Theodore Roosevelt-   The Man in the Arena

Young Theodore Roosevelt by Bill Cannon Photo Credit- fineartamerica.com

Young Theodore Roosevelt by Bill Cannon Photo Credit- fineartamerica.com

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

So we start off our series on badasses with one of the best- Theodore Roosevelt.  This man is hands down amazing and my favorite president.  As I sit here writing, I am currently wearing my “Vote Bullmoose” t shirt, and believe me if the man came back from the dead as a zombie, I would still vote for him.  I could fill a post with only his amazing accomplishments, but there is more to the man than the work of his life.

Born October 27, 1858 in New York to a wealthy family.  He had one older sister and another brother and sister would follow.  Teedie, as he was known to the family, was sickly and asthmatic.  To escape his ill health, the young man escaped into the many books in the family library.  Books about wild animals and far away places caught his imagination.  When he was seven, he even set   up “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History” in the family parlor and charged a one cent admission.

Teedie’s father was patient and kind during his attacks and Teedie idolized him as the ideal man.  When Teedie was a bit older, his father challenged him to “remake his body”, an endeavour the young man applied all of his considerable energy to.  He developed a demanding exercise routine, which he stuck to throughout adulthood.  TR described an incident from his childhood, “Having an attack of asthma, I was sent off by myself to Moosehead Lake. On the stage-coach ride … I encountered a couple of other boys who were about my own age … They found that I was a foreordained and predestined victim, and industriously proceeded to make life miserable for me. The worst feature was that when I finally tried to fight them I discovered that either singly could not only handle me with easy contempt, but handle me so as not to hurt me and yet to prevent my doing any damage whatever in return.”  Boxing was added to his regimen and his teacher was ex prizefighter, John Long.  He boxed throughout school and into the college, and while he won no major contests he loved it.

Young Teedie- Photo Credit- carlanthonyonline.com

Young Teedie- Photo Credit- carlanthonyonline.com

After completing Harvard, TR, as he was known, married his college sweetheart Alice Lee.  He became a New York Assemblyman and his days seemed set.  However, in 1884 his wife died giving birth to their first daughter and his beloved mother died on the same day.  TR was grief stricken.  For the rest of his life, he could not speak of his young wife and the mother of his first born.  To try to overcome his grief, he traveled west to Dakota Territory to a ranch in the badlands.  His experiences in the west opened his eyes to the natural beauty of the terrain and he fell in love with the savage land.  The ruggedness was unforgiving, but the solitude hardened him.  He arrived as an outsider, a patrician from the East.  He dove into the life with his characteristic energy and refusal to give up.  One night at a saloon, a drunken gunfighter pointed a gun at him and demanded “four eyes” buy a drink for the house.  TR laughed.  He laughed at the man with the gun.  This distracted the outlaw long enough for TR to hit him with a solid left and a quick right to the jaw.  He fell backwards and cracked his head on the bar and squeezed off another shot which missed TR.  This did nothing but enhance his reputation.  Another time he was out on the river and “three hard characters” stole his boat.  He put together a posse, packing bacon, flour, coffee, a camera and a copy of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.  They caught them and marched the thieves many miles to Billings.  After two hard winters and other such adventures, TR earned a reputation as an experienced cattle driver.  He had to sell his cattle, but the experience taught him valuable lessons.

Returning to the East, TR once again plunged into politics.  He married again to Edith Kermit Carow, a childhood friend.  Over the next ten years, they had five children together.  In that time, he took on the corrupt New York Police Department and then moved on to the Department of the Navy.  He fought corruption everywhere he went.  When the Spanish American War broke out, he left his cushy job and enlisted.  As commander of the Rough Riders, he rode to glory taking San Juan hill.  Unlike many leaders of the era, he led from the front and proved cool in under fire.

He returned from war and was back into politics.  Boss Platt needed a war hero to deflect from his scandal ridden administration and Roosevelt was fit the bill.  However, TR wasn’t going to play ball with the bosses.  He was going to go his own way and push his reform agenda.  In order to get him out of the way, the bosses had him nominated as William McKinley’s vice president.  At that time, no vice president had ever become president.  It was pretty much the dead end job of all time.  When McKinley won, they thought they had gotten rid of the annoying little reformer.  They had no idea who they were dealing with.

McKinley was tragically assassinated in 1901, and Roosevelt stepped into the White House as the youngest president in history.  The accomplishments of his two terms of president are a post of their own.  Introducing the “square deal”, he promised to fight the big corporations and give the little guy a fair shake.  He broke a dangerous coal strike by threatening to nationalize the mines.  He had the first African American to dinner at the White House.  He set aside 200 million acres for national parks.  Won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating a peace between Russia and Japan.  Got the Panama Canal built under American control despite opposition from the Colombian government.  That just took the fomentation of a revolution that created the country of Panama.  Creation of the “Great White Fleet”.  Big stick diplomacy.  I could go on, and probably will in another post.  The gist was he made the modern world in his image.

After making a promise not to run for another term, he handpicked his successor, Taft, and left for a safari in Africa.  But the America he came home to was not the one he wanted.  He was not happy with how Taft was handling things.  Despite his promise, TR threw his hat in the ring for presidency.  When he failed to get the Republican nomination, he ran under the Progressive Party, renamed the Bull Moose Party in his honor.  During this campaign at a stop in Milwaukee, he was shot in the chest.  The bullet passed through his spectacles case and the fifty page speech in his pocket, but it still lodged in his chest.  TR was not about to cancel an appearance for an assassin’s bullet.  The man went on to speak for nearly an hour.  TR removed his jacket so the crowd could see his bloody shirt.  He told them, “You see, it takes more than one bullet to kill a Bull Moose.”  Despite all this, he lost.  They split the Republican vote and put Wilson into the White House.

Roosevelt carried on, but the wind was out of his sails.  He took a trip down an unexplored river in Brazil with his son Kermit.  He said it was his last chance to be a boy.  However, the expedition nearly killed him.  He returned fifty five pounds lighter and using a cane he called his “big stick”.  The final blow was when his son Quentin was killed in World War I.  He kept up his spirits, but his coachman found him in the stable his face buried his son’s pony’s mane weeping.

On January 6,1919 he read for a while in the children’s nursery then bedded down to sleep.  The great man never woke up.  TR left behind a legacy of honor, greatness and service to his fellow man and this country.  We owe him a debt we can never repay, and I salute him with my highest praise.  He was a real badass.

ER

Sources available on request