[Historys] chief use is only to discover the constant and universal principles of human nature. Hume
A few weeks after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, I was attempting to read a French magazine. Having a poor knowledge of French, this was quite a challenge. Part of a sentence got my attention. The United States, it said, “ont ete critiques avec virulence pour l’arrogance de leur hyperpuissance...” - has been virulently criticized for their arrogance at being a superpower.
This got my attention. Americans are not an arrogant people. As anyone who was educated in the Catholic school system can tell you, the nuns did not say, “You children deserve to live in the United States of America.” Quite the contrary. We were lucky to live here. Most Americans feel grateful for the privilege of living here. Eisenhower put it well when he said, “One thing is certain. The longer I live, the more I thank the good Lord that he allowed me to be born an American. I do not mean to say that I ever deserved such luck but, at least, there is no harm in being grateful for it!”1
The study of United States history has actually re-inforced my belief in God. It seems that at every crisis, there were people, miraculously in the right place at the right time, to help preserve our form of government. This can only be explained by either tremendous good luck or the existence of a God who is on our side.
How do you explain the “luck” at having so many learned people, particularly lawyers, living at a time when the Constitution of the United States was being formed?
John Adams wrote in his Thoughts on Government:
You and I, dear friend, have been sent into life at a time when the greatest lawgivers of antiquity would have wished to live. How few of the human race have ever enjoyed an opportunity of making an election of government, more than of air, soil, or climate, for themselves or their children! When, before the present epocha, had three millions of people full power and a fair opportunity to form and establish the wisest and happiest government that human wisdom can contrive?”
The Colonies, he wrote, “under such forms of government and in such a union would be unconquerable by all the monarchies of Europe.”2
How do you explain George Washington who used his great personal influence to make the constitution a success, who brought order to chaos, who made the infant government strong - without referring to guidance from a higher power.3
Great men have always felt guided by a higher power and that thought has kept them humble. “I am an honest fellow of some experience who wants nothing except to do his duty,” said Dwight D. Eisenhower in January of 1952.
How do you explain Lincoln “without referring to the Deity” as M. Scott Peck asked in one of his insightful books. Lincoln’s speeches read like prayers. You cannot read or hear them without being filled with awe. “From his earliest days Lincoln had a sense that his destiny was controlled by some larger force, some Higher Power,” wrote his biographer David Herbert Donald.4
“Just think of such a sucker as me as President!” Lincoln once said in amusement and wonder.
Theodore Roosevelt, whose life is examined here, was the next really interesting president after Lincoln. He was “forced” into the Vice Presidency when told it was his duty to the Republican party to accept the position. He thought it was a job where he could do nothing, a job which meant the end of his political career. He was propelled into the presidency when President McKinley was killed. It was a position he was perfectly prepared for by various leadership positions he had held. He broke new ground by arbitrating a coal strike, passing laws to protect the consumer, mediating foreign disputes, and maintaining a good relationship with foreign leaders, especially the German Kaiser. His peacemaking activities may have postponed World War I by several years. Presidents still try to emulate him.
Like Eisenhower and Lincoln, T.R. was humble. A friend once wrote him, “I estimate you better than you esteem yourself and I am very glad that you make this particular mistake. It is an immense safeguard.”
Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to become president while still a youth. His hero was his distant cousin Theodore. Franklin modeled his career on Theodore’s, becoming Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a Vice Presidential candidate, Governor of New York and President of the United States. He had hoped to be younger than his 51 years when he became President. But “his timing was not God’s timing.” Had he run for President in the 1920’s when he wanted to, he would have lost, and may not have been in the position to ever run again. He was a Democrat and the 1920’s was not the Democrats’ time. F.D.R. was prevented from running earlier by a disease he contracted in 1921 - infantile paralysis, popularly called “polio”. Polio left him paralyzed from the waist down. It also left him a more thoughtful and compassionate person. His illness kept him out of politics for 7 years, during which time he established his Warm Springs, Georgia treatment center. When he needed something more to do, his wife convinced him to go back into politics. His optimism and programs got us through the Great Depression. When the Depression ended with the advent of World War II, people trusted him enough to elect him to lead them through the war. He is considered by historians to be the greatest president after Lincoln.
Dwight David Eisenhower is also considered one of our great presidents and the more historians learn about him, the greater he seems. He presided over the calm and boring 1950’s. “The 1950’s were troubled times,” one historian wrote. “It was the president who was calm.” He brought an end to the Korean War, kept us out of Vietnam, balanced the Federal budget, and developed the foreign policy that we use today. During his presidency, he was believed to be a lazy, golf playing president who allowed his advisers to run the government. Today we know that he ran the government and understood everything that was going on.
I wrote this book because whenever I read about two brain disorders that I have, Attention Deficit Disorder and bipolar disorder, the books invariably use Theodore Roosevelt as their “poster boy.” The writers imply that if presidents have one of these disorders, it is okay for the reader to have it. For this reason I had been promising myself for years to learn about Theodore Roosevelt. Since I have a bad memory, the only way for me to learn about something is to write about the subject, with all the researching and typing that implies.
I didn’t start studying him until I heard that historians ranked him as the fifth greatest president. (Now he is rated fourth, after Abraham Lincoln, F.D.R. and George Washington.) I wondered how someone with two brain disorders could be a great president.
Theodore Roosevelt had mild mood swings. “He had moods,” my psychiatrist said the other day. “That doesn’t mean he was bipolar,” he added. I, too, used to just have “moods.” Under extreme stress though, I ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed as bipolar.
I believe that Theodore Roosevelt, who described himself as being nervous as a youth, was aware of his tendency towards depression and anxiety. Being aware of it and wanting to be mentally healthy, he learned to control his “moods.” He became mentally healthy and this book explores how he did that. When I said I thought Theodore Roosevelt was a saint, my mother reminded me that no one is perfect, “especially hyperactive people like T.R.” She’s right. Nobody’s perfect. Even great saints worried about their little imperfections. But Theodore Roosevelt, like the saints, became courageous, tactful, patient and wonderful with people. He was able to bring out the best in people by saying just the right thing at the right time. He also became enormously courageous. This is evidence that people can change.
What helped his growth as a person? Carleton Putnam, who wrote Theodore Roosevelt The Formative Years 1858-1886, described Theodores wonderful, even saintly parents. His father was loved by almost everyone in New York City. He founded many charities and museums. He cared for Theodore during his asthma attacks and took him to the mountains, the seashore and even to Europe to help him breathe better. He was the one who challenged Theodore to become a partner in fighting his illness saying you have to make your body. This was the beginning of the realization that Theodore could do something about his problems and he became more self confident as a result. For the rest of his life, Theodore Roosevelt worked on building his self confidence. He constantly had to visualize himself as a hero. He was not naturally brave.
He was lucky too that he was brought up to love books. He was encouraged to read about any subject that interested him and later was able to read a book a day (at least).
He stumbled onto hobbies (natural history and ornithology) that forced him to focus his attention on birds and other animal life. This improved his memory and concentration.
When he was nineteen his father, who had been his best friend and confidant, died of stomach cancer. Theodore almost went crazy with grief, but the support of his family got him through this. What also helped was a trip to Maine where he met a strong, good man, Will Sewell, a hunting guide. Then later he poured out his love to a girl named Alice Lee, a tall, slender blond with eyes described as dove gray.
He married Alice, but she died after giving birth to the second Alice, Alice Roosevelt Longworth. His mother died on the same day, in the same house, Valentines Day, 1884.
Theodore had made a promise to himself when his father died that he would become the best man possible, to honor his fathers name. This promise got him through this new grief and he threw himself into his work. He was the youngest member of the New York legislature at the time.
He never made it his goal to become President. His only goal was to do the best he could with the job at hand. If he did that, he felt, the future would take care of itself.
He was the best Police Commissioner New York City ever had and he pioneered the use of forensic science in police work. Many of his guidelines are still followed. He would have earned a place in the history books just for his innovations in the New York City police department if he had not become President.
Through the intervention of some friends he was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy and worked to prepare the Navy for the Spanish American War. When he was thirty-nine, he resigned from that position to lead a group of volunteers to Cuba to fight in the war. He fought courageously there and later wrote an exciting book called The Rough Riders, which is still in print today.
After the war he became wildly popular and ran for Governor of New York and won. He did an excellent job as governor, but was kicked upstairs to the Vice Presidency by the corrupt party boss.
He felt his career was over and went on vacation as soon as he could, worried that he was facing a life of inactivity (the Vice Presidency not being a particularly active job). Fate propelled Theodore Roosevelt into a job he was perfectly prepared for when President McKinley was assassinated.
He set the tone for the twentieth century Presidency. He preserved wilderness areas for future generations, mediated foreign disputes, had the Panama Canal built and arbitrated a coal strike. He loved being President, but found it troubling at times. For inspiration he read about President Lincoln who, he felt, had much more to cope with than he did.
He refused to run for a third term and instead went on a safari to Africa. He wrote magazine articles about his adventures while everyone else was taking a well deserved rest.
In 1912 he ran for President under the Progressive Party. The platform foreshadowed the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and was an inspiration to Franklin who idolized his Cousin Ted.
Death came suddenly on January 6, 1919, and caught Theodore sleeping. Had he not been sleeping, it was said, Roosevelt would have given Death quite a fight. He was buried in Youngs Cemetery about a mile from his house. So many people trampled his grave that first year that a tall iron fence was erected around it. Even in death, Theodore Roosevelt was the most famous man in the world.
Reading his writings and the writings of his friends and family, it is obvious that love is what counted most for him: love of family, love of nature, love of friends, love of country and finally, love of all mankind.
A timid, sickly and nervous boy had transformed himself into a strong, moral, loving and heroic man.
What stories like TRs remind us of, William James wrote:
is the everlasting battle of the powers of light with those of darkness; with heroism, reduced to its bare chance, yet ever and anon snatching victory from the jaws of death...this is the sort of thing the presence of which inspires us, and the reality of which it seems to be the function of all the higher forms of literature and fine art to bring home to us and suggest.5
Theodore Roosevelt was the one unique person, perfectly prepared and positioned in time and place, who could best influence the direction of our country during the twentieth century.
His sister wrote of him shortly after his death:
when I think of my earliest memories, he seems always there, leading, suggesting, explaining, as all through my life when the nursery was a thing of the past and the New Jersey woodlands, a faint though fair green memory,he was always beside me, leading, suggesting, explaining still... 6