A Brief History
On April 23, 1910, former President Theodore Roosevelt (TR) gave one of his most famous speeches at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. In what is known as the “Man In the Arena” speech, but actually titled “Citizenship in a Republic,” TR contrasted the bold man of action to the “timid souls that neither know victory or defeat.” A man of action himself, and the youngest president, Teddy Roosevelt had numerous times been in the arena. Here are 10 reasons why Theodore Roosevelt is one of the greatest of Americans.
Roosevelt understood better than most politicians the importance of sea power as a projection of a nation’s power and prestige. Sending the fleet around the world advised all nations, friendly and enemy alike that the United States was a major actor on the international scene and was assuming its rightful place among the world powers. His advice to “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was evidenced by this operation.
9. Russo-Japanese War.
Teddy showed off his diplomatic skills and earned respect and prestige for the US by mediating a treaty ending the Russo-Japanese War. Once again, this diplomacy demonstrated the importance of the place of the US among world powers.
8. African Safari.
After his presidency, TR embarked on a year long trip all over Africa, gathering scientific information and blasting away at all manner of African game. Although the blasting part was not particularly environmentally friendly, the macho image of an ex-president braving the wilds of Africa bolstered his popularity and that of the US around the world. His expedition provided numerous samples for the Smithsonian Institution. Roosevelt also led a scientific expedition into the wilds of the Amazon in 1913-14. A noted conservationist, TR eagerly established national parks and forests.
7. Booker T. Washington.
Roosevelt invited African-American activist Washington to the White House soon after assuming the presidency, an unusual action for those times. No other president had invited a prominent AFrican American to the White House before. (Unfortunately, Roosevelt suffered negative political repercussions for this action.) TR appointed several African-Americans to federal posts and advocated treating all people based on their merits rather than their race or religion.
6. Roosevelt’s Sons.
Often it is said that a man can be measured by his children, and all 4 of TR’s sons fought in World War I, Quentin dying in aerial combat. The 3 surviving sons all fought in World War II, with Theodore III winning the Medal of Honor, being the only general and the oldest man to land on the beaches on D-Day at Normandy. (He died of a heart attack a month later.) Theodore III also founded the American Legion. Kermit had volunteered to fight for Britain prior to US involvement in the war in both the First and Second World Wars.
5. “Teddy the Trust Buster.”
Realizing that huge monopolies were getting to the point where they were enslaving the country, Roosevelt embarked on a crusade to break up those monopolies and encourage competition, revitalizing capitalism in the US.
4. “Man in the Arena” Speech.
Discussed previously, this speech sums up Roosevelt’s manly man philosophy (which of course applies to women equally) giving credit to those who dared and lost and scorning those who sit meekly on the sideline. Richard Nixon invoked this speech in his resignation speech in 1974 and in his victory speech after the 1968 presidential election. Nelson Mandela has evoked Roosevelt’s words as have numerous sports personalities in order to inspire their teams
Having become president himself due to President McKinley being assassinated, while giving a campaign speech during the 1912 presidential campaign Roosevelt was shot in the chest by a would be assassin. Incredibly, he continued his speech for another 90 minutes. Before the speech was delivered he told the crowd that he had been shot and that “it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.“ The assassins bullet had passed through Teddy’s eyeglasses holder and a folded copy of his speech, then entered his chest about 3 inches deep. TR carried that bullet in his chest the rest of his life. (Wow!)
2. Square Deal.
Not exactly a “common man” himself, TR was acutely aware of the needs of the regular guy and made a serious effort to look out for the welfare of the average American. Teddy supported unions and working people, a bold move in those days.
1. San Juan Hill.
Despite being a man of means and holding the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy, TR voluntarily resigned in order to form a regiment of cavalry to fight in the Spanish-American War. Leading the regiment, known as “The Rough Riders” in an attack up Kettle Hill and San Juan Hill against entrenched troops armed with Mauser 98 rifles, Roosevelt led from the front and on foot to overcome barbed wire and withering enemy fire to take the positions. Colonel Roosevelt’s unit lost 200 dead and 1000 wounded in the action, an incredible display of personal and unit courage under fire.
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For more information, please see…
Gould, Lewis L. Theodore Roosevelt. Oxford University Press, 2012.
The featured image in this article, a photograph of Col Theodore Roosevelt standing triumphant on San Juan Hill, Cuba after his “Rough Riders” captured this hill and its sister Kettle Hill during the Spanish American War, is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less. This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S. works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1924, and if not then due to lack of notice or renewal. See this page for further explanation.