Teddy Roosevelt:  A Singular Life


Vibrant America at the dawn of the twentieth century was poised, yet hesitant, to step onto the world stage.  A man embodying the energy and promise of the New World came at this opportune time.  In eight years, he made America's presence felt across the globe, looked out for the common man, fought injustice wherever he saw it, and took on the political bosses and industrialists. And, if his two heroes, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, had defined the presidency, he modernized it to fit a changing world.

Theodore Roosevelt barely survived childhood.  Illness might have slowed his body but his mind raced.  He transformed his sickly frame into an athletic, rugged body.  He not only became a great president, he made himself a world authority on wildlife, wrote prodigiously, fought to expand America's armed forces and became a rancher in the Wild West.  In his life, he fought in a war that he helped start, he stopped a war, and because of war suffered a broken heart.

For all of these serious aspects of TR, there was another side to the man.  It has been said that while he and his wife, Edith, had six children, Edith had seven.  He wrestled and played with his children at their home on Long Island and the grounds of the White House.  He boxed, losing his sight in one eye to a sparring partner while president.  He rode horses, swam wherever he could, including in Washington's Potomac River, loved rowing, wrestled, played tennis and polo, organized hikes that left his comrades breathless, and even took up jiujitsu.

He traveled the world meeting the crown princes of Europe, inspected his handiwork, the Panama Canal, went on safari and led an expedition to chart an unknown river.  He was the first president to fly in a plane, to travel overseas while in office, and ride in a submarine.

When Roosevelt became president upon the death of William McKinley, he was and remains our country's youngest chief executive.  Despite his age, few had come to the office so prepared to take on its demands.  No one save possibly Jefferson was as well read.  The energy he brought to the office ensured that McKinley would soon be forgotten and America would be dragged into the new century despite any hesitation it might have. 

Friends and critics called him a cowboy, a madman, a dude, four-eyes, Rough Rider, the Gunpowder Governor, Colonel, a bully, the cyclone, Bull Moose, childish, brilliant, insane, caring and daring.  One observed, "You had to hate the Colonel a whole lot to keep from loving him."  Historian H.W. Brands stated, "Those who hated him often did so for the same reason the many more loved him:  He called to mind America's better days and Americans' better selves."

When the rigors of what he termed a strenuous life ended his stay on earth at age 60, Theodore Roosevelt's time spanned from America's pre-Civil War era to the nation's assumption of the world's greatest industrial and military power.  No one was more proud of that than the bespectacled, grinning man we now know simply as TR.



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