Alright, everyone, as promised, I'm doing a big (and original!) post on Teddy Roosevelt who is EASILY my favorite American president. He's about to become your favorite president, too. Joooin ussss, join the fandom . . .
Like I did with my Evelyn Nesbit post waaaay back here, this recapping of Teddy's live is not going to be his perfectly accurate biography because the legend is more fun than the man. Some stuff attributed to him probably never happened, most did, but all of it is badass, so just DEAL WITH IT. My quotations are from the Teddy entry on badassoftheweek.com because they tell it so very, very well. Other info comes from all over the place, including my own un-citeable general knowledge of our 26th president that I've picked up over the years. Here we go.
Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt. This guy:
Yup. Brother knew how to Vogue with the best of them, albeit in a manly and terrifying fashion. He started life out as a giant NERRRRRD. He was a very sickly boy with severe asthma and extraordinarily bad near-sightedness, forcing him to be home-schooled. He and his friends started their own childish "Natural History Museum" after stealing a dead seal's head from a local market (as you do), and continued to fill the "museum" with insects after becoming obsessed with entomology. He eventually became a scholar, took a degree at Harvard and published a great number of literary and academic works. As I said: NERRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRD.
His dad took the family all over Europe and, one day while they were hiking in the Alps, Teddy discovered that his asthma had gotten better due to the physical exercise. He then and there decided to become
a cage-fighter a bear a living demigod more physically fit and beat asthma once and for all with his sheer Ron Swansonity. It was a perfect storm of mild-mannered intellectualism meeting a force of nature. If you told me he could rip a tree out the ground, eat it, and poop out a scholastic treatise written on the finest of papers, I would believe you.
So his dad helped him become more active and, shortly thereafter, he was beaten up by two older boys, so his father added boxing to Teddy's list of new skills.
While at Harvard, he exercised like a demon and, when his father died, he worked through his grief by exercising some more. A doctor told him that his heart was weak and he needed to lay off the strenuous exercise, but Teddy Roosevelt is ABOVE MEDICINE and kept it up, and maybe even punched the doctor into last week for even suggesting it. And you know what? Teddy was fine. It wasn't his heart that killed him.
He went to law school but discovered that, while it satisfied his intellectual ambition, sitting at a desk in silence all day was not the stuff of mystical were-bears. He said, "I intended to be one of the governing class" (seriously, that is a direct quotation), dropped out of law school, and decided to run for politics.
While he got the political machine rolling, he married socialite Alice Hathaway Lee, who quickly got pregnant and gave birth to their daughter, Alice Roosevelt. Unfortunately, his wife died from kidney failure two days after their daughter was born. If that weren't traumatic enough, his mother–who was living with them–died on the same day. And if *that* wasn't bad enough, it was also Valentine's Day. He dumped his new baby off with his sister and went off to the Wild West to grieve and maybe rip the hearts out of everyone he encountered on Valentine's Day, and also maybe to punch lions unconscious or roundhouse-kick mountains in the face. I really don't know.
All I do know is that he went on a terrifying cowboy-bender in the Dakotas for a while and only resumed custody of his daughter three years later. He almost never spoke of his wife again. He decided, rather, to pour his efforts into ruling the world and reshaping all of civilization in his image (which he did okay, since there is now a mountain that looks like him). He decided to start with New York. He was elected to the New York State Assembly and ruined the lives and careers of some corrupt politicians, businessmen, and even a judge. Justice, Roosevelt style.
He ran for mayor of New York City but lost at the very last second. He was portrayed as "The Cowboy of the Dakotas" (even though he had been born in NYC) because he had built an actual North Dakota ranch after his wife and mother died where he learned how to lasso things and ride horses and spit and walk bow-legged. He was the deputy sheriff in them thar parts, and pursued outlaws and did all that tough-as-nails Wild West shit. It was there that he began learning about the conservation of big game animals and the problems facing nature preservation. So with this new knowledge (and a severe winter that killed all his cattle and destroyed his ranch and left him with nothing else to do with his time), he went back East.
There he remarried a childhood friend and the two of them popped out five more kids, one of whom was named "Kermit", because AWESOME.
He got back in the political saddle, starting with becoming President of the New York City Police Commissioners, during which he completely reformed the police force and eradicated corruption from their ranks. Teddy ain't got no time for that shit. Get on the straight-and-narrow, or GTFO. He wasn't above walking the beats of lowly police officers in order to make sure they were actually on duty.
Teddy had enormous amounts of energy and was a little bit Big Brother-ish when it came to corruption–no one was too low or too high to escape his gaze. Like the worst Santa ever, he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake, he knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake or he'll rip your heart out through your bum-hole and then use your children's eyes for beads. I think that's how the song goes.
1894 illustration of him walking a beat. Uh oh. Daddy gon crack the whip! Or, as badassoftheweek writes, "Instead of . . . hiding in his office all day like the commish on Batman, TR went undercover as a beat cop and walked the streets of New York trying to catch policemen slacking off or taking bribes. If he busted them in the act, he fired them, punched them in the mouth and then stuffed them into a garbage can." Sounds about right.
Then in 1897 he got appointed Assistant Secretary to the Navy. The Secretary was often ill and left much of the responsibilities to Teddy. Again, Badassoftheweek tells this story better than I can:
"When the Spanish [allegedly] sunk the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba while his boss was on vacation, TR sent Admiral Dewey to the Philippines to take out the Spanish Navy. Roosevelt then declared a state of war with Spain, despite the fact that he had absolutely no authority to do so. Acting on Roosevelt's orders, Dewey then sunk the entire Spanish fleet a Manila in about four hours".
(To be fair, that above quotation is slightly hyperbolic, but let's just pretend it's true to the letter, because damn.)
So when both sides declared war and Teddy had given "the Spanish Armada a one-way all-expenses-paid trip to the bottom of the fucking ocean", Teddy brushed off his hands, said, "My work here is done," left his position at the Navy, and immediately formed the first US Volunteer Cavalry Regiment that was called the "Rough Riders", because he wanted people to fear him by land and by sea, I guess. I'm pretty sure if he had lived longer, he would have had time to form his own zeppelin brigade or something.
Anyway, the Rough Riders were the sort of rag-tag group of kickass misfits that films are made of. The group was known for its wild diversity (cowboys, Native Americans, scholars, high-class gentlemen, frontiersmen, boys fresh from school, businessmen, sherrifs, etc.). They furnished themselves with outfits and weapons of their own design in addition to some government-issued stuff. Of course, Teddy's boss ended up leaving for reasons, so Teddy was once again promoted to Supreme Overlord of the Face-Smashers. They went to Cuba and, with what started out as one minor skirmish, ended up making them fight all the way through Spanish resistance (which meant crawling through barbed wire and dodging the bullets from repeating rifles, and doing it all going UPHILL) and he forced the Spanish to abandon their positions.
It was like the real-life 300, only instead of '300' it was just Teddy Roosevelt and his spectacles. And they didn't die in the end. Teddy wrote, "On the day of the big fight I had to ask my men to do a deed that European military writers consider utterly impossible of performance, that is, to attack over open ground an unshaken infantry armed with the best modern repeating rifles behind a formidable system of entrenchments. The only way to get them to do it in the way it had to be done was to lead them myself."
If you want something done right . . . Oh, and, P.S. he won the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor in battle.
As a war hero, he went back to New York where the current governor was reelectioning. The current govenor was in the midst of a scandal and would probably lose the election, so Teddy's party said, "Run for it, Ted." He did, at the last minute, and won by an historical margin: 1%. Now in his role as governor, he held twice-daily press conferences (something no one had done before) to connect with the people and keep them informed. He also forced corporations to have to pay state tax. This made a LOT of powerful enemies, but Teddy don't give a shit; Teddy don't give HALF a shit. Teddy do what he want.
When the question came up, "What do you want to do after your term as governor is over?", Teddy thought he might get a position on the War Department or maybe just run for governor again, because he was doing such a good job. He clearly was doing a good job, because both his friends and his enemies teamed up and said, "NOPE. RUN FOR VICE PRESIDENT." His friends thought he could do better, his enemies were terrified he'd stay in New York and continue to work against their capitalist pigdog interests.
President McKinley, who was running for his second term, thought Teddy would be a great fit for VP. Obviously the boy was too young and rough around the edges to ever be president, but no one had to worry about that, so his popularity as the cowboy-warhero-scholar could only do good things for McKinley's chances. McKinley won again, of course. His enemies were like, "YUSSSS! Finally that little shit is in a position that has absolutely no power! BWAHAHA!"
Well, SUCKS TO BE YOU, CAPITALISTS, because (possibly through Teddy's supernatural powers that order the universe), President McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist only six months into his second term. Teddy, the young wild fella, the maverick, if you will, became president.
One of the first things he did was invite Booker T. Washington to the White House for dinner. The entire South protested and were all like, "It's the WHITE House, Mr. President." And Teddy said, "Fuck off, racists, My table, my rules." Actually, what he really said, in the face of huge public outrage at having the first black man over for dinner to the White house, was that he "looked forward to many future dinners with Booker T. Washington". IN YO FACE, REDNECKS.
He did such good work as president that he won a second term in his own right by a landslide. He introduced food protection acts, banning food without appropriate or accurate labels. He founded an association to help promote hygienic conditions for school children. He kept up his twice-daily press conferences to keep the American public in the loop. He tried to curb the power of big business and break up major monopolies.
If you remember from my old post on Mother Jones, another terrifying badass, when there was a massive coal miners' strike, and neither Mother Jones nor the mine owners wanted to back down, and the country was threatened by an enormous coal shortage, Teddy stepped in and said, "Either sort yo' shit, or I'ma sort it for you." And they submitted to arbitration and sorted their shit.
Even Mother Jones listened to Teddy Roosevelt, though she was deeply unhappy to do so (because she preferred just stabbing everyone until she got her way). But Teddy had threatened that if they couldn't find a compromise, he would seize all the country's coal mines and just run them himself. President by day, coal baron by night. Weirdest superhero ever.
He then helped negotiate the end of the Russo-Japanese War, for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Okay, guys, I want you to think about this for a second: he is the only person in the world (I think, correct me if I'm wrong) to win both a Nobel Peace Prize AND the Congressional Medal of Honor for Cuban ass-whomping.
Of course, some of his behavior (however hardcore) is not what we would call politically correct nowadays. He was an ardent imperialist. He was also a big game hunter and went all over Africa after his presidency was over to shoot big game. Here's him, with an elephant he killed with his bare hands:
However, his motives were pure: though he killed many, many animals, he thought it was for the benefit of science–he donated all of his specimens to the Natural Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Smithsonian. Actually, the Smithsonian funded the expedition–they were the reason he went out there. He said, "I can be condemned only if the existence of the National Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, and all similar zoological institutions are to be condemned". I don't know if I necessarily agree with him (especially after seeing the picture with the elephant, which saddens me deeply), but it was a different time and his motives at least weren't, "LET'S DESTROY ALLLLL THE WILDLIFE!!! FOR THE LOLS!"
After a few years, Teddy decided to run for president again, but formed his own party. No longer a Republican, he became the leader of the "Bull Moose" party, because OF COURSE THAT'S WHAT HE NAMED IT. Here is a publicity photo:
I would love it if this weren't a publicity photo, though. Like, if this were just him on a Tuesday, heading into town to buy stamps.
Anyway, whilst campaigning, in 1912, he was up on a podium giving a speech when he was shot by a local lunatic. The bullet went through a folded copy of the 50-page speech he was giving, then went through his steel eyeglass case in his pocket, and then entered his chest. He paused for a minute after getting shot to check himself out. He said, "Well, Teddy, you're not coughing up blood, so the bullet didn't puncture a lung. I guess we're safe to continue" (Honestly. That was his reasoning). He told the crowd, "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." So he stood up, covered in blood, and spoke for 90 minutes.
When he went to the hospital, they discovered that
his body was made of Kevlar, and actually the bullet had just bounced off him it would be safer to leave the bullet where it was, so they did. He kept that bullet in his chest the rest of his life.
Despite this, the Bull Moose party did not succeed. He only got just over a quarter of the votes in the country (still very respectable), losing to Woodrow Wilson.
He continued to hunt things and travel and exercise until, in 1919, he died unexpectedly in his sleep from a blood clot in his lungs. When his son Archie heard of his death, he telegraphed his siblings saying, "The old lion is dead." Woodrow Wilson's VP famously said, "Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight."