Saturday, November 07, 2009
1858 - 1919
(President from 1901-1909, 26th)
By Richard E. Noble
I suppose that it would sound bigoted of me, if I were to say that Teddy was a little, rich boy, but Teddy WAS a little, rich boy. And, it seems, like all little, rich boys, he was in search of an achievement as opposed to seeking a “job.” It is claimed that Teddy was very bright and had a photographic memory – which is very advantageous depending on what it is that you chose to photograph with your photographic memory.
Teddy went to Harvard. His dad was a Republican who supported Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, but his mother – Martha "Mittie" Bulloch – was a southern belle who often complained of the inconveniences brought to her by the loss of her personal slaves. She had two brothers who served in the Confederate Navy and she sent food and clothing, via agents in New York, to support the Confederate cause. When his Dad died Teddy inherited $125,000 from his estate. And when his mother died on the same day as young Teddy's first wife – Alice Hathaway Lee who died from Bright's disease and was only 22 years old – Teddy inherited another $62,500. Apparently these inheritances were considered substantial in those days.
Not long after Mittie's passing Teddy married a good friend of his younger sister and an early childhood sweetheart of his. Her name was Edith Kermit Carow and she was the daughter of a prominent merchant.
Teddy was a third cousin twice removed of president Martin Van Buren, a fifth cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and uncle of Eleanor Roosevelt, and a great uncle of Joseph Alsop and Stewart Alsop, both well know journalists of their time.
Teddy's daughter "princess" Alice was married in the East Room of the White House. She lived to the age of 96 and was considered by Society folks to be Washington's other Monument.
Ethel, Teddy's other daughter married a Doctor and during WWI she served as a nurse to her husband in the American Ambulance Hospital in Paris.
Teddy oldest boy, Teddy Jr., became a soldier and eventually a Brigadier General. He received a Purple Heart, the U.S. Distinguished Service medal and eventually in WWII the Congressional Medal of Honor. He served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President Harding; he was appointed governor of Puerto Rico and then governor-general of the Philippines by Coolidge; and he ran for Governor of New York against Al Smith, but lost.
Kermit, Teddy's second son was also a soldier. He ended up dying of natural causes while on duty in the U.S. Army in Alaska.
Archibald was also a soldier. He was severely wounded in WWI and discharged as disabled. He joined up again, obviously healed up somewhat, in WWII and was severely wounded once again and again discharged as disabled.
Quentin became an Army Air Corps pilot and was shot down and killed by German fighter planes during WWI.
Teddy, himself, served as a member of the New York National Guard. He commanded the U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, known as The Rough Riders and is famous for charging up Kettle Hill, in the San Juan Hills in Cuba.
As a child little Teddy was rather sickly suffering from asthma. Teddy was so sickly he had to be tutored at home. When he wasn't sick or bedridden he was hyperactive and mischievous. He was kind of a nerd. He liked bugs and held aspirations of becoming a zoologist. Being small, nerdy, and needing glasses other kids had a tendency to beat him up. His dad bought him a gym and Teddy became a physical fitness fanatic and a boxing expert.
Teddy was somewhat religious but didn't really seem to favor any one particular Church over another. He attended the Dutch Reformed, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Grace Reformed, Christ Church etc. He didn't care much for many of the teachings of Lutherans or Calvinists or even Roman Catholics. But with all this religion he was nevertheless a firm believer in the separation of Church and State.
He campaigned against the idea and practice of stamping In God We Trust on U.S. coins. His reasoning was interesting. He felt that stamping the name of God on money was insulting to God. He considered it sacrilegious. Teddy was obviously one of those wealthy people who didn't necessarily believe that his wealth was a direct inheritance from God and therefore worthy of worshipping. He chose to worship God directly and not money or those who thought they possessed it at His discretion. This is one of the reasons that many wealthy people considered Teddy a traitor to his class.
At first Teddy thought he would pursue law, but then on second thought, he felt more could be attained if he were to become one of the "ruling class." So he got into politics and the New York political machine.
Unfortunately, as mentioned above, Teddy was somewhat of a problem and an embarrassment to his "class." He kept trying to reform everything. He kept calling rich people "criminals and making reference to the "tyranny of wealth" but then the war with Spain came along, and Teddy was thrilled. He ordered a uniform appropriate from Brooks Brothers, and was off to San Juan Hill (Kettle Hill) with his own personal army of Rough Riders. Some historian's praise his effort as a heroic action while others claim it to be a rather foolhardy and misguided endeavor of unnecessary gallantry. In any case, he got his picture in the papers and then before you knew it, he was Governor of New York.
He liked being Governor of New York, but the New York political machine bosses did not like Teddy. Senator Thomas Platt, one of the big boys, was pretty upset with little Teddy. He is quoted as saying; "I want to get rid of the bastard. I don't want him raising hell in my state any longer." Teddy kept talking about things like the "tyranny of wealth" and the "criminal rich." So the big boys in New York thought that the best thing for Teddy, the very popular war hero and man of the people, would be a nice safe place under a rock somewhere.
They couldn't find a big enough rock, so what greater position of obscurity and anonymity in government could there be than the Vice Presidency. So they got him drafted and then nominated as Vice President under their stalwart friend of big business and champion of the rich and powerful, Mister McKinley.
McKinley was not very happy with the choice and Mark Hanna, McKinley's finance and campaign manager, warned the big boys that there was now only one life between the White House and a mad man.
After McKinley's assassination, Hanna cried; "Now look, that damn cowboy is President of the United States."
Once President, Teddy was hard to get rid of. Everybody liked him. He kept bad-mouthing and harassing the big money boys. He became the friend of "Teddy" bear cubs and tree huggers and did his best to make enemies of the railroads, and the giant trusts. But whatever he was doing, he was doing it right because even Morgan, Harriman, Rockefeller, Frick and Gould backed him for a second term. He put thousands of acres aside for National Parks and monuments; sent the U.S. Navy around the world; bought the first airplane from the Wright brothers to start the U. S. Air Force; dug the Panama Canal – which he claimed to have stolen fair and square; he invited a Negro to eat at the White House, Booker T. Washington; and negotiating a treaty between the Russians and the Japanese (Russo-Japanese War 1904-5) won him the Nobel Peace Prize.
He was not exactly thrilled receiving the Nobel Peace Prize and he did let it be known that he thought that war was good and proper – it built character. But Teddy did think that war should be periodically interrupted by short intervals of peace. I would suppose he thought that to be necessary to give the nations of the world time to re-arm.
Once Teddy got rolling there was no stopping him. After loosing the Republican nomination to Taft, but feeling as fit as a "bull moose" he ran for President, nominated by the Progressive Party.
While he was about to give a speech in Milwaukee a would-be assassin ran up to him and put a bullet into his chest. The bullet went through his written speech which he had in his pocket; then through his metal eyeglass case; and then sunk four inches into his chest. He coughed into his hand to see if there was blood in his lung, and then went on to speak before the crowd for fifty minutes.
He didn't win. He split the Republican ticket, stopped Taft from getting a second term, and got a Democrat, Woodrow Wilson, elected. Mr. Taft was very disappointed in his one time friend and benefactor.
Teddy was also an author. He wrote numerous history and true life adventure books. He wrote many newspaper and magazine articles and was quite a popular and interesting writer in his times.
Teddy was as you might have expected active up until the very last moments of his exciting and involved life. His active and daring life may have contributed to his somewhat early demise in 1919 at age sixty-one. He suffered from recurrences of malaria and a leg infection gained roaming with his boy Kermit in the jungles of Brazil. He was writing and even criticizing President Wilson the very day before he died.
His last words were not very prophetic, exciting or philosophical. He told his valet James Amos to "please turn out the light" as he left his bedroom. Teddy died quietly and peacefully in his sleep.