Theodore Roosevelt

Entering the world on October 27, 1858, Roosevelt was the second of four children born to parents Theodore, a merchant and banker, and Martha, a housewife. The family maintained a high social status and lived a comfortable lifestyle. But, as a child, Roosevelt required much attention. Asthmatic, often sick, and nearsighted, he spent much of his childhood tutored at home. His father built a home gym for Roosevelt to use, and through this help and encouragement, Roosevelt learned to control his asthma and build strength that his body had been lacking. Boxing, rowing, jogging, and stretching further improved his physical condition, and Roosevelt became very athletic.

Throughout his childhood Roosevelt read voraciously and continued to pursue books as his health improved. Intrigued by natural history as well as American history, Roosevelt worked hard in his studies and learned about the world on his trips abroad with his family. This paid off with his acceptance into Harvard where he would graduate in 1880 Phi Beta Kappa. His education in political economy and zoology served him well, but Harvard lacked the full science courses he needed to become a wildlife biologist as he had dreamed. Nevertheless, the information he had gained through reading and by actively studying birds, animals, and flowers enabled him to pen two books on Upstate New York birds and another on birds in Oyster Bay on Long Island.

Enjoying his ability to put words to effective use, Roosevelt took on the task of writing about the naval war of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States. Patriotic and impressed with the military, Roosevelt wanted to be fair and accurate on the subject that most historians had ignored. Pursuing his research during his European honeymoon with wife Alice, Roosevelt also endeavored to climb the Matterhorn and was successful. His strenuous activities throughout his life marked a significant change from the sickness of his early youth.

Returning from Europe, Roosevelt sent his history to a publisher, and The Naval War of 1812 became famous. Though somewhat dry reading, Roosevelt earned the appreciation of the British for his honest portrayal of events. During this same time, Roosevelt began a term as a New York State legislator. The beginning of a promising career in politics ended abruptly when both Roosevelt's mother and wife died on the same day. His daughter had been born only two days prior to her mother's passing. Shocked and grieving, Roosevelt fled New York and headed west to the Badlands of Medora, North Dakota.

Recovering and healing, Roosevelt learned the ways of the west as he worked side by side men he came to respect. He also discovered a new-found passion for open land, open spaces, and wildlife populations that were decreasing as settlement increased. Roosevelt wrote about what he saw and filled volumes. His biographies of Thomas Hart Benson, Governor Morris, and Oliver Cromwell saw publication between 1886 and 1890 after Roosevelt had returned to New York. Losing a bid for New York City mayor, Roosevelt retired to Oyster Bay, Long Island, married his close friend Edith Carow and raised five children.

Not finished with public service, Roosevelt returned to New York City to work as a civil service commissioner and as the New York City police commissioner. Enthusiastic and zealous, he attacked organized crime, encouraged the use of new technology, uncovered corruption, and designed one of the first police training academies. Called by President William McKinley for other duty, he then accepted the appointment to assistant secretary of the navy in 1897. Anticipating a future war with Spain, Roosevelt requested money from Congress to improve the navy and telegraphed Commodore George Dewey, suggesting that he be prepared to fight.

Fight Dewey did. The fleet engaged the Spanish at the Battle of Manila Bay two months later and won. Roosevelt felt compelled to act further, and gaining a volunteer commission as lieutenant colonel, he brought together a bunch of volunteer cowboys and school friends to form a cavalry regiment. These men became known as Roosevelt's Rough Riders. Fighting in Cuba they faced death, malaria, yellow fever, and dysentery while they fought bravely on San Juan Hill, Kettle Hill, and in the Battle of Las Guasimas. Not regular army, Roosevelt petitioned for his Rough Riders to be sent home to heal and recoup.

Back home Roosevelt entered politics again, winning the governorship of New York. Independent-minded and resolved to make changes, Roosevelt set up a civil service system, formed a tenement house commission, and convinced his legislature to pass a franchise tax on corporations. Not everyone agreed with his ideas, and Roosevelt then found himself on the ticket as potential vice president in President McKinley's bid for re-election. Those who suggested his vice presidential nomination never predicted that McKinley would be assassinated and Roosevelt would become the youngest person to take the presidential office.

At age 42, Roosevelt assumed the presidency and set out to broaden the executive powers. He helped defend the public interest, broke up 40 monopolies, sued the railroads and won, settled the anthracite coal strike, improved the navy, encouraged an independent country of Panama, oversaw the construction of the Panama Canal, and insured that the United States could buy the Panama Canal Zone. Re-elected in 1904 and popular with the nation, Roosevelt regulated the railroads, passed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act, and set aside 148,000 acres to be added to the national forests. More land was reserved for coal deposits, phosphate beds, and water power sites. Extremely conservation-minded, Roosevelt set up the National Conservation Commission to study natural resources and preserved land for Yellowstone National Park.

Roosevelt lived during a remarkable time in history. He was the first president to ride in an automobile, to go in a submarine underwater, and to fly in an airplane. Roosevelt also called the "Executive Mansion" the "White House", which then became its official name.

In foreign affairs, Roosevelt settled the war between Russia and Japan with the Treaty of Portsmouth, for which he was later awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. Holding the prize money in a trust, Roosevelt later gave it to agencies who helped World War I victims. He also worked with Japan on the issue of immigration. As a show of peace, and probably one of U.S. strength, Roosevelt sent the navy's Great White Fleet battleships on a world tour. Leaving office, Roosevelt believed his friend William Taft would follow his path of reformation.

Though this wasn't to be the case, Roosevelt didn't know much about U.S. affairs because he had traveled to Africa on a safari. Documenting his finds and identifying numerous species, Roosevelt returned home with specimens for the Smithsonian and the American Museum of Natural History. He also penned almost five hundred pages for his book called African Game Trails. A prolific author, Roosevelt would write numerous books on natural science, the west, political essays, a four-volume work on western expansion, on his adventures in the Spanish-American war, and on his later treks through Africa and the Amazon. In total he saw published 35 books, and during his lifetime, he wrote over 150,000 letters.

Frustrated with President Taft, Roosevelt went back into politics to run again for president, forming his own Bull Moose Party. While campaigning, Roosevelt was shot. Though not fatal, Roosevelt would carry that bullet in his body until his death. Defeated and taking many Republicans with him, Roosevelt's election bid enabled Woodrow Wilson to take office in the 1912 presidential election.

By 1914 Roosevelt was searching again for adventure. For a man who had come extremely close to death many times and survived, his trip to the Amazon would ultimately prove to be a factor in his demise. Roosevelt explored an unmapped River of Doubt in Brazil, facing the treacherous jungle, insects, unfriendly natives, and the river itself. Both Roosevelt and his son Kermit almost died, Roosevelt from a leg injury that led to fever, malaria, and dysentery, and Kermit from being swept over a falls. As an author, Roosevelt kept copious notes which resulted in the book Through the Brazilian Wilderness. For the American Museum of Natural Science he brought back almost 2,000 bird and mammal specimens and important information on the area's geography, geology, and zoology.

Roosevelt returned home and encouraged the United States to enter World War I; however, in 1918, his youngest son Quentin was shot down and captured behind enemy lines. This loss greatly affected Roosevelt, though he displayed tremendous support for the military and America's fight in the war. On January 6, 1919, Roosevelt died suddenly of a blood clot that had detached itself from a vein and went into the lungs. His body was riddled with illnesses and stresses from the fever he'd had in the Amazon to the inflammatory rheumatism from which he'd been suffering to the effects of his brushes with death. Roosevelt was only 60 years old. This statesman, historian, explorer, author, soldier, and former President of the United States was mourned deeply.


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