Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teddy Roosevelt: "Steward of the People"

Teddy and his bear, The Washington Post, 1902

There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: First, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live ... And next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you 
set out to do.
~ Theodore Roosevelt 
from a speech to school children, Oyster Bay, NY
December, 1898 

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, was born on October 27, 1858. He was the youngest person ever to hold that position. But the election of 1901 was not the first time he won an election in spite of his age. In many way, his life was filled with firsts of all sorts.

Theodore Roosevelt, c. 1908 (National Portrait Gallery)
Roosevelt also was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a bit of a cowboy, as well as a big game hunter and passionate bird watcher. 

He was a big man, with big energy, and a big reputation. Even so, this big man would one day have a child's toy named after him: the Teddy Bear. 

The story of Roosevelt's Teddy Bear is rather simple: The president was on a shoot when a small, black bear was caught. The little bear was tied to a tree while some of Roosevelt's compatriots thought it fun to poke and beat it. Roosevelt was given a gun with which to shoot the captive bear. He refused, saying it was unsportsmanlike. He then passed the gun on, asking that someone please shoot the animal to put it out of its misery. The story took on a life of its own in the national press and the Teddy Bear arrived. (Original cartoon from the Washington Post is above.)

The man's accomplishments were great and they spread across his lifetime. On their official website, the Nobel Prize Organization describes Theodore Roosevelt as:

 ... an historian, a biographer, a statesman, a hunter, a naturalist, an orator. 
His prodigious literary output includes twenty-six books, over a thousand 
magazine articles, thousands of speeches and letters.

Roosevelt was a man who believed in hard work and a "square deal" – in politics as well as business. This philosophy underlies his public work as well as the private man and is, perhaps, why he holds such an esteemed place in the history books as well as in our national consciousness.
We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. 
We must see that each is given a square deal, 
because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less. 
... The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally 
upon the welfare of all of us.
~ Theodore Roosevelt
 New York State Fair,  Syracuse, NY
September 7, 1903 

Not your average college drop out...

In 1881, when Teddy Roosevelt was 23 years old, he dropped out of Columbia Law School. He got in – and then he dropped out. 

He had been running for a position on the New York State Assembly and that November he won  – the youngest person ever elected to that position. But he also was a student. He couldn't be both so he dropped out of law school and stepped into the state assembly.

Roosevelt with Rough Riders, c. 1898 (Harvard Collection)
In 1898, Roosevelt dropped out again, this time from his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in President McKinley's administration. (His cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt held this same position from 1913-1920).

Roosevelt resigned in order to organize the first volunteer cavalry of the Spanish-American War, the Rough Riders.  The Rough Riders, by the way, is the only volunteer cavalry that was allowed to fight in the war, apparently due to the rigor of their training and the depth of their supplies. The group is interesting for several reasons. Originally conceived to include Roosevelt and more of a rough and ready group from the West, it ended up including Roosevelt and everyone from East Coast intellectuals to cowboys and native Americans. All were known for their guts and moxie.

Teddy Roosevelt, 1898
From asthma to the Amazon ...
As a child, Roosevelt suffered with very severe asthma so he spent a lot of time indoors looking at pictures of the outdoors rather than exploring it. 

When he got older, however, that changed and he became a famous naturalist and big game hunter. His love of nature was constant. One story says that he was late to a Cabinet meeting because he had gotten involved with a bit of bird watching.

Below is a link to a silent film from the Library of Congress containing rare footage of a trip Roosevelt made to the Amazon in 1913-1914. It is based on Roosevelt's book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, a chronicle of a disastrous adventure along the Amazon river, the River of Doubt. During the trip, Roosevelt became infected with flesh-eating bacteria and expected he would die in the Rain Forest.  The full film, by the way, has seven parts. This is Part I.

... And back to the Wild West 
It is an incalculable added pleasure to anyone's sum of happiness
if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly,
how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.
~ President Theodore Roosevelt

From Acadia in Maine, to Zion in Utah, the 58 parks of the National Park Service are the legacy of Pres. Roosevelt to the American people. Between 1901-1909, the President created five national parks but it was his signing into legislature of the 1906 Antiquities Act that gave the federal government the right to preserve and protect natural landmarks, monuments and antiquities of "scientific or historic interest."
An excerpt from the PBS Ken Burns/ Dayton Duncan documentary on Roosevelt and the American Parks system,  The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, 
it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of 
this country as inexhaustible; this is not so."
~ Roosevelt's Seventh Annual Message to Congress
December 3, 1907
"Walk softly. Carry a big stick," T. Roosevelt
This link goes to the National Park Service and a brief history of Roosevelt's involvement with the NPS.

Roosevelt's presidency
After the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt went on to become governor of New York State. After that, he served as president of the United States for two terms (1901-1909). In his third presidential campaign (1912), he later would survive an assassination attempt in Milwaukee while running as the candidate of the newly formed and independent Bull Moose or Progressive Party. (Taft, as it turns out, went on to win the election.)

Roosevelt was no fan of the corporate monopoly. He was known as a "trust-buster" as well as a president who knew how to wield his authority and, thereby, expand executive powers within the confines of the law.

Besides creating over 125 million acres of national parkland, Roosevelt also is responsible for creating the Panama Canal. Roosevelt was key in creating peace between Japan and Russia (which won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize), and possessed a wherewithal and keen ability to move people and nations forward.

Here's the president!

Let it fly!

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

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