October 14, 1912: Theodore Roosevelt Shot!

 

A recording of a speech by that force of nature otherwise known as Theodore, he hated being called Teddy, Roosevelt during his “Bull Moose” campaign for president in 1912.  Note the clear delivery and diction.  Note also his references to French history:   politicians did not assume that they had to talk down to the average voter in those days.  By splitting the Republican vote, Roosevelt getting the larger share, Roosevelt’s third party campaign ensured the election of Woodrow Wilson.  Although he failed to win, during the campaign Roosevelt established beyond doubt that he was one of the toughest men ever to be president.

On October 14, 1912, Roosevelt was giving a speech in Milwaukee.  A deranged saloonkeeper, John Schrank, shot him in the chest.  Roosevelt refused to cancel a scheduled speech.  His opening is perhaps one of the most memorable for any speech:

Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet – there is where the bullet went through – and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.

Only after he completed his speech, he spoke for 90 minutes with blood running down his shirt, did he consent to go to a hospital.  The bullet could not be removed from his chest and he carried it in him for the rest of his life.  He was off the campaign trail for a scant one week, a week in which his opponents, sportsmanlike, also left the campaign trail out of respect for him.  What a man!  No matter one’s political views, and Roosevelt held a diverse group of views certain to both offend and inspire virtually all portions of the American political spectrum today, it is hard not to admire him.  As one of his enemies once said about him, “A man would have to hate him a lot, not to like him a little!”

Of course, after his heroics in the Spanish-American War, such behavior was only to be expected.  In 2001 Roosevelt was finally awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the battle of San Juan Hill.  Here is the citation:

Lieutenant Colonel Theodore Roosevelt distinguished himself by acts of bravery on 1 July 1898, near Santiago de Cuba, Republic of Cuba, while leading a daring charge up San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt, in total disregard for his personal safety, and accompanied by only four or five men, led a desperate and gallant charge up San Juan Hill, encouraging his troops to continue the assault through withering enemy fire over open countryside. Facing the enemy’s heavy fire, he displayed extraordinary bravery throughout the charge, and was the first to reach the enemy trenches, where he quickly killed one of the enemy with his pistol, allowing his men to continue the assault. His leadership and valor turned the tide in the Battle for San Juan Hill. Lieutenant Colonel Roosevelt’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army. (more…)

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September 7, 1903: Labor Day Speech by Theodore Roosevelt

 

 

In speaking on Labor Day at the annual fair of the New York State Agricultural Association, it is natural to keep especially in mind the two bodies who compose the majority of our people and upon whose welfare depends the welfare of the entire State. If circumstances are such that thrift, energy, industry, and forethought enable the farmer, the tiller of the soil, on the one hand, and the wage-worker on the other, to keep themselves, their wives, and their children in reasonable comfort, then the State is well off, and we can be assured that the other classes in the community will likewise prosper. On the other hand, if there is in the long run a lack of prosperity among the two classes named, then all other prosperity is sure to be more seeming than real.

It has been our profound good fortune as a nation that hitherto, disregarding exceptional periods of depression and the normal and inevitable fluctuations, there has been on the whole from the beginning of our government to the present day a progressive betterment alike in the condition of the tiller of the soil and in the condition of the man who, by his manual skill and labor, supports himself and his family, and endeavors to bring up his children so that they may be at least as well off as, and, if possible, better off than, he himself has been. There are, of course, exceptions, but as a whole the standard of living among the farmers of our country has risen from generation to generation, and the wealth represented on the farms has steadily increased, while the wages of labor have likewise risen, both as regards the actual money paid and as regards the purchasing power which that money represents.

Side by side with this increase in the prosperity of the wage-worker and the tiller of the soil has gone on a great increase in prosperity among the business men and among certain classes of professional men; and the prosperity of these men has been partly the cause and partly the consequence of the prosperity of farmer and wage-worker. It cannot be too often repeated that in this country, in the long run, we all of us tend to go up or go down together. If the average of well-being is high, it means that the average wage-worker, the average farmer, and the average business man are all alike well-off. If the average shrinks, there is not one of these classes which will not feel the shrinkage. Of course, there are always some men who are not affected by good times, just as there are some men who are not affected by bad times. But speaking broadly, it is true that if prosperity comes, all of us tend to share more or less therein, and that if adversity comes each of us, to a greater or less extent, feels the tension.

Unfortunately, in this world the innocent frequently find themselves obliged to pay some of the penalty for the misdeeds of the guilty; and so if hard times come, whether they be due to our own fault or to our misfortune, whether they be due to some burst of speculative frenzy that has caused a portion of the business world to lose its head -a loss which no legislation can possibly supply- or whether they be due to any lack of wisdom in a portion of the world of labor–in each case, the trouble once started is felt more or less in every walk of life. (more…)

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Theodore Roosevelt on Robert E. Lee

 

 

THE WHITE HOUSE,

WASHINGTON, D.C.

January 16, 1907

To the HON. HILARY A. HERBERT, chairman,
CHIEF JUSTICE SETH SHEPHERD, GENERAL MARCUS J. WRIGHT,
JUDGE CHARLES B. HOWRY, MR. WILLIAM A. GORDON,
MR. THOMAS NELSON PAGE, PRESIDENT EDWIN ALDERMAN,
MR. JOSEPH WILMER, and others of the
Committee of Arrangement for the Celebration of the Hundredth Anniversary
of the Birth of General Robert E. Lee.

Gentlemen:

I regret that it is not in my power to be with you at your celebration. I join with you in honoring the life and career of that great soldier and high-minded citizen whose fame is now a matter of pride
to all our countrymen. Terrible though the destruction of the Civil War was, awful though it was that such a conflict should occur betweenbrothers, it is yet a matter for gratitude on the part
of all Americans that this, alone among contests of like magnitude, should have left to both sides as a priceless heritage the memory of the mighty men and the glorious deeds that the iron days
brought forth. The courage and steadfast endurance, the lofty fealty to the right as it was given to each man to see the right, whether he wore the gray or whether he wore the blue, now make the
memories of the valiant feats, alike of those who served under Grant and of those who served under Lee, precious to all good Americans. General Lee has left us the memory, not merely of his extraordinary skill as a general, his dauntless courage and high leadership in campaign and battle, but also of that serene greatness of soul characteristic of those who most readily recognize the obligations of civic duty. Once the war was over he instantly under took the task of healing and binding up the wounds of his countrymen, in the true spirit of those who feel malice toward none and charity toward all; in that spirit which from the throes of the Civil War brought forth the real and indissoluble Union of to-day. It was eminently fitting that this great man, this war-worn veteran of a mighty struggle, who, at its close, simply and quietly undertook his duty as a plain, every-day citizen, bent only upon helping his people in the paths of peace and tranquillity, should turn his attention toward educational work; toward bringing up in fit fashion theyounger generation, the sons of those who had proved their faith by their endeavor in the heroicdays.

There is no need to dwell on General Lee s record as a soldier. The son of Light Horse Harry Lee of the Revolution, he came naturally by his aptitude for arms and command. His campaigns
put him in the foremost rank of the great captains of all time. But his signal valor and address inwar are no more remarkable than the spirit in which he turned to the work of peace once the war was over. The circumstances were such that most men, even of high character, felt bitter and vindictive or depressed and spiritless, but General Lee s heroic temper was not warped nor his great soul cast down. He stood that hardest of all strains, the strain of bearing himself well through the gray evening of failure ; and therefore out of what seemed failure he helped to build the wonderful and mighty triumph of our national life, in which all his countrymen, North and South, share. Immediately after the close of hostilities he announced, with a clear sightedness which at that time few indeed of any section possessed, that the interests of the Southern States were the same as those of the United States ;  that the prosperity of the South would rise or fall with the welfare of the whole country; and that the duty of its citizens appeared too plain to admit of doubt. He urged that all should unite in honest effort to obliterate the effects of war and restore the blessings of peace; that they should remain in the country, strive for harmony and good feeling, and devote their abilities to the interests of their people and the healing of dissensions. To every one who applied to him this was the advice he gave.  Although absolutely without means, he refused all offers of pecuniary aid, and all positions of emolument, although many such, at a high salary, were
offered him. He declined to go abroad, saying that he sought only “a place to earn honest bread while engaged in some useful work.” This statement brought him the offer of the presidency of
Washington College, a little institution in Lexington, Va., which had grown out of a modest foundation known as Liberty Hall Academy. Washington had endowed this academy with one hundred shares of stock that had been given to him by the State of Virginia, which he had accepted only on condition that he might with them endow some educational institution. To the institution which Washington helped to found in such a spirit, Lee, in the same fine spirit, gave his services. He accepted the position of president at a salary of $1,500 a year, inorder, as he stated, that he might do some good to the youth of the South. He applied himself to his new work with the same singleness of mind which he had shown in leading the Army of Northern Virginia. All the time by word and deed he was striving for the restoration of real peace, of real harmony, never uttering a word of bitterness nor allowing a word of bitterness uttered in his presence to go unchecked. From the close of the war to the time of his death all his great powers were devoted to two objects: to the reconciliation of all his countrymen with one another, and to fitting the youth of the South for the duties of a lofty and broad-minded citizenship.

Such is the career that you gather to honor; and I hope that you will take advantage of the one hundredth anniversary of General Lee s birth by appealing to all our people, in every section of this
country, to commemorate his life and deeds by the establishment, at some great representative educational institution of the South, of a permanent memorial, that will serve the youth of the comingyears, as he, in the closing years of his life, served those who so sorely needed what he so freely gave.

Sincerely yours,

THEODORE ROOSEVELT.

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Theodore Roosevelt and the East Saint Louis Race Riot of 1917

 

On July 2, 1917, the nation was rocked by one of the worst race riots in its history.  Black men, women and children were slain in East Saint Louis, estimates of the killed ranging from 40 to 200.  President Wilson said almost nothing about this atrocity.  Former President Theodore Roosevelt on July 6, 1917, at a mass meeting in Carnegie Hall to welcome the representatives of the new, and fated to be short-lived, democratic Russian government, in his remarks spoke about the riot:

 

 

“Before we speak of justice for others it behooves us to do justice within our own household. Within the week there has been an appalling outbreak of savagery in a race riot in East Saint Louis, a race riot for which, as far as we can see, there was no real provocation, and which, whether there was provocation of not, was waged with such an excess of appalling brutality as to leave a stain on the American name.

Now, friends, the longer I live the more I grow to abhor rhetoric that isn’t based on facts, words that are not translated into deeds. And when we applaud the birth of democracy in another people, the spirit which insists on treating each man on the basis of his right as a man , refusing to deny the humblest the rights that are his, when we present such a greeting to the representatives of a foreign nation, it behooves us to express our deep condemnation of acts that give the lie to our words within our own country.”

Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor, spoke next and in this remarks attempted to place the blame for the race riot on employers importing cheap black labor from this South.  This attempt to justify the riot outraged Roosevelt who spoke again:

 

 

“I am not willing that a meeting to commemorate the birth of democracy and justice in Russia shall seem to have given any approval of or apology for the infamous brutalities that have been committed on negroes at East St. Louis. Justice with me is not a mere phrase or form of words. How can we praise the people of Russia for doing justice to the men within their boundaries if we in any way apologize for murder committed on the helpless? In the past I have listened to the same form of excuse advanced on behalf of the Russian autocracy for pogroms of Jews. Not for a moment shall I acquiesce in any apology for the murder of women and children in our own country. I am a democrat of democrats. I will do anything for laboring man except what is wrong.” (more…)

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Colonel Roosevelt Testifies

 

 

It has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that Fortune that loves the brave. It is now to be concluded, I hope, with that fine good nature, which is, after all, the distinguishing trait of the American character.

John Hay, US Ambassador to Great Britain, letter to Theodore Roosevelt, July 1898

 

In many ways, Theodore Roosevelt’s  future Secretary of State was correct.  The War was short and victorious for the US, with the divisions of the Civil War largely forgotten by white Americans, North and South,  unified in the fight against Spain.  This was symbolized by the rapturous reception the 6th Massachusetts received from the citizens of Baltimore as it passed through on its way to ship out, box lunches were given to the men in a huge celebration, a stark departure from the bloody greeting received by the regiment from the citizens of Baltimore on its way to Washington in 1861 at the onset of the Civil War.

However, in the aftermath of the War journalists and returning veterans told tales of rampant mismanagement, of appalling rations, inadequate uniforms and chaotic transport.  A political storm arose and President McKinley appointed a commission to investigate the conduct of the War.  Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, who had been unsparing in his private comments about the mismanagement of the Cuban campaign, appeared before the Committee on November 22, 1898, a few weeks after his election as Governor of New York.  Go here to read his testimony.  Roosevelt was restrained in his testimony, noting that the rapid expansion of the Army was bound to encounter problems, and that these problems could be partially alleviated by large scale maneuvers in peace time.   (more…)

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The Lion’s Brood

 

Theodore Roosevelt had advocated American entry into World War I, and wanted to fight himself.  Being denied that privilege by President Wilson, he took solace in the fact that each of his sons volunteered for the War.

His son Archie would be a decorated, and wounded, veteran, serving as an officer with the 16th and 26th Infantry.   He would serve in combat in the Pacific during World War II.  He would have the distinction of being determined to be 100% disabled from war wounds in both World Wars.

Theodore Jr, who would attain general rank in World War II and earn a Medal of Honor, also served as an officer in the 26th and would be gassed and wounded.

Son Kermit served as a Captain in the British Army, serving in combat in Mesopotamia (Iraq), and then transferred to the US Army serving as a Captain of artillery during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.  In World War II he would serve again in both the British and American armies.

Son Quentin, age nineteen, the baby of the family, sailed for France on July 23, 1917 with the 95th Aero Squadron.  His parents and his fiance saw him off.

Not only the Roosevelt brothers saw service in the War.  Sister Ether was the first to see service in the War, as a nurse in the Ambulance Americane  Hospital where her husband served as a surgeon. (more…)

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Roosevelt Ambushing Grim Reaper

 

Had death been French, then death had died to-day.

Henry VI Part I-Act 4, Scene 7

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Theodore Roosevelt on Abraham Lincoln

 

Theodore Roosevelt had two heroes:  his father and Abraham Lincoln.  In 1905 he wrote this introduction to a collection of the writings of Lincoln:

 

Immediately after Lincoln’s re-election to the Presidency, in an off-hand speech, delivered in response to a serenade by some of his admirers on the evening of November 10, 1864, he spoke as follows:

“It has long been a grave question whether any government not too strong for the liberties of its people can be strong enough to maintain its existence in great emergencies. On this point, the present rebellion brought our republic to a severe test, and the Presidential election, occurring in regular course during the rebellion, added not a little to the strain…. The strife of the election is but human nature practically applied to the facts in the case. What has occurred in this case must ever occur in similar cases. Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good. Let us therefore study the incidents in this as philosophy to learn wisdom from and none of them as wrongs to be avenged…. Now that the election is over, may not all having a common interest reunite in a common fort to save our common country? For my own part, I have striven and shall strive to avoid placing any obstacle in the way. So long as I have been here, I have not willingly planted a thorn in any man’s bosom. While I am deeply sensible to the high compliment of a re-election and duly grateful, as I trust, to Almighty God for having directed my countrymen to a right conclusion, as I think for their own good, it adds nothing to my satisfaction that any other man may be disappointed or pained by the result.”

This speech has not attracted much general attention, yet it is in a peculiar degree both illustrative and typical of the great statesman who made it, alike in its strong common-sense and in its lofty standard of morality. Lincoln’s life, Lincoln’s deeds and words, are not only of consuming interest to the historian, but should be intimately known to every man engaged in the hard practical work of American political life. It is difficult to overstate how much it means to a nation to have as the two foremost figures in its history men like Washington and Lincoln. It is good for every man in any way concerned in public life to feel that the highest ambition any American can possibly have will be gratified just in proportion as he raises himself toward the standards set by these two men.

It is a very poor thing, whether for nations or individuals, to advance the history of great deeds done in the past as an excuse for doing poorly in the present; but it is an excellent thing to study the history of the great deeds of the past, and of the great men who did them, with an earnest desire to profit thereby so as to render better service in the present. In their essentials, the men of the present day are much like the men of the past, and the live issues of the present can be faced to better advantage by men who have in good faith studied how the leaders of the nation faced the dead issues of the past. Such a study of Lincoln’s life will enable us to avoid the twin gulfs of immorality and inefficiency—the gulfs which always lie one on each side of the careers alike of man and of nation. It helps nothing to have avoided one if shipwreck is encountered in the other. The fanatic, the well-meaning moralist of unbalanced mind, the parlor critic who condemns others but has no power himself to do good and but little power to do ill—all these were as alien to Lincoln as the vicious and unpatriotic themselves. His life teaches our people that they must act with wisdom, because otherwise adherence to right will be mere sound and fury without substance; and that they must also act high-mindedly, or else what seems to be wisdom will in the end turn out to be the most destructive kind of folly.

Throughout his entire life, and especially after he rose to leadership in his party, Lincoln was stirred to his depths by the sense of fealty to a lofty ideal; but throughout his entire life, he also accepted human nature as it is, and worked with keen, practical good sense to achieve results with the instruments at hand. It is impossible to conceive of a man farther removed from baseness, farther removed from corruption, from mere self-seeking; but it is also impossible to conceive of a man of more sane and healthy mind—a man less under the influence of that fantastic and diseased morality (so fantastic and diseased as to be in reality profoundly immoral) which makes a man in this work-a-day world refuse to do what is possible because he cannot accomplish the impossible. (more…)

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Roosevelt’s Letter to His Volunteers

 

With the entry of the US into World War I, Theodore Roosevelt began organizing a volunteer force of four divisions.  The reaction around the nation was enthusiastic with over 100,000 men volunteering, and many professional officers in the Regular Army seeking to serve with the divisions.  Congress authorized the raising of the four volunteer divisions, at the discretion of the President, in the Selective Service Act of 1917.  Roosevelt was not named as the commander of the divisions, but everyone knew who this provision was intended for.  Wilson quickly decided that he would not authorize the divisions, fearing that Roosevelt would either get killed, in which case he might be blamed, or Roosevelt would return a national hero and be a formidable Republican candidate for the White House in 1920.  Wilson’s decision was perhaps the bitterest disappointment in Roosevelt’s life, a disappointment that echoes in his May 21, 1917 letter to his volunteers:

 

The President has announced that he will decline to permit those divisions to be organized or to permit me to have a command in connection with such a force. After consultation yesterday, personally or by wire, with some of the men who have volunteered to raise units—regiments and battalions—for the divisions, including John C. Groome, of Pennsylvania; Seth Bullock, of South Dakota; John C. Greenway, of Arizona; John M. Parker, of Louisiana; Robert Carey, of Wyoming; J. P. Donnelly, of Nevada; Sloan Simpson, of Texas; D. C. Collier and F. R. Burnham, of California; I. L. Reeves, Frazer Metzger, and H. Nelson Jackson, of Vermont; Harry Stimson, W. J. Schieffelin, and William H. Donovan, of New York, and Messrs. James R. Garfield, Raymond Robbins, R. H. Channing, David M. Goodrich, W. E. Dame, George Roosevelt, Richard Derby and various others who were immediately accessible, it was decided unanimously that in view of the decision of the President the only course open to us is forthwith to disband and to abandon all further effort in connection with the divisions, thereby leaving each man free to get into the military service in some other way, if that is possible, and, if not, then to serve his country in civil life as he best can. (more…)

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May 18, 1917: Wilson Signs Selective Service Act of 1917

 

The first draft imposed since the Civil War, the Selective Service Act of 1917, passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress, was signed by President Wilson a century ago.  The Act provided for the enlistment, at the discretion of the President, of the four volunteer divisions that Theodore Roosevelt planned to lead.  Go here to read about this provision.  Wilson, alarmed that Roosevelt would either be killed in France and he would be blamed, or that he would come back a national hero and be swept into the Presidency in 1920, would refuse to ever authorize the four volunteer divisions.  By the end of the War some 2 million Americans volunteered for service and some 2.8 million were drafted.

Individuals who belonged to religions or organizations opposed to War were exempted from combatant service but not from noncombatant service.  Members of the clergy were exempted from conscription as were seminarians. (more…)

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