember students–little kids, seven and eight years old–leaning forward intently as I described the time that Teedy’s father came to him and told him, ‘You have the mind but not the body,’ and then the sickly child’s often insane efforts to improve himself–the punchline is years later, when the former president is shot in the chest and continues to deliver his speech, his powerful chest seemingly stronger than any bullet.
    The children laughed at stories of the President of the United States playing marbles on the White House lawn with his youngest son’s playmates. ‘The President, you must understand, is six.’ I’m probably misremembering the line, but the kids got a thrill every time.
    And when I told them the story of Alice, of loss and heartbreak, even these little ones found the meaning in his despair and his struggles to overcome them.
    It’s so easy to love Theodore Roosevelt, which I and my students couldn’t help but do, but it’s also useful to start from that love to explore his weakness and flaws: neglecting his daughter, the glorification of war that would cost him his youngest son, and in the end his arrogance that for a while imperiled his political legacy. We explored his attitudes towards the racism of his day, in some ways very progressive and in others woefully inadequate. I both was and wasn’t surprised at how remarkably deep the kids’ feelings on these topics could be.
    Last summer I was in New York City with my own children and every time we passed something related to TR I couldn’t help but launch into another story about him. The kids didn’t mind; nor, as far as I could tell, did the strangers that inevitably overheard.
    I stumbled across your post this morning and felt the need to share a little. And to thank you for giving me a reason to flip through Edmund Morris’s books again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow! I think that comment couldn’t be a better summation of Teddy’s life 🙂 What subject did you teach? I wish more teachers shared your passion for sharing history. You hit the nail on the head-share history through stories which are relatable to the viewer. I think I will have to reread Edmund Morris in a few years also. Thanks again for the awesome comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I taught everything, but that particular year was third and fourth graders. I generally taught history, but I said it was less ‘teaching history’ and more telling stories. All my favorite teachers did the same, regardless of the subject. (Even, somehow, math.)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Meet a President on President’s Day | SAPERE AUDE

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