The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
By Edmund Wilson
Book Design by Barbara M. Bachman
Random House, Inc. 1979
Pamela A. Chaiet
Edmund Morris allows this generation to understand the roots and meaning of Americanism.
He created a masterpiece that brings the romance, wisdom and idealism of the past to the present. His book is both
immensely readable and magnificently presented. The reader comes away historically enlightenend and with a close insight
of the human character of this great American president.
Theodore Roosevelt had an extremely well-disciplined mind. He was tireless in the optimism and personal energy that
he put into all his endeavors. Morris's writing style keeps pace with the President's accomplishments without making
the reader feel rushed. The reader is held captive in the poignancy of the historical moment by the author's vocabulary
and turn of phrase. Above all, the meticulous scholarship and research necessary for the writing of this biography is ever
Roosevelt's views expressed a strong belief in the individual and the determination that one can empower himself to
accomplish anything he sets out to do.
Roosevelt believed Americans should not ask their
government to do what they should do for themselves.
Government should be a partner in solving tomorrow's problems and in securing the American Dream for the present and
future generations. Morris's description of Roosevelt dispels this sense of being lost in a crowd and quickly focuses
again on the individual's self worth. Roosevelt's American possessed honor for himself, his country and his fellow
men. Roosevelt looked to the large-scale historical view but did not neglect the personal rights of the men that
were the underlying force of progress. Both the nation and the president were unafraid to transform the world with
a new vision, while remaining well grounded in what was right.
I must admit that I became interested in learning more about Theodore Roosevelt when I did research on the New
Progressive political movement advanced by former President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. I wondered, what
had been the original Progressive Movement? I found a wonderful quote by Roosevelt in which he defines the Progress
Party Platform as being, "unhampered by tradition, uncorrupted by power, undismayed by the magnitude of the task."
He felt that the new party offered itself as an instrument of the people that would sweep away old abuses and
build a new and nobler commonwealth.
Roosevelt included all Americans in the same dream regardless of race, religion or economic status. Progressivism
feared socialism. It felt that special interests were far too influential in determining public policy and that labor
should be seen as separate from capital and protected by law.
Their platform called for aid to farmers, conservation of natural resources and implementation of an income tax.
Progressivism as a whole inspired to raise the standard of living, promote physical and mental well being, broaden
the concept of social responsibility and foster the principles of moral and democratic justice. Today New Progressivism
favors the mastering of new tools and techniques, thinking broadly and learning for a lifetime.
Theodore Roosevelt was a master of many identities. He was "a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman,
a soldier and a politician." Roosevelt was among the affluent in the nation, yet he was a "hands on" person who
did what was necessary to get the job done. He was a moral man who reminded his fellow citizens, "We must keep
steadily in mind that no people were ever yet benefited by riches if their prosperity corrupted their virtue."
He was a president of "firsts."
Roosevelt was the
first to start a conservation program, the first to fly, the first to ride in a car and board a submarine. He was
the first to travel outside of the country while in office, the first to bring prominent Americans to the White
House for national recognition and the first President to invite a black man to dinner. (He invited Booker T. Washington
to dine with him at the White House.)
Morris is not judgmental as he examines every detail of Roosevelt's life. His narrative is forceful and lucid while
providing scrupulous notes as support for his analysis. He opens his book with a discussion of Roosevelt's
childhood. Teddy was a small sickly child but one that even in his earliest days sought perfection in both
his body and his mind. He moved from being plagued by crippling attacks of asthma to spending whole days in
the saddle, riding seventy-two miles non stop, or wandering for weeks alone in the western wilderness in
pursuit of bands of antelope. The reader shares one lone night as Roosevelt describes watching the stars
until he fell asleep on the open prairie. He was fearless and perhaps even a bit mad in his relentless
drive to win. He once raced on horseback to the finish line with a broken arm hanging at his side, determined
not to be defeated by unexpected hardship.
Roosevelt was an expert at juggling many activities at once and making sure that each strategically enhanced
the others. He wrote diligently about the good things he did. He said he never wrote anything that he would
not trust to posterity. He understood history and his place in it. In nine weeks he wrote a book of 100,000
words entitled, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, while hisThe Winning of the West took nine years to
complete and is seen as the first comprehensive statement of his Americanism. During his Western sojourns he
established a working cattle ranch in the Dakotas, became the chairman of the Stockman's Association and later
became the delegate to the Montana's Stock Growers' Convention.
His daring leadership and personal bravery in battles with the Indians and as a Rough Rider made him a local hero.
Roosevelt was at heart a New York Political Reformer. As a New York Assemblyman he promised the 1884 electorate
that he would break the power of the machine, both Republican and Democrat. He was relentless in his pursuit of
reform legislation, and his days were tightly scheduled from dawn to dusk. He pushed the Constitution to its
limits and often assumed powers that far exceeded the boundaries of his political office. He aspired to be at the seat
of the highest office in the land and wanted to move the country forward with an eye to global greatness and prosperity
Morris closes by stressing that Roosevelt was a man of destiny, the best man for the time and place. He led reform
in social, educational, military and international arenas and was a chief supporter of the Progressive Movement. He
was considered a radical for 1899. Roosevelt viewed inactivity as a horror to be defeated by constantly building
toward a new future. His vision stressed citizen involvement in the present. His personal identity was intricately
intertwined with that of the country and the world. Roosevelt said, "when all is said and done the rule of brotherhood
remains as the indispensable prerequisite to success in the kind of national life for which we strive." Morris's book is human,
thoughtful, and inspiring. I recommend it to all Americans and all seeking to be Americans.
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