The 26th President of the United States gave Americans a lot to be proud of. Theodore Roosevelt was both a gentleman and a cowboy. He was privileged and salt of the Earth. He was a war hero that became the leader of the free world, and ultimately he became one of the most beloved Presidents of all time.
Theodore Roosevelt was born into the aristocracy. He was the heir to the fortune of his land baron forefathers, and was expected to be educated and dignified in a time when most Americans dropped out in grade school. The family had money from his mother’s side from plantations in Georgia and the Roosevelt’s were believed to have made a fortune selling industrial glass and hardware. However, despite an advantaged upbringing Theodore Roosevelt endured a difficult childhood. He suffered from asthma as a child and was home schooled. Under the strict tutelage in his home, Roosevelt flourished in the sciences and went on to school at Harvard University. He majored in biology there and began a career in politics shortly after graduation. With the culmination of different experiences in his childhood and young adulthood, Theodore Roosevelt became well versed in politics, hunting, and the military. Theodore flourished as a politician and with his book, The Naval War of 1812, he became a respected historian. He continued to write books about hunting and the frontier until tragedy struck him in 1884.
In 1884 on the same day, Theodore Roosevelt lost both his first wife, Alice Lee Roosevelt, and his mother. Heartbroken, Roosevelt left his position in the New York State Assembly and went to the frontier to become a rancher. His first foray in the “Badlands” of the Dakotas failed miserably and he was often ridiculed by the neighboring farmers. He was an outcast there, a mediocre rider and a bad shot. He spoke like a dignitary amidst people who were salt of the earth, but eventually won them over because he worked hard. Roosevelt was resilient and he gained the respect of the frontiersmen. He learned to till the land, hunted game, and even caught an outlaw in the “Badlands.” Theodore became well-respected amongst his peers, and his ranch began to flourish as he learned to adjust to a simple life. Feeling accomplished, Roosevelt returned to New York where he reasserted himself in politics.
Roosevelt ran for mayor upon his return, but after a third place finish in the polls he instead took charge of the city police. By the time that the Spanish-American War broke out, he was in charge of the Department of the Navy so he volunteered for the military. Theodore always thought that it was cowardly that his father Franklin D. Roosevelt bought his way out of service, so he fought to reconcile the honor of the family name constantly. The younger Roosevelt formed the Rough Riders, a cavalry regiment that rode in and fought in Cuba. His experiences in the Badlands prepared him for the type of battle that he faced in South America. He served as a lieutenant colonel with the Rough Riders and led them into the Battle of San Juan. Roosevelt returned a war hero.
When “Teddy Roosevelt” reached his home state, numerous scandals surrounded the governing bodies there. They needed a figure head that New Yorkers could trust. He was promptly elected governor in 1898, and then Roosevelt energized the GOP and ran for the office of Vice President under William McKinley Jr. in 1900. McKinley was elected but was assassinated and Roosevelt ascended into the presidency under duress. But once again, Theodore Roosevelt excelled under terrible conditions. And again, previous experiences prepared him for what was ahead of him. His time with the cowboys of the Badlands taught him the plight of the common American, his upbringing gave him the wherewithal to run the country, and his bravery endeared him to the public. Theodore Roosevelt was unafraid to make the difficult decisions that needed to be made during the Great Depression. But, he was also able to convey a sense of equality between himself the people that he led.
Roosevelt was the first President of the United States to be reelected after gaining the position through the death of another president.
Theodore Roosevelt was a man of the people and one of the peoples’ best leaders. Roosevelt’s life reflected those of his subjects, forged by pain and redemption. He was given many gifts and opportunities, but he also endured great tragedy and various obstacles. Ultimately, those tribulations shaped his character and put him on his course to greatness. Roosevelt’s surname meant that much was expected of him; he was born into a wealthy and respected family. But, his path to success was different from that of most of the wealthy. The death of his wife and mother drove him into the frontier where his interaction with the cowboys of the West prepared him to connect with the common man in his presidency. The Spanish-American War showed him how to lead. When the office of president fell to him with the tragic killing of McKinley, no one was more prepared to step up to the responsibility than him. The lessons in management that he learned from being a rich kid, the people with whom he was engaged in the Badlands, and leading a regiment in war readied Roosevelt for the most powerful position in the world. Roosevelt’s life, his strength, his resilience, and his perseverance make him someone to be admired.