On today’s date – October 27 in 1858 – Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born in New York City, the second of four children to Martha Stewart “Mittie” Bulloch and businessman Theodore Roosevelt Sr. And which of the man’s many achievements can one point to as being his greatest? Well he served as the 25’th President of the United States (1901 -1909). He served as Governor of the state of New York, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Soldier and leader of the “Rough Riders” – his regiment during the Spanish American War, the nation’s leading conservationist, he was a published author on wildlife, and history; the list could go on for several more paragraphs. A man of tremendous energy, yet by the end of his life he died a man who was sad. The portrait of him by the great painter John Singer Sargent (above) shows a sort of wistful look in the man’s eye, and was said by those who knew him as being the painting which captured T.R. the best. He once wrote that “Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough.” Had “Black care” finally caught up with him by the end?
Previous posts about Theodore Roosevelt
If you’ve been a regular reader of “Today in History” then you have long
since discovered what a singular figure he is and how much I like writing about him. But just for the record, here are four previous posts I’ve done on this man:
JANUARY 11 = T.R. Makes the Grand Canyon a National Monument
FEBRUARY 14 = T.R.’s Tragic Day
OCTOBER 14 = T.R. is Shot!!
NOVEMBER 5 = Election DAAAZE!!!
Between them I’ve covered much of T.R.’s political and personal life. But in spite his many successes, tragedy seemed to stalk him in much of his life. The death of his beloved father in 1878 while he was away at school was a crushing blow. But T.R. had to deal with many other tragedies in his life. This began with the death of his mother, Mittie, and his young wife Alice, coming like two incredible hammer blows one after the other on the same day in 1884. “He does not know what he does or says” his sister wrote of his grief-stricken state at he time. Had “Black care” finally caught up with him? Not surprisingly he
sought to out-run it, retreating into the Badlands North Dakota. They were called the “Badlands” because they looked grim and desolate, much like he felt at the time. Here he spent two years as a cowboy. He bought himself a cowboy outfit custom-made for him at Tiffany’s in New York (above). At first the real cowboys he encountered made light of his Eastern appearance and way of talking. But he eventually won their respect by going out on round-ups and braving all of the same harsh conditions of freezing snow or blistering heat that they did. But soon he returned, remarried, and had a large and adoring family.
Colonel of the “Rough Riders” and Governor of N.Y.
In the New York State Legislature he became one of the leaders of the progressive movement within the Republican Party and was therefore something of a thorn in the side of the “Establishment” as it would be called nowadays. When William McKinley was elected President of the United States, he appointed T.R. as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy. But when war broke out with Spain over Cuba and the
Philippines, he promptly resigned his post and raised a regiment to go and fight in Cuba (above) as Colonel of the “Rough Riders”. With their brave charge up San Juan Hill, T.R. became the most famous man in America. And he returned to such great acclaim that he was elected Governor of New York. But the establishment party bosses didn’t like his progressive political ways – seeking out corruption, supporting child labor laws, and they wanted to get rid of him.
President and Former President
So Republican Party Boss Mark Hanna arranged to have T.R. kicked upstairs into the safe oblivion of the Vice Presidency. But often the best-laid plans can go terribly astray. And in this case they certainly did as McKinley wound up getting assassinated ( http://historysstory.blogspot.com/2013/09/september-14-president-mckinley-dies.html ). And “that damned cowboy” as Boss Platt derisively called him took over as the new President!!
T.R.’s reformist policies, breaking up big financial and commercial monopolies – particularly Standard Oil and the railroads left the party bosses fuming, T.R. was nevertheless wildly popular with the voters, so he was resoundingly re-elected in 1904. But his hasty promise not to run again in 1908 left him a lame duck for four years. But that didn’t stop him from setting aside huge amounts of America’s wilderness and wildlife areas as National Parks and wildlife refuges. And this he did to the vast irritation of the rich men who wanted to develop these areas
for logging, and tourist attractions. Ultimately though, he was obliged by his promise not to run again to hand over the office of President to his large friend William Howard Taft (right). But Taft did not continue T.R.’s reforming ways. This resulted in a split between the two, with T.R. running for the Republican nomination for President. But the party bosses kept the nomination from him. So T.R. angrily formed a new party to run against Taft AND the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, thus handing the prize to Wilson.
World War I Takes its Toll
I have already detailed in “T.R.. is Shot” (listed above) how there are some who believe that T.R.. had actually hoped to die from the would-be assassin’s bullet during the 1912 campaign. Indeed, some of the things he said about it left the impression that “Black care” was catching up with T.R.. When World War One broke out in August of 1914 and America was finally drawn in April 1917 Roosevelt’s sons joined the fight. All had done well but his youngest son Quentin who had gone into the Air Service was shot down on July 14, 1918. It was the blow that broke his heart. Here was a man who from his days as Colonel of “the Rough Riders” had spoken of war as this great moment for a man to prove himself and be heroic, and had clearly passed that along to his sons, now felt partly responsible for his youngest son’s death. He wrote privately: “To feel that one has inspired a boy to conduct that has resulted in his death has a pretty serious side for a father.” And sure enough, on January 6, 1919, less than six months after Quentin’s death, Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep. “Black care” had finally caught up with him.
“The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt” by Stefan Lorant, Doubleday & Co. Inc. Garden City, New York, 1959
“T.R.” – the American Experience, Prod. & Dir. by David Grubin, Written by David Grubin and Geoffrey C. Ward. PBS Home Video, 1996.