"I am well mottled with bruises elsewhere. Still I have made good progress, and since you left they have taught me three new throws that are perfect corkers!"
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Theodore Roosevelt was born on October 27, 1858, to Martha Stewart Bulloch and Theodore Roosevelt, Sr. in Manhattan, New York. In his youth, Roosevelt suffered from poor health and debilitating asthma. This shaped his formative years. At night, he would have sudden asthma attacks so severe, his parents feared for his life. Doctors at the time had no cure.
Theodore Roosevelt was greatly influenced by his father. He said of his father:
The family often traveled abroad, to places like Europe, Egypt, and hiking in the Alps. Roosevelt's father encouraged him to set no limitations, to keep up. Through this, Roosevelt discovered the benefits of physical exercise, the love of the outdoors, exertion, and effort. This not only diminished his asthma but energized his spirits. Strenuous exercise became a daily ritual for young Roosevelt.
After being roughed up by two older boys, Roosevelt lacking in fight experience, sought the aid of a teacher. Under the tutelage of a boxing coach, Roosevelt learned to fight, to defy his weaknesses, and to become a man. Roosevelt found inspiration from those more experienced:
In his autobiography, Roosevelt said of his boxing:
On September 27, 1876, he entered Harvard College. His father said to Roosevelt:
On February 9, 1878, Theodore Roosevelt's father died at the age of 46. Roosevelt increased his efforts in studies and extracurricular activities. Roosevelt participated in boxing, wrestling, and rowing, and was runner-up in the Harvard boxing tournament. Roosevelt became a popular figure after that tournament, not only for his ability to persevere against better boxers, but in one fight, he took a damaging blow after the bell. The audience was outraged but Roosevelt calmed them down, knowing that his opponent didn't do it on purpose. Even against personal and literal attack, Roosevelt's sense of justice was unshaken. Roosevelt graduated Harvard with honors.
While still a student, Roosevelt wrote a book on the War of 1812. Published in 1882, The Naval War of 1812 is still the standard study of the war.
On February 14, 1884, six years and five days after the death of his father, both Theodore Roosevelt's mother and wife died within hours of each other. All three died in the same house.
Disenchanted with New York life and his first foray into politics, Roosevelt moved to North Dakota. He built a ranch and lived the life of a herdsman.
There are those who pretend to take on a lifestyle and then there are the genuine articles. Roosevelt, much like with his boxing and wrestling, won the respect of his peers not with his natural ability, but through endurance and perseverance. Though he was not a strong rider, he stayed the course and rode with the other herders day in and day out without a single complaint. This is how he became a real cowboy.
Roosevelt wrote several books on frontier life during this time. As a deputy sheriff, Roosevelt captured three outlaws who had stolen his riverboat. Waiting for support, Roosevelt held guard over these men for forty hours without sleep. He read Leo Tolstoy and other books to keep himself awake. When he was out of his own books, he read dime novels belonging to one of the thieves.
After a severe winter (1886-1887) wiped out his cattle, Roosevelt returned east, forever altering the trajectory of his life. He reentered public life.
In 1898, the United States and Spain declared war against each other. Roosevelt left his leadership position as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and along with Army Colonel Leonard Wood, formed the First US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment. They were known to the press as the "Rough Riders."
The Rough Riders became famous for the charge up Kettle Hill on July 1, 1898. Without any orders from superiors, Roosevelt advanced on the position. He had the only horse and when his horse became entangled in barb wire, he walked up the hill. Roosevelt said of his role:
In 1898, Theodore Roosevelt became the Governor of New York. As Governor, Roosevelt picked up the art of wrestling. In his autobiography he wrote:
On April 10, 1899, he gave a speech on "The Strenuous Life."
In March of 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became Vice-President of the United States.
After the assassination of President McKinley, on September 14, 1901, Theodore Roosevelt became the youngest President of the United States.
In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt was elected President by a landslide margin.
On the seriousness of vigor, Roosevelt said to high school graduates:
During this time as President, Roosevelt began to study judo and Japanese jiu jitsu, eventually earning a brown belt. In one of his letters to a friend, he wrote:
Just as his father and the frontier life were formative to Roosevelt, so too were the fighting arts and the coaches he's had along the way. To his son Kermit he wrote:
On the difficulty of the presidency while maintaining regular training in this new art, Roosevelt wrote to his son Ted:
On December 10, 1906, Theodore Roosevelt became the first American to win a Nobel Prize. Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending the Russo-Japanese War.
Theodore Roosevelt served as President until 1909. Shortly after, he left on a travel expedition with the Smithsonian to Africa. At the time, this was a very dangerous expedition.
On April 23, 1910, Roosevelt delivered the now famous "Citizenship in a Republic."
In a letter to his son Kermit, Roosevelt wrote:
In 1912, Theodore Roosevelt once again ran for the Presidency. On his ability to run, he told the press, "I'm as fit as a bull moose."
On October 14, 1912, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Roosevelt delivered a speech:
An unemployed saloonkeeper, John Flammang Schrank, shot Roosevelt outside of a Milwaukee hotel. The bullet traveled through his eyeglass case and the copy of his speech, lodging in his chest. Roosevelt having knowledge of the anatomy and biology, concluded the injury was just a flesh wound, since he was not coughing blood and was merely bleeding on his shirt. He ignored the suggestions to go to the hospital and delivered his scheduled 90-minute speech:
Since it was only lodged in the muscle and did not penetrate into his organs, the doctors decided it was safer to leave the bullet in his chest, rather than remove it. The bullet remained with Roosevelt for the rest of his life, being a source of persistent health issues. It worsened his rheumatoid arthritis, preventing him from exercising. Roosevelt soon became obese.
In 1913, Roosevelt along with his son Kermit went on an expedition to the South American Amazon. Roosevelt suffered a minor leg injury while preventing two of the canoes from smashing into rocks. This soon gave way to tropical fever. Fifteen years prior, while fighting in Cuba, Roosevelt had malaria. This factor, along with the bullet in his chest only worsened the infection. One leg was unusable due to infection and the other leg was weak from a traffic accident injury a decade prior. The expedition was six weeks in and low in supplies. With fevers over 103 °F, Roosevelt appealed his son and the other crew to leave him behind. Roosevelt even considered killing himself as not to risk the safety of his son and the other men. This is not to portray suicide as heroic, this is just a reflection Roosevelt's character. However, he decided killing himself would only make things worse, since his son would insist on carrying his body out of the Amazon, and if alive, he can still help to carry himself, no matter how weak. Miraculously, he survived the expedition but had lost over 50 pounds and his health never sufficiently returned.
In 1914, World War I had broken out, and even in his state Roosevelt pleaded with President Woodrow Wilson to allow him to go to Europe and lead a volunteer platoon. Wilson denied Roosevelt's request, just in case Roosevelt were to come back a hero and run against him.
On July 14, 1918, Roosevelt's youngest son Quentin was killed while piloting for the American forces during World War I.
On January 5, 1919, Roosevelt went to bed after seeing his doctor for breathing problems. He said to his attendant James Amos:
His last words are fitting when we consider what Roosevelt said after his wife and mother died:
When Roosevelt had returned from his South American expedition, he prophetically told a friend that it took ten years off of his life. Though his childhood doctors never thought the young Roosevelt would live this long and have the vigorous life that he did. Few did. Few do.
On January 6, 1919, Theodore Roosevelt had died. When his son Archibald Roosevelt heard the news, he telegraphed his siblings. He wrote simply:
Thirteen days after his death, acclaimed writer and poet, H.P. Lovecraft wrote this poem:
Useful Companions to this Article:
- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Edmund Morris
- Theodore Rex is the second installment of the trilogy by Edmund Morris
- Colonel Roosevelt is the final installment of the Roosevelt trilogy by Edmund Morris
- An Autobiography - Theodore Roosevelt
- Theodore Roosevelt: Letters and Speeches is a collection of letters and includes four of Roosevelt's best known speeches, including "Citizenship in a Republic" and "The Strenuous Life"
- Selected Speeches and Writings of Theodore Roosevelt includes most of his speeches but does not include "Citizenship in a Republic", "The Strenuous Life," and many of his letters
- The Naval War of 1812 - Theodore Roosevelt
- The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft - S.T. Joshi (Editor)