I am a part of everything that I have read.
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.